quarta-feira, outubro 31, 2018

Capellanus: "Her Smoke Rose Up Forever" by James Tiptree Jr.

It's a great question isn't it (and one I don't remember C.S. Lewis posing!) but I guess the 'kind of society' would be a ruling class one, whereas I doubt whether the same freedoms and female agency would be envisaged or countenanced for the rest of society. While the female in what Lewis saw as the 'allegory of love' was attributed with powerful choice and discretion, I tend to see the elevated role of the woman in these traditions as operating a kind of chivalrous choreography, affording exercise of knightly qualities and an iconic object of knightly desire that doesn't quite sit comfortably with me (though I admit I love the concept of gentilesse).

Andreas Capellanus’ “The Art of Courtly Love” addresses the question concerning the separation of historical portrayals from social context. From what I can remember without going directly back to the essay, it's all to do with the structure of feudal society. What Capellanus is apparently saying is that it's ok for a knight to take a peasant girl by force if he wants to. Contrast with pining after the unobtainable lady. Secondly, because this was a feudal society, aristocratic men were often away at the wars, with their wives running things in their absence. So, women of a certain class could and did wield actual political power. Then there's something connected to Christianity and the redeeming power of love that I don't remember well (I’ve got to hunt down anther copy of the essay; mine vanished a long time ago). The Occitan women troubadours (such as Beatriz de Dia) are a good example, but their very existence goes to show that women, for their part, could and did elevate men in the courtly love lyric.

Courtly love’s legacy is still with us today, in what have bedded down to become largely unconscious relationship expectations among men of women and women of men; for my money, it's hardly very healthy for men to be pining after women because they have rather romantically and lyrically mistaken them for the embodiment of all that is good and pure and delightful in the universe - and nor is it especially great for women to be divested of their particularity in this way and idealised into something that barely corresponds to the living, fleshly, and flawed. It made for some beautiful - beautifully choreographed, as you say - writing several hundred years ago, but all power to those writers (and I might argue that Tiptree is one) who risked introducing a little more vulgarity and filthiness into their own narratives/allegories of love. My own take on Tiptree, after having read 500 pages of her stories contained in this volume, is that I applaud her for her desire to muddy the waters of sexuality and identity in her stories; and we can’t say she got bogged down by adherence to formal orthodoxies on the levels of the sentence and story construction when she wanted to have fun telling a story between Man and Woman in all their guises.

terça-feira, outubro 30, 2018

Old-As-Dirt-SF Prop: "Gunpowder Moon" David Pedreira

I used to like Asimov as a kid but grew out of him. All of his characters sound the same ('Now see here') with the worst example being his later "Foundation" books where Asimov-as-he-is and Asimov-as-he-wishes-he-was fly around the universe searching for Earth and meet a shared-consciousness lass with a nice bottom. All of his books are detective novels and end with the hero spending three chapters explaining how he cleverly worked out the mystery to an incredulous antagonist who then throws an extra twist in there ('Ah but we are the Second Foundation/Mule/mind controlling robots'). Fun for a while but silly. Ask any SF fan why they like the genre and you often get the pat and crappy answers about wanting to expand the mind or explore new frontiers but Asimov's a good example of the kind of cosy SF which seems the antithesis of this.

I admire Pedreira though (in Portuguese it means "Quarry"; does Pedreira have Portuguese roots?) for the balance he's bought to an old SF prop. And he really seems to stick to the "What's possible" law whereby you push vintage props, models and sets to the absolute limit of what you can get away with visually without having to bring in the "CGI" (aka more literary SF devices). Pedreira's Moon's self-consciously-retro vistas felt a teensy bit like a safe gambit to me, one which barely worked but... I guess I like it better when SF pushes a look, even if it's cheesy or dates quickly - that's part of the joy. If you are capable of having an imagination and a sense of disbelief, you can have it either way. It all depends on how much you're willing to lose yourself in the story. It's true that some technologies haven't gone as far as the Golden Age authors thought they would (the way Pedreira writes I think of him as an Golden Age SF author), but others have advanced further than almost anyone imagined - look at the way that computers permeate everyday life now. The thing that dates a lot of classic SF isn't the space travel, it's the computers (or lack of them). In James Blish's 'Earthman Come Home', the characters spend months working out complicated equations with slide rules, before feeding the results into the city's computer (which consists of vacuum tubes). I think that's one reason why Jack Vance still seems so fresh - although his stories are often set on alien worlds, his stories typically concern societies, language and personality, rather than specific technologies. On the other hand, while I admire the gumption of writing stuff that resembles Vintage SF, the result seem quite stale. It's already done before a zillion times.

Bottom-line: 3 stars because I’m a sucker for SF novels set on the moon. 

domingo, outubro 28, 2018

Let Them Be: "Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 1: 1940-1956" by Sylvia Plath

“My biggest trouble is that people look at me and think that no serious trouble has ever troubled my little head. They seldom realize the chaos that seethes behind my exterior. As for the who Am I, what am I angle...that will preoccupy me till the day I die.”

