Good book, uses hard sci-fi setting to explore consciousness, working through many of the recent theories. There's a great protagonist made from a guy...moreGood book, uses hard sci-fi setting to explore consciousness, working through many of the recent theories. There's a great protagonist made from a guy who had his empathy surgically removed so he could be a dispassionate professional observer. He's been augmented too, to be able to synthesize understanding from nuances others would miss, without getting his own personal biases involved, but this objectivity cost him a little bit of his self.
I particularly liked the mission commander too, who seems to show us that a psychopath is just what you want in a leader? This touches on a small problem with the book, which is that it's theme-less. There are instead several very interesting interactions for which I want more material, but it doesn't seem to tie together. Instead, just vignettes.
The relationship with Siri's hands-on girlfriend eventually collapsed because he was too cold. You could see that coming and she, Chelsea, was obviously a throwback to today, a woman who wants intimacy. Paired with a man who's had his empathy excised, they form a hyperbole for a contemporary relationship cliche. I wanted more of this. ...but was that the theme?
The aliens are the enemy, or are they? Do they even care about us? They seem un-directed and robotic, a ship and it's many support vessels and crew on autopilot. Not malignant but would it matter? They're certainly potentially dangerous. The plot line revolves around the reaction of our own human ship's cherry-picked crew of valedictorians to a very "alien" situation. (One thing that was really nice about this book was that the aliens really did live up to the connotation!) We're so far away from earth that it's essentially not a player in the drama: a half dozen overachievers, each with a distinct specialty working against the clock to determine the outcome of a First Contact.
Each of the characters could be an olympian in a different sport: fencing, powerlifting, gymnastics, nordic skiing. Imagine the contrasts! Instead, these people differ in their minds have all undergone psychologically relevant consciousness alterations. The translator has some kind of self induced multiple-personality disorder. The doctor has been merged into his teleoperated scalpels and x-ray eyes, the captain is... well he's well chosen; let's just say that.
Some of the fun ideas you might really want to skip over because: (view spoiler)[
* Heaven: upload yourself into paradise. * Vampires are real & we brought 'em back to be hard ass commanders. * Consciousness is just a post-facto observer. * We've passed the Kurzweil singularity and the ship turns out to be a perfectly legit AI.
A favorite moment cited the experiment where you "decide" to move your finger, but the conscious apprehension of the act comes half a second after the decision making was done. I think that doesn't invalidate the conscious actor as a key factor any more than does a coaches' post-game role. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I loved this book, a long time ago. I think it would seem a little childish now & earn less stars but it was great. The antagonist is a race of su...moreI loved this book, a long time ago. I think it would seem a little childish now & earn less stars but it was great. The antagonist is a race of supermonsters they called "Grendels" (I think: it was a long time ago) whose basic aspect was of an alligator, and whose superpower was sacs of hydrazine-like blood additive that gave them lightning speed, at the cost of severe overheating.
After zooming through the camp & eating a few folks, they's have to sulk, steaming, underwater someplace cool.
I feel that way cycling around Boulder at lunchtime! My superpowers are the ability to ignore traffic regulations and put on bursts of speed. After, I have to sulk in a dark bistro for an hour, sucking down iced tea or a Staropramen. (...a newly discovered Austrian lager.)(less)
Turning and turning in the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the...moreWhat a bad-ass poem she dares call into context.
Turning and turning in the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity.
whoa. So, that's Yeats, the Second Coming, the first bit of it anyway. Calling on that is like conjuring a dragon; something not lightly undertaken. For this poem alone, the book is already worth the read, and gets a couple of provisional stars. Time will tell if they're just reflections of Yeats' intensity, or if Saks' work can match her title. I'm excited.
--- done --- Not finished but done.
Throughout the book, Elyn seemed "lazy." I use the word cautiously because I can't quite nail my discomfiture to the page: she knew she was losing it but could not stop herself. While I admit to similar weakness w.r.t. ice cream, it is just about impossible to imagine NOT stopping myself from ranting about killing people while they're considering whether or not to tie you down, an experience she lived through repeatedly! (I use my inside voice for all that silence of the lambs monologue.:) Anyway, it just seemed slovenly not to curtail a behavior of which you're conscious, and which she knew was not good for her. It's like she was a third party participant in her own thoughts, watching them run wherever they wanted to go. Maybe indeed this was the essence of the description of insanity, and it was chilling. One thing I'm sure of is my dominion over Me. I think about what I want, for sure and always. It would be petrifying to lose control of yourself! In this context, I want to think more about losing my temper, and ice cream and sex. Those are times when you do not have complete mastery over yourself: why am I not frightened by them, as I was by Elyn's experience? I would say (wrongly?) that even when losing my temper, it is because I want to and I have often said "you never do anything you don't want to do." Maybe I should question those ideas. Is this a gateway to try to understand insanity?
