Author Topic: What are you reading?  (Read 65786 times)

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Offline Eth

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What are you reading?
« on: November 20, 2007, 12:50:01 am »
  Right now I'm reading The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain.  It appears to be a travelogue describing what can only be the world's first cruise ship voyage as we know them today.  All of these moderately well-off Americans charter a steamer to travel through the Mediterranean to the Holy Land and back.  The whole thing is told in Twain's inimitable sarcastic style.  As usual, he spares no one: the cultures he encounters are savagely mocked, as are the people on board the steamer.  I'll let you know how it turns out, assuming I make it to the end.  (This is quite a problem for me these days.  Working in one of the largest bookstores in the world presents endless literary distractions.)

  Feel free to post in this thread; it's for everyone to use. 

Offline Lukipela

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Re: What are you reading?
« Reply #1 on: November 20, 2007, 07:22:21 am »
I'm reading "Fienden inom oss" (The enemy within), a fictional work by Jan Guillo, a Swedish author. Its a critical look at Swedish society, and how the fear of terrorism causes us to compromise our own liberty. It's quite good, albeit slightly depressing since I can tell already that it's going to end badly.

Next in line is "Ikiyö" (Evernight) by Ilkka Remes, which is more of a thriller. I've been meaning to read some of Remes stuff fro a long time, since he is a fairly well known Finnish author, I just haven't gotten around to it. All in all, I spend too much time doing other things than reading, and I really suffer for it.

I do tend to read a lot on my daily commute, in e-book form. If you have a e-reader, I can recommend http://manybooks.net//. It is a completely legal site which stocks old books with expired copyrights, as well as some new stuff by edgy writers. I've been able to enjoy the "Wisdom of Father Brown", "Brigands of the Moon", "Blindsight" and many other books through this site.
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Offline Zeracles

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Re: What are you reading?
« Reply #2 on: November 20, 2007, 12:18:45 pm »
I'm reading Antony Beevor's Stalingrad, an account of the Russo-German portion of the Second World War from the launch of Operation Barbarossa (at the time, the biggest land invasion in history, superceded only by the Red Army coming in the opposite direction 3.5 years later) to the encirclement and subjugation of the German Sixth Army in the fateful city of Stalingrad. I'm about halfway through, and it's living up to expectations, with passages like

The commissar of a light-artillery regiment, Babachenko, was made a Hero of the Soviet Union for his bravery when a battery was cut off. The defenders' farewell radio message received at headquarters read: `Guns destroyed. Battery surrounded. We fight on and will not surrender. Best regards to everyone.' Yet, using grenades, rifles and sub-machine guns, the gunners broke the enemy encirclement and made a fresh stand, helping to restore the sector's line of defence.

interspersed with scholarly insights which, though often pointing out counter-examples to the usually lauded events, make the mass heroism of the time more human, real and believable. A legitimate sc3 should surely have a comparable episode :) I've always found Russian history fascinating, and Dostoyevsky's Notes from Underground is one of my all-time favourites.

Did anyone ever read Interbellum?
I do tend to read a lot on my daily commute, in e-book form.
I can't read on my daily commute . . . well, I couldn't anyway, seeing as I don't commute daily :P
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Offline Lukipela

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Re: What are you reading?
« Reply #3 on: November 20, 2007, 12:47:08 pm »
If you're interested in Stalingrad and the events there, there's a book called "War of the Rats" that depicts the sniper battles fought in Stalingrad. A lot of it is fictional, but it is based on true events IIRC. Can't remember the author though, sorry.

Also, reading on your commute si great. It takes me 10 - 15 min to get to work in the morning on the bus. That's about 30 mins of reading time every day.
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Offline Eth

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Re: What are you reading?
« Reply #4 on: November 21, 2007, 01:17:24 am »
I've always found Russian history fascinating, and Dostoyevsky's Notes from Underground is one of my all-time favourites.

Only Russian novel I ever read.  Well, I read the first part, anyway. 

Offline Zeracles

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Re: What are you reading?
« Reply #5 on: November 21, 2007, 08:39:36 pm »
If you're interested in Stalingrad and the events there, there's a book called "War of the Rats" that depicts the sniper battles fought in Stalingrad. A lot of it is fictional, but it is based on true events IIRC. Can't remember the author though, sorry.
Yes, Beevor talks about a whole culture of "sniperism" which grew up at the time. He mentions the "noble sniper" Vasily Zaitsev (among others), the inspiration for Jude Law's character in Enemy at the Gates. He also mentions the myth behind the story about the ace German sniper (Ed Harris in the movie) being brought in to hunt Zaitsev down, describing it as "essentially unconvincing".
I've always found Russian history fascinating, and Dostoyevsky's Notes from Underground is one of my all-time favourites.
Only Russian novel I ever read.  Well, I read the first part, anyway.
The first part is very interesting, but the second part, the "story of the falling sleet", is where the interest is supported with a strong story. I thought the ending was spectacular :)
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Offline Eth

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Re: What are you reading?
« Reply #6 on: November 22, 2007, 12:09:01 am »
  Well, I certainly plan to take a "Russian tour" one of these years.  Hit Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, and, er, that other famous Russian novelist whose name escapes me.    ;D  Crap.  Maybe I'll just read some Bakunin, then.  He always sounded interesting. 

Offline Eth

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Re: What are you reading?
« Reply #7 on: February 29, 2008, 09:58:28 pm »
  I'm reading Ian M. Banks's Matter, a novel about Early Modern societies within the context of highly advanced, post-scarcity, interstellar empires.  Banks is really good at high-concept stuff, and Matter is no exception; most of the action is set on a "shell world," a hollow planet with several layers of land (with air sandwiched between 'em).  The layers are held up by giant columns.  Obviously everything is contructed out of some sci-fi supermetal.  Anyway, the aforementioned primitives (which are humans, or near enough) live in one of the layers of this shell world, which is supervised by some sort of crab aliens.  The crabs are watched over by some kind of sentient water-bags who are in charge of a good deal of the galaxy, and have foresworn war, money, etc.  They watch the humans living on the shell-world with interest; the creatures are so passionate and vital!  They are scupulous about never interfering, though (some sort of Star Trek "Prime Directive" thing, I guess).  Anyway, the humans are aware of their lowly place in the galactic scheme of things, but understand that they have more power and control within their own limited context then the galactics do in their conservative, rarified context. 

Offline Zeracles

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Re: What are you reading?
« Reply #8 on: March 02, 2008, 09:16:56 am »
So this shell world isn't a Dyson sphere?

It sounds interesting. The place of humanity in interstellar sci-fi settings is always intriguing, partly because we don't really have any idea which of them is most likely, some huge time from now. So it sounds like Matter would fall into the category of, humans are kind of crap, but as always, there's something to be proud of in being human (like SC!). Turning around the whole prime directive thing sounds interesting too, and this differentiates it from Arthur C. Clarke's Odyssey novels.

As for me, I really enjoyed Stalingrad, but to be honest, if one isn't interested in this period of history, or war history generally, one might get bored.

Also, I finished Isaac Asimov's Prelude to Foundation a few days ago. For those who don't know, Asimov's Foundation series eventually came to include his Robot and Empire novels. It wasn't his original intention to join them, but he does so with magnificent seamlessness, and Prelude to Foundation is one of the novels which links the previously separate series.

As always with an Asimov, the attraction is not the style - Asimov was no wordsmith - it's the ideas which count. The other basic building blocks of a stock Asimov are all there; all the main characters are geniuses, there is some kind of mystery or plot which the hero unravels through fantastic insight, the conversations are faintly unbelievable and Asimov's flowery, idealistic and unrealistic notions of women are on display. In other words, it's a great Asimov novel.

For those who may have read some of Asimov's Robot novels, Robot Daneel Olivaw, guardian of the galaxy, features. I suppose it's fitting that the hero of Asimov's oeuvre (by which I mean his Foundation novels) is a robot, and there's something about this character which is so immensely appealing. In my opinion he's almost a robotic Obi Wan Kenobi. But he isn't the main genius of this novel, that is Hari Seldon, who I think Asimov described as his alter ego, so it's interesting in that respect - indeed, it's not hard to suspect Asimov wished he had been a mathematician. In any case, Prelude to Foundation is a must for any who have read and enjoyed the original Foundation trilogy, and all Daneel fans. It fits in so neatly, and helps to tie in the Robot novels. It details the events which fittingly accompany any great scientific breakthrough, nothing less than the development of psychohistory! There are also some interesting ideas concerning this, but I'd say this was underdeveloped. Still, it is fiction, so one can't quite expect a full account of how to predict the future course of history ;D Maybe that's for Forward the Foundation, which I might read some time soon.

By the way, I hate a story coming to a dead halt, so although I never do this, if it would mean getting to see how it evolves, I can play Daneel in the RP :)
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Offline Eth

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Re: What are you reading?
« Reply #9 on: March 02, 2008, 02:22:21 pm »
So this shell world isn't a Dyson sphere?

No, it's not that big.  The gravity is, if I'm inferring things correctly, less than Earth's, but the shellworld is hollow, so obviously it wouldn't be very dense.  I don't know if they quoted a size.  Anyway, it is regarded as a very very impressive feat of engineering, even by the advanced societies that inhabit the galaxy.  The species that made them is long-gone, and no one know how to make them any more. 

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Also, I finished Isaac Asimov's Prelude to Foundation a few days ago. For those who don't know, Asimov's Foundation series eventually came to include his Robot and Empire novels. It wasn't his original intention to join them, but he does so with magnificent seamlessness, and Prelude to Foundation is one of the novels which links the previously separate series.

As always with an Asimov, the attraction is not the style - Asimov was no wordsmith - it's the ideas which count. The other basic building blocks of a stock Asimov are all there; all the main characters are geniuses, there is some kind of mystery or plot which the hero unravels through fantastic insight, the conversations are faintly unbelievable and Asimov's flowery, idealistic and unrealistic notions of women are on display. In other words, it's a great Asimov novel.

For those who may have read some of Asimov's Robot novels, Robot Daneel Olivaw, guardian of the galaxy, features. I suppose it's fitting that the hero of Asimov's oeuvre (by which I mean his Foundation novels) is a robot, and there's something about this character which is so immensely appealing. In my opinion he's almost a robotic Obi Wan Kenobi. But he isn't the main genius of this novel, that is Hari Seldon, who I think Asimov described as his alter ego, so it's interesting in that respect - indeed, it's not hard to suspect Asimov wished he had been a mathematician. In any case, Prelude to Foundation is a must for any who have read and enjoyed the original Foundation trilogy, and all Daneel fans. It fits in so neatly, and helps to tie in the Robot novels. It details the events which fittingly accompany any great scientific breakthrough, nothing less than the development of psychohistory! There are also some interesting ideas concerning this, but I'd say this was underdeveloped. Still, it is fiction, so one can't quite expect a full account of how to predict the future course of history ;D Maybe that's for Forward the Foundation, which I might read some time soon.

I read Foundation, and, even at a young age (10?) I found psychohistory to be completely unbelievable.  That impression has grown as I have.  The idea that individual people are irrelevant, that historical forces follow inevitable sociological laws, seems absurd by today's standards.  Of course, such concepts had a lot of currency back when Asimov first wrote Foundation (1950, was it?  Nope, Wikipedia says 1951.  I was close!).  It was thought that human behavior could be predicted if we had enough data, and that, by extension, societal forces could also be predicted. 

This concept is extended to the style of Foundation.  There aren't any characters to speak of in the book.  I mean, Hari Seldon was kind of interesting, but he was long dead during most of the novel!  Frankly, I always found Asimov's robot characters to be far more compelling than his human ones, from R. Daneel Olivaw to the Bicentennial Man to Norby (for Chrissakes)!

Apologies if I got any of the details wrong.  I haven't read any Asimov for around 20 years.  I'm not bagging on the guy, either.  He's one of SF's greats, had some terrific ideas, and made things like robots and sentient gas-clouds sympathetic, which is no mean feat!

Offline Zeracles

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Re: What are you reading?
« Reply #10 on: March 02, 2008, 02:58:11 pm »
I read Foundation, and, even at a young age (10?) I found psychohistory to be completely unbelievable.  That impression has grown as I have.  The idea that individual people are irrelevant, that historical forces follow inevitable sociological laws, seems absurd by today's standards.  Of course, such concepts had a lot of currency back when Asimov first wrote Foundation (1950, was it?  Nope, Wikipedia says 1951.  I was close!).  It was thought that human behavior could be predicted if we had enough data, and that, by extension, societal forces could also be predicted. 
I can't say that I'm a mathematician, I'm a physicist by trade, but perhaps I will be able to say it given what I plan for my next paper. Maybe I just find seemingly intractable problems irresistible, but even at a young age (12?) I found psychohistory to be extremely exciting. It could also be that I love history too. No, I think it's perfectly believable. Either no-one's been smart enough to figure it out yet or someone has and for obvious reasons, this knowledge has been kept secret. I'd say the former, but keep an open mind ;)
This concept is extended to the style of Foundation.  There aren't any characters to speak of in the book.  I mean, Hari Seldon was kind of interesting, but he was long dead during most of the novel!  Frankly, I always found Asimov's robot characters to be far more compelling than his human ones, from R. Daneel Olivaw to the Bicentennial Man to Norby (for Chrissakes)!
As I was saying
As always with an Asimov, the attraction is not the style
And yes, this is Asimov's weakness. But it probably has less to do with his skill as a writer than it has to do with his ridiculous workload. He wrote so much, I doubt he had time to get to know his own characters better than we could! No doubt he knew his readership wasn't really concerned with these flaws.

Daneel's his best character. I think Asimov's best novels are the ones he wrote to put his disparate series together - Robots and Empire, Prelude to Foundation, Foundation's Edge, Foundation and Earth, and most don't but I'd also throw in The End of Eternity.
sentient gas-clouds sympathetic, which is no mean feat!
Are you talking about Victory Unintentional (I think)? Great story!
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Offline Eth

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Re: What are you reading?
« Reply #11 on: March 02, 2008, 11:27:29 pm »
I read Foundation, and, even at a young age (10?) I found psychohistory to be completely unbelievable.  That impression has grown as I have.  The idea that individual people are irrelevant, that historical forces follow inevitable sociological laws, seems absurd by today's standards.  Of course, such concepts had a lot of currency back when Asimov first wrote Foundation (1950, was it?  Nope, Wikipedia says 1951.  I was close!).  It was thought that human behavior could be predicted if we had enough data, and that, by extension, societal forces could also be predicted. 
I can't say that I'm a mathematician, I'm a physicist by trade, but perhaps I will be able to say it given what I plan for my next paper. Maybe I just find seemingly intractable problems irresistible, but even at a young age (12?) I found psychohistory to be extremely exciting. It could also be that I love history too. No, I think it's perfectly believable. Either no-one's been smart enough to figure it out yet or someone has and for obvious reasons, this knowledge has been kept secret. I'd say the former, but keep an open mind ;)

  I just don't buy it.  The implicit assumption of psychohistory is that no individual is essential, that we are all of us replaceable cogs in a societal machine, and that it if one "great man" didn't do something, someone else would end up doing the same thing, so that the flow of history would be (more or less) uninterrupted.  I don't buy it.  While many "great men" were nurtured by a supportive society (standing on the shoulders of giants, as Newton would put it), the Athenians to give a classical example, many were in a situation where there was no support structure in place, or whom imprinted their very idiosyncratic views on the society at large.  Look at Muhammed!  Born in a desert backwater with no academic tradition, no strong religious institutions and no centralized government, he forged one of the greatest religions and one of the greatest empires of history!  Look at Washington.  He could have been king.  He was urged to become king.  Yet he scrupulously did his best to maintain a separation of powers, voluntarily relinquishing power to the legislature and the judiciary, forever impacting the United States' history. 

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sentient gas-clouds sympathetic, which is no mean feat!
Are you talking about Victory Unintentional (I think)? Great story!

I can't remember, actually.  I either read it two decades back, or I might only have read about it in a secondary source... 

Offline Zeracles

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Re: What are you reading?
« Reply #12 on: March 03, 2008, 07:39:12 am »
Perhaps you're forgetting that Asimov's psychohistory was only meant to work when the populations became huge. Not billions, but billions of billions of billions. It was on that scale that things were meant to become predictable, the complete opposite of individuals being unpredictable. I can certainly see things like personality cults being nigh impossible to sustain on that scale.