In "Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 1: 1940-1956" by Sylvia Plath

Prior to the publication of the second volume in October 2018, I finally finished reading this mammoth of a book. And I didn't feel too good reading it for reasons too complex to delve into here. I'm not sure I'm up to the task of tackling the 2nd volume to be honest. It's rather depressing reading. That's why it took me almost two months...

If you read Hughes poems you will see a depiction of nature as violent and bloody. Which it is. Hughes wrote about the process of evolution, how animals are. Pikes, Hawks: seeing the world from their perspective. That was his genius. There's a poem in "Birthday Letters" where he talks of Plath being angry at a country hunt. He notes that she hates all celebration of death, and he sees tradition, history. As I recall, the poem, as with many in the "Birthday Letters" are of them arguing, or his reflection of it, of something sliding or falling between them. I don't know what happened but I just don't see physical abuse from his writings. Maybe it did happen. It just depresses me to think that was true. He destroyed her later journals, saying he wanted to protect their children from the contents, which always struck me as self-serving nonsense. There couldn't have been anything in the journals which was worse than what a child might later imagine. He also re-edited her last and most famous book, Ariel. The Ted version ends with the drive towards death; hers looked towards spring. Citation: her Collected Poems, which lists them in the original order. Whatever happened between them privately, I think THE destruction and reworking of her writings after her death was appalling. But what do I know? I don't. And editing Ariel could have been purely technical. I do not know. I like Ariel by the way. In fact I found Plath first then discovered Hughes. It seems to me we all project a lot of our own thoughts and beliefs into the tragic death of Plath. And the woman he cheated on her with also killed herself. That is entering dark places. But there are subtle and strange reasons for many things that happen in life. We all judge from outside with innate inaccuracy.

There are two types of conversations that should never be revealed to the public at large: what happens in a confessional box and what happens in a shrink's office. With both parties long dead, it's impossible to sort out fact from fiction.

Let them be. They bequeathed such expression of our ragged humanity, just appreciate that, no opinions needed, love them and let them be.

sábado, outubro 27, 2018

Bulkshit: "Out BS!: Overcoming and Understanding Today’s BullSh!t" by Elevia DeNobelia/Syl Sabastian

(@ Elevia DeNobelia/Syl Sabastian)

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from one of the authors in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own, and no monetary compensation was received for this review.

“Our most earnest intent with this book, is to make sure you, our reader, you personally, don’t suffer needlessly, as a result of a bullshitter or a bullshit-manipulator-narcissist [BMN] in your personal life. We dearly wish you find some assistance here when it comes to empowering yourself to recognise and deal with bullshit. We see the resolution to the problems of the world, starting with you, the individual, at that personal and local level. If we each, in our small way. Develop that discernment which leads to the awareness and understanding of bullshit, we prevent this corruption on the world from spreading and growing, weeding it out at the source, and improving the lives of good persons like yourself in the process.”

In "Out BS!: Overcoming and Understanding Today’s BullSh!t" by Elevia DeNobelia/Syl Sabastian

Our system is broken.

Lying has a long history and examples of this are endless, but what stands out to me in DeNobelia’s and Sabastian’s book is the implicit Orwell's warning: “The moral to be drawn from this dangerous nightmare situation is a simple one: don’t let it happen,”... “It depends on you.” The pernicious influence of lies upon world history and contemporary cultures is immense and it is my suspicion significant lies are a crucial component in most of the world's preventable suffering. It is no small matter. Ultimately it is up to us to care about lies, especially from those who are paid to inform and represent us, but also in critical person to person communication. We as individuals and as a culture might find our lives much improved if we rejected demonstrable lies and liars, and rewarded those who tell the truth. Especially difficult truths. Our future depends on it.

What is ultimately true is legitimately up for debate, although claims based on evidence verifiable by testing is historically more reliable than unsupported Opinion (Galileo demonstrated that). For example, carefully vetted evidence-based thinking enabled the production of devices that can reproduce this review. Science speaks of probabilities rather than truth, but some claims are highly probable and others are not. That, however, is a matter apart from the decision to lie.

Truth has never existed in any tangible sense other than facts corresponding to be objective reality. All other concepts of big T 'Truth, such as the meta-conscious or subconscious truth “Out BS” describes have a direct correspondence to objective reality. At one time Manifest Destiny was truth. Then came the Scientific Method and with it evidence based truth. People have been manipulating facts from the beginning but never before have I seen a strategy where the facts are simply denied, or accepted while also holding a completely contradicting counter opinion. Post-factual. Ultimately "We the People" will likely see a more responsive and just society when we establish and insist on much higher standards of honestly from the media, our alleged representatives, and ourselves. For that we need books like these that allow us to smell the bullshit a mile away (or a kilometer away because I'm not that good with Imperial metrics...).

