The humorous and satirical short nonfiction of Ben Franklin is definitely a collection worth reading. Ignore the last part, titled The Dream, though....moreThe humorous and satirical short nonfiction of Ben Franklin is definitely a collection worth reading. Ignore the last part, titled The Dream, though. It's pure unverified personal gnosis. It's literally a dream of the collection's editor, in which he supposedly has a conversation with the ghost of Franklin; it's quite clear it's really the author's subconscious talking.
The parts that are actually by Franklin are fascinating, though. Some of it is really funny, and some of it is applicable to today's politics, and some of it is so oddly different from today's politics that it really shows the reader how times have changed. Some of Franklin's satires are meant as political commentary and some of them are just funny stories with twist endings. I recommend that my friends read this book -- and fart proudly.(less)
Mind Over Mind is the story of a transformational friendship between two young men, set in an insane asylum. A cocky young intern befriends a patient...moreMind Over Mind is the story of a transformational friendship between two young men, set in an insane asylum. A cocky young intern befriends a patient who believes he is psychic and helps him cope with life and with what may or may not be his special powers. The young mens’ lives run on an inverted parallel as the intern pursues romance with a nurse and the patient is pressured to give up his fantasy woman to be considered normal. It’s a coming-of-age story under the most trying circumstances.
One of the idea threads that run throughout the book is how science fiction and fantasy influence society. The young intern can relate to his patient’s psychic beliefs by pulling examples from fantasy novels. An introductory course for budding psychics with studies on grounding, shielding, tapping and releasing energy, and so forth, can be gleaned from a few popular books.
Mind Over Mind explores the questions of what is real, what is imaginary, and if that distinction even matters. This book is on my short list for a Hugo nomination. It’s joining a select group of books that I read over and over. But it transcends genre; more than a paranormal adventure, this book is a psychological drama that has the potential to break out to the mainstream reader. Five stars.
The Next Genesis depicts a high-tech near-future Earth in which America has become a police state complete with black-uniformed SS secret police terro...moreThe Next Genesis depicts a high-tech near-future Earth in which America has become a police state complete with black-uniformed SS secret police terrorizing the populace in the name of fighting terrorism, and the new nation of Etos arises in Brazil to oppose us.
The book starts with a bang, literally, as it begins with a laser-weapon terror attack on an American passenger jet. The story slows down for a while as it backtracks and tells how the world got to that point, and introduces the founder of Etos and the TeknoX technology.
Etos's founder Roberto is clearly a representative of the author Humberto, and the Scitrek foundation and its TeknoX technologies depicted in the book are clearly the same technologies he is developing in the real TeknoX startup. One of the coolest things about hard science fiction is that it comes true. Jules Verne's Nautilus presaged real submarine warfare, the classic Star Trek communicator looks almost exactly like the last decade's flip phone, and the real TeknoX's open source app for secure voting from a mobile device will no doubt function very much like the one developed by the science fictional version of TeknoX in this book. Indeed, this is not just a novel, it's a blueprint for the future that the author hopes to use to recruit people to become his business partners, for both the open source design-build Prosis software in TeknoX and for the direct democracy forums in Public Voice.
For this reason, the scene between Roberto and the prostitute Cate' is clearly not intended to be a comment on how any charismatic leader and visionary who promises a better world automatically becomes the alpha-male of his society, even in a society designed to prevent the concentration of power. The only people who appear to have immigrated without making a real commitment to atheism are the prostitutes, imported to fill up a quota of women immigrants, who thought they were going to a bordello. This part of the book is less science fiction than a fantasy from the point of view of Roberto, who gets what every utopian book should have: a happy ending. Aside from a few instances of language use that read like translation, the flaw in this book is that the major male characters change the world and the major female characters only have sex with them.
Then the action moves to Brazil and Etos and the story becomes electrifying. The excitement never stops as the perspective shifts from Roberto to the American Homeland Security agent Jack, who is gradually seduced to become Etonean as he explores the atheist utopia of Etos.
