[reading] What have you read recently? (continued)

#41
I expect that's a mistake - the Expanse wiki suggests that Memory's Legion contains The Sins of Our Fathers. They're released at the same time, so that's what I would expect. (As is Drive, I see, which I don't think I've read.)
 
#42
Just finished Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari, subtitled "a brief history of tomorrow." (Which it is not, incidentally, but I understand authors have little say in what book titles the publisher chooses.)

In this book, Harari gives a high-level overview of human society thus far, and attempts to extrapolate how it will change in the rest of the 21st century - although he notes himself that these are by no means exact predictions. To summarise his view as I understand it, humanity developed from hunter/gatherer tribes into agrarian monarchies supported by priesthoods, then into liberal humanist societies, and is now moving on to something else, we're not sure what but there are some hints developing.

Scientific dogma, he asserts, now views organisms as algorithms and life as a form of data processing. This suggests a trajectory for sources of value from "scripture tells us what is right" (organised religion) to "listen to your inner voice, it will tell you what is right" (humanism) to "computer algorithms analysing big data will tell you what is right," which he dubs 'dataism'. Dataism is a kind of replacement religion, currently represented by selfie culture - what matters is the quantity and complexity of the data you produce and consume, not the feelings or insights it engenders.

Artificial Intelligences have no requirement for self-awareness, and algorithms do not need to be conscious to be effective. (Shades of Peter Watts' Blindsight.) This suggests a future where rather than single Artificial General Intelligences, activities are conducted by batteries of specialist systems. The implication for humanity is that large workforces and armies will be replaced by groups of highly-skilled specialists (at least for now) and conglomerates of drones, cyborged animals, etc. This undermines humanism, as the logical extension of this is humanity splitting into castes, elites who have value to society and masses who do not.

The big questions I am left with after reading the book are: What happens when all current sources of advice are replaced by algorithms with no self-awareness, and no conscience to speak of? When the majority of humanity is unemployed and unemployable, permanently, what does society look like?

I suspect I am not going to like the answers. Ones which are more positive than any I can see our current leaders shaping can be found in Linda Nagata's The Red: First Light and Karl Schroeder's Lockstep, although I have a horrible feeling that Peter Watts' dystopian futures (Blindsight, the Rifter trilogy) are the way we're heading.

I need to read something more cheerful now, I think.
 

Guvnor

The Guvnor
Staff member
#43
Just finished Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari, subtitled "a brief history of tomorrow." (Which it is not, incidentally, but I understand authors have little say in what book titles the publisher chooses.)

In this book, Harari gives a high-level overview of human society thus far, and attempts to extrapolate how it will change in the rest of the 21st century - although he notes himself that these are by no means exact predictions. To summarise his view as I understand it, humanity developed from hunter/gatherer tribes into agrarian monarchies supported by priesthoods, then into liberal humanist societies, and is now moving on to something else, we're not sure what but there are some hints developing.

Scientific dogma, he asserts, now views organisms as algorithms and life as a form of data processing. This suggests a trajectory for sources of value from "scripture tells us what is right" (organised religion) to "listen to your inner voice, it will tell you what is right" (humanism) to "computer algorithms analysing big data will tell you what is right," which he dubs 'dataism'. Dataism is a kind of replacement religion, currently represented by selfie culture - what matters is the quantity and complexity of the data you produce and consume, not the feelings or insights it engenders.

Artificial Intelligences have no requirement for self-awareness, and algorithms do not need to be conscious to be effective. (Shades of Peter Watts' Blindsight.) This suggests a future where rather than single Artificial General Intelligences, activities are conducted by batteries of specialist systems. The implication for humanity is that large workforces and armies will be replaced by groups of highly-skilled specialists (at least for now) and conglomerates of drones, cyborged animals, etc. This undermines humanism, as the logical extension of this is humanity splitting into castes, elites who have value to society and masses who do not.

The big questions I am left with after reading the book are: What happens when all current sources of advice are replaced by algorithms with no self-awareness, and no conscience to speak of? When the majority of humanity is unemployed and unemployable, permanently, what does society look like?