How and why does the line between 'need' and 'want' change and move - and can it affect different people differently? For example many of us will laugh or pity the televised scenes of Black Friday madness - thinking at least subconsciously that the madness is that they are suffering or causing suffering - 'for things they don't need'. But - is need an objective measure? Can I know what you need compared to what you want - or for a complex range of psycho- social reasons might my 'wants' actually be your 'needs'? Aren't we aware the people whi promote the Black Friday crazyness are just BMNs as Sabastian and DeNobelia preconise?

To wit:

1. You are qualified as anyone else.

2. Is our press / media free or just make belief free? Follow the ownership, money and interests...

3. You need to address class and privilege. If I attend a public school, hang around with others like me born with a silver spoon up my arse...go to the best universities, have the best connections for jobs, business and politics... how does your average Jo Bloggs compete? Meritocracy is a mirage. Class, connections and corruption is what matters!

4. The politicians in point 3 form our government. How much do they care besides getting reelected every 5 years with never, never promises?

5. Why don't we have electronic voting but we have online banking?

Or you can just buy the stuff you need, and were going to buy anyway in the sales for less money. And less money than what? The price they inflate the item to in the weeks before? All we need is nourishment, medicine, clothes, footwear, a way to get from A to B (see also footwear), and something to cook the food in/on, and shelter though. Oh... and a computer and an internet connection so that we can post our ever so clever bon mots on Blogspot/BL's/GR's/(...).  Basically, your education and upbringing determines your world view....your world view informs your bias and prejudices...democracy is the worst form of government there is, but it's also the best of what we know...The Internet has changed the global dynamics. A person in India feels as entitled as any American to have work, wage and a family life...Our consumerism is what determines the product we buy and who gets the job...

- Black Friday Bullshit: The biggest lie is that Black Friday is a major boost to businesses/sales. All that is happening is that 'normal' purchases in November are now delayed - till 25th. And December purchases are bought forward - to take advantage of lower prices. Yes - look out for inevitable headlines about "record activity!!" But its just shuffling around the same money - in economic parlance demand elasticity is negative folks. "Record activity" sums it up when it comes to actually delivering stuff. I ordered some printer cartridges just before Black Friday last year which was a big mistake. They are usually delivered promptly with no fuss. This time over a period of four days I was promised deliveries which never actually arrived. In the end I cancelled my order and had start again when the whole stupid Black Friday shemozzle was over!

- IKEA Bullshit, another one selling bullshit - I should fucking ko-ko. Bought a small bedside cabinet a few years back, on the box the words :"Self-Assembly." Fantastic I thought, took it home, sat it down in the front room and watched it for 2 hours. Not a damn thing! It was me that ended up having to do it in the end. Seriously. My experience with IKEA products is that they can be put together once (unless there are parts missing, like I found with mine), but only once. By contrast I had an old flat-pack furniture that was held together with wedges and the like and next to no screws, and had been dismantled and re-assembled often.

- I also tried using a Labrador puppy once as toilet paper once. It was a bit ruff.

- Bullshit jobs. The problem is that workloads get inflated by tasks which managers fail to adequately explain, done in ways that are very sub-optimal. Since we human beings are basically only sentient part-time, the quality of managerial direction is near-universally abysmal. Capitalism used to be able to gradually increase efficiency to winnow out the bullshit - but the pace of change has increased so much in the last 30 years that this process has been overwhelmed. Since the people who most need to up their game are those least able to admit they need to, I see little hope for positive change until some new paradigm emerges. Perhaps when "post-integrity" and "post-truth" memes have brought the world to its knees, new ways to do things will emerge. I am aware of an increasing bullshit component that is mainly about providing bullshit data to prove my compliance with various bullshit initiatives and a bullshit based regime. All the bullshit goes to people who collate and report it to other people who collate and report it to other people who collate and report it to other people. Don't hold your breath if you think if this state of things is going to disappear any time soon. Unless you are doing something clearly socially useful at the point of delivery, like emptying the bins or serving coffee, KFC or fries, most employment could be described as “bullshit jobs”. We’ve all done them, clicking around as a small cog in a complex machine. What we’re doing personally might be important, or it might not be. But in its totality, it keeps the lights on, grows the Economy and generates the tax revenue to keep the Welfare show on the road. The people I know who are the most contemptuous towards “bullshit jobs” are those who take the most in Welfare handouts - handouts funded by the taxes on those who wearily submit to the daily grind, whom they invariably dismiss as “idiots”.

