Let's be completely honest: we all pick up books for various reasons. A recommendation from a trusted friend. It was up front i...moreLife is just too short.
Let's be completely honest: we all pick up books for various reasons. A recommendation from a trusted friend. It was up front in the airport bookshop. Written by a favorite author. A great cover.
I picked up Psychoshop because it was written by Alfred Bester. I was at Powell's in Portland, and it seemed like a good find. A classic author, a previously unread title, and a giant bookstore.
A win, right?
Perhaps for some. For me, time is too precious and life is too short.
Psychoshop was left unfinished by Bester on his death and was finished by Roger Zelazny, another classic science fiction writer. Comparing the work to a jazz duet, Greg Bear says in an introduction that the book is "Brisk, fast, memorable, a rare improvisational duet from two of our best[,]" but to be honest, I just couldn't get through it. As creative as it is, and it is, I just found it schizophrenic and undefined, a story looking for a conflict to be resolved. (less)
Even if you've never read it, almost every reader know the story of Moby-Dick. Opening with "Call me Ishmael[,]" Hermann Melville's novel is the tale...moreEven if you've never read it, almost every reader know the story of Moby-Dick. Opening with "Call me Ishmael[,]" Hermann Melville's novel is the tale of the white whale and obsessed Captain Ahab's quest to kill it, a hunt that does not end well for anyone. Only Ishmael, the narrator, survives to put the story down, drifting on the coffin of his bunkmate, Queequeg.
And that's where Philip José Farmer begins The Wind Whales of Ishmael. As he floats adrift, Ishmael finds himself falling out of our time and into the future, the far future, landing adrift in a future Earth dramatically different from our own. The oceans have nearly evaporated, life has evolved to the air, and man survives in air balloons hunting the leviathans of the air.
The Wind Whales of Ishmael is an intregeuing and fun story, if a bit dated. I recently read Edgar Rice Burrough's A Princess of Mars, and I couldn't help but see echoes of John Carter in the Farmer's Ishmael. He arrives in a strange and foreign world, is saved, and saves, a beautiful princess, and soon rises to prominence using his specialized knowledge and skills. The tale is short and exciting, the plot creative and the setting strange and exotic. Ishmael is an every man, a hero that survives and thrive a hundred thousand years in the future.
First published in 1971, Titan Books has put out a new edition of The Wind Whales of Ishmael with a foreword by Michael Croteau and an afterword by Danny Adams.(less)
Ironically, Dick lived his live in near poverty. As an homage to his influence, the Library of America included Dick in their "quasi-official national canon" in 2007, the first science-fiction writer to be included.
I was introduced to Dick through his movies and later picked up the novels and short stories they were based on. In contrast to much of what is classified as science-fiction, Dick's stories and novels focus on human nature and the effect of technology and science on our character and relationships.
The Crack in Space, written in 1966, tackles parallel universes, time travel, gaps in the time-space continuum, and, to make things interesting, racism.
Compared to some of his other novels, The Crack in Space is not the most exciting tale in the Philip K. Dick canon. In addition to a parallel universe, it weaves in the candidacy of a America's first black presidency. That's not so controversial now, but writing in the 1960s, during the civil rights movement, Dick was predicting what was then almost impossible to conceive. Other issues addressed include population growth and control, scarce resources, and the morality of sexual promiscuity. The story is interesting, if a bit dated. It''s a worthy, if not gripping, read for a quiet weekend.(less)
Philip K Dick is one of the more influential of science-fiction writers. This graphic novelization of his story does a decent job of setting images to...morePhilip K Dick is one of the more influential of science-fiction writers. This graphic novelization of his story does a decent job of setting images to his words, and from all appearances uses every word (though it has been a long time since I read the story, so I'm not positive).
Dick's forte was tricking readers into examining serious questions (like, "What does it mean to be human?") while entertaining with a clever story and empathetic characters. It's one of the reasons so many of his stories have made it to the big screen (including Blade Runner and Minority Report).
On the other hand,this is really a better story than a graphic novel. There are just too many frames of people standing still, talking...and no action. This is just the first section, and I'll be looking at the subsequent installments to see how they finish out the story.(less)
I wish I had read this in the early years after 9/11. While the characters in Joseph Conrad's "The Secret Agent" are not superficially the same as the...moreI wish I had read this in the early years after 9/11. While the characters in Joseph Conrad's "The Secret Agent" are not superficially the same as the characters that would figure into the terrorist attacks on 9/11 and the subsequent events, the themes are eerily similar.
