Mini-review: There really is no such thing as a perfect textbook. Any textbook needs to make compromises on many different points, if only to keep theMini-review: There really is no such thing as a perfect textbook. Any textbook needs to make compromises on many different points, if only to keep the sheer size manageable. Given that restriction, Tilley & Tilley comes very close to the optimum. If you are looking for a solid, yet readable introduction to superfluidity, I would not hesitate to recommend this book over any other book or review paper I have read so far. It is well-written, follows a logical structure, makes judicious use of cross-referencing and uses a transparent notation. I covers the fundamentals, experimental as well as theoretical, without being superficial. It does so at the cost of leaving out almost anything beyond the basic, but in so doing gives the reader a solid ground for further reading in more specialised literature -- and that, really, is what we should ask of an introductory textbook, rather than the patch-work overviews and detail-ridden bricks that seem so popular with publishers. My only complaint is that Tilley & Tilley do not make use of second-quantisation in their main discussion of BCS theory (they give a brief account in appendices). Nothing is lost from the main points by doing this, but a student of physics at this level should be familiar with basic second-quantisation, and it is the level of understanding any student of basic BCS theory should aim for....more
Mini-review: Ted Chiang is probably one of, if not the, most interesting writers in contemporary speculative fiction. Yes, speculative fiction. That iMini-review: Ted Chiang is probably one of, if not the, most interesting writers in contemporary speculative fiction. Yes, speculative fiction. That is really the only term that does any justice to Chiang's stories, which take cues from, but ultimately transcend both science fiction and fantasy. He is anything but prolific, but he replaces quantity with an astonishing quality. His stories are carefully crafted in all respects: each story revolves around a well though-out philosophical idea, which Chiang presents with characters, plots and use of language crafted to the purpose. There are many writers who can piece together an engaging story, some who can present an interesting idea, and a few who can turn language into art and shape it to their purpose, but there are very few indeed who consistently succeed in doing all three at once. Ted Chiang is one of them....more
"You like because of, but love in spite of." Of all the old clichés, this is among those with which I have the most problems. In part because it is fa"You like because of, but love in spite of." Of all the old clichés, this is among those with which I have the most problems. In part because it is factually incorrect, but mostly because it always seems to be used to imply that love is unconditional and that there cannot really be an actual reason for us loving whomever or whatever we love.
However, there is a reason the old proverbs came about, and sometimes even the most tired clichés are appropriate. Heinlein's classic The Moon is a Harsh Mistress certainly has many shortcomings. Exempli gratia: a certain lack of development where most characters are concerned, a somewhat over-simplistic and, with a few exceptions, predictable plot, a vision of the future that is dated beyond rescue, a distinct lack of respect for certain facts of physics and mathematics, gaping holes in the logic, some doubtful philosophical conclusions, an almost complete lack of real suspense, a few instances of blatant sexism, and, to finish off, a disregard for the golden rule of engaging storytelling "don't tell but show!" on a level usually reserved for small-time politicians. And yet, this is a book I really loved almost from the first page.
The society on the moon is a former penal colony, to which criminals and subversive people have been deported from earth (i.e., a carbon copy of Australia a few hundred years earlier). In the year 2075, the majority of the population is no longer made up of prisoners, but of deported people who have been freed and their children and grandchildren. But still Luna is tightly controlled by the Lunar Authority on earth, and its inhabitants are held in a kind of de facto serfdom since they are physiologically unable to live in earth's high gravity. Luna is being systematically bled on its resources by being forced to sell grain to the Authority at prices that can never sustain Luna, in order to feed the masses on the over-populated earth who starve under an incompetent political leadership.
A small group of revolutionaries faster than they thought end up leading a revolution against the oppressors from earth. The story of the revolution on the moon is told by Mannie, a computer technician and jack of all trades who almost by accident ends up with a young revolutionary and an old philosopher and political thinker, who organise a network of revolutionaries with the goal of overthrowing the Lunar Authority and establish the perfect anarchist-capitalist society. They are helped by the most powerful supercomputer on the moon, which has become sentient and has developed an intelligence that would eat the Turing test for breakfast.
The one thing that all books I really love have in common is that they have a personality, and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress certainly does. It is not quite up there with Heinlein's most famous book, Stranger in a Strange Land, which is one of the most unique and interesting stories I have read, but like Stranger in a Strange Land, in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress Heinlein manages to conjure up a unique combination of memorable characters, a good story, and observations worth considering. Both books, by the way, have one character each who does not understand the concept of humour. Both are called Mike, and both learn that a sense of humour and the ability to laugh is central to what it means to be human.
Heinlein was a master storyteller, and as such was probably very much aware of the innate paradoxes of trying to build a free and pacifist society by terrorism and, ultimately, war. Or for that matter of trying to build a society without political government through a handful of individuals who blindly trust the judgement of a sentient supercomputer whose priorities sometimes make no human sense. Heinlein forces us to think. It is mistake with any author, but perhaps with Heinlein in particular, to assume that he fully agrees with any and all ideas proposed by his protagonists. That said, and though the book is now over 40 years old, some thoughts seem more valid today than ever, for example when Prof de la Paz asks for thoughtfulness in legislation:
But in writing your constitution let me invite attention to the wonderful virtues of the negative! Accentuate the negative! Let your document be studded with things the government is forever forbidden to do. No conscript armies … no interference however slight with freedom of press, or speech, or travel, or assembly, or of religion, or of instruction, or communication, or occupation … no involuntary taxation.
What I fear most are affirmative actions of sober and well-intentioned men granting to government powers to do something that appears to need doing.
I did not ever find the book boring. Even when the characters go on for pages discussing politics, the story is ceaselessly enthralling. Heinlein constructs an interesting society on the moon, with new social structures — several types of polygamous marriages that can span generations — and with its own dialect, which is very much like English with a Russian accent and with words from a few different languages, predominantly Russian (unfortunately written in a horrible transliteration that is unlikely to help a reader who does not speak Russian and only serves to confuse and irritate us who do). Getting into the language takes a little while, since Mannie tells the story in Loonie English, but after a chapter or two you get into the flow. Within this society Heinlein creates characters with a great deal of personality who could never have existed anywhere else.
There is no doubt in my mind that The Moon is a Harsh Mistress well deserves its place among my favourites and among the classics of science-fiction literature on my book shelf. The combination of thought-provoking ideas and Heinlein's engaging storytelling and memorable characters lifts this book far above both many other books, and above what might reasonably be expected of this book itself, considering its shortcomings. And it is still, after 40 years, an interesting thought that an AI might eventually be realised as an emergent phenomenon in a sufficiently complex computer....more