- Ads Bullshit. When I was but a boy of 5 years, my father sat me down and said the following: "Manuel, I need you to listen to me, because this is the most important lesson you will ever learn. You know those commercials you see on TV? Never believe them." Due to my curious nature, I looked to my father and said, "But what if what they're advertising actually works?". Chuckling dryly, my dad held me by the shoulders, looked me in the eyes, and said: “Commercials are one of the most common examples of true evil. Bullshit given form.” (translated from Portuguese into English for my English-speaking readers’ sake) Advertising is nothing but pollution-absolute shit. Imagine a wonderful world without it - would be awesome. How proud the slime-bag advertising maggots must be of the shit they produce. The prices in the ads never match what you really have to pay. I remember ordering two theatre tickets online for a play in Lisbon a few years ago. And there was ticket fee, restoration fee, order charge and email delivery fee, which added up to 50% of the ticket price. If I had to buy a bed and a drawer, I imagine having to pay separately for the mirror, which was part of the drawer, and the headboard, which was part of the bed! Bullshit everywhere. If you want to see a company fighting against the consumer bullshit just look at ALDI. The major problem lies in the marketing/advertising sector where the desire to forever alter the marketing, packaging and prices of products serves no useful purpose. One of the reasons Aldi prices are consistently lower is that they largely refuse to play this game, leaving their own brands unaltered for far longer than the ever changing branding elsewhere. On the other hand, some of their products are shite. Different kind of shite, but still shite...

Media Outlets Bullshit. It's a lot more complicated. "Supermarket" tabloids have long traded on fantasy. Exaggeration or misleading implications are a staple of advertising, and the word "awesome" is now applied with such abandon that it has practically become an automated response. Accuracy is generally not as much fun as fantasy (though opinions may differ) but accuracy commonly leads to more helpful outcomes, as it would in a doctor's diagnosis (quackery perhaps providing more short-term comfort risking long-term suffering, in politics as well as medicine). You don't have to have a stick up your butt to appreciate honest opinions. As social creatures we are more or less vulnerable to the dynamics of a cult; to basing our sense of status and belonging on certain shared beliefs, the defense of which feels self-protective. Belief becomes cultish when doubt seems necessary or disloyal. I would never argue against maintaining convictions, but rather sparing them from critical examination. And reevaluation, unceasingly. Cult leaders claim that only they speak the truth and demonize any who not compliant. That's anything but democracy. Since power tends to corrupt, it is wise to dilute it, and that speaks well for democracy. As Churchill claimed, it's the worst system except for all the others tried thus far. But democracy requires a commitment to justice for all, and bargaining in good faith. When that commitment slips too far, democracy dies.

Non-Climate Change Bullshit. I think we need to have a deep discussion about the truth, post-truth. Many commentators getting rightly wound up about post-truth, ironically have their own false world views, and clearly false beliefs. Seeing the truth is not about knowing absolute reality, metaphysics. It's about never overstepping the mark about what can be known for certain. This is about seeing the big picture, and where everything lies in relationship to everything else. Now let's start off with the biggest truth. Our economy, our lives, and the whole of our civilization is entirely reliant i.e. sustained by natural ecosystems, natural resources, physical natural systems and the equitable and predictable climate which has prevailed for the last 10,000 years or so. Yet our economic model developed during and after the industrial revolution is unsustainable i.e. at some point our increasing human population, increasing use of finite resources, and our abuse and destruction of biodiversity, natural ecosystems, and natural habitat, means that our economy will collapse, so will our civilization, and billions of people reliant on an organized economy with long supply chains will be in danger of starvation. That is truth, not bullshit. Anthropogenic climate change will crush our economy and destroy our civilization if we don't start understanding and accepting this truth. Yet most of those wittering on about post-truth, have not been accepting this. They live in a fantasy bubble where our economy can continue in it's current form and we will find a magical techno-fix which will solve all these problems. This is magical thinking and delusion, because technological discovery does not work like this. Jet aeroplanes are no fast than they were in the 1950s, and the fastest plane in the world was first went into service in the US air force in 1994. The last time a person stepped on the moon was in 1972. Yet jet aircraft and space travel-exploration have been fields of massive investment. The idea that we can just come up with any technology we like is a profound cultural myth, a dangerous false belief - as post-truth as it gets. Yet the Paris COP21 climate change agreement is based on the assumption of negative emissions technology. Technology to suck excess carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. No such technology exists, and it may never exist. In other word our whole future, the survival of our civilization is based on fantasy wishful thinking. In fact experts calculate that we are going to massively overshoot the Paris targets. Don't take my word for it, read this blog entry by Professor Kevin Anderson one of the world's leading experts in calculating carbon emissions in the future and the likely outcome of these climate change agreements. Where are those going on about post-truth, when it comes to the post-truth myths that shore up the whole of our present economic model? Climate change denial isn't just what Donald Trump does. The policy of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Theresa May, and every political leader of every major country has been taking us towards dangerous climate change. Dangerous climate change is the point where feedback loops will cut in, leading to dangerous non-linear warming, that we will not be able to stop, no matter how much we reduce our carbon emissions. No one knows when this point will come. Essentially the warmer it gets, the more probable is that we will release dangerous uncontrolled warming. The 2C figure was derived in 1990s by the Stockholm Environment Institute: “Temperature increases beyond 1.0°C may elicit rapid, unpredictable, and non-linear responses that could lead to extensive ecosystem damage,” the report said, suggesting there is nothing necessarily ‘safe’ about a two degree limit.” That's it, they never said 2C of warming was safe, because that level of warming carries considerable risk. They said the danger point of increasing risk starts after 1C of warming. We already have warming in excess of this. We are already in the danger zone where dangerous uncontrolled warming could be unleashed, and the more the climate warms, and the more we put off rapidly reducing our carbon emissions the greater the probability that we will unleash dangerous controllable climate change which will likely crush our economy, and likely destroy our civilization. The whole economic model since the beginning of the industrial revolution is one gigantic inter-generational Ponzi scheme, in which we steal from future generations to lead the high life for a brief time now. This is the truth. Our economy, our modern civilization, is run by con artists i.e. con-men. They have sold the public one huge lie. They have lied and said the economic model they unleashed 200 years ago can continue for more or less ever. When in reality the resources for this economic model, the climate and ecosystems our whole food supply, economy and civilization rely on cannot sustain this economic model. It is very difficult to see how we will make it to the end of this century. We might not even make it past the next few decades. This is the truth, determined by science. Anything which falsely appears to contradict this, is post-truth. It relies on the wishful thinking of magical technology. We have about as much chance of being saved by technology as I have of winning every lottery jackpot for the next year.