As a piece of literature, though the book is an almost surreal set of disjointed pieces. Each chapter is a different view, through a different set of eyes, and only by looking at them all in turn does the mystery unfold. Methodically, Conrad unfolds each participants thoughts in slow motion, and while he demonstrates a command of the English language that is enviable, as well as a vocabulary that would be substantial for a native speaker and even more so for a sailor whose native tongue was Polish, the slow pace demands a serious reader's attention and patience. You get a full picture in the reading, but you look at every details that unfolds.
And yet, plodding as the pace is, there are surprises. After pages of slow, deliberate character development, a sudden jolt of action with shift the plot, especially as the personal consequences of the underlying act of terror begins to turn the characters in on each other. In this regard, one sees echoes of Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" or even Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment" in the inescapable maelstrom that drags down all who are touched by violent men and violent actions.
Is it heavy, then? Undeniably. Worth the effort? Without question, it is an interesting and fascinating read, and Conrad's prescience, decades before the onset of the terrorism's "golden age," is itself an argument for reading "The Secret Agent."
Just don't pick it up expecting James Bond. He's not here.(less)
How does one rate a book published thirty years ago, by an author considered among the greats of our day, and that commences one of the most read and...moreHow does one rate a book published thirty years ago, by an author considered among the greats of our day, and that commences one of the most read and popular series in recent times?
The Color of Magic introduces us to Discworld, a series that has grown to include forty novels. Given that I didn't discover Terry Pratchett or Discworld until the 2004 Going Postal, which was number 33 in the series, it might be asked how I jumped in, as well as whether the series ends. Fortunately, each novel stands alone, and no new reader needs to have read previous books in order to understand what's going on in this one.
Since Going Postal, I've since read a couple of other Discworld novels, but I've never read the early ones. That changed when, a couple of months back, my good neighbor and friend Mike mentioned that he was looking for a good home for his substantial collection of Pratchett novels, including nearly all of the Discworld novels. I about wet my pants with excitement when I heard and couldn't wait to start reading.
The Color of Magic lays out the elements of Discworld that have since become familiar to millions (I once read that Pratchett's books had the distinction of being those most often stolen from booksellers in the British Isles): Discworld is flat. As is explained in another of the Discworld novels, when introducing the character Death:
"This is the Death whose particular sphere of operations is, well, not a sphere at all, but the Discworld, which is flat and rides on the back of four giant elephants who stand on the shell of the enormous star turtle Great A’Tuin, and which is bounded by a waterfall that cascades endlessly into space.
"Scientists have calculated that the chance of anything so patently absurd actually existing are millions to one. But magicians have calculated that million-to-one chances crop up nine times out of ten."
If that doesn't give you enough of a taste to tell that Discworld is not only part fantasy but also partly tongue-in-cheek satire, then one need only get to know the heroes of the quest to realize how little Pratchett takes his fictional world seriously (unless you consider being serious about writing a rollicking good story, which Pratchett is). Rincewind is the wizard who lacks any real wizarding skills, except perhaps that he's very good at dodging death (both in the abstract and the concrete in the person of Death). Along for the ride, if as the ostensible McGuffin, is Twoflower, a tourist from a far of empire who is oblivious to danger, and The Luggage, a semi-sentient and energetic piece of luggage made from sapient pearwood, and Cohen the Barbarian.
Each is a riff or commentary, delightfully and humorously drawn to entertaining effect, and it's not hard to hear echoes of Mark Twain and Douglas Adams in Pratchett's writing, though, to be honest, Pratchett is a flavor all his own. Here are a few lines that Pratchett slips in, each full of commentary and satire, and yet humorous all on their own:
"The Watch were always careful not to intervene too soon in any brawl where the odds were not heavily stacked in their favour. The job carried a pension, and attracted a cautious, thoughtful kind of man."
"Picturesque meant - he decided after careful observation of the scenery that inspired Twoflower to use the word - that the landscape was horribly precipitous. Quaint, when used to describe the occasional village through which they passed, meant fever-ridden and tumbledown. Twoflower was a tourist, the first ever seen on the Discworld. Tourist, Rincewind had decided, meant 'idiot'."
"What heroes like best is themselves."
"He wondered what kind of life it would be, having to keep swimming all the time to stay exactly in the same place. Pretty similar to his own, he decided."
"Some pirates achieved immortality by great deeds of cruelty or derring-do. Some achieved immortality by amassing great wealth. But the captain had long ago decided that he would, on the whole, prefer to achieve immortality by not dying."
"I've seen excitement, and I've seen boredom. And boredom was best."
