June 30, 2012

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur, June 2012

Attention conservation notice: I have no taste.

Warren Fahy, Fragment
Mind candy. Predator porn (to use Barbara Ehreneich's phrase), plus biologists making enthusiastic as-you-know-Bob speeches about invasive species and the Cambrian explosion. (As they do.) The ecology makes no sense.
Ralf Dahrendorf, Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: In a Letter Intended to Have Been Sent to a Gentleman in Warsaw
Mostly interesting, at this remove (it's from 1990), in seeing the former director of the LSE slag Hayek in favor of listening to Popper.
Many things have not developed as Dahrendorf anticipated:
Deng Xiaoping may have hoped that he could stimulate economic activity at the local level and beyond without awakening the goddess of democracy. The students of Tiananmen Square gave him the answer, and his counterblast destroyed economic initiative along with demands for political participation. [pp. 82--83]
To be fair, the context of this passage is R.D. writing about how hard it is to understand all the linkages between politics and the economy...
Isaac Asimov, The Foundation Trilogy
A very well-done audio adaptation from the BBC. These books are a personal favorite — they were some of the first grown-up books I ever read, and I do not admit the existence of either sequels or prequels — and I am pleased to discover that the only avatar of the Suck Fairy which has visited them is the Patriarchy Goes Without Saying Forever Fairy. Though the whole creating-an-Encyclopedia-Galactica-will-take-generations plot-point makes much less sense post-Wikipedia... (Retcon: The Galactic Empire Does Not Approve of social media?)
The audio adaptation is quite faithful to the over-all plot and themes, and nicely acted. The actors all deploy their best formal BBC accents, which to my American ears works nicely with Asimov's text, and even (though I realize this is irrational) with the classical, fall-of-Rome inspiration. The electronic noises (sound effects? sound track?) must've sounded very much more futuristic in 1973 than they do now.
Thanks to Nick Watkins for telling me about this, and sharing his copy.
Téa Obreht, The Tiger's Wife
Yes, it's as well-written as everyone says. I have no idea how true it is to life (or legend) in the former Yugoslavia, but it's beautiful and moving, and I want to re-read it already to see how she did that.
Gillian Flynn, Sharp Objects
Mind candy: dark, dark, sour (not bitter) mind candy. An impressively messed-up Intrepid Girl Reporter returns to her impressively messed-up home town to engage in some impressively ill-advised behavior, with the excuse and side-effect of solving some murders. For me it had that "this is going to be awful, but I can't stop it" feeling of some nightmares, and I read it in one sitting.
I suspect it qualifies as Southern Gothic, but if so it is a counter-example to Mills's Law of the Dead Mule.
Robert E. Schapire and Yoav Freund, Boosting: Foundations and Algorithms
Review: Weak Learners of the World, Unite!
Charles Stross, Iron Sunrise
Mind candy. Space opera, sequel to Singularity Sky (which I read eight years ago). Like its predecessor, gripping once you swallow the slightly daft universe. (Which nonetheless is more scientifically plausible than such classics of "hard SF" as Larry Niven's Known Space.)
Warning: Multiple scenes of ugly sexualized aggression; not, I think, prurient, but perhaps triggery.
John Scalzi, Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas and Fuzzy Nation
Mind candy. Redshirts is fun at the immediate level of affectionate parody, and there are moving passages in the codas. Fuzzy Nation is played straight, which is not to say that there isn't some amusement in watching the protagonist — who is, simply, a manipulative asshole — maneuver around other characters who are even worse. But there is something sad about the fact that Scalzi, who is a good writer and one of the more popular currently-active American SF writers, is spending so much of his time on books which are so merely reactive to previous SF. (Cue Comrade Stross.)
(Scalzi's The God Engines was in contrast disappointing: an unremittingly bleak hybrid of space opera and fantasy which didn't really come together as either for me, and where the ending was deeply unsatisfying, not so much because it was so very grim as because it was ill-constructed and forced. Naturally, therefore, The God Engines was nominated for both a Hugo and a Nebula.)
Kenneth Nebenzahl, Mapping the Silk Road and Beyond: 2,000 Years of Exploring the East
Pretty maps from Europe in the medieval and early modern period; almost nothing about the Silk Road, despite the title. I found the visuals more interesting than the explanatory text.
Dani Rodrik, The Globalization Paradox: Democracy and the Future of the World Economy
Rodrik presenting his ideas on global political economy to a popular audience. Basically, he argues, there is a trilemma, where we have to drop at least one of "deep" globalization, democracy, and national sovereignty. This is convincing; and he is further persuasive that the obstacles to serious global governance, let alone democratic global governance, are still too big to overcome. This leaves trying to tame globalization, and keep it "superficial" enough to let different countries preserve their own policies and institutional arrangements.
It's not a book for the ages, but it is briskly-written and intellectually honest popular social science, which is refreshingly up front about the ultimately political nature of this sort of economic issue.

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur; Scientifiction and Fantastica; Enigmas of Chance; The Dismal Science; The Progressive Forces; Pleasures of Detection, Portraits of Crime; The Commonwealth of Letters; Writing for Antiquity

Posted by crshalizi at June 30, 2012 23:59 | permanent link

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