April 16, 2009

Great Read: Robert J. Sawyer’s Mindscan

Posted in Books tagged , , , , , , at 8:17 pm by myrlinn

Robert J. Sawyer has been on my radar ever since I read Hominids, a scifi novel about a neanderthal parallel world. Didn’t quite enjoy the sequels, but I LOVED Hominids.

So, when I saw another Robert J. Sawyer at the library, I had to check it out. And I really, really enjoyed this one: Mindscan.

It’s a story set in the near future, where a new technology has allowed people to have their minds copied into an android body. The original (biological) version of the person is sent into retirement ‘paradise’ on the moon, while the copied version stays behind to carry on the person’s life. Which all led to the issue of whether the ‘copy’ is the same person as the ‘original’, with many of the dimensions explored within the setting of a court case. And that’s where the strength of this book lies — the debates as the lawyers on both sides argue the case for the “personhood” of the copied version are certainly thought-provoking, and provocative.

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February 17, 2009

Ever thought about how it’s time for a homo sapiens upgrade?

Posted in Books tagged , , , , , at 8:35 am by myrlinn

Over dinner the other day, my friends were talking about how working life today is so stressful. Life is general really, with so much to do, and so much that you can do that it feels like you need more minutes in a day.  So much to experience, to learn, so little time.

As so often happens to me, I chanced upon a book in the library that sounded fascinating – Greg Bear’s Darwin’s Radio – and once I read it, I realised that it connected to what my friends and I had been talking about!

Darwin’s Radio explores the idea that our genetic code may be “upgraded” in response to environmental, social, physical and other stresses. That life has been stressful for quite a while now that it’s time we get an evolutionary response in the form of a new human species. Fascinating!

Now I can’t wait to get my hands on the sequel Darwin’s Children

January 28, 2009

Rediscovering David Brin

Posted in Books tagged , , , , , at 11:41 am by myrlinn

I found David Brin’s Otherness, a collection of his short stories and essays in the library the other day, and … it’s good! I’d actually read quite a few Brin novels, even have a few in my collection, but this collection of short stories makes me appreciate David Brin even more. For the questions he makes me ask, and the “answers” which suggests new ways of looking at various scenarios.

Particularly memorable to me is “Piecework” which takes us to a world where the processes of procreation and birth have been co-opted for the making of industrial “parts”, and women routinely give birth to things like filters.  What place does motherhood have in such a world? This story is also unusual in that it has the urban-grunge feel of cyberpunk.

“Shhh” is another story which challenges you to look at: What if we’re faced with an alien race which is overwhelmingly superior in every way? What edge could we possibly create for ourselves in such a situation?

This collection of short stories remind me of why science fiction grabs me. The thought experiments, the what ifs, fascinate me. Now as ever.

April 3, 2008

Samuel R. Delaney’s “Babel-17”

Posted in Books tagged , , , , , , , , at 10:26 am by myrlinn

I’ve always been a fan of science fiction, but I’d never even heard of Samuel R. Delaney until I found his 1966 Nebula award-winning "Babel-17" while browsing in my local library.

How could I have missed reading his work all these years! I just finished the book, and I loved it.

Coincidentally (there you go, I’m pointing out another coincidence!), reading the book brought me back to a recurrent theme of my blogs the past few weeks — memories of my past. This book is based heavily on the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which says that language determines thought and perceived reality. As this was one of the more interesting topics when I was studying linguistics at university, this book definitely brought back memories of my student days.

Of course, today, the strong form of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is largely discredited.So, the science behind the plot is dated.* However, as I was reading the story, I was really impressed that the characters and the setting could have been written today.

Delaney imagined this world back in the 1960s, drawing for us an underground gritty cityscape more like the cyberpunk worlds of 1990s science fiction. Even his characters are modern. We get more of an insight into their psyche (within the limitations of the book, which is not very long). And he gave his characters body modifications and implants. These are features that we started to see more of only in more recent science fiction. Amazing!

p.s. I also just finished reading Jostein Gaarder’s “Sophie’s World”. I must admit I rushed through the last half of the book — couldn’t wait to read the ending! So I’m not finished finished, if you know what I mean. I’m definitely going back to read the book more carefully. But I just want to say: GET IT!!! It’s such a good primer on philosophy. It makes the subject so interesting, and so much less intimidating. And the plot cleverly illustrates philosophical points. My only complaint now that I’ve read it: I wish there was a similar book on eastern philosophy!!!

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* There is some evidence, though, for the idea that our language influences how we think and perceive reality. For example, to Eskimos, snow is not just snow. They have names for different kinds of snow, and are therefore able to differentiate snow in greater detail than someone who doesn’t know their language.