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Search tags: thought-provoking
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review 2020-05-07 02:09
Dream logic and existentialism
The Lathe of Heaven - Ursula K. Le Guin

This certainly made up for "City of Illusions". I admit that the end lost me, but then again, dreams are not supposed to make sense all the way.

 

There is a persistent feeling of urgency about this story. Haber's conceit and grandiosity is apparent soon enough, and the more the book advances, the more anxiety how beholden to Haber Orr is it caused me. It almost tips into impatience about how passive Orr is.

 

And that might be part of how genius the book is. Because for all intents and purposes, Orr is a god. THE god and creator of the world inside those pages. And the story itself shows us what Orr himself puts in words: that an unbalanced god that is not part of his own world and tries to meddle with prejudice ultimately destroys everything.

 

There is much more. A recursiveness that gets reeeeally tangled and confusing at the end. Either a god that dreams himself and more gods into existence (a little help from my friends), or maybe that other dreamers already existed, and even, maybe, that the dreamer was not the one we thought (specially from halfway in). The way we keep coming back to the importance of human connection (the one thing Haber maybe had right, even if he denied it in his own dealings), the fact that "the end justifies the means" implies that there is and end, as if history, or mankind, or the world wouldn't then march on, and as that is not truth, then there are only means.

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review 2020-05-01 22:53
Hives, colonization, and what makes one rebel
Ancillary Justice - Ann Leckie

This was a ride and a half and I did not expect it to be this good or turn out this serious.

 

You know everything HAD to have gone to pot for the ship to end in one body, sure. I was ready for an action/adventure sci-fi romp, and in a way, it is that. What surprised me was how hard it goes into the social issues inherent in colonization, how it explores the notion of identity and how it can be more than one thing, going double for entities that work more like a hive. "I'm at war with myself" is a very psychological statement that seems to be a theme for many characters, and ultimately gets very literal in this sci-fi set up.

 

There is also the constant coming back to the duality system of belief, the idea that fate is as it's tossed, and so you might as well choose your step, one after the other (sounds a lot like Taoist beliefs to me, plus the idea of hitzusen). What I found interesting is how it delves into thoughts and intentions vs actions, and obliquely (or at least, what I took from the whole sample of characters) how in the moment of truth you don't know who will be that will make the selfless choice (because when it comes right down to it, sometimes people don't even realize it was the moment of truth till it passed), but also, that past choices define next ones, but not in the way one would suspect (because sometimes, the feel that you chose wrong might make you very, very set and vigilant to choose differently afterwards)...

 

Aaaand, yeah, I got right down philosophical. I think it was all that loooong interrupted chat between Toren and Anaander Mianaai. It made me go "oh, shit" in so may directions. Very interesting.

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review 2020-04-18 21:33
Luxurious package takes some unpacking
The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories - Angela Carter

Do I dare call this full of symbolism, and therefore feel the need to scratch under the surface of these tales? Then again, is there any fairy tale worth it's salt that is not so.

Lets start saying that the way this is written is incredibly sensual. I was surprised because I was sure the first tale (The Bloddy Chamber), would turn up into a hardcore purple prose BDSM. It does not become explicit, but the erotic charge and the tug of war between desire for freedom and sexual or base hungers, innocence and a curiousity for corruption, is heavy and all encompassing on that one and several others in this collection (The Tiger's Bride, The Erl-king).

Puss in Boots was hilarious in all it's terribleness. Not one character in it can be called good, our narrator least of all, and yet. Lots of laughing OMG, no!

 

The Snow Child was... How do you pack it that fast? It takes infinitely more to unpack.

All of them are incredibly evocative. Also disturbing. Oh, and they screw with your mind with the POVs and tenses too.

 

I'm a still quite discombobulated by much of this, and I'm pretty certain I don't get even most  of what this is conveying, but frankly, at some point I started researching some fairy-tale stuff for background, and found out there are whole freaking books essaying on the meanings of this collection, so I reckon I'm good enough just keeping it floating on the back-burners of my mind.

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review 2020-03-25 07:22
How do you talk to an ocean
Solaris - Stanisław Lem,Steve Cox,Joanna Kilmartin

(but maybe, we should worry more about how the ocean would try to talk to us)

 

It's a very disturbing read from the start, and you can feel the disquiet grip you into the pages immediately, but it's pretty dense and it can get dry.

