Imagine a space opera with the worldbuilding detail of Dune, but one whose first volume (of three) is itself the length of The Lord of the Rings aImagine a space opera with the worldbuilding detail of Dune, but one whose first volume (of three) is itself the length of The Lord of the Rings and which involves an invasion from another dimension that is vaguely described as "hell" or the "afterlife," and you have this novel. Lots of exposition, like Herbert or Tolkien, with enough plot and characterization (and mysterious antagonists) to keep me turning pages. (It didn't hurt that I paid $1 for this monster at a used book sale; that's one of the best bucks I've ever spent!)...more
I was really impressed by Benford's book Deep Time, but this subsequent volume on robots and cyborgs did not do much for me.
I expected a robust disI was really impressed by Benford's book Deep Time, but this subsequent volume on robots and cyborgs did not do much for me.
I expected a robust discussion of not only the current trends in robotics and cybernetics but also their implications for society and the human species; instead I got the usual techno-utopian cheerleading that relies on weak, if not actually false, analogies (e.g., "We've always been tool users, so therefore being cyborgs with implanted/integrated "tools" won't really be anything novel," or "We've always been tinkering with genes through breeding, and so implanting new genes directly into crop species isn't really anything new") and which ignores the history of technoscience's broken utopian promises (flying cars, anyone?) and unintended consequences.
I was also fairly appalled at the implied dismissal of a humanist approach to these technologies, one that adds a nuanced historical perspective (see above re: broken promises and unintended consequences), political economic context, and ethical criticisms of robots, cyborgs, and the possible future of the human species. Bioethicists, the authors argue, find problems whereas engineers find innovative solutions; the point apparently being that humanists are not really necessary, other than as bothersome nags who cannot simply shut up and accept the onward march of technoscientific progress. (That humanists often point out future problems which may be solved by altering present trajectories is ignored, as is the inconvenient fact that technical solutions usually come with a host of new, attendant problems. In the words of Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park, "Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn't stop to think if they should." That whole figuring out if we should or not is the purview of the humanists, if not the human population as a whole.)
Lest readers of this review think Thom a mindless Luddite and pissed off old man who just don't like the newfangled gewgaws and wants the damn kids to stop playing in my yard, they are only partially correct. I've been a fan of science and of science fiction for my entire life, but I've also grown up in a world where science promised more than it was able to deliver, time and again. I often comment (only half-jokingly) to wife, kid, and friends that I would gladly be uploaded into a machine or cyborg, so that I could escape the aches and pains of my weary flesh; luckily one of those friends, who happens to be a humanist medical doctor and chair of medical humanities at a Midwestern medical school, reminded me of context: whomever would pay to have me uploaded probably has an agenda in mind that is entirely different from my cyber-goal of providing for my eternal comfort with an infinite library at my disposal. This book needs a stronger dose of that sort of cold water to temper the authors' enthusiasm....more
It was the end of the Digital Age and the beginning of something new. Society percolated like a river city settling down from a flood. People were ple
It was the end of the Digital Age and the beginning of something new. Society percolated like a river city settling down from a flood. People were pleased with the new order; they'd reclaimed their lives from the machines. Good-humoredly they implemented the necessary changes, working together, fixing one problem at a time. (p. 320)
With a twinkle in his jolly old Archdruid eye, JMG set out to make an easy buck off the 2012 apocalypse by writing a book on how the 2012 apocalypse iWith a twinkle in his jolly old Archdruid eye, JMG set out to make an easy buck off the 2012 apocalypse by writing a book on how the 2012 apocalypse is hooey. This book presents a breezy history of the very idea of the apocalypse, of the notion that at some point (usually quite soon) the world and history would end, once and for all.
While I didn't seriously believe Terence McKenna's TimeWave Zero prediction about the end of time in 2012, I'd known about this obscure prophecy for decades before it became a pop cultural meme. Looking forward to 2012 provided me some comfort in the wake of the Y2K and millennial nonevents and the all-too-real events of 9/11/2001. I say comfort because I was raised in a home with a father who was exploring the apocalyptic fringes of Pentacostal Christianity, and so there has always been a part of me that expects the world to end right fucking now.
This image hung in my dad's workshop. It depicts the Rapture.
This is like the Episode 1 version of the previous picture, with a new and improved Jesus and 25% more resurrected Christians in glorified bodies.
This one's kinda pretty, with a New Agey feel and a Tibetan color scheme.
