Between this and Worm, I've been convinced to put up a story I've been working on as a web serial. These works are better than the majority of publishBetween this and Worm, I've been convinced to put up a story I've been working on as a web serial. These works are better than the majority of published science fiction and fantasy out there nowadays. Together with the fan fiction Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality and Peter Watts' book Blindsight, these long works are among the most notable of a subgenre called 'rationalist fiction'. It's very hard to go back to naive protagonists without a modicum of self-awareness once you've had a taste of these.
To compare within the genre, I rate Mother of Learning very highly. HPMOR, while didactically valuable and entertaining, isn't really very well written, and Worm has a rather different sense of scale. It might be because I took this up right after Worm, but the two serials have a clear complementarity in my mind- Worm is expansive across space, while Mother of Learning is expansive across time. Of course it's not as though both deal with exactly the same themes or anything, and I'll likely want to revisit this comparison later, but it's my relative sense at present.
Mother of Learning proceeds almost like a visual novel or text based game, with the fantasy setting feeling rather generic at first. As the reader progresses with every cycle in a plot phenomenon that's inevitably going to be compared with Groundhog Day, Zorian's world in Cyoria grows richer. This is also true of the world at large when Zorian explores beyond Cyoria. What makes Zorian a rational protagonist is largely to do with the way he prioritises what to learn. Zorian is very definitely not a Mary Sue type of character- he's intelligent, but not so naturally talented that everything, or conveniently enough just the things that matter the most, come easily to him. In fact, even when a natural gift is disclosed, he still has to work very hard to attain mastery. This gives the story a curious sense of realism that most fantasy lacks. The author allows himself the space to work through frustrations and patient efforts with his character, but it wouldn't work without a well thought-out backdrop where some reprieve in the form of discoveries, incidental or otherwise, whether about characters or their circumstances, can be had. Cyoria certainly provides this, and acts as a window to the wider world in political and socioeconomic terms because of its centrality. It may in fact do this a little better than Hogwarts manages in Rowling's Harry Potter books, which also invite inevitable comparison. Characterisation is very well done and I hope to say more about the cast at another time. The writing is polished enough that characters' voices come through readily and happily no irritatingly uniform prose or dialogue quirks of the sort readers of Eliezer Yudkowsky or Brandon Sanderson must be all too aware of seem to be present.
I've caught up now and am looking forward to coming chapters.
Started reading this immediately after binging the One Punch Man anime. Now I can't help but see parallels between the superhero setups, but it mightStarted reading this immediately after binging the One Punch Man anime. Now I can't help but see parallels between the superhero setups, but it might just be the superhero meme now going around. It reminds me most of comic book greats like Watchmen and Irredeemable/Incorruptible, but in many ways Worm simply has no parallel.
As for the story itself, the pacing is exhilarating. It hardly ever lets up, or it's still interesting even on the odd occasion it does. The writing isn't always perfect, but the author keeps things simple and grounded for a consistent flow that I'm happy to trade in for literary flourishes, especially given that this is an urban fantasy, and an enormous one at that. Having finished it I can be fairly confident in saying that any lull in the action you experience will soon abate and deliver a more than proportionate payoff. I tend to be sceptical about urban fantasy in general, after quite a few false starts with subpar series that never even tried to be as smart as this one effortlessly manages to be, and if my experience is anything to go by, this is better than most published works in the genre.
The sheer scale of happenings in Worm wouldn't carry the story half so well alone were it not for the many and varied characters who go through almost invariably authentic developments and make for the emotional toll the series can take on you.
The author has a Patreon you can donate to, as I plan to, should you enjoy it.