And Pratchett's The Color of Magic is anything but "boredom." If you've never had the opportunity to enjoy a Discworld novel, The Color of Magic is a fantastic place to begin.
(And many thanks, Mike, for gifting me the wonderful lands of Discworld.)(less)
I recently read the short brochure “A Free-Market Monetary System,” a compilation of Friedrich A. Hayak’s 1974 Nobel Prize speech “A Pretense of Knowl...moreI recently read the short brochure “A Free-Market Monetary System,” a compilation of Friedrich A. Hayak’s 1974 Nobel Prize speech “A Pretense of Knowledge” and a short essay on proposing a free-market monetary system (hence, the name, see?). Both are short, and neither waste any time proposing radical changes to what was then, and indeed what is still, the status quo in monetary and economic policy. Both the essay and the speech are worth reading.
In “A Free Market Monetary System,” Hayek warns that as long as central banks are in control of the money supply, we can expect to see the economic highs and lows that we have come to expect, better known as “bubbles” and “recessions.” Both are part of the market corrections that result when markets try to correct for artificial highs created by monetary policy in the control of a central bank. Hayek’s recommendation? Let private enterprises issue their own money for circulation.
I am more convinced than ever that if we ever again are going to have decent money, it will not come from government: it will be issued by private enterprise, because providing the public with good money which ic can trust and use can not only be an extremely profitable business; it imposes on the issuer a discipline to which the government has never been and cannot be subject.
Get it? Rather than “Dollars,” we would buy, and spend, money that might be called something else. Nike “Swooshes,” perhaps, or American Express “credits.” The point is that business does not have a monopoly on money the way that government–i.e. central banks–does and therefore has a greater incentive to protect the integrity of that money from inflation and against other currencies by good policies. If it doesn’t, people won’t use it and it’s value will drop. (Can you hear the invisible hand clapping?)
“It is a business which competing enterprise can maintain only if it gives the public as good a money as anybody else,” said Hayek. Meanwhile, central banks have no such limits or restraints. Just ask Ben Bernanke.
Could it work? Would the government ever give up its control of the money supply?
Ha! Good one. Have you ever known the government to willingly give up any power?
For an interesting look at how an economy where private enterprise issues its own money, check out the speculative novel “The Unincorporated Man” by Dani Kollin and Eytan Kollin. _______________________
The second part of the brochure is the text of ”A Pretense of Knowledge.” Hayek’s speech upon receiving the Nobel Prize for economics in 1974 (he shared the prize with Gunnar Myrdal for their work in “the theory of money and economic fluctuations and for their penetrating analysis of the interdependence of economic, social and institutional phenomena”) was a thunderhead of a critique of policies recommended by economists and implemented by governments that had, in his words, “made a mess of things.” He attributed the failure of economists to guide public policy more successfully to a “propensity to imitate as closely as possible the procedures of the brilliantly successful physical sciences[...]” That attempt, he said, “in our field may lead to outright error.” Economics is not an exact science, and the application of “habits of thought to fields different from those in which they have been formed” lead to a “‘scientistic’ attitude” that the unknowable is knowable.
Economies involve an “organized complexity” that is too deep for economic researchers to obtain. Speaking of wages and prices as an example, Hayek argues that “the determination of [prices and wages] will enter the effects of particular information possessed by every one of the participants in the market process–a sum of facts which in their totality cannot be known to the scientific observer, or to any other single brain.” What he is saying is that while my wife at the grocery store may know enough to decide whether one can of salsa is better priced than another–based on a list of criteria only she knows, including flavor, cost relative to other salsas, cost relative to other stores and whether it is worth driving to those other stores to get the salsa, as well as how much my daughters are fussing in the shopping cart to hurry, whether we need salsa at all, and so on–the observer, the economist or market researcher or whoever is watching, can never know all that goes into her mind.
"It is indeed the source of the superiority of the market order, and the reason why, when it is not suppressed by the powers of government, it regularly displaces other types of order, that in the resulting allocation of resources more of the knowledge of particular facts will be utilized which exists only dispersed among uncounted persons, than any one person can possess."
Only the market–the composite of my wife, and the hundreds of thousands (or millions) of shoppers out there can determine what the market value–the price–of the salsa should be.
This is why governments mess things up when they try to intervene. Whether it is propping up failing auto companies (go google “GM volt january 2012 sales” to find out that the company bailed out by Washington, D.C. sold a measly 603 Volts last month) or promoting and subsidizing “green” energy companies (for this only, google “Solyndra scandal” where even the New York Times admits that the government took risks that the market would not take. I wonder why the market wouldn’t risk it?), when government tries to pick winners better than the market, it inevitably fails or produces less success than the a free market.
