Dead Lines by Greg Bear

Filed under:Science Fiction — posted by Randolph on December 13, 2012 @ 9:56 am

Dead Lines by Greg Bear

Greg Bear narrows the line between horror and science fiction in this novel. The plot involves a new communications technology that promises to revolutionize the cell phone. It promises zero distortion and complete connectivity. But using the phone seems to free the dead to return.

The first problem I encountered is the feeling that this isn’t what people want. We repeatedly are willing to sacrifice communications quality for data rates. Ok, so I’m surprised Greg Bear missed that.

The main character is somewhat unbelievable. I couldn’t empathize with him. He is a director of porn theater. But his female leads respect him too much. And the reasons for his involvement in the phone business don’t seem reasonable.

Then he had to rely on a pop-in character, a psychic, to explain how the technology works and why it’s a problem. The character never appeared again. I really expect an experienced writer to avoid plot devices like this. It didn’t even feel like it fit into the story.

Too much was unexplained in the book. We don’t know why the phone interferes with the process of death. Why are the dead appearing to people. What happened in Europe? It seemed to be a major event and harbinger of things to come, and we never hear of it again.

The end of the book felt premature and anticlimactic. I really feel like I missed something, maybe I did?

I normally really like Greg Bear, he has written some excellent science fiction with some good takes on the latest science. This book doesn’t fit.

Sweet Myth-tery of Life by Robert Asprin

Filed under:Fantasy,Humor — posted by Randolph on December 12, 2012 @ 8:11 am

Sweet Myth-tery of Life by Robert Asprin

This is the 10th book in the Myth series by Robert Asprin. The book gets off to a slow start, using old jokes and predictable situations. About 1/3 of the way through, Asprin’s style comes through and the book picks up with humorous situations and a few surprises.

The plot is pretty weak, Queen Hemlock has asked Skeeve to marry her. If he doesn’t, she is going to abdicate and leave him in charge. His other responsibility is saving the kingdom from ruin due to a taxes shortfall. He stumbles through in his usual incompetent way in a fun book. He muddles through a couple of minor adventures but always comes out ahead.

The book does leave a number of unanswered questions, even to the point of setting up for a sequel. I didn’t feel this is appropriate for a humor book, and I hope this doens’t continue in a very long series.

Still, the book is a fast read and worth the time. But do read them in order.

Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer

Filed under:Science — posted by Randolph on December 4, 2012 @ 6:04 pm

Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer

Jonah Lehrer delves into creativity, the neuroscience, individual aspects, and social aspects of creativity. He looks at its source and at society’s reaction to creativity. Throughout the book, he inserts lots of anecdotes to make various points. Unfortunately, it often feels like the stories are selected a bit too much to make his points, and that he tells the stories too much using his own narrative leading the reader to conclusions he wants you to reach.

The first part of the book was very interesting, discussing recent learnings from neuroscience. He throws in some interesting anecdotes about strong creative moments building a case for how little we really understand creativity and how it appears unexpectedly. He then discusses how we can help it along and enhance it.

The middle of the book was the part I had the most difficulty with. He builds on the social aspects of creativity and imagination, concluding that cