11.17, Tuesday 30 Sep 2008 Link to this post
Books read September 2008, with date finished:
- The Very Slow Time Machine (1979), Ian Watson (7th)
- Three Men in a Boat (1889), Jerome K. Jerome (10th)
- The Non-Statistical Man (1965), Raymond F. Jones (13th)
- Signal to Noise (1992), Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean (15th, r.)
- John von Neumann and Norbert Wiener: From Mathematics to the Technologies of Life and Death (1980), Steve J. Heims (18th)
- Riders of the Purple Sage (1912), Zane Grey (22nd)
- The Haunted Stars (1960), Edmond Hamilton (23rd)
- Spacehounds of IPC (1947), E. E. 'Doc' Smith (24th, r.)
- The Futurological Congress (1971), Stanislaw Lem (25th)
- Diaspora, Greg Egan (28th, r.)
This month I've also picked up an original 1955 printing of the Rand Corporation's A Million Random Digits with 100,000 Normal Deviates (which will go with my copy of Ulysses - with the words rearranged in alphabetical order - from Simon Popper's Borromean), and a reprint of 507 Mechanical Movements, but neither of those I'll read so they won't be included here.
It's been a month of sci-fi and Westerns (I've been watching a bunch of films too), which has left me dreaming of clear blue skies, long clear vistas, desert scrub, C beams glittering in the dark near the Tannhauser gate... I'm not kidding, this is manifesting as a heart-breaking yearning, a pining for frontiers and wide-open scale. I really don't know how to deal with it.
So Zane Grey was magical, and it's incredible to see the Western being written for the first time--the seed that turns into a genre. Egan's Diaspora was as poignant as the first time I read it: the hardest of hard sci-fi that delves into what it means to be human and opens it way, way up. The universe is a lot bigger after I finish reading that book. Ian Watson I'm pleased to have discovered as a sci-fi author: his stories have ideas I've read nowhere else, and I'm happy to find he has a large back catalogue to work through.
Lem was hilarious (oh and, like the best satire, true. Or was it the mascons telling me the book was good?); Jerome was also hilarious--it had me laughing out loud, so rare.
Heims' double bibliography of Wiener and Neumann paints the characters and context of early cybernetics, and in that way sits as a great companion piece to his later book Constructing a Social Science for Postwar America: The Cybernetics Group, 1946-1953. But here's the thing: you also get a picture of Wiener's humanity (and the surprising humanity in cybernetics), and the horrendous contingency of the Cold War and the arms race, which appears to have rested heavily on one of the quickest and most convincing minds of the the 20th century - Neumann - understanding people like machines, refusing to have faith in humanity, and being a warmonger. Heims makes a powerful case for a science better embedded in society, and produces this marvellous quote from Paul Goodman:
Whether or not it draws on new scientific research, technology is a branch of moral philosophy, not of science.