Galileo's Dream is one of Kim Stanley Robinson's more interesting works, paying homage to what may be the first science fiction book - Johannes Kepler's book Kepler's Dream. The story tells a detailed history of Galileo's life in Renaissance Italy, interwoven with brief periods of time in the Jovian moons in 3020. Like many of Robinson's books, this one is long and filled with dense tracts outlining Robinson's theories about science, politics and history. While these can be somewhat heavy going at times, in general this book flows well and leaves you feeling profoundly moved by Galileo's long life and the contribution he made to human history. Recommended.
Monday, November 19, 2012
Sunday, September 9, 2012
In this episode, Sonchai juggles investigating the grisly murder of a Hollywood film director who has gone to seed while having to grapple with the latest task that Colonel Vikorn has set for him in his eternal struggle with General Zinna to see who is the most corrupt individual in Thailand.
Both plot threads take Sonchai to Kathmandu, where he falls under the sway of a Buddhist guru who wants to reverse the Chinese invasion of Tibet.
Its not the best book in the series but it is entertaining as always.
"Wanting" interweaves the stories of novelist Charles Dickens, Tasmanian governor Sir John Franklin and an aboriginal girl called Mathinna in an interesting although slightly unsatisfying story that illuminates a period of history that I didn't know much about.
Not one of Flanagan's best books but worth a read nevertheless.
Friday, September 7, 2012
I've been using "Goodreads" a lot lately - its like a Trip Advisor for book readers - worth checking out.
Posted by Big Gav at 7:23 PM
Monday, June 20, 2011
Kem Nunn's 2004 book Tijuana Straits doesn't quite scale the heights I remember "Tapping The Source" and "The Dogs Of Winter" scaling a decade ago when I read them, but its still a worthy addition to the surf fiction genre.
Nunn does have a knack for building tension in his stories, with a grotesque gang of evil-doers enabling the redemption of another damaged surfer as he wrestles away the demons from his past in the strange borderlands between California and the polluted wastelands of Tijuana to the south.
Rick Kleffel at Trashotron has the best review out on the web :
On the border between California and Mexico, between land and sea, Kem Nunn finds Sam Fahey, a man who could have been a contender in the world of big-wave surfing, but was carried away by the white trash currents of his childhood on the border. In 'Tijuana Straits', Nunn brings readers his powerful novel to date, a compelling story of wasted potential and potential danger. The filth of our country runs down the rivers and slops into the streets of Tijuana, creating monsters of men. Nunn's powerful novel is blisteringly savage and painfully perceptive. We're poisoning ourselves. We may be dead and not even know it.
Long past his glory days as a young surfer, long past even his days as a drug runner and small-time criminal, Sam Fahey is now an older-than-his-age employee of the government who tends to the endangered species that manage to survive in Tijuana Straits, the small valley just north of the border. When he saves the beaten, bruised and almost insensible Magdalena from wild dogs roaming the sand dunes, he makes a spot decision to take her in. Magdalena is an activist from over the border, who is fighting the multi-national corporations that have created the toxic wastelands known as the maquilladoras. She's uncertain how or even why she arrived in Tijuana Straits. Both she and Sam are soon to find out.
Nunn keeps his story close and tight. His prose is evocative and lyrical but tough and to-the-point. He creates landscapes that are so intense as to be thoroughly immersive. The tiny ecosystem of Tijuana Straits, from the Outer Peak in the ocean where the Mystic Ridge breaks, to Garage-Door Tijuana, an intricate maze of trash and treasure comes meticulously to life in Nunn's prose. He also creates the hellish world of the maquilladoras in Tijuana proper. This bleak landscape of ruin, rust and toxic waste shambles to life and itself gives birth to monsters. Every terrorizing story about bad drugs and bad neighborhoods comes to fiery life as Nunn creates the compelling and ferocious Armando Santoya.
Santoya's stories -- and the stories of his comrades from the maquilladoras -- are intense, compelling stories of terror and horror. Nunn writes powerfully and passionately enough to evoke the supernatural dread within the natural world. He peels the skin off of an ugly reality and finds the deeper ugliness within, nestled next to a humanity so stepped-upon, so beat-down, so used that the terror is intimately mixed with sympathy. Nunn's monsters are ultimately human and ultimately frightening. And for readers, nothing is quite so bracingly enjoyable as glancing in the mirror and seeing your own scarred face, sheeted in the blood of others.
