adelaide, south australia | Member Since 2011
As a teenager I recall collecting and devouring the entire definitive sci-fi trilogy in paperback, complete with its mighty suite of muralised sci-fi cover paintings by the legendary Chris Foss, which appeared, it occured to me even then, to bear no relationship whatseover to the text.
This is because in many ways these are novels of ideas, and not semi-baroque space-Opera fantasies of arcane technologies, weird aliens, and fabulous beasties. Science fantasy this is not.
However, while they're certainly interesting, I cannot say that I think these ideas are overly-sophisticated. Particularly upon re-exposure to them as an adult. We are in no danger of learning much about the human condition here: '1984' this is not, also.
For, I'm afraid, there is something inherently adolescent about the whole notion of 'psychohistory'.
This is not to say that's it's not a fascinating idea, but I'm afraid that to any adult with a knowledge of actual history the idea of events playing out according to 'The Plan' - a kind of demographic mathematical sociology writ across the galaxy - and of the amazingly synchronous appearances of the Cassandra come-Prophet-of-Rebirth Hari Seldon, are nothing short of ridiculous. Particularly in the light of the subsequent knowledge we have gained in the field of chaos mathematics.
In its own way Asimov's view of the world could be held to be Marxist, in the strictly analytical sense. History is determined primarily by economics and geopolitical (spatiopolitical?) power-relations and rivalries. This actually elevates the books above the level of the banal heroic individualist fantasy inherent in much sci-fi.
But we know there's more to it all than that; firstly we have examples of crucial dependence upon personality - and the triumph of irrationality on a national scale - that predate these books; a Third Reich and its attendant contagious lunacies without Hitler? Hardly.
Then there's our more recent knowledge of sensitive dependence upon initial conditions and the famous 'butterfly effect'. Not to mention the recent, GFC-fuelled demise of Market Theory and the whole notion of rational self-interest as the lynchpin of economics.
These factors have really put paid to any notions of a clockwork social universe of near-perfect predictability. Thankfully so!
So I suggest you listen to this as an exercise in nostalgia - a reminder of the future that was, and very certainly never will be.
OK, we've established this isn't history, or social-prophecy: what about the big question? Does it work as entertainment? Well, yes, but the characters never rise above the 2-dimensional, and some don't even make it that far. In this, though, the book scarcely differs from contemporary airport door-stoppers that sell in the millions, so this cannot count as a drawback!
Scott Brick's straightforward and pacy 'tough-guy' narration is perfectly suited to what this is - a cynical, unlikely action yarn (actually a series of related yarns spanning nearly a millenium) that's not great literature by any means, but is more cerebral than most for all that.
In the course of listening to this audiobook I was reminded of Noam Chomsky's systematic, morbidly-fascinating - and somewhat disturbing; 'should I be watching this?' - demolition of B.F. Skinner's behaviourism.
You don't have to have read J.P. Holding's original to enjoy this book. There is a wealth of fascinating material in here, and the context is set up effectively enough to follow the refutation.
As a happy agnostic - I don't call myself an atheist simply because I really couldn't be bothered feeling obliged to argue over such self-evidently irrational beliefs - Carrier's book was a (slightly guilty) pleasure, with much of historical interest. A Christian would be less likely to enjoy it, obviously, depending on the extent of their ahistoric fervour. But it's notable that reading Carrier and Bart Ehrman has made me MORE inclined to pick up a bible, not less...
It's debatable whether Carrier really should read his own books - mellifluous he ain't - but it's a perfect union of tone and content.
'What?' you say. 'Triumph of the human spirit', 'boldly going etc. etc.' - surely this book is making a case for the exact opposite of curtailing the real-live-human space program?
Doubtlessly it is, but then how, definitively, almost surreally, pointless this whole account is. Towards the end the author - rather disingenuously, surely? - inserts the words 'if this was a movie...' into his protagonist's narrative, but that's exactly what this book is, really; one very prolonged script treatment for a summer multiplex blockbuster.
For a start, the main character is the usual glib, quip-happy smartarse, and one suspects the author had a few high-fee-commanding heavyweights in mind throughout. And then there's the plot, which struggles valiantly to achieve the new peaks of out-of-this-world implausibility required to pack them into the 'plexes.
But what's really striking is the absolute lack of either science or wonder. If you've ever suspected the whole 'putting people in space' thing was a galactically-expensive circular exercise in letting the privileged people in space primarily research what happens to, um, the privileged people in space, nothing in this book will contradict you. Sure, there's an absolute overload of engineering, but actual science? Ummm... not so much. Towards the end of the story hand-waving references are made to our hero 'collecting samples' and doing,um, 'research' - and this is about the level of detail provided! One suspects that the author suddenly realized there hadn't really been any hitherto, and, hang on, this is what all the 'boldly going' is supposed to be about, isn't it?
But it's not, really, deep down, is it? It's really about creating action blockbuster scenarios. In real life. So expensive they make summer-blockbuster outlays look like pitiful stacks of small-change by comparison. Because it's assumed that the breathless listener simply cannot figure out that this mission, as described, is a blatant failure. No, we must all fantasize that this is really some sort of semi-stumbling first step on the road to a wider galactic frontier...
What's really striking is the absolute lack of a vision of another world - Mars - in this novel. It's dusty, It's red. It has rocks. The main enemy on the protagonist's planet-crossing traverses is... boredom! We're promised a dramatic landscape that - remarkably - never materializes! Our hero is simply never moved by a sunset on another world. Incredibly, he never looks to the small blue dot of Earth and pines! Or ponders! I mean; seriously? The entire fricking Universe merely serves as a backdrop for a narcissistic, wise-cracking, tech-geek action adventure!
Don't get me wrong; it's a sufficiently entertaining ripping yarn to have gotten me through to the finish, certainly, but, please, let's never do this in reality, eh?
We have - relatively - inexpensive machines that can go to Mars and take samples. And a world full of real problems down here that could do with the rest of the money...
(Proper review-style note: the narration perfectly suits the story.)
China is another country - they do things differently there.
I suspect strongly that Simon Vance's narration is all that saves this book from utter unbearability - his soothing, very British intonations smoothing-over and camouflaging a tale that should, in justice, probably be delivered in a nasal, wheedling, north-American whine.
The Chinese, you see, in Troost's eyes, simply cannot do anything right.
His account is in the gonzo comic style, and might almost be compared to Bill Bryson, except that Troost has little interest in the locals' opinions. After all, he has so many of his own to give us.
Make no mistake - this is an entertaining account, and doubtlessly, of course, much of his criticism is justified, particularly of the regime. But it's striking how his cynicism - and, I'll add, his skepticism - switches off the moment he crosses the 'border' into Tibet.
Probably one to digest before traveling there yourself for the first time, on a forewarned is forearmed basis; hell, after all, it's unlikely your own experience would be worse!
I see this as a return to form - this is, for me, Eco's best work since Foucault's Pendulum; after having more-or-less sworn off him after wading through 'The Island of the Day Before', I'm glad I decided to give the genius responsible for The Name of the Rose 'one more go' via this novel.
Admirers of Pendulum would recognise much in this account: the erudite history; the arcane knowledge of matters both bizarre and mundane; the disturbing, queasy paranoia.
But what really marks this book is the sheer bloody awfulness of the protagonist!
The audible sample's risible, poisonous rant is a great introduction to him - be warned, this man is absolutely appalling, and his repulsiveness is unrelenting, and little relieved in the course of the narrative. If you find the sample blackly comic and strangely compelling you may enjoy the book; if, on the other hand, you find yourself grossly offended this is unlikely to be the story for you.
After all [mild spoiler alert], just how repulsive would you expect the author of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion be? Well, at least this awful, surely?
Just don't expect much in the way of justice or redemption at the resolution. This is a novel about humanity at its absolute basest. This unprincipled, antisemitic, xenophobic, ultra-reactionary psychopath holds an unforgiving mirror to the darkest side of the European psyche. And we all know what followed...
In short, a truly dreadful story, beautifully read by Sean Barrett.
