A love letter to English Literature in the form of an AI update on the Pygmalion myth, interleaved with an autobiographical tale of love lost and inerA love letter to English Literature in the form of an AI update on the Pygmalion myth, interleaved with an autobiographical tale of love lost and inertia, and chock full of wry prose and clever reference. Also an at-times disturbing examination of projection and how it shapes our relationships with others. The setting is rather unnerving for me, as it is set at my alma mater, and even in the very buildings where I once worked and learned....more
A book that I think had a lot to do with shaping my ideas about ideas… what they can and can’t do, where they can be dangerous, and what hopes there aA book that I think had a lot to do with shaping my ideas about ideas… what they can and can’t do, where they can be dangerous, and what hopes there are for harnessing them to make human life markedly better....more
**spoiler alert** I re-read this partly to figure out if I really love it as much as I thought I did(I do.) and also to sort of figure out why, since**spoiler alert** I re-read this partly to figure out if I really love it as much as I thought I did(I do.) and also to sort of figure out why, since it seems to be greater than the sum of its parts somehow. I'm still not exactly sure what the secret is, but I'll take a circuitous stab at it.
It incorporates a lot of elements that I love in other books: It's a bildungsroman and frame narrative(tons of other things I love.) It teaches me stuff and incorporates info-dumpy type elements, but not in a Neal Stephenson overbearingly expository sort of way... in a way that's integral to the characters and who they are(see Richard Powers.) It uses other cultural touchstones as sort of frameworks on which to hang shared meaning and around which to form identity, but not in a tossed-off and lazily referential sort of way(The difference between say, Murakami and Coupland, or Ghost World and Garden State is what I'm getting at here.) It's got a cracked and rather dry sense of humor. It employs a conversational style and a really distinctive voice(Vonnegut, but that's a double-edged sword because it also becomes what annoys me about him, and I was afraid that would be the case the second time through on this, but it wasn't). It's tangential and jumps around and weaves together narratives, but not to the point of it being ticcy and distracting about it.
I think where it really excels is in characterization and in short set-piece storytelling, and most of all in the intersection of those two. The various juvenile-adventure-style tales she tells to introduce and flesh out Ludo's surrogate-father candidates are just wonderful; they work both as character sketches and as adventures and are sad and hopeful and beautiful and true. And the way she skates right on the edge of suspension of disbelief when it comes to drawing out Ludo's character is impressive too. Somehow she manages to make him believable as both an intellectual prodigy and a moral and experiential adolescent, and his constant confused and fumbling attempts to apply the rules of one sphere to the other are touching and ring true to anyone who read dictionaries and did math well before they figured out how to deal with other people.
In that vein, it also has a real moral center and moral sense, even if a rather stoic and resigned one. The evolution of Ludo's relationship with his mother(also a well-drawn and unique character and mind), to the point where he's the one who has the capacity to care for her in the end, is well done. Maybe a little cliched in this day and age, but I didn't mind that at all, and perhaps the contrast even works in its favor.
So, yeah, this has lots of pieces that aren't particularly amazing on their own, but combined in an artful and unusual way. It takes lots of the best tricks and elements of postmodern writing and combines them with older-fashioned bildungsroman-y notions of character and moral development and sense of childhood wonder and adventure. It combines a lot of themes, styles, references, and so on that I'm a sucker for, but without pandering or playing connect-the-dots. A masterful job of self-confident-but-not-arrogant authorial restraint and range and imagination....more
An interesting look into a world that's all around us, but that we rarely know how to see. Thorough, at times even bordering on the obsessive, but itAn interesting look into a world that's all around us, but that we rarely know how to see. Thorough, at times even bordering on the obsessive, but it works for the topic. Suffers a bit when he tries to get all high-flown and Thoreauvian. You can imitate Thoreau without "imitating Thoreau" if you know what I mean. But those parts are ignorable, and the substance of the book and the entertainingness of the stories it tells carry it through....more
This is another diverting instance of Eco playing around with history, mythology, and ideas like a kid with Legos or something. This one is nominallyThis is another diverting instance of Eco playing around with history, mythology, and ideas like a kid with Legos or something. This one is nominally set in 12th Century Byzantium and Northern Italy, but pulls in all kinds of crazy stuff from the early Sorbonne to the court of Frederick Barbarossa to the Assasins to the greater part of a mythological bestiary. The main thrust is the use of the Prester John myth as a political tool for Barbarossa's attempts to expand his power, but as with most of Eco's work, people soon start believing their own tales, and the protagonists set off on a quest for John's mythical kingdom, where all kinds of mythological and quasi-historical madness ensues. If you like Eco's other stuff, you'll definitely enjoy this one too....more
A very important book. The first thing I’ve read that systematically gets Al Qaeda right, as far as I can tell. That is, that Al Qaeda is essentiallyA very important book. The first thing I’ve read that systematically gets Al Qaeda right, as far as I can tell. That is, that Al Qaeda is essentially Western; another breakdown in Western society in response to Modernity, in the same way anarchism or nihilism or militias or other extreme movements were. It has the same vision of a revolutionary vanguard that will remake the world that Marxism, Fascism, and other radical modern political movements have had. It’s like a fusion of Fundamentalist Islam and Bakunin. Grey correctly locates the fundamental danger of the modern world in the urge on the part of any group to use technology to radically remake society. Also, he emphasizes Al Qaeda is another consequence of post-nation-state globalization(and probably the first of many similar movements), and must be addressed as such. It is an ideology and a movement, not a discrete group of people and not ultimately defeatable by attacking states or killing individuals. He paints a bleak picture of the coming decades, but I’m afraid a largely correct one....more
This was middling good, but not as mind-blowingly amazing as I was led to believe it would be. More of a quick fun pseudo-sciffy-genre read than anythThis was middling good, but not as mind-blowingly amazing as I was led to believe it would be. More of a quick fun pseudo-sciffy-genre read than anything deeply profound. The structural gimmick was sort of one-trick and overdetermined… when I compare it to other current authors who have intertwined structure and theme and content much more effectively(Powers in Gold Bug Variations, and DFW in Infinite Jest are my gold standards here), it comes up way short. A lot of this was just because there wasn’t much thematic content to flesh out the structural skeleton by comparison… the message was simplistic amd piled on quite thick.
I also could have done without the whole huge section narrated in dialect. At that point, he was just showing/jerking off. Still, the rest of the individual story tracks stood up well on their own, and I really got sucked into several of them. Excellent characterization and interesting world-building all in all. And his polyphony is definitely an impressive feat and fun to read in a playful pomo litgeek way. I’d recommend it, just not burden it with expectations....more
Wow, how great is this? Kids' books about dark matter and consciousness and free will and rebelling against God? This is definitely up my alley. StrayWow, how great is this? Kids' books about dark matter and consciousness and free will and rebelling against God? This is definitely up my alley. Strays a bit from the delightful and incredibly imaginative storytelling into polemic in the final book, but still up there with the best stuff of its kind that I've read....more