Bottom-line: Elevia DeNobelia/Syl Sabastian tell us the truth about who we are and what we settled for. They made me all laugh, cry and think at the same time. This world is not as good as we thought. And the day will come soon...sooner than we think when the world and the people living here will get a major wake-up call. This is not fiction...this is fact! During times of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act. In other words, if everyone else is full of shit, you might as well go with the flow, and be just as full of shit as everyone else. This makes honesty a sin because most of the time being honest is a bad idea. There's an saying a business associate once told me when I was starting out in my professional career; he called it "The Three B's" AKA "Bullshit Baffles Brains." Meaning: when you can't blind 'em with brilliance, baffle 'em with bullshit! This brilliant book successfully profiles the mind of the Serial Bullshitter in a way I haven’t seen done before, and I’ve read a few, namely the bible “On Bullshit” by Harry G. Frankfurt. "Out BS!: Overcoming and Understanding Today’s BullSh!t" by Elevia DeNobelia/Syl Sabastian is a must-have book for anyone's book collection this Christmas. Buying the book, may help understanding the consumerisation of Christmas (I read it as the final treatise on Everything Regarding Bullshitiness/Bullshitery; a la Heinlein, we also have rough-and-ready dictums that we should tack on our walls - office, at home, etc. -, so that we can take preventive action against pervasive bullshit.) If you want to know about Energy-Entanglements, Walls-of-Energy, Vagueness, Obfuscation, Fuziness, Conspiracies-of-Complicity, Fogs-of-Implication, Bubbles-of-Obfuscation, Independence-of-Being, Myth-of-Agreement, etc., this is the book to use to fight bullshitery! As for myself, I shall be continuing the centuries-long tradition we Portuguese Antãos have pursued with regard to Black Friday and indulging enthusiastically in ignoring this marketing bullshit. Incidentally, did you know where black Friday comes from? It's nothing to do with pagan festival or the birth of a saviour. A store created it as the first time it went into the black. 

NB: The difference between lies and bullshit. It's important. The liar is at least constrained by the truth and they can get caught out. The bullshitter is much harder to challenge (I call him or her “The Bullshit Artist”, they are more about convincing you and couldn't care less about the truth. We need to raise consciousness of this so that we can call bulkshit (sic) when we see it. In essence, deception is deception, regardless of semantics. Psychopaths are the masters of deceit. The best liars often tell half truths in order to disguise the deception. But we can also be deceived by someone who leaves out information that would make the truth more obvious. Deception can also take the form of deflection, when those caught in a lie, deflect the seriousness of the lie or obfuscate the truth by blaming others who may have lied before them. It is ALL deception, or as we say in Portugal “Mas c’grande aldrabice”.

domingo, outubro 21, 2018

Ooh! Me spotted dick!: "Artemis" by Andy Weir

Boring = Bad.

As the little sister in "Lair Of The White Worm" exclaimed: "Ooh! Me spotted dick!"

'Artemis' read like a Haines manual. The main narrator had no personality beyond hating disco (so I wished death on her from about page five - better than no reaction, I suppose) and then it switched to Mission Control in America c.1995. The book was an elaborate daydream for people who watched enough 'MacGyver' to think they could fix everything with gaffer-tape and a Swiss Army knife, modified by NASA's website regurgitated almost verbatim. That's the problem in a nutshell. SF writers haven't been able to get away with prose that bad since the early 60s. There's a reason so many publishers passed on 'The Martian'. There's also a reason that a book like 'they don't write any more' was eagerly picked up on by the same audience who keep Scalzi in print despite his shortcomings as a writer. How come they published “Artemis”?