And on that scale, if one individual doesn't do something, the probability that someone else will manage it is so much greater.

Anyway, I still think it could be possible on world-scales. Some individual choices have swayed history - sure, but that's too easy. No-one said precisely what questions psychohistory would be able to answer given each set of circumstances. For example, psychohistory might not be able to predict Muhammed and the rise of the Caliphate exactly, but there are reasons for what happened there. Behind most seemingly miraculous events, there are actually firm reasons for why they happened, when one looks closely enough. Often they only seemed miraculous because you didn't see it coming.

About standing on giants' shoulders, as one who does research, I can only say, absolutely, it's the only way, and it's one of the things which one realises pretty quickly. Although, this isn't how it always seems from the outside. Some developments are more original than others, of course. Is it not also true in art? So many things seem so creative, but often is this not only because we aren't privy to all the details of the artist's context?

As for Washington, the effects which you attribute to him might be examples of things which are not really that important. In my opinion, psychohistory would do well not concerning itself with things like that. I think there are more important reasons than the separation of powers for the place which the Land of the Free enjoys in the world today. I'm sure it would still be the case if Washington had become king, partly because I don't see a monarchy lasting very long over there. Maybe that's part of the reason Washington wasn't interested in that. I could be way off though, US history really isn't my forte.
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Offline Bleeding Star

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Re: What are you reading?
« Reply #13 on: March 03, 2008, 09:14:04 am »
Just finish Sea of Silver Light - book four in Tad Williams's Otherland series. Pretty cool VR future stuff, but at 1200 pages I think he could have done with a good editor. Several, in fact.

Offline Eth

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Re: What are you reading?
« Reply #14 on: March 03, 2008, 10:15:17 am »
Perhaps you're forgetting that Asimov's psychohistory was only meant to work when the populations became huge. Not billions, but billions of billions of billions. It was on that scale that things were meant to become predictable, the complete opposite of individuals being unpredictable. I can certainly see things like personality cults being nigh impossible to sustain on that scale.

And on that scale, if one individual doesn't do something, the probability that someone else will manage it is so much greater.

Hmmm, yes.  Scale could certainly make a difference.  Just as things are more predictable in physics at greater scales, sociology may become a more accurate at predicting things at a macro-scale. 

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Anyway, I still think it could be possible on world-scales. Some individual choices have swayed history - sure, but that's too easy. No-one said precisely what questions psychohistory would be able to answer given each set of circumstances. For example, psychohistory might not be able to predict Muhammed and the rise of the Caliphate exactly, but there are reasons for what happened there. Behind most seemingly miraculous events, there are actually firm reasons for why they happened, when one looks closely enough. Often they only seemed miraculous because you didn't see it coming.

I never said anything about miracles, I said that individuals have had a huge effect on society.  There was no "substitute Muhammed" waiting in the wings; the worlds was "ready" for Islam: Muhammed made it happen. 

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About standing on giants' shoulders, as one who does research, I can only say, absolutely, it's the only way, and it's one of the things which one realises pretty quickly. Although, this isn't how it always seems from the outside. Some developments are more original than others, of course. Is it not also true in art? So many things seem so creative, but often is this not only because we aren't privy to all the details of the artist's context?

Of course, of course!  Obviously Muhammed was influenced by the Jews of Medina, and Washington by the writings of Locke and such.  That makes them no less essential to history.   

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As for Washington, the effects which you attribute to him might be examples of things which are not really that important. In my opinion, psychohistory would do well not concerning itself with things like that. I think there are more important reasons than the separation of powers for the place which the Land of the Free enjoys in the world today. I'm sure it would still be the case if Washington had become king, partly because I don't see a monarchy lasting very long over there. Maybe that's part of the reason Washington wasn't interested in that. I could be way off though, US history really isn't my forte.

Read a biography of Washington, or at least an article on his presidency if you don't want to take my word for it.  The US was ripe for monarchy; it was the only system they'd known, and was the only proven system at the time.  Democracy was for Athenians back in the eighteenth century.