Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur, February 2012
Attention conservation notice: I have no taste.
- Jennifer Safrey, Tooth and Nail
- Mind candy: portrait of the tooth fairy as amateur boxer (and
- Jennifer Crusie, Welcome to Temptation and Faking It
- Mind candy; romance with a dash of con-artistry. "First, get the mark to
W. Young, Silent Enemy
- Mind candy; thriller based on the author's experiences as a US military
cargo pilot. There was something oddly compelling to the self-consciousness
about being part of a vast and complicated system of humans and
machines. I can't decide if it's rebuttal of ideas about technological
alienation, an exemplification, or just an acceptance that
- Steven Berlin Johnson, Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter
- Johnson has a couple of theses in this book. (1) Popular culture products
— by which he overwhelmingly means American popular culture — has
become more cognitively complex and demanding over the post-war decades, though
he puts most of his emphasis on what's happened since 1970, and especially
since 1980. (2) Comparing products of equivalent levels of popularity and (in
some sense) quality, popular culture is at least as complex as it's been since
the invention of the mass audience, and quite likely much more complex. (It
makes no sense to compare cheap schlock movies of 2000 to the artistic peaks of
1970; you need to compare schlock to schlock.) (3) This increase in the
complexity of the culture surrounding us, and which we use to entertain
ourselves, drives the Flynn Effect.
- I find points (1) and (2) pretty convincing, though this is necessarily
impressionistic. (The thing which actually gives me the most pause is
Johnson's forthright admission that the features which make shows
like The Sporanos or The Wire demanding — huge
casts of characters with multiple interacting plot threads extending over
multiple episodes, or even over many years — have been parts of soap
operas since time out of mind.) His description of what it's like to actually
play modern videogames, for instance, is remarkably persuasive.
- Point (3), however, is something else again. The possibility he doesn't
give enough attention to is that the causal arrow points the other way.
Suppose, for whatever reason, the kinds of habit of thought Johnson is talking
about have become more widely distributed. This increases the size of the
potential audience which could enjoy complex entertainments — and,
perhaps more importantly, shrinks the pool of those who wouldn't find simpler
ones boring. Makers seeking audiences then shift accordingly, accommodating an
exogenous change in the audience. (Analogously, pulp fiction didn't teach
people to read; it was a response to the innovations of mass literacy and cheap
printing.) One would have to look elsewhere for an explanation of the Flynn
Effect — the cumulative impact of generations of soap-opera-consuming
mothers? — but I suspect that's true anyway.
- Anyway, recommended if you care about these issues, or just like unusually
intelligent (not clever) cultural criticism.
- Saladin Ahmed, Throne of the Crescent Moon
- Mind candy.
on Tor.com is pretty good, and the excerpt on Ahmed's website is
- ObLinkage: Ahmed's self-presentation.
- John Billheimer, The Contrary Blues
- Mind candy. First book in the mystery series where I started with
no. 2, Highway
Robbery. A bit shakier writing than that one, but still
- Jianqing Fan and Qiwei Yao, Nonlinear Time Series: Nonparametric and Parametric
- Full-length review: Everyone Their Own Oracle.
- Shorter me: Modern non-parametric time series methods are immensely more
powerful than Good Old-Fashioned ARMA-mongering. Fan and Yao have provided a
nice introduction to time series for people who know non-parametric statistics;
I doubt it will be helpful to ARMA-mongers. Given a choice to serve one or
audience or the other, I'd have made the same choice, but it does contribute to
science advancing, in this field, funeral by funeral.
- Walter Jon Williams, The Fourth
- Sequel to This Is Not a
Game and Deep
State, in which Dagmar Shaw and co. take Hollywood; which is of
course a cover for a much deeper game. (I think I can avoid spoilers in what
follows; let's see.) Unlike the previous books, the viewpoint character is not
Dagmar, but a former child actor, now adult and desperate to do anything to get
back into the limelight. (In the first chapter we see just how desperate Sean
is.) Sean, as the narrator, is intelligent but also profoundly indifferent to
everything outside the little world of Hollywood movie-making, which leads to
an interesting skewing of perspective on the events he witnesses. The reader
who gets to the end will see what has gone before in a very different
- While this makes it possible to enjoy this book without having read the
previous ones (without "in our last thrilling episode" exposition), those of us
who have read those books will realize that Sean is mis-understanding
what he sees, and be tantalized by the sense that the story he is telling us is
peripheral to something with much higher stakes. It's an interesting choice on
Williams's part, but it did leave me wanting more Dagmar.
- ObLinkage: Williams's self-presentation.
- Jay Lake, Endurance
- Sequel to Green, in which she continues her run-ins with
the Powers That Be — as well as Powers That Were, and Powers Yet to Come.
The ending promises a sequel, which I very much want.
- (A propos of my complaining about the
melanin-depletion of the cover of Green, Lake's preface here
indicates that he's OK with that, which is his right. So I will switch to just
complaining that Green, as depicted here, not only does not look five months
pregnant, but will never show up
on Women Fighters in Reasonable
Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur;
Scientifiction and Fantastica;
Pleasures of Detection, Portraits of Crime;
Enigmas of Chance;
Minds, Brains, and Neurons;
The Commonwealth of Letters;
Commit a Social Science
Posted by crshalizi at February 29, 2012 23:59 | permanent link