All posts made in Aug. 2008:

Books read August 2008, with date finished:

I read a lot or a little when I'm feeling glum, and this month I read a whole bunch plus there was some travelling. (For those of you keeping count, this means I need to average 7.5 books/mo. for the rest of the year. So if I'm lagging behind in November, look for me to instigate a personal crisis or two to get the reading rate up. You have been warned.)

The Black Swan points out that big, rare events dominate continuous trending (50 years of stockmarket movement is mostly accounted for by 10 days), and that you should put yourself in positions where black swans - when they do occur - will be positive. A good framework. Ashby's 1956 Introduction to Cybernetics is a straight-forward argument from one end of cybernetics to the other: enough to see why it was believed to hold so much promise. There are foreshadowings of both the inevitability of order (autocatalytic loops) and selfish gene ideas in there, which shows how much was nascent in that early crystal seed.

I've had David Byrne on my to-read list since the book came out, and I can't believe I waited. Intelligent art and wise words: the cake results as least as much from the shape of the pan, the cooking and the timing than from its ingredients. Ways of Seeing is also enlightening and brilliantly designed.

There's nothing in this month's reading I'd shy away from recommending if it took your fancy--we'd be able to have a good chat about it whatever you picked up. Le Guin's short stories are actually better than I remember; both Piercy and Ferris I couldn't put down; Doc Smith's space opera is pacier even than his subspace drives; and although Essays in Love seems a little childish now, and the protagonist is a dick, love is childish, and we are all dicks. Well, I am.

Okay, but I need to recommend one book and it's between Byrne and Berger. I'm going to say Berger's Ways of Seeing because it's rescued art for me and given me a way into a new world.

Lightning turns the sky into graph paper. L-- shouts 'this way,' and his bright eyes target me with reflected horizontals and verticals. The thunder plays four/four in my gut. We trip on curbs and scrape along walls, running - ricocheting - down narrow city lanes. There's a deeper sound, God making a plosive, the opening of whale song, and then light, and I realise it's another negentropy bomb, on the next street. Nothing for a second. In the gloom the city looks identical but raised to a higher octave. Potential. 4. 3. 2. 1. Then the world exhales and drops into regularity. A creak as the building next to us attempts to adjust to the sudden order imposed on its far side. The crystal structure spreads, architecture aligning, physics gentrifying, roads straightening, square paving slabs unfolding from one another. Another creak and a slump this time, L-- is caught in dust and rubble. I crouch over him; there's blood on my hands as I hold his head and the lightning is the same shape as his body. 'They're homogenising us out of existence,' he says. His teeth are red. 'Find the Deterritorial Army. Tell them the layers of emergence are becoming too tightly coupled. Tell them objects are no longer sufficiently mobile on the substrate. Don't wait.' It smells of wet brick; mysteriously I think of ferns. L--'s blood is thickening into hexagons. I turn and run.

Books read July 2008, with date finished:

If, like 2007, I want to read 104 books this year, I should've hit 61 by the end of July. I made 62, but I'm not making so much time for it right now so we'll see what happens.

101 Things got my brain fizzing and has given me language for ideas I've not been able to articulate before. But this month (I like to recommend one book a month), Stand on Zanzibar is well worth your time: it's a collage of quotes and narrative, out of which a story about an over-populated world slowly emerges. It's like watching a cloud form, or walking past Quantum Cloud.