If you've already read this and liked it, you might enjoy giving other rational reads a go. The protagonists of such series, Taylor Hebert being a very good example, tend to act in a self-aware way taking into account resources that are available to them and putting them to use in reasonable ways for the most effective results. I should warn that they tend to ruin more half-arsed characters in other genres of fiction for you....more
The trouble with Korean webtoons/manhwa (at least the ones I've read so far) is the sense that nothing could go really wrong. It's hard to shake and sThe trouble with Korean webtoons/manhwa (at least the ones I've read so far) is the sense that nothing could go really wrong. It's hard to shake and so you're aware all the way that what you're reading is largely wish-fulfillment. Though, that can be plenty fun, especially when there's not a steaming pile of ideology all too obviously served up with the wish-fulfillment as the cherry on top. No, this way is more honest....more
Ever feel typecasting happens to writers?- it would of course seem more their own fault than would be the case with actors. I don't mean Scott McCloudEver feel typecasting happens to writers?- it would of course seem more their own fault than would be the case with actors. I don't mean Scott McCloud, I mean Neil Gaiman, who provides a blurb for this book. Gaiman's Sandman series is an outstanding contribution to the medium, and he still seems to have good ideas based on what I've read of his later short stories. And yet, more and more he seems to be fully on board with anything that resonates with his inclusiveness-loving sentimentality that seeks to unconditionally embrace whatever silly thing that doesn't seem to fit in with society at large. This to me is something his own work might sometimes be better off without indulging excessively. The Sculptor certainly gives off that same 'vibe'; it certainly feels rather indulgent. But then again, the modern world invites us to indulge, to strive in ways that are not the surest linked to survival, to forget about the precariousness of existence except to passively acknowledge and even appreciate it in some unfathomable way. Writers like Gaiman and McCloud are more in tune with the modern agenda than I could possibly be and perhaps this makes docking stars for personal reservations somehow inherently unfair (in that I find most modern fiction to be this way, a little too self-satisfied). With this in mind, the rest of the review will focus largely on the key characters given the premise rather than the premise itself, and the rating reflects solely this judgement.
As it happens, McCloud's Death has a lot in common with Gaiman's, though the manic pixie dream girl bit (which Gaiman's Death plays, but also often transcends, though not in the sense that I take issue with it as you'll see) is instead played unapologetically straight with the protagonist's romantic interest, Meg. And that's... fine really. The Sculptor is about a man, David Smith, who (especially with a name like his) desperately wants to leave a mark on the world with his art, desperately enough that he takes a Faustian bargain- though the offer comes from a more neutral (secular?), even safe, source. What Meg offers him is a counterpoint to seeing life in this way, the embrace of something more nebulous, and that's how the reader first comes to know her. But it's not true that Meg remains a static character that exists solely to teach David what the word of God has decided is right (this being where I take issue with the trope- a compelling character chances being wrong, but with this character type there's an unmistakable impression in the story that wisdom lies with their way of life, as decreed by the universe)... or at least not only that. How is she more? Well, admittedly, she doesn't get anything worth writing home about in the way of character development, so my problem with the character type still applies to her. What we do get are glimpses into who she is beyond, or better yet, alongside her quirks and in counterpoint to them (though not strongly enough that there's ever a sense that her bubbly, shallow worldview can ever be mistaken or incomplete or boring), and what it is she wants in life. This is very like David's art- as far as we can tell, he doesn't actually improve over the events of the story, but he starts to care about facets of his work that are incidental, true to Meg's modus vivendi with which he grapples.
Now how to approach David's aspirations? It seems easier to do so, though I half expect to be accused of 'male gaze' for saying so. Death, simply in coming before him, reminds him that he's the last of his line (never mind more explicitly outlining the consequences of this to itself later, which happens to reinforce what I remarked earlier about this being a tamer Faustian bargain where the 'devil' cares, if within the rules). Till a chance happening towards the end of the story, David doesn't stop to countenance the natural continuity he might be a part of. The history of art that came before him, be it the famous David Smith or his artistically inclined family, drives him to achieve something lasting in his own day. This tug of war between a vast past and a vast future, compounded by David's knowledge that he has forsaken the greater part of that future just as the past has forsaken him, reminds me of the thesis from The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction, brought to bear on an individual's life. David's search for absolutes in artistic judgement places him squarely in a struggle to register in the apathetic flow of an Aristotelian world without end or beginning. For one who is overtaken by the search for absolutes, time is only ever a constraint, rather than something to be spent living in the moment in the manner Meg spends hers. David's habit of offering oaths, despite the fact that he's very sincere about them, also suggests that time might be the only constraint that really matters to him. Where his frustration comes from, quite as a surprise to him, is that his gift does not by itself ease this constraint (the pacing does a great job of conveying this). I felt the book offered little in the end about the nature of art, or that it muddled a sense of cynicism with regard to the prices David's work finally began to fetch and a sense of sentimentalism in his final work that isn't much different from a work he shows his friend much earlier. Perhaps it didn't need to venture an answer, in much the same way communities in the art scene depicted in the book, from cheery, family-like theatre troupes to snobbish art critics, seem merely to exist and play out fads and fancies rather than converge on any real answers of the sort David sought.
And finally, what I felt was a hilarious rub at the metaphysics of the tale that I've glossed over:
I like the self-referential nature of this, presumably the reviews constitute the book?
