Starts out as a naïve Second Life drama (wiser-than-thou, but not), a zippy techy neo-noir, but soon enough jolts itself into a cute and clever romp iStarts out as a naïve Second Life drama (wiser-than-thou, but not), a zippy techy neo-noir, but soon enough jolts itself into a cute and clever romp in weird Americana. Still has problems, some pretty big problems, but for most of its length it stays just fine.
I knew what bugged me initially -- the catchphrases and kooky future lingo, the pat Orientalism and blah typical romance/anti-romance, the dully zany hacker dilemmas. It knows what bugs you, and the pride/shame is palpable. But soon enough it all gels into a fun, funny, tremendous storm of whizzy _stuff_. Not deep (you have to have less for that, and Snow Crash definitely doesn't have less of anything) but comfortably shallow, at least for a '92 world-shifting, dawn-of-it-all kind of book.
Hiro Protagonist is the clever, ambitious amateur hacker who guides the story. Y.T. is a younger girl who finds herself allied with him. Their tête-à-tête is in a bleak but quirky American future of gang-war franchising/maneuvering and spacey/retro-/pseudo-trends, glitches, battles. And Juanita, an older girl from Hiro's past, crops up. It's all in a sketchy but often-amusing bustle of business-/cultural-/cyber-warfare with a backing of gunky but passable mysticism.
There are gangs/ethnicities aplenty (Cosa Nostra, Nipponese, Narcolombians, etc.), pretty facile but not horrendous. RadiKS, a Kourier service. The Raft, a floating outlaw space. Snow Crash, an apocalyptic computer virus. "You can't get hurt by looking at a bitmap. Or can you?" Nicely laid down and explored, at often a gentle speed. Until it jerks into a crazy-awkward phase (so much information that Hiro just has to talk to a computer, "the librarian," to get all the exposition written down), but so conveniently stagey that it's funny. Sumerian history, Babel, linguistics crossing religion and myth.
It sometimes even manages a cold, sad dread, like Blade Runner. The literary weight of Pynchon's Vineland or Wallace's Infinite Jest just in dribbles.
Overall, I don't really dig the huge, obviously-totally-gamechanging ideological grant of Stephenson's Snow Crash and other tech novels like it: that 'information' (yeah! that!) is a be-all-end-all human juice and everything else, except anything else, is unimportant or the most important [wink!] Very, very easy, and it's kind of a yucky idealism anyway. I don't know. Just reaches too far but lets too much drop, y'know?
It covers glossalalia (speaking in tongues) and a pretty heavy view of postrational American dystopia.
And there's yet a weird and unnecessarily long sex scene. With an older guy and a 15 year old girl. Male writers should probably not, at all, so craven and dorky. And it has the same old negative end. Sex is great at the time but nefarious eventually. O rly?
A phrase I really like in a review Gibson (another '90s tech novelist) wrote -- "freestyle mall mythology" -- is spot-on, I think. Meant to be an endorsement but actually a warning? I don't know. The big hollowness of mythology (bloviating grandiosities designing a crap system) crossed with the quick and shallow flips of American commerce (jittery doofuses all flickering around together)? Is that a cross you really want to nail? Haha. I don't know. Maybe you do. Maybe that's what books do....more
A magnum opus for the philosophy of science, and probably one of the most powerful and incisive statements of (and arguments for) a rational, criticalA magnum opus for the philosophy of science, and probably one of the most powerful and incisive statements of (and arguments for) a rational, critical theory for human life. David Deutsch, a physicist at Oxford, makes a profound case in science, history, and the world at large for good explanations and knowledge-creation. He argues, against the grain of nearly every wishy-washy and/or unproductive explanation out there, that human beings and their ideas are the sum-total origin of progress in the universe.
In the course of his work, Deutsch reinforces a system of objective, fluid, beautiful awareness. He nicely parries counterarguments that his propositions are conceited or anthropocentric or purposeless/misguided. He refutes specific ideas and overarching philosophies (empiricism and positivism, holism and induction and behaviorism, postmodernism and most modernism, et al.) that limit by insidious design what we can learn. Society must be dynamic and individuals creative to make a proper memetic vein through which a good and fecund idea can flow.
For instance, particle/wave indecision in quantum theory has led many simpletons to rush into quackery, but Deutsch lucidly analyzes the physics and dials back its more hysterical misunderstanders. Postmodernism can only arbitrarily (in a lightning-quick circulus in probando) propose that everything's arbitrary. And there are reductionist, lazy, dehumanizing 'interpretation-heavy' explanations all the rage in modern science: eg., Jared Diamond's reductionist fallacies, behaviorism's dehumanizing explanation-jumping, etc. In a clear distillation of what pseudoscience is, Deutsch writes that the bad can't always be countered by the good because the bad holds itself immune.
I think Deutsch slips only occasionally, as when he tries to stretch his ideas into aesthetics (beauty has a strange synthesis of both parochial and objectively universal traits, both applied and pure?) or when, during his examination of memetics, he twice mentions offhand some pretty small but pretty egregious points (isn't humanity having more of a place in evolution [analogizing earth's evolutionary lifespan to a day gives humanity a second/a minute/a few hours?] pretty anthropocentric really? & aren't copycat suicides too literal, and therefore crass, of an example for meme-replication?), both of which could do with some more argument.
The conclusion he makes, "nearly there" optimism is actually a pessimistic utopianism (there would be some magical ultimate structure, after which lay an inexplicable void: a tiny frozen island), comes rightly enough in an ultimate chapter called "The Beginning." Science, or indeed any knowledge, claims neither infallibility nor finality; we can only go from problems to better problems, never from problems to solutions....more
The thesis of Dutton's The Art Instinct is that aesthetics can be understood in very rational terms as a product of human evolution. He uses the muscuThe thesis of Dutton's The Art Instinct is that aesthetics can be understood in very rational terms as a product of human evolution. He uses the muscular prose of a good, strong-minded, confident scientific/intellectual argument, while also remaining crystal clear and (somehow) delicate. Still, the book never completely coalesces into an effective work.
I admire the audacity and provocation at the core of an argument like his -- marrying the seemingly cloudy and subjective (what is beautiful, interesting, worthy of analysis) with the seemingly very ground-level and self-contained disciplines of biology and anthropology (the mechanics by which natural selection worked to evolve such-and-such a trait). Dutton sets himself a tough challenge: tearing down a lot of knee-jerk misperceptions, while also building an alternative understanding of a particular facet of the human intellect.
I don't have the scientific background to raise any complex objections to that basic idea, but the structure of his argument never hit me quite as hard as was probably intended. In spite of a lot of intricate waltzing around the foundations of art appreciation and criticism and thought, Dutton never really provides a distinct, solid example that I could sink my teeth into, and so I was never committed fully to his premise. The forward is very compelling, considering as it does the breadth of his argument, but the first several chapters are contrarily depth-focused, focusing on modest, minor corners of art....more