This is like the Periodic Table of Rapturology.
I still remember (though he doesn't) the time my dad explained to me that the world would end in 1992 because the dates in the Bible added up thusly. I became a stoner mystic in fall 1992. Coincidence? Jesus is like, "Dude, what took you so long?"
Waking up on December 22, 2012 was slightly weird. I had expected something after all, and nothing had happened. And yet something had happened. I had finally realized that I had responsibility for my own life, in a deep, fundamental way. That's what this book is actually all about. That and history.
Greer traces the apocalypse meme back to Zoroaster and a dysfunctional, as it turns out, reinterpretation of the cyclical procession of the equinoxes. The Jews picked it up during the Babylonian Captivity, Christianity was forged in the crucible of apocalyptic expectations, and Islam inherited the same family resemblance. Chinese Buddhists and Daoists picked it from up along the Silk Road, and later from Christian missionaries.
One of Greer's insights is that secular utopian thinking is a contemporary form of the apocalypse meme, of the notion that history can end and in fact has ended with us, here, now, in the perfect present moving into an ever more perfect future. It is a function of what Greer calls the myth of progress. And the meme, whether in religious or secular form, in apocalyptic or utopian drag, serves the same basic purpose, to assuage our own personal fears of change, of death, and of dying. And of taking responsibility to live in the face of those realities.
It's the emotional payoffs of apocalyptic faith here and now... that explain the extraordinary persistence of the meme over more than three thousand years of history. (197)
The apocalypse meme... encourages people to believe in promises of a kind that will never be fulfilled. (200)
The apocalypse meme is not really about the end of the world, or more precisely, it's not about the kind of end that the world, or humanity, or contemporary industrial civilization, or each of our lives, will actually have. At the center of the apocalypse meme is the insistence that those endings aren't for us—that, as Joseph Rutherford insisted, millions now living will never die. (207)
The first chapter was the best, and the most "sf," of the entire book. See other reviews for synopses of the details. Well written enough to keep me rThe first chapter was the best, and the most "sf," of the entire book. See other reviews for synopses of the details. Well written enough to keep me reading, but not nearly as incredible a book as I was lead to believe by the friend who recommended it....more
Really enjoyed the premise, a police procedural set in a near future wherein most USAmericans live, work, and love virtually, remotely inhabiting theReally enjoyed the premise, a police procedural set in a near future wherein most USAmericans live, work, and love virtually, remotely inhabiting the synthetic "surrogates" of the title. Equally hated the artwork, except for the graphic design pieces between chapters. ...more
If you can get past the stilted prose, the glacial pacing, the lack of a real plot, and the fact that the only protagonist in this novel is "Man," youIf you can get past the stilted prose, the glacial pacing, the lack of a real plot, and the fact that the only protagonist in this novel is "Man," you will be rewarded by a work of imagination that the educated folks call sui generis, without peer. Stapledon's future history of intelligence in the solar system extends as far into the future as the Burgess shale retreats into our past. As a scholarly treatise of sorts, it is a slog, assuredly (the last thirty pages had me skimming) but it is also a pretty staggering creation that inspired works like Man After Man: An Anthropology of the Future, Future Man, and even, in imaginative scope though definitely not in content, That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis. ...more
A God Somewhere put the graphic back into graphic novel with its gory depictions of smashed heads, decapitated corpses, and shredded human remains. ThA God Somewhere put the graphic back into graphic novel with its gory depictions of smashed heads, decapitated corpses, and shredded human remains. These images serve to remind the reader that fragility is at the heart of the human condition. They also provide a stark contrast to the novel's nigh-omnipotent superman (in both the Simon & Shuster and Nietzschean senses). Described elsewhere as "the first superhero tragedy," this novel provides a disturbing, if uneven, meditation on what it might be like if the average human being suddenly found themselves in the possession of god-like powers.
Flashbacks from journalist Sam Knowle's past tell of his lifelong friendship with two Southern California brothers, Eric and Hugh; his unrequited love for Hugh's wife Alma; and the rivalry that develops between the two siblings. These flashes are intercut with the main story arc in which Eric becomes the aforementioned superman who initially acts heroically before "transcending" conventional ways of thinking/acting/being and finally transforming from apparent savior to mass-murdering monster.