Anyway, mostly technical reading in 2015 (some of it incompleteI like the self-referential nature of this, presumably the reviews constitute the book?
Anyway, mostly technical reading in 2015 (some of it incomplete, being as references). My long-suffering Sony e-reader fading to illegibility is partly to blame. Started the year off trying to learn German, but it seems I've ended up reading authors like Musil (disturbing and contemplative) and lately Hesse (enchanting and contemplative) in English and a bit about German idealism, again in English.
Highlights this year include Justin Fox's The Myth of the Rational Market and the short fiction from Alexander Wales (with his brilliant Superman story) and (again lately) Ted Chiang. Tried a bunch of light novels, Gate being the best of the lot (bearing in mind the 'light' part).
Hardly made a dent on the pure maths reading I set myself (on algebraic topology and Lie theory), but at least I've now reviewed some things I'd almost forgotten (eg- group theory, and the rudiments measure theory heroically pop up in finance). Most important technical book for the year was probably Mining of Massive Datasets, though I learned a bunch of interesting things.
Here's hoping for a promising 2016. Happy New Year!...more
An excellent military light novel, and I'm rating it as such, that is, excusing the inevitable whiff of jingoism due the military part and the inevitaAn excellent military light novel, and I'm rating it as such, that is, excusing the inevitable whiff of jingoism due the military part and the inevitable -do we say flash?- of fanservice due the light novel part. Or maybe I'm just very taken by Wagner at the end of this volume.
Covers the basics that it does very well, but being in the Graduate Studies in Mathematics series, I expected a bit more. It's a shame because DineenCovers the basics that it does very well, but being in the Graduate Studies in Mathematics series, I expected a bit more. It's a shame because Dineen is a skilled expositor. Hopefully a new edition can expand on what's here (and perhaps add more topics- like stochastic optimal control). Till then, this is ample preparation for Brownian Motion and Stochastic Calculus....more
Too light on the abstract algebra and a bit wrongheaded on occasion with some of the general commentary (no, the prevailing belief is not that P=NP isToo light on the abstract algebra and a bit wrongheaded on occasion with some of the general commentary (no, the prevailing belief is not that P=NP is a statement independent of other axioms- see for example Aaronson's paper on the subject), but very useful nevertheless....more
It's hard to overstate just how bad this is. It trips over itself enough that you might think it should have been a much shorter pamphlet instead, butIt's hard to overstate just how bad this is. It trips over itself enough that you might think it should have been a much shorter pamphlet instead, but that's not it either. It's... fanfiction. Or rather fan-nonfiction. Anyone who's read Taleb will make note of this early on and it doesn't get better. It's unfortunate how Taleb, who does manage to compellingly present a decent criticism or two as payoff for putting up with his boorish prose, has taken up a policy of endorsing anyone who endorses him (there's this book and you might also be interested to read Taleb's senseless charges against Pinker in defence of Gladwell).
As for what Triana has to offer beyond this, it turns out to be worse than useless. Triana is an honest to goodness Luddite. This isn't a far-fetched label either- established fields of engineering rely on mathematical theory as much as financial engineering does, making the latter as legitimate as software engineering- if a level further abstracted from the world of rigid bodies or gears or switches. Admittedly financial technology deals with far more unknowns than conventional technology, but this means we need to be careful with our risk measures, not (as Triana seems seriously to suggest) abandon the machinery and rely on the vagaries of 'experience' entirely. This review contrasts Triana's position with other critics of modern quantitative finance and in doing so (though it's tone is far more patient than I believe the viewpoint deserves).
Interestingly, critics like Triana of the 'quantification of finance' who try to heap as much blame as they can on models risk overlooking the important insights behavioural economics has to offer in analysing crises. This is especially true when it comes to the present work's Luddite attitude. The edifice of mathematical finance stands on the foundation of neoclassical economic theory. Taleb may have a point that we overlook whole swaths of the terrain of the risk landscape with model assumptions that are convenient or elegant, but this unmeasurable dimension of 'unknown unknowns' is not the only source for possible fatal error. It's also likely that the unbounded rationality of agents assumed in neoclassical economics is too strong a condition as robust results from the psychology suggest (see this paper for an analysis of the global financial crisis from this point of view), and it's clear from results on imperfect information in markets that stronger forms of the efficient market hypothesis just aren't that reasonable (see Justin Fox's Myth of the Rational Market for an excellent history of the idea).
Given all of these sources of error, continuing the engineering analogy, it seems modern finance does a fairly good job ...more