First off, as a South Australian, I have to point out that I was mystified by the idea of someone working along on a fence on the border between New South Wales and my home-state, and yet somehow confronting a 'Lake Frome Monster' and being near 'Lake Frome Station'. Um, do you reckon? Google 'Lake Frome South Australia map' and you'll see why this troubles me.
However, Upfield's novels usually have something of the fantastic about them, and compared to planes that land themselves after the pilot has bailed out or people driven to murder by their thwarted addiction to staring into windmills this geographic anomaly is pretty mild!
In fact, the plot's relatively straightforward, the solution surprisingly plausible, and the dated 'isms' (sexism, racism) pleasantly constrained.
So go ahead, but be aware this won't while away the long drive to, say, Broken Hill. This, the unfinished novel, completed from his notes after Upfield's death is, perhaps not surprisingly, brief.
As usual, Peter Hosking reads beautifully.
As many have pointed out, this isn't a catalogue of the monstrous and marvellous. This is a discussion of the hypothetical boundaries of life as we could anticipate finding it sprawled across the universe.
First off, let me say that I bet we never find any evidence for giant dirigible beings floating up and down in the thick, turbulent gaseous atmosphere of some distant, surfaceless planet. I mean, what the hell are they eating? Where are the parallels in our own atmosphere?
This kind of sets the tone for the 'gee whiz', science-fictiony aspect of much of the book, and as a consequence I, for one, significantly discount the author's apparent 'optimistic' assumptions about the virtual inevitability of life virtually everywhere you might chance to look.
As for the 'if' 'if' 'if', and 'then' robot brains have taken over and are evolving themselves, and that's the kind of intelligent life SETI will encounter stuff - give me a break! Because, like, smart phones! Geez!
Surely the core of life is that life strives, and life intrinsically cares very much about the continuation of its own existence? Programming some hyper-processed chip of sand to BEHAVE as if it did (and, sorry, that is all that it will ever do) is not even close to being the same thing, but could, ironically, turn out to be one of the most suicidally reckless acts undertaken by our suicidally reckless species.
Oh, and what about your bloody hands, people!? Giant centipedes ain't going to evolve the intelligence to build technological civilizations - and, vitally, to store and readily transmit the information required - any more than dolphins are! Or develop much in the way of an intellect at all! Another sad limiting case the author doesn't really tackle - if you cannot manipulate the world around you competently there is no selective pressure for you to evolve the kind of brain-power we recognise as intelligence. Let's face it; any putative wind-tossed gasbag's thought processes would amount to little more than 'da da dum dum' and 'ooooh'.
There is much of interest in this book, and much that is genuinely thought-provoking. But if you're looking for a catalogue of freaky animals, go elsewhere, and otherwise anticipate a fairly regular 'yeah, sure' response...
SPOILER ALERT (but you know what's coming anyway!)
All-American girl bereft by recent loss of her dear, dear, faultless, kind-hearted, salt-of-the-earth character father. CHECK
Handsome investigator who initially clashes with said heroine and then... well, you know the rest. CHECK
Heroine doesn't bother to clarify what her sainted father - bless him - was actually up to, and what this supposed legacy from him to her is until chapter 5, despite constant references to it by the other characters. CHECK
Heroine is supposed to be committed to doing something by way of profession - in this case she's, like, an artist - but exhibits no marked inclination to undertake any activities relating to it. Except for the occasional plot purpose (see below). CHECK
It's set in New Orleans so we get a sort of liberal, first-amendmenty tour of Voodoo from an apparent closet rationalist, not-at-all-crazy-and-scary voodoo priestess who helps us understand it's all really not-at-all-crazy-and-scary, and Good Voodoo isn't really the problem. Whew! CHECK
Comically silly villain. CHECK (not many are sillier, actually!)