I suspect I am not going to like the answers. Ones which are more positive than any I can see our current leaders shaping can be found in Linda Nagata's The Red: First Light and Karl Schroeder's Lockstep, although I have a horrible feeling that Peter Watts' dystopian futures (Blindsight, the Rifter trilogy) are the way we're heading.

I need to read something more cheerful now, I think.
Not terribly original then. People were writing this in the 19th century.
The answer, for me, is socialism and then post-scarcity communism.
Also talked about since the 19th century.
The problem with capitalism is that it alienates and devalues labour as it accumulates capital and land into fewer and fewer hands. The contradiction is addressed by social democracy, but in recent years that has been in retreat.
I hope social democracy can temper capitalism long enough for us to achieve and recognise post scarcity.
If not then yes, probably apocalyptic dystopia!

Capitalism is destructively creative, but inherently unstable. I have faith we can ride the tiger until we are materially ok.
 
#44
The future I would most like to inhabit, I think, is Iain M. Banks' Culture. I think of that as a sort of post-scarcity socialist utopia, although most of the actual books focus on Special Circumstances and the dirty deeds they do to keep the Culture utopian.
 
#46
Death's End by Cixin Liu (winner of the 2017 Locus award). This is the third novel in the Remembrance of Earth's Past trilogy, the others being The Three-Body Problem (winner of the 2015 Hugo) and The Dark Forest; it won't make much sense unless you've read the other two.

The underlying premise is that intelligent races are common in the galaxy, but each quickly realises that conflict with other races over resources is inevitable; hence each attempts to conceal its existence as best it can, and to exterminate any other intelligent species it encounters. (I could elaborate on that, but spoilers...)

The first book focuses on an alien invasion using technology so advanced that humanity doesn't realise it's being invaded; the second shows how humanity's gift for intrigue and deception allows it to force a temporary stalemate with the invaders; and the final book shows that Earth's problems are just one tiny skirmish among the many larger covert wars going on, and the whole universe is being profoundly changed by the super-science doomsday weapons used in those greater ongoing battles. Death's End keeps on zooming out to progressively grander scales and more devastating weapons, the theme apparently being that intelligent life can't help but mess everything up just by existing.

The author's ideas are interesting and solidly argued, but it's not a series I will re-read, partly because it's so depressing, and partly because it's told at such a slow pace that it's a real effort for me to keep going.
 

Guvnor

The Guvnor
Staff member
#47
Death's End by Cixin Liu (winner of the 2017 Locus award). This is the third novel in the Remembrance of Earth's Past trilogy, the others being The Three-Body Problem (winner of the 2015 Hugo) and The Dark Forest; it won't make much sense unless you've read the other two.

The underlying premise is that intelligent races are common in the galaxy, but each quickly realises that conflict with other races over resources is inevitable; hence each attempts to conceal its existence as best it can, and to exterminate any other intelligent species it encounters. (I could elaborate on that, but spoilers...)

The first book focuses on an alien invasion using technology so advanced that humanity doesn't realise it's being invaded; the second shows how humanity's gift for intrigue and deception allows it to force a temporary stalemate with the invaders; and the final book shows that Earth's problems are just one tiny skirmish among the many larger covert wars going on, and the whole universe is being profoundly changed by the super-science doomsday weapons used in those greater ongoing battles. Death's End keeps on zooming out to progressively grander scales and more devastating weapons, the theme apparently being that intelligent life can't help but mess everything up just by existing.

The author's ideas are interesting and solidly argued, but it's not a series I will re-read, partly because it's so depressing, and partly because it's told at such a slow pace that it's a real effort for me to keep going.
I loved this series and the subtly different gestalt that came from a Chinese author from mainstream Chinese culture.
I might read it again, and that's rare.
 
#48
Just started The Outlaw Ocean: Crime & Survival on the Last Untamed Frontier by Ian Urbina. It's already sparking ideas for things that GEO marshalls can be outraged by in the new edition of the Blue Planet RPG (when it finally arrives).
 