Etonean society is designed to keep any one person from having too much money or power, but the fundamental principle of the society seems to be better living through technology. Every social ill has an engineering solution. Etos doesn't need a servant class because this New Urbanist city-state is architecturally designed for the convenience of cleaning and maintenance robots, much like 20th Century cities were designed for cars. Etos doesn't need jails because of a criminal-control technology. Etoneans don't have to carry wallets because they have implants in their heads, which also allows them to communicate with the Xnet and operate machinery, and also provides security in a society in which there are no undocumented persons.
Etos has its contradictions. The Etoneans claim to be a society which has no place for greed, in reaction against the excesses of American capitalism in the form of Wall Street bailouts, and yet this society extols its material benefits from high technology, promising that there is no unemployment and everyone can use nuclear cars and free a gym and pool and for the Elite there is even eternal youth, or at least life-extension. When a visitor comments on the apparent lack of freedom of conscience, the Etoneans respond that people in their society don't have to carry money because of their embedded chips and are free from having to use a purse. The Etoneans have traded freedom of religion for the convenience of a checkout Easypass. They don't see this as a contradiction of the high value they place on freedom because each member of this society chose to make a commitment to atheism when they became citizens, except for the prostitutes, showing that Etos experiences realistic growing pains. It's details like that which make Etos believable as the work of imperfect human beings, and keeps the story engaging as a real look at a possible future that we could reach from here.
There are hints all the way along that the advanced technology that provides the Etoneans' high standard of living isn't really crowdsourced like the real-life TeknoX, but must come from the Providers. For example, Etos has surveillance satellites, but no known method to get them up into orbit. Maybe the alien Providers put them there with their space ship. Or maybe not. Truly great leaps in scientific innovation come far more often from individual scientists unafraid to go where accidental discoveries in the midst of other research lead them, or from the vivid dreams of creative geniuses, than from industrial-style research factories, and if history is any guide, the last thing that will ever lead one nation to have a more advanced technological level than the rest of the world is suppressing mavericks and expanding peer review of research funding proposals to include majority vote by the whole of society, so where does this high technology really come from? Who are the mysterious Providers, or more importantly, what are they? Aliens, time travelers, beings from another dimension?
Everyone, in Etos or outside in the rest of the world, who wants to use Etonean computers has to learn the Etonean language, and Etoneans are supposed to conduct all their speech in it, even though the language is so inhuman that it renders exchanges between lovers into four-letter crudity and requests for reproduction, and has no place in it for love or poetry. One wonders whether this is really an artificial machine language, or an alien language introduced by the Providers as a means of civilizing the savage humans before coming to take over the world. There are unanswered questions about Etos, leaving plenty of room for an exciting sequel.
This book will really make you think, and will keep you on the edge of your seat right up to the end. Whether Etos reads as an inspiring utopia or a horrifying dystopia will largely depend on your political view of a direct democracy in which the founder has chosen his own Demos very carefully and exclusively to maintain his ideal society. The Next Genesis is an important contribution to the literature of utopias and dystopias. A thought-provoking, realistic look at how the world could turn out, this book causes a profound emotional reaction in the reader. It's destined to be a classic. Buy it, read it, think about it, discuss it, analyze it in your college class, and decide if this is the future you want to live in. (less)
Brass Hearts is a fun steampunk twist on the 19th Century romantic comedy of manners. The heroine, Dulcy Spry, is a steam engineer determined to inher...moreBrass Hearts is a fun steampunk twist on the 19th Century romantic comedy of manners. The heroine, Dulcy Spry, is a steam engineer determined to inherit her father’s business, saddled with a scheming, social-climbing younger sister set on netting a rich husband. When a rich man’s steam-powered car breaks down in their little town, comedy ensues, with all the usual bells and whistles of mistaken identities, traded clothes, a masque ball, a con man, and an intricate web of wrong love matches, all while the gears are turning in the younger sister’s mind to achieve her marriage plot—plus actual brass gears, bells, and whistles in fine steampunk style.
Even if romantic comedy is not your usual genre, speculative fiction fans can enjoy this tale as a new take on hard sf’s engineer-hero plunked down in an alternate historical setting.