The Sandy Hook shooting happened during this read, and it became impossible to read the book without those sad deaths in the background.
I believe that Aurora shooter James Holmes and Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza should be forgiven for killing all those people, because they're not at fault for who they've become. No one should be faulted for nature or nurture, but then what is left of us? Perhaps the answer is that "fault" and "responsibility" are different words, even if only by a little bit, and we must act on that nuance.
High school wrestler Joe Blow should not be excused for writing a hit list and threatening the school, because everyone is responsible for their behavior.
Holmes and Lanza should be executed or jailed not as punishment but as security. Are they crazy? Surely. Crazy's not an excuse for behavior because nothing is.
There has been much maneuvering to prevent an “insanity” assessment of Holmes. The answer to “why?” must be that the legal consequences are materially different. That’s partly Elyn's proud accomplishment, and it's unfortunate, because it shouldn’t make a difference in the outcome. As for punishment, I personally don’t want to bother with it, he’s beneath notice, and it won’t bring anyone back.
Elyn Saks may have done some harm here,creating this legal divide.(less)
Very very close to the movie. Not much to say. The book club had a pretty interesting thread , if you're interested in the misogyny angle. Originally...moreVery very close to the movie. Not much to say. The book club had a pretty interesting thread , if you're interested in the misogyny angle. Originally I thought it a bit hyperbolic, but then I discovered everyone just uses the word improperly. It's a nuclear word, used for common tactical purposes by the unlettered. :)(less)
I've just finished Cat's Cradle with predictable results. I feel sad and hopeless. After choosing this book because of a reference to ice-9 and genuin...moreI've just finished Cat's Cradle with predictable results. I feel sad and hopeless. After choosing this book because of a reference to ice-9 and genuine interest in the "fun" of sci-fi speculation, I was not disappointed in those aspects. Though brief, the technical proposal was imaginative and believable. It was, however, only a small part of the book. Vonnegut is able to invent and use a first class Sci-Fi premise without succumbing to the urge to take it seriously. The geek in me wishes he would put a lot more flesh on the bones of the science but Vonnegut has no use for that, it's just a vector to deliver his message, and he only has need of the bones and gristle, so that's all you'll get. There is so much more going on though, and concerning such grave matters, that the ice-9 could just as well melt into the background except for the fact that it is a critical prop device enabling the storyline.
The plot was ridiculous, worthy of Douglas Adams with castles, Caribbean dictators, nerds supermodels, and our intrepid reporter who self effacing character means he doesn't even know he's sure to get the girl. It was good, and plenty of humor, but enough about that.
The theme is that mankind is a tragic enterprise, a "grandfalloon." Like foolhardy children, not to be trusted with matches, we will wipe ourselves out just as soon as we can. Sure, there are all kinds of people, many good, or well intentioned, but unfortunately our vast technical power now makes it possible for small people with small acts of vanity, cruelty or stupidity to commit unspeakable horror. Being as absolutely blunt as possible, Vonnegut even puts the deadly wizardry and the ethical absentia into the same person. It's just a very small stretch from ice-9 to PU-239, and the same foolish scientific tinkering to create them both, so there's your moral, folks.
Now, those grim fairy tales your Momma read you always contain an admonition, something you do or don't do in order to avoid the bogey man, or getting cut up with scissors, or whatever. Vonnegut, though, offers no hope. After pondering a minute, I feel there's really very little else to say about it. At least with Adams, the dolphins get out in the last scene. Instead, we get a sort of anti-Prometheus.
Next there's Bokonism, which seems unnecessary. Did Vonnegut really need a moralizing narrator droning on in the background to reinforce every point? Maybe he felt it impossible to make this book obvious enough, given the importance of the topic.
Last, what's with Mona? I'm male enough to have been captivated by her, can understand a woman being the only and most important thing on earth and her disinterest being emotionally crushing, but WHY is any of that in the book? Why is she in it? What lesson have I missed about her?
There is nothing to do at the end of this book but be sad.(less)
A fast read. More bitter, factual and true than the TV series, which I also very strongly recommend. The TV show makes heroes of these boys, while the...moreA fast read. More bitter, factual and true than the TV series, which I also very strongly recommend. The TV show makes heroes of these boys, while the book reveals that the glory is ephemeral, and finds football to return no core of value worth the loss of one's childhood, and education, and future.