#49
Finished Against Our Weapons. Those of a certain age will know what to expect - the title and the days are something of a give-away, although comfy chairs weren't featured, cushions abounded - usually propping Beverley up given her advanced state of pregnancy.

A fun outing. Peter is imminently due to be the proud papa of twins, and mysterious deaths occur. Being Falcon cases, Peter is one of the investigators - along with the Folly's newest trainee. No, not a new apprentice, but the idea is to introduce various forces to Falcon cases - hopefully so they don't get cauliflower brain syndrome.

Turns out the deaths are related - and something that gets damaged in the course of a theft has triggered the deaths.

Recommended.
 
#50
On the Road (Jack Kerouac) because I felt I should, having avoided it for so long. Underwhelmed, but at least I got through it (I usually give books about 20-40 pages before I decide to plow on or not). 1984 (George Orwell). Read it before, of course. But thoroughly enjoyed reading it a second time. The Longest Crawl by Ian Marchant. The author goes on a pub crawl with his mate between the most south-westerly pub in Britain (Turk's Head, St. Agnes), to the most north-easterly pub at Unst. Good fun. Now reading Green Tyranny by Rupert Darwall. You probably need to be a bit skeptical about the current green agenda as it about how environmentalism has become so powerful that, in some countries, it seems like a new state religion. I think I'm a born skeptic, so I question everything I'm told. The book probably plays into that too much (maybe I'm too skeptical?), but nonetheless has some interesting points to make.
 
#51
Schild's Ladder by Greg Egan

This was hard going for me. I have heard this book described as the hardest hard SF novel ever written; I don't know if that's true, but I found the underlying concepts difficult to grasp. The book begins 20,000 years in the future, when a group of experimental physicists at a remote location are testing the boundaries of 'Quantum Graph Theory', which holds that the physical universe is merely a manifestation of advanced mathematical concepts. One of these experiments produces an ever-expanding region of space which apparently devours normal spacetime to replace it with a realm of unknowable chaos. Much of the book deals with attempts to understand or destroy this new realm, depending on the characters' leanings, culminating in a voyage into it and the findings of those who cross the border.

The concept of Schild's Ladder itself, an actual mathematical theory which explains how you can move or copy a vector without being able to measure it, is invoked in several ways through the book. First, as an analogy for how a human personality can stay roughly the same over a lifespan measured in millennia; second, as a transport mechanism in the realm of pure chaos (I confess, I did not understand this part); third, in the anachronauts, primitive space travellers from ancient Earth who maintain their original culture and prejudices as they speed into the future at near-lightspeed, stopping periodically to see how humanity has developed; and perhaps, too, in the way that male and female personalities are retained to an extent even when advances in biology render them irrelevant.

If I were smarter, or better-educated, I think I would understand and appreciate this more. I can see that it's very clever, but I myself am not clever enough to see its full brilliance.
 

Guvnor

The Guvnor
Staff member
#52
Schild's Ladder by Greg Egan

This was hard going for me. I have heard this book described as the hardest hard SF novel ever written; I don't know if that's true, but I found the underlying concepts difficult to grasp. The book begins 20,000 years in the future, when a group of experimental physicists at a remote location are testing the boundaries of 'Quantum Graph Theory', which holds that the physical universe is merely a manifestation of advanced mathematical concepts. One of these experiments produces an ever-expanding region of space which apparently devours normal spacetime to replace it with a realm of unknowable chaos. Much of the book deals with attempts to understand or destroy this new realm, depending on the characters' leanings, culminating in a voyage into it and the findings of those who cross the border.

The concept of Schild's Ladder itself, an actual mathematical theory which explains how you can move or copy a vector without being able to measure it, is invoked in several ways through the book. First, as an analogy for how a human personality can stay roughly the same over a lifespan measured in millennia; second, as a transport mechanism in the realm of pure chaos (I confess, I did not understand this part); third, in the anachronauts, primitive space travellers from ancient Earth who maintain their original culture and prejudices as they speed into the future at near-lightspeed, stopping periodically to see how humanity has developed; and perhaps, too, in the way that male and female personalities are retained to an extent even when advances in biology render them irrelevant.