 

Know what this reminded me off a lot? "Moby Dick". It's those essays, and the way everyone keeps approaching that ocean from a description of the components because the whole is unfathomable. Also quite a bit of "Arrival", and the inherent difficulties of communications.

 

Around the middle, I found that I started to like Snaut because he was saying everything that Kalving wouldn't even admit in his own internal narrative. Snaut was a ruthless bastard that angered Kalvin, but there was this sense that the reason Kalvin got angry all the time was because he was voicing what he did not want to see.

 

I did not expect it to end where it did, though that is likely the fault of my vague memories of the last movie made. There is so much that it leaves you speculating on, the concepts of a god that evolves and a god cradle in that final conversation specially, with Snaut wishing to stay, and that we never see anyone else's visitor but Kalvin's (oh, and the fact that Kalvin is the only one that does not obsessively hide his, the things that says).

 

There a lot more odds and ends that keep running around my mind for such a short novel, so I'll likely be chewing on my book hangover for a while.

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review 2019-07-15 15:54
To Create or Relate? Questions of Human Currency
Machines Like Me - Ian McEwan

One of the current topics causing some hand wringing in our angst-ridden western society is the spectre of artificial intelligence (AI). The potential of AI seems universally acknowledged, but its development, ethics and governance appear more contentious. Moreover, once the genie is released from the corporate bottle, in the long run, is humanity rendering our species (in its current state of evolution) obsolete?


There are few writers with the gravitas to step meaningfully into this contemporary debate, let alone encapsulate and conceptualise some of the attendant issues through the medium of a novel. Yet, Ian McEwan has done so with his usual aplomb. The social adjustment for the introduction of such advanced tech’ might be expected to be profound. In ‘Machines Like Me’, the arrival on the market of human-like machines (twelve ‘male’, thirteen ‘female’) distributed around the globe, are a focus of curiosity and concern in equal measure. But, not in our world. In an interesting diversion, the author has set the plot in a different dimension, a world familiar to our own, but where Margaret Thatcher’s task force is defeated in The Falklands, Tony Benn becomes Prime Minister and an ageing Alan Turing is revered as one of the greatest minds of the time. The ploy enables the implied technological advance to be explained (it remains work in progress for us) and cunningly maintains a sense of looking into a fishbowl at the consequences for two ordinary Londoners.


Charlie, a thirty-something disbarred lawyer and author of a minor book on electronics and anthropology is broke and living hand-to-mouth trading shares on the internet. And yet, on receipt of a bequest from his late mother, he indulges his passion for robots, androids and replicates by purchasing an ‘Adam’ (it is rumoured Alan Turing has bought the same model). The new arrival also enables Charlie to forge a relationship with his upstairs neighbour, Miranda, a doctoral scholar of social history, ten years his junior.

 

 

Notwithstanding Adam’s need to recharge periodically, he is remarkably human-like and develops his responses and information systems, such that he is convinced that he also has feelings of love for Miranda. However, the strange triangle that ensues lacks the threat born of deceit, as Adam is consistently honest about his emotions and bound by his promise to Charlie not to actively submit to them. Yet, it is the inflexibility of Adam’s abilities, an inability to be humanly inconsistent, which will provoke an inevitable tension. Bound by an immutable logic, constrained by an immaculate adherence to the rule of law, Adam represents the perfect citizen, but ultimately is unable to contend with the messiness of the human experience, or collude with his friends to their unfair advantage. Loyalty, it transpires, cannot set aside responsibility to the wider good of society, or bend its rules.


In the moral maze explored by McEwan, the reader is invited to think about the status of such AI sentient beings, destined to be superior to their human ‘creators’ and the unintended consequences, such as obligations conferred on the society hosting them. Can it be that such machines can truly be described as possessing a ‘self’, what in the book Turing calls, “a conscious existence”? The ‘test’ often mooted is the ability of AI to create authentic art, but since Adam is able to fashion Haiku poems, suddenly the temptation is to refine the criteria of art. In any event, the creativity attributed to humans lies, we are told, in thinking ‘outside the box’.


I thoroughly enjoyed this book and wrestling with the underlying tenets. Moreover, as I write this review the announcement that the late Alan Turing is to appear on the new £50 note signals the conclusion of his official rehabilitation and further endorses his pioneering contribution to the early development of computers. Clearly we are living in complex and fascinating times, but this book dares the reader to recall the past, glimpse the future and wonder…

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