And deluded menials. Who think they can harness 'the power' for themselves. Mwahahaha. CHECK
Sex scenes that manage to pitch somewhere between the comic and the turgid. CHECK
Heroine doesn't work out the multiply-telegraphed reference to, you know, that thing that's been niggling at her in the two sentence instruction from her sainted father - God rest his soul - until just before the climax (not the one alluded to above!) despite its, ahem, blinding obviousness. CHECK
Cell phones that work in a heavy stone-walled crypt, underground. CHECK
Heroine who's specifically instructed not to trust anyone is left alone at the strategic moment and trusts, you guessed it, a wrong someone. CHECK
A wrong someone who, despite all that's gone on before, squibs out on simply and conveniently killing, rather than just knocking out, the heroine's putative 'protectors', because it just wouldn't do to kill a dog now, would it? CHECK
And, wow, like that finished painting she did in, like, an hour in her sleep was prophetic all along! And you'll never guess who the sacrifice depicted was!? CHECK
And, like, wow, that other woman was the evil priestess all along! Who'd'a'thunkit?! CHECK
Let's face it; you've heard this book before. But it may beguile a few hours if you're relatively untroubled by the above...
As for the reading, it's spirited enough (boom boom!), but perhaps you, like me, will remain unsure who's supposed to be a Scot, and who's Irish, and whether nationals of either country would recognize themselves...
Even if you think you know what we've done to the oceans, the fact is, you probably don't.
Roberts does a great job making you aware of this in painstaking, but never laboured, detail.
Particularly interesting is the treatment of secular hero, and Darwin ally, Thomas Huxley, who managed to be hopelessly wrong about the interaction between natural systems and market forces not once, but twice, and who doubtlessly went to his grave thoroughly convinced that it was reality that was the party at fault! His high-handed, patronising treatment of witnesses at his inquiry is cringe-inducing, and gave me a new perspective on the man, and the foibles of intellectual arrogance.
Which, really, is the message of the book. Free markets in the oceans are a disaster. Marine parks and competent regulation are the solution.
At the very least you'll gain an insight into why your grandchildren ended up living off jellyfish...
This seems to be Thomas Perry's attempt to write a kind of 'No Country for Old Men'.
He doesn't make it.
A bunch of not-particularly-sympathetic and not-particularly-rounded characters meander through a mystery tale that's competent, rather than compelling. Frankly the revelatory 'twist' exposition which is compulsory in these things was not only thoroughly telegraphed, it was stretched almost beyond breaking-point, and if I hadn't been driving I'd have fast-forwarded through most of it it!
(And, yet again, we are left to wonder 'what is it with the contemporary American admiration of sociopaths'?)
Anyway, you get what you pay for, and it's well read. Only, if you have a choice, go for Cormac McCarthy, eh?
We live in a world in the feverless grip of undead and undying ideas, whether it be the notion that climate change really isn't happening and the world's science academies are actually over-run by secret Communists, or that austerity is a peachy - and 'commonsense' - antidote to recession.
Though Quiggin's interests range across the Zombie spectrum, his specialty is Economics, and this is where he concentrates raining his defensive blows in ensuring that the dead stay down, as they're supposed to.
He patiently, and entertainingly, explains all the reasons that the premises of what he calls Market Liberalism - and what you may know as Thatcherism, Reaganism, or Economic Rationalism - were rendered defunct and incapable of resuscitation by the Global Financial Crisis of 2008.
Why have ordinary working people voted against their own best economic interests, across the Anglophone world in particular, for decades? Why do we live in a society where corporations are people, billionaires are 'just plain folk' - and need hardly be expected to pay much in the way of tax accordingly - and yet schoolteachers and climate scientists are dangerous elitists who threaten our way of life? Oh, the humanity!...
To really know what's gone wrong for the living you must understand the undead, and Quiggin's short tome is a great place to start.
If I have a criticism it's that Quiggin's short history of ideas in Economics tends to be strongly focused on academics; it sometimes seems as though the ideas might truly only have propagated within ivory towers, rather than having been buoyed along in the social marketplace by the interests of those they have served. Since 1979 that has been, almost exclusively, the 1%; Wall Street, not Main Street, and they have lavishly promoted their necrotising notions with the unprecedented spoils at their disposal.
This is a great place to start to inoculate yourself against the Zombie pathology.
Gideon Emery's proficient reading gives a solid Australian voice to this Antipodean author.
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