If I were smarter, or better-educated, I think I would understand and appreciate this more. I can see that it's very clever, but I myself am not clever enough to see its full brilliance.
I feel like this with Baxter sometimes, but then I decide to trust the ride..
 
#53
Inhibitor Phase by Alastair Reynolds.

Part of the Revelation Space sequence, this fills in some of the blanks between the end of Absolution Gap and the later stages of Galactic North. While it could be read as a stand-alone novel, there are a number of easter eggs in the form of places which, and characters who, played parts in other novels of the series. Essentially a McGuffin hunt, this sees the protagonist recruited against his will from one of the few human colonies surviving an interstellar war with the Inhibitors, and taken across human space in search of a viable countermeasure.

Reynolds' writing has improved considerably since his debut novel, Revelation Space, and he continues to explore transhuman themes and the implications of relativistic spaceflight. The Inhibitors' motive for wanting to exterminate all sentient life - explained in one of the other works - makes no sense to me, and perhaps wisely, in most of the books they are just there and implacably hostile, without explaining why. Choosing to avoid FTL travel gives the author several mechanisms for explaining away apparent contradictions in the series timeline, which I imagine comes in handy and reduces the amount of note-keeping required.

It continues to intrigue me how much narrative juice Reynolds can squeeze out of 3-4 worlds and maybe 5 sentient species, most of whom are long extinct.
 

Dom

Administrator
Staff member
#54
Bizarrely, Reynolds keeps pretty copious notes on the setting and travel times etc so it should mostly hang together. I really enjoyed the return to the setting and the echoes of the other stories in this one.
 

Dom

Administrator
Staff member
#55
Been reading the Mick Herron Slough House series (which coincidentally appears to have been adapted really well on Apple TV+). It's set in a department of MI5 that's in a different part of London ("far enough away from HQ that it may as well in Slough") and is populated with the failures from the service. These are the people who have issues or have screwed up but they feel that sacking them risks a tribunal. Instead, they get transferred to Slough House and given really boring and tedious work to try and encourage them to resign off their own bat. Slough House is run by Jackson Lamb, a somewhat obnoxious former Cold War spy master who doesn't really fit in with the modern MI5. The books are really gritty and well done (I've read three of the series so far) but I find I have to read something else between them.
 

Guvnor

The Guvnor
Staff member
#57
Been reading the Mick Herron Slough House series (which coincidentally appears to have been adapted really well on Apple TV+). It's set in a department of MI5 that's in a different part of London ("far enough away from HQ that it may as well in Slough") and is populated with the failures from the service. These are the people who have issues or have screwed up but they feel that sacking them risks a tribunal. Instead, they get transferred to Slough House and given really boring and tedious work to try and encourage them to resign off their own bat. Slough House is run by Jackson Lamb, a somewhat obnoxious former Cold War spy master who doesn't really fit in with the modern MI5. The books are really gritty and well done (I've read three of the series so far) but I find I have to read something else between them.
We saw Mick Herron at the annual Newcastle Noir event up here some years ago and tried the Slow Horses books. They are excellent, if you like espionage books they are great, but if you like Laundry or Rivers of London they also have a lot in common with regard to British bureaucracy, humour and zeitgeist..
 
#58
I've been catching up on a 2-year backlog of review copies from LibraryThing. I'd been in a reading slump since summer 2020, and am now down to a handful of books to review. I read 2 or 3 back-to-back and then take a break with a series - currently I've finished book 3 of Kelly McCullough's Ravirn series. This can be best described as a cyberpunk version of Amber; especially the second series. They're a romp, and great fun.
 
#59
Just finished Tasha Suri's Empire of Sand, a fantasy novel inspired by the court intrigues of the Moghul Empire. Enjoyed it a lot and will seek out the other book set in that universe.
 
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