Boing Boing's Cory Doctorow has evidently written some great short stories, six of which are presented here in graphically adapted form. All of theseBoing Boing's Cory Doctorow has evidently written some great short stories, six of which are presented here in graphically adapted form. All of these stories but one--"When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth"--really struck me and made me want to read the original, un-adapted versions. Doctorow is the first SF author I've read who deals with our mash-up/remix culture's concerns about intellectual property vs. free speech, piracy vs. legal controls over research and communication, and corporate profits vs. human needs. He revisits many of the themes of classic SF and rethinks their implications for a radically changing, and changed, world. In addition, the artwork in most of these graphic adaptations was excellent and really added to the storytelling. ...more
**spoiler alert** *Axiomatic* collects many of Greg Egan's early stories, first published primarily in *Interzone* and *Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction**spoiler alert** *Axiomatic* collects many of Greg Egan's early stories, first published primarily in *Interzone* and *Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine* in the early 1990s. It is a great introduction to Egan's SF.
The short story format suits Egan much better than the long-form novel, because it allows him to flesh out one or two incredibly provocative, disturbingly logical, frighteningly implied-by-the-trajectory-of-our-species ideas with some elegance.
A lot of these stories deal with deep questions about identity, the nature of the self, and the self's relationship to the other. Egan's characters, and his authorial voice, are highly rational, ostensibly free from subconscious and unconscious motivations and influences. This often makes for chillingly "reasonable" responses to the Big Questions humanity has been asking itself for millennia. It would definitely make excellent reading for a "Philosophy in Science Fiction" class.
"The Hundred Light-Year Diary" dissects free will and predestination in the context of time reversed galaxies and mirrors in space.
"The Moat" explores fears of contamination and the lengths to which some will go to remain isolated. Egan further explores the idea of engineered base pairs and an utterly alien nucleochemistry as defense mechanism in the novel *Distress*.
Why deal with the potentially life-long obligations of parenthood when you have a pet-like child (or child-like pet) destined to die in its sleep as a toddler? Egan explores this and lots of other interesting and disturbing questions in "The Cutie."
Egan apparently has little time for religious or for those who take it seriously, to any degree or in any fashion whatsoever, and so, sadly, his stories rarely reflect a nuanced perspective on the subject. That said, "The Moral Virologist," in which a religiously fanatical virologist engineers and releases what he considers God's Plague only to discover that the Devil is in the details, is pretty chilling to someone who grew up in an "End Times" home.
A reviewer here commented that "Unstable Orbits in the Space of Lies" depicted his struggle to maintain his intellectual integrity while attending a UU seminary, and that image resonated with me. It reminded me of my life-long study of different religions and mythologies (and the lack thereof), and my flirtation with various beliefs (and the lack thereof), and my hesitance, my reluctance, to fall into any one of their gravity wells. ...more
Post-humans living in a mostly barren universe unleash a parallel universe of sorts in an experiment involving Quantum Graph Theory, something that apPost-humans living in a mostly barren universe unleash a parallel universe of sorts in an experiment involving Quantum Graph Theory, something that apparently brings quantum mechanics and general relativity together. This weird otherworld horizon is expanding at half the speed of light, engulfing systems and necessitating evacuations, and trans-humanity is divided into two factions over what to do about it: those who want to figure out how to stop it and those who want to learn to adapt. Then it's discovered that there might be life, even sentient life in this otherworld.
There's something about Egan's style, though, and the ethos that runs through his novels, that I usually don't connect with. It's not that he is overly cerebral. It's that he appreciates the trans-human condition a little too easily, relishes the possibility of being disembodied cogitation. I don't know, his imagination is awesome, but his prose is detached and bloodless and it often comes across as lecturing or even sermonizing through the characters.
I don't want the time back, but I'm glad I checked this out from the library....more
The rest of the universe has somehow quarantined humanity with a Dyson-sphere-like bubble around the solar system, all because the human brain has theThe rest of the universe has somehow quarantined humanity with a Dyson-sphere-like bubble around the solar system, all because the human brain has the ability to collapse all the possibilities (*eigenstates*) in each quantum event, thereby reducing the potential and actual diversity of the cosmos. Egan takes this premise and asks, "OK, what if someone became consciously aware of this collapsing process and began choosing which eigenstate was made manifest?" What if each moment were a smear of probabilities, and a meta-you chose the most optimal scenario out of these probabilities for meta-your own benefit? Would billions of other you's die each moment, with each choice? Would you ever be certain that you too weren't doomed to vanish at a moment's notice, in the collapse of the quantum wave function?
And then ask yourself, what if the whole of humanity had this "gift"? ...more