What I’ve been reading

THE SINGULARITY IS NEAR

I just finished reading The Singularity is Near by Ray Kurzweil a couple of days ago. What a mind-trip that is! Kurzweil, a self-styled singularitarian, believes that current trends in technology will culminate, at some point (say 2040), in a technological singularity–measured, simply, by the creation of self-improving AI mentalities. Or something.

It sounds all very science fictional and bizarre (particularly when he talks about brain uploads and replacing the stomach with nano digestion machines), but he writes (and cites) very convincingly about the current state of technology and their eventual progression into mind-machine interface and AI.

I’d chalk him up to any other kind of crackpot prophet, only he’s very financially successful at parlaying his technological predictions into cold, hard cash via his various corporate entities. What can I say: it’s a fascinating book with nearly 150 pages of endnotes. I appreciated the book mostly for its big picture, holistic view on the current and near-future state of genetic, nano and robotic technologies. He lost me a little with the “what is consciousness?”, but I guess I don’t find that nearly as interesting.

WILLFUL CREATURES

Aimee Bender’s the dreamiest. By which I mean to say, that reading her is like dreaming awake. There’s the pumpkinheads who give birth to an ironhead, steam constantly rising round about. There’s the man who goes to the petstore and brings home a little man in a cage. He abuses the little man mercilessly, then sets him free. When he goes looking, all the other little people hide from the big man. But like a dream, these stories mostly fade from memory; I just can’t keep them in mind…

HAUNTED

Chuck Palahniuk’s newest: a grisly, modern day CANTERBURY TALES. The book is a collection of gruesome or weird stories surrounded by a framing device: the writer’s retreat from hell. In this case, though, the hell is entirely self-generated. It’s satire of the darkest order. If you like your humor grisly and deranged, I can’t think of a better book. Otherwise, not recommended to the faint at heart. One word of advice: don’t read “Guts” while eating breakfast…

SPIN

Robert Charles Wilson’s Hugo nominee–which is why I read it, initially. It was fun, but I don’t really have much to say about it. Science fictional premise: the earth is trapped in a sphere of unknown origin. Outside the sphere, time progresses normally. Inside, slow as molasses (actually, I can’t remember the exact ratio). Basically, because of the time discrepency, the people living on earth are faced with the destruction of the world when the sun explodes. The book is about the various ways in which people might react to their inevitable and (slowly) oncoming annihilation.

JUMPER

This novel by Steven Gould is a YA (that’s Young Adult) novel about a teenager who discovers that he has the power to teleport anywhere that he has visited and can visualize in enough detail. It’s fun, with a not entirely likeable protagonist–he’s believable as a self-centered adolescent with an extraordinary power. I think they’re making this into a movie with Hayden Christensen as the title character.

LIKE NEVER BEFORE

A collection of interconnected short stories (almost a novel, really) by Ehud Havazelet recommended by Cthulie and Meestagoat prior to their departure. (Cthulie texted the full citation of the book to me–I certainly would never have remembered the author’s name, otherwise.) The stories span 60-70 years of the members of one jewish family, as they fail and fail to connect with one another (particularly the men in the family). An excellent display of craft and a nice insight into a culture pretty alien to me. And yet there’s that heartwrenching theme of the harm caused to those closest just by living, either the mad flailing of adolescence or the well-meaning fumbling at understanding.

3 thoughts on “What I’ve been reading”

  1. The only one of those I’ve read is Haunted, and I’m still reading and not getting through it. For some reason it’s been my least favorite of Chuck’s books. Either I overburned on his style by reading too many within too short a time, or there’s something I can’t quite put my finger on that I’m not enjoying about it. For the most part I think I find the framing stuff to be just too much of what it is without actually saying anything interesting about anything. An idea carried on for way too long. The stories of the individuals are interesting at times, and I like those parts better. Then the poems I don’t think I get anything out of. Maybe if I ever finish I’ll have a better sense of something.

    The Singularity thing sounds excellent, as does that Willful Creatures thing…

  2. Haunted is probably my least favorite book of his as well, though I did think a couple of the stories were top-notch. I think it’s a little too deliberately pushing-the-envelopey.

    I can’t recommend Aimee Bender highly enough.

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