But Nunn's novel isn't merely a tale of terror. The horrific landscape of the maquilladoras borders on the beauty of the Pacific Ocean. And though Sam Fahey is damaged goods through and through, he's still a human being capable of greatness. Nunn's love of the huge, cryptic slab of ocean that washes upon our shores is borne out in passages that mine the power of nature, that excavate with a single man on a single board and find somewhere on the border a purity that evokes peace. It's the purity that brings redemption, that cleanses the filth from our veins and our lives.
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
I watched the second episode of "All watched over by machines of loving grace" today and found it interesting but mildly annoying.
I'd noted the parallels in the first episode to Fred Turner's book "From Counterculture To Cyberculture", so I wasn't particularly surprised to see Turner make an appearance in this episode, along with Stewart Brand, and the tracing of these ideas back to Bucky Fuller.
What was new about this episode was the repeating of common misconceptions about "The Limits To Growth" and the strange line of reasoning that seemed to argue that the search for "equilibrium" (ie. a scenario where our overall impact on the environment is trimmed to the point where we don't end up having the population crash as we overwhelm the planet's carrying capacity) that "Limits" undertakes is really arguing for a form of political stasis where no radical change is to be contemplated.
While this may have been a goal of the Technocrats that preceded them, it doesn't ring true for the systems theorists.
Curtis even notes that Jay Forrester and the "Limits" crew explicitly said they weren't considering politics, but discounts this as a form of dishonesty rather than accepting that the book is just outlining scenarios around resource consumption, population and pollution rather than being a political manifesto (which would have been entirely counterproductive).
Where is does veer towards politics (in the section entitled "Transitions to a sustainable system", where it prescribes the changes required to make our global economy sustainable), the practices recommended are both positive and a change from the general status quo today - it doesn't read like a manual for perpetuating elite control and forbidding political change, with the non-technical recommendations including :
* poverty reduction
* nonviolent conflict resolution
* accurate/unbiased media
* “decentralisation of economic power, political influence and scientific expertise”
* “stable populations” and “low birth rates” by “individual choice”
Curtis' main point (like Turner's before him) - that the counterculture / hippie / cyberculture ideal of a world without politics is a fantasy - is valid, but he really goes off the rails trying to blame the systems theorists and ecologists for the problems of the world today.
The section about the colour revolutions in eastern europe, in particular, seemed wildly off base - he assumes that this genuinely was a case of leaderless uprising spontaneously organised via network culture - when instead they were orchestrated from the US to expand western influence at the expense of the Russians - and naturally enough faltered once the population realised that their interests weren't really being advanced at all by the changes (just as we'll most likely see with the current "Arab Spring" equivalent).
Cross posted from Peak Energy.
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
I read Hugh Mackay's book "What Makes Us Tick?: The Ten Desires That Drive Us over the Christmas break and found it to be a reasonably entertaining piece of pop psychology.
Mackay identifies 10 driving "desires" that guide our lives (some good, some often bad):
- the desire to be taken seriously (which he identifies as the "primary" desire)
- the desire for 'my place'
- the desire for something to believe in
- the desire to connect
- the desire to be useful
- the desire to belong
- the desire for more
- the desire for control
- the desire for something to happen
- the desire for love
The section on "the desire for 'my place'" includes an interesting take on the role of the car in western society today:
The western world is characterised by speed, restlessness and motion (look at any major airport at almost any hour of day or night), so its hardly surprising that for many people in modern urban settings, 'my place' is neither a building nor a piece of the Earth's surface, but that somewhat ubiquitous mobile enclosure we call the car.My very own space ? I'll tell you where that is - behind the wheel of my car. It's the only place I ever have to myself and it's the only place where I seem to get any real peace.
I've lost count of the number of times I've heard people say the car is the most comfortable place they ever inhabit; the place where they feel totally in control (helped immeasurably by the symbolism of the steering wheel in their hands and an accelerator pedal under their foot); the place that feels more like a personal space than anywhere else they spend their time...
Cars are for escaping into, for meditation, for thinking, for praying, for courting, for sex, for conversation, for eating and drinking, for sleep, for letting off steam and for generating unrivaled - and positively dangerous - feelings of power. Oh, and for driving too: cars are our most flexible and efficient means of transport, though at enormous cost to life and limb - to say nothing of the cost to the quality of the air we breathe and the health of the planet.
The role the car now performs seems (in my mind at least) to guarantee the success of electric vehicles in a post oil wold - for all the benefits of public transport, transit oriented development and walkable neighbourhoods, none of them offer a personalised space that people can take with them when they are on the move.
Cross posted from Peak Energy.