This isn’t to say that economics is entirely unable to offer predictive power. Quite the contrary. It just can’t do so with the same ability as the “hard sciences,” such as physics, or chemistry.
Often all that we shall be able to predict will be some abstract characteristic of the pattern that will appear–relations between kinds of elements about which individually we know very little.[...] The danger of which i want to warn is precisely the belief that in order to have a claim to be accepted as scientific it is necessary to achieve more. This way lies charlatanism and worse. To act on the belief that that we possess the knowledge and the power which enable us to shape the processes of society entirely to our liking, knowledge which we do not possess, is likely to make us do much harm.
Neither the Members of Congress making laws, the President and his Executive Branch (proposing, executing, and, also, making laws), nor judges in their black robes know enough to out think the decisions of millions or billions of people that make up a market.
"But in the social field the erroneous belief that the exercise of some power would have beneficial consequences is likely to lead to a new power to coerce other men being conferred on some authority. Even if such power is not in itself bad, its exercise is likely to impede the functioning of those spontaneous ordering forces by which, without understanding them, man is in fact so largely assisted in the pursuit of his aims."
We may not always understand why the market chooses what it does, but in large part the market chooses, through spontaneity, that which helps man get what he wants.
In other words, Hayeks’ message to economists and policy makers is simple: get out of the way and let the market choose. It’s much smarter than you are.(less)
If you're looking for something from Ayn Rand that's a tad bit shorter than "Atlas Shrugged," but can still show you her philosophy in a nutshell, "An...moreIf you're looking for something from Ayn Rand that's a tad bit shorter than "Atlas Shrugged," but can still show you her philosophy in a nutshell, "Anthem," her novella set in a dystopian world of the future, may be worth the effort. It didn't take me more than a sitting and a half to flip through it.
Objectivism: an extreme philosophy that is to the free market what communism is to liberalism, just in the opposite direction. Instead of glorifying collective action, it glorifies the individual, the ego, denigrating all else–love, charity, God, and any kind of shared effort or brotherhood. I’m all about independence, freedom, and self-reliance, but Rand sees no need for sacrifice, charity, or love, even when no coercion is present.
This last one, love, is perhaps the most difficult piece for her to handle, and she so clumsily. Quite ironically, he only female character, rather than typifying the EGO she emblazons on the last page of the novella, does not exist in her sole woman character, but to give and to serve her male counterpart, Equality 7-2521, our narrator and protagonist. He sees her, and finding no specific qualities but that she returns his affection (a play on the elementary school “eye game” where shy children flirt only by taking turns catching each other’s eyes). From there on, she seems only to live to serve. She gives him water when he thirsts, follows him into the Uncharted Forest when he flees the City, becomes his lover, and tells him that she loves him. In return he names her Gaea, an interesting play on the Greek goddess of the Earth who was mother to other gods and goddesses. In other words, her highest purpose, still, is only to give birth. In contrast, Equality 7-2521 renames himself Prometheus after he who stole fire from the gods and gave it to man, a play on his role in discovering, or rediscovering, electricity. We see a contrast in their roles as Prometheus represents power, gives names to himself and her, and pronounces the dawn of a new age, an age in which EGO rules, not “brotherhood” or the smothering power of “we.”
And Gaea, the once named Liberty 5-3000, will be the mother of that new empire, quite literally.
I don’t mean to denigrate the role of women in bringing children into the world. No man can fully repay the debt he owes his mother, or the mother of his children, for bringing him and future generations to this world. However, women’s purpose and gifts and abilities do not end, or begin, with child-birth.
But I digress. In any respect, Rand places the entire sum of glory on the power of the individual, with no recognition of the powers above or in the shared responsibilities we have to each other. It’s a stark world in which she lives, and I am confident that it is better we live in a world that is neither her’s nor Marx’s,her ideological opposite.
Never the less, “Anthem” is worth the read, if just for it’s thought provocation and the warning that it gives to the results of too much institutional control and too little individual opportunity for growth.
I'd like to give it four, because the book has that mind-popping aspect that makes for great sci-fi, but the focus on sexual mores of society (even if...moreI'd like to give it four, because the book has that mind-popping aspect that makes for great sci-fi, but the focus on sexual mores of society (even if it never actually showed anything) bothered me....is that our society will ever focus on? Sex?
Other than that, a great and interesting, thought provoking read.(less)