In addition, the suggestion that a novel can't be both well-written and scientifically informative is untrue. Weir's novel is dwarfed by Kim Stanley Robinson's “Red Mars”, the greatest novel on the exploration of the red planet ever written, which gives you a lot of the same stuff but on a far more epic and interesting scale with far better writing and more credible characters. The trilogy went off the boil in the two sequels (although they remained interesting) but Weir wishes he had 1% of Robinson's writing ability and scientific knowledge (“Red Mars” really is not a good book on a literary level. Might blow away a self-published hit like "Artemis", but hardly a shining light of the genre).

As to supposed "fun", I didn't find any therein. Nor did I find it good writing. And the 'slew' of books that SF aficionados describe as being top-notch is something I am deeply concerned about. At least I am self-aware that I couldn't write a book, but millions lack that filter, and if one guy can do it, hey, why not them? It's like gold-fever.

As a life-long evangelist for literature (SF being one of my great loves, and the subject of my many posts on this blog - so this is NOT genre snobbery), I have frequently fantasised about having a novel in me. The reason why I've stuck to analysing them and not writing them is - honestly - because I feared that if I did write one, it would turn out to be as trite and shallow as “Artemis” proved to be. “Artemis” is not a book, but a thinly veiled pitch to Hollywood for a film that might star, say ... hey, I know! Why not someone like ?

Which leads me to the paradoxically poor box-office returns for Blade Runner 2049 (not the best of SF movies), which I read about I don't recall where. One of SF product requires people to think: they don't like it. The other spoon-feeds its passive audience utter popcorn: it's massively successful. A sign of our times, and of what we collectively want from literature and the arts in general, it seems.
Before reading this one, I said to myself: “I'll fork my eyes out and eat them in front of Andy Weir before I read Artemis”. But ended up reading it anyway hoping it’d be different from the last one (the toffs in the backroom are asking: "How did you know the book wasn’t any good?")

Maybe the problem lies within me. That is certainly a possibility. Just don't take this reviewer's word for that. Mind you, my reviews are just like that. If you find my reviews here not fit for purpose, stay away. They represent my own Platonic ideal of what stories should do and how they should be presented.

Between Red Sister”, “The Fifth Season”, and this one, which one is worst? Answer: All three are equally bad.

NB: There's a world of difference between David Brin and Andy Weir. Brin can manage sentences and has ideas that weren't downloaded from NASA websites. (Any that do appear in both are Brin's ideas that NASA took on.)

SF = Speculative Fiction.

sexta-feira, outubro 19, 2018

Tickboxing Exercise: "The Fifth Season" by N. K. Jemisin

"Back to the personal. Need to keep things grounded, ha ha"

in "The Fifth Season" by N. K. Jemisin

Surely most decent SF is unique, each story is different from other stories, each writer is different from each other writer?  

Most of the speculative/dystopian/ science fiction I've read has been written by women and queer people, including non-white women and queer people. It's all been "different". But having got used to reading those imaginings (e.g., Alice Sheldon/James Tiptree Jr.), encountering the kind of white-hetero-male-dominated mainstream stuff mentioned in some comments regarding recent SF does feel really limited/limiting. There's often an absence of racial difference or gender variance in the story lines, lazy stereotyping and dialogue whenever these "others" do appear (and in many stories they don't) and no thought given to how whatever changes have taken place in society might impact on those with less of that kind of privilege.

I don't think it's the job of this review to tell you all about how "different" other writers' work might be. But hopefully it's inspired you to go out and read some of it for yourself. I thoroughly recommend Octavia Butler, and James Tiptree Jr. if you want someone to start with.

One of the reasons I read this kind of stuff is that I'm interested in all the different ways that people imagine the world changing. Some of the best examples are really thought-provoking, and give us insights into other people's experiences and ideas and attitudes. As someone who would dearly love the world/system we live in to change, I find this fascinating. Some of the mainstream stuff comes from a more limited perspective, and is therefore much less interesting to me. I don't think I'm alone in being excited to read stories that do explore more of these issues.

Speculative fiction has not unrelated problems that typify stereotypical white male framing that we also see in other areas of fiction, film, TV, plays and all other kinds of story telling: women characters that are "men in women's bodies" along with a dystopian point of view and, let's not forget the vast majority of stories that feature violence and hierarchy that results in the feeling that one has read the same few stories over and over.

So this is all too familiar and infuriating.

And yet I can think of nothing more typifying of the stereotypical than using a narrative voice that pulls me out of the story: "Back to the personal. Need to keep things grounded, ha ha". What the fuck is this????