"My estimate of Reno and Custer is this: The former was brave but not rash, and Custer was both," wrote a First Cavalry acquaintance of Custer.
As I r...more"My estimate of Reno and Custer is this: The former was brave but not rash, and Custer was both," wrote a First Cavalry acquaintance of Custer.
As I read this book, I tried to imagine the vast American West as an ocean of grass, imbued with danger, distance and the chance for honor, not unlike the high seas of Nelson and Farragut. It wasn't too hard to conjure. At the same time, I expected a view of the Army as a blunt instrument of national policy, often stupid and genocidal. This also was easy to imagine.
Of the endless question as to Reno's timidity vs Custer's brashness, I was unaware and remain agnostic. No, the key thing so far for me in the book is the thousand year reign of the Sioux, Lakota, Arapahoe, Cherokee and others over this land. As the book transpires we see the buffalo dying, we see a cavalry fishing party pulling literally thousands of trout coming out of a river Every Day for a month, simply gorging, and hear stories of disparate Indian tribes reflexively aiding each other with food, clothes, possessions: anything, to meet any need.
The book is full of anecdotes, and these were not special, yet struck me hard. The Indians didn't HAVE much, with a migratory society. I could imagine shorter lives than ours, measured by character or exploits rather than stuff. The white men, though, would scourge the land immediately, like locusts. How could this be? Surely we are seeing some deep cultural difference. A thousand years of white rule in America will not leave a single trout or buffalo besides decorative ones. I cannot imagine this simply as a matter of technological disparity, though that surely affected who Won. No, it's a cultural or racial edge.
We're just plain more evil than they were.
I'm looking forward to the rest of the book, but wanted to transcribe this thought as it came to me.(less)
Just read the first 43 pages of this (teaser available on the nook for free) and didn't like it. I feel a ponderous list coming on. More of a recipe b...moreJust read the first 43 pages of this (teaser available on the nook for free) and didn't like it. I feel a ponderous list coming on. More of a recipe book than a book, perhaps. Anyway, this one did not excite my fancy.(less)
Sloooow start, hard to get interested. This was recommended by a "rationality" podcast; I had high hopes. Going to put it on a way back burner. Not sa...moreSloooow start, hard to get interested. This was recommended by a "rationality" podcast; I had high hopes. Going to put it on a way back burner. Not saying it's bad, just dense.(less)
**spoiler alert** A sad book, the story strikes very close to home.
Everyone who's had a child will relate to, and those of you who have not will scarc...more**spoiler alert** A sad book, the story strikes very close to home.
Everyone who's had a child will relate to, and those of you who have not will scarcely believe, how selfish, fearful, naive, literal, un-empathetic, brilliant, needy and petulant a baby or small child can be. In fact, maybe PETULANT covers the whole range, but you have to write it big like that so everyone knows you really mean it. When someone's no longer a child but still this way, we call it autism. It's just the same thing, probably not even any "more" but more striking in an older child who should know better.
And now, some of you are saying "really?" in a worried voice and others are saying, "I think maybe that's a little too simplistic" in a patronizing voice. Probably though, no one who's been a parent is being patronizing, and that correlation's suspicious enough to be worth a mulling-over.
Mark Haddon does a great job illuminating, in first person, what rationale may drive his protagonist, but for me, viewing at arm's length the destruction of his parents' relationship was even more interesting, accurately reported yet not "seen" except in abstract through Christopher's uncaring eyes. He is the cause of it all while simultaneously innocent of it.
Christopher's Father has to carry a permanent load of dealing with this awful/wonderful child. I might say, "so did I," but my kids hit 3 and turned human as most do, so a lifetime of saintly patience was not required. The characters in this book aren't perfect but they are good. Maybe none of them is good enough for Christopher, who has unreachable standards but is himself cruel in the way only an unempathetic animal can be. By that I mean we are all called on to forgive and tolerate each other far beyond the limits of Christopher's patience, and substantially, we do so. Maybe it's not quite kindness, but the humanity of tolerance towards each other, even under pressure, stands out as the key surprise, juxtaposed with Christopher's black and white intolerance. His ignorance of course, is his excuse. He is in the dark and of course it's not his fault. My point is that his lack, his darkness, reveals us all as secret, shining heroes. If you can look at it that way, it's a happy book.
Am I painting on a theme Haddon didn't intend? Probably. I just think it's nice to think about.
*** Later *** And now it's 12/17, three days after a horrific shooting in Connecticut school where a disturbed youth killed 20 6 year old kids. The story's not out yet but he's described as possibly having Asperger's. It's another possible alternate ending to this book. (less)