Which again begs the question: why does ones identity have any bearing on what one wishes to write about? I mean, it might, but it might not. And it might have a bearing in driving you to write about things outside your own experience. I actually prefer alien characters to human. Humans are mostly dull whatever their gender, race or sexual orientation, unless you throw them to a situation outside their comfort zone or general experience. You've seen one you've seen all 7 or 8 billion of them...Jemisin’s prose is bland and terrible dull. Not that it’s awfully awful, but it lacks depth and a consistent narrative voice. But she can write about masturbation, ménage-à-trois, and dildos; why publish this as an adult novel? It should have been marketed as a YA-novel.

SF is not tick boxing. I am in interested in a good story, and universal concepts, problems and truths. SF often deals with Humanity, and Races and they're just part of the landscape and not the driving force of the story. Why can't I read what I want to read exploring Humanist principles (which I feel is what the SF is all about) rather than it being a soulless tickboxing exercise to make sure that it is the Right Speak/Think. I know I should to be so down on tick boxing. I mean, I prefer flea karate myself, but live and let live, right? NO! WRONG!  One of the major functions of SF is and always has been exploring and questioning the status quo and unchallenged assumptions of our own culture. What someone might dismiss as "JW topics" just means 'anything that isn't about me and people like me'.
Have you read The Left Hand of Darkness, for example? One of the great classics of SF that among other things is significantly about gender identity. Iain M. Banks' Culture novels postulate a post-gender society where long-lived people change sex at will, and in The Player of Games he contrasts it with a three-sex alien race.

Many SF books examine cultural imperialism - think of Dune, for example, or Terry Pratchett's marvelous YA book Nation. Harry Harrison sneaked an entire monetarist theory into, of all things, The Stainless Steel Rat Gets Drafted

quarta-feira, outubro 17, 2018

Lacklustre SF: "Red Sister" by Mark Lawrence

Just got this book and I’m starting to think I'm reading a different book than all the reviewers. Seems like Z writing at best to me. Nona is an interesting character at times and a terrible anime like character in others. There is a horrible amount of repetition in the book in terms of X shows up, X happens, few chapters later X shows up (different character) X happens (pretty much exact same outcome). There are large chunks of chapters that seem like wasted space where he describes a mundane task just for a girl to say "I don't like her" or something. It was a slog to get through, but because I just don't like leaving books half-finished... I didn’t even enjoyed the supposed worldbuilding and the lore was also somewhat lacklustre but the inconsistent main character and her lack of any growth of substance and a cadre of nameless side characters along with the other issues is made this quite hard to get through.

Nona just being along for the ride and not really having a destination that she's seeking. Perhaps this is because of her circumstance of being a young orphan who doesn't have much control of her life. The only motivation I really noticed was her desire for revenge. I also wondered where all of these nuns go when their training is complete. The convent seemed fully staffed. And why are they all trained to kill? Maybe to protect the shiphearts? After Nona got rescued, her backstory with the flashbacks really dragged the story and even when she arrived at the convent, I wasn't sure if she was actually going to stay and what the end of the book could look like. If you don't notice this I think you can have a lot of fun with the book, but I had some questions that were just never answered and on top of that the role of nuns and their religion in the world is super unclear to me.

There are probably simple reasons too why this kind of SF is being published in this day and age, but shrugging and saying 'the public like simple' rather weakens the case that there's much, much more to SF than that. I reserve the right not to only like what a lot of other people like, but more to the point, I think other people might like the less, um, generic work if it were more widely available. The process of 'othering' in this rather linear world of the tabloids is very weak at best. Many fantasy works examine this process either directly or as a side-effect of the way we read fantasy. "Simply 'Good vs Evil' stories" aren't as satisfying. I've read all that before and done infinitely better.

segunda-feira, outubro 15, 2018

Mindfuck-Spaces: “A Philosophical Approach to Quantum Field Theory” by Hans Christian Öttinger

According to Henry Margenau [7], “[the epistemologist] is constantly tempted to reject all because of the difficulty of establishing any part of reality” (p. 287). But, again in the words of Margenau, “It is quite proper for us to assume that we know what a dog is even if we may not be able to define him” (p. 58). More classically, a similar idea has been expressed by David Hume: “Next to the ridicule of denying an evident truth, is that of taking much pains to defend it” (see p. 226 of [8]). In this spirit, I try to resist the temptation of raising more questions than one can possibly answer, no matter how fascinating these questions might be. Philosophy shall here serve as a practical tool for doing better physics. I try to use philosophy in a relevant and convincing way, but I am certainly not in a position to do frontier technical research in philosophy.

In “A Philosophical Approach to Quantum Field Theory” by Hans Christian Öttinger

The accretion of presumptions based upon a fundamental epistemological error by the ancient Greeks has indeed led to dramatic results. Progress, on the other hand, is an illusion based upon the same epistemological error. There is only a redefinition of a fundament that is inherently subject to interpretation. The presumed linearity of time (progress) finds its genesis in the same epistemological error. Furthermore, this epistemological error by some Greeks is antecedent to any attempt to characterize the nature of the alleged fundamental building block(s). The locus of the epistemological error is in the initial presumption of an invariant fundament. I'm no longer a scholar but weren't the observations of Heraclitus regarding the pursuit of truth influenced by Platonists? While (in my opinion) Heraclitus acknowledged that the object of perception was subject to interpretation the Platonists adapted this to suit their presumptions regarding the nature of the perceived. Implicit in the Platonist's assertion "Nature loves to hide" is the presumption that a physical invariant does exist; it is merely elusive.

Epistemology is to scientists as air is to birds: An appreciation of the absolute nature of the medium not only allows them the potential to fly in any direction, it also explains the nature and inevitability of the paradigm shift.

"To do maths all you need is a pencil, some paper, and a bin. To do philosophy, all you need is a pencil and some paper." For every philosophy tract you can raise one equally valid that conflicts. They are all stories. And by this token is philosophy just "a vitally important subject" or does it "explain" contrary to some comments? It is instead something that, like the stories of religion, becomes socially acceptable in precisely that moment that it is accepted that they are stories to tell in specific whittle-time-away meetings?

Presumably testing augurs the same popularity among physicists. With Popper we get a testable theory for science and its core of testing both (by validation with "meta" testing). And it fills out the shell of progress by predicting how non-working theories gets thrown out, and how the finite number of possibilities (finite observable universe!) can be pared to a working theory. It is my thinking that when theory of science is wrested from philosophy of science and is remitted to science of science where it naturally places, testing will remain as a core theory (there is a testable definition given by Deutsch in his "The Fabric of Reality" - specific actions results in specific reactions; also, Deutsch gives a short rejection of solipsism anyway, saying it isn't a solid idea (basically, a solipsist have to accept that most of what his brain invents is lawful, so there remains very little leeway for "creative invention"). It is a more realistic [sic] method than asking to resolve everything perfectly at once. Yet it drags in causality, constraints and everything we can which, and devolves simply to the observation-observables basis of quantum physics. (Or Newton's third law if we restrict to classical physics.)

I am glad to see some defence of the philosophy of science in Öttinger’s approach to QFT. The way I see it, philosophers of science have colonised intellectual ground that has been abandoned by scientists - abandoned possibly for very good reasons - perhaps as part of the process that continually divides science up into narrower and narrower specialisms as more and more stuff is discovered - so the philosophy gets slewed off into its own niche. It does disappoint me, though, that, in general, scientists are not interested in discussing the more philosophical end of their subject but are content to "shut up and calculate". When I studied Physics many eons ago, I was very disappointed to find that the tutorials were not round-table discussion fora on the meaning of phrases such as "curved spacetime", but consisted entirely of going through the problems in the problem sheet. And scientists are incredibly sloppy with their terminology (to my mind applying a word which is in common usage such as "curved" to 4-dimensional spacetime is a recipe for confusion and misinterpretation, even more so when "spacetime" inevitably gets shortened to "space"). Someone has to step in and clean it all up a bit. To me, philosophy of science plays the same role in relation to science itself as analysis does to calculus - it is tedious, laborious, and takes ages to prove very little - but it is essential in order to justify everything else. See what is happening with the so-called Measurement Problem.

“By construction, a Fock space allows us to go from the Hilbert space for a single entity to a Hilbert space for many independent entities, where the number of these entities can vary – no more, no less. We have not yet made any reference to any Hamiltonian, so that  we cannot speak about interacting, noninteracting, or free particles; nor have we provided any information about time evolution in Fock spaces. Why the Fock space for independent particles plays such a fundamental role even for interacting theories will be recognized in Section (see p. 69).”

In “A Philosophical Approach to Quantum Field Theory” by Hans Christian Öttinger

One of the main hassles in implementing numerically the calculations of operators is the quite distinct way of indexing in H- and F-Spaces. This is made more tricky by the differences between allowed states for fermions and bosons (e.g., we’ve got to use reshaping cycles and crap like that). Working in H-spaces offers an clear-cut payoff from the physical point of view, since one has a clear explicitation of the degrees-of-freedom associated to each particle, and a better indexing of states. On the other hand, because I’m coming from a Computer Science field, a couple of issues arises from the point of view of numerical implementation (too technical to write about here). Back in the day, 2nd quantization and the F-Space were presented as the natural way to deal with quantum systems made of many indistinguishable particles, leaving the feeling that the H-Space description could be left behind (lol). While this is quite true for the description of quantum states of those systems, the computation of some specific observables may be more conveniently pursued using the H-Space construct (Öttinger only uses F-Space as an auxiliary as well, as it should be: “The field is used only as an auxiliary quantity for the heuristic motivation of collision rules and quantities of interest with the proper symmetries – and to establish contact to the usual formulation of Lagrangian quantum field theory.”)

The way Öttinger derived his Quantum Master Equation is nothing short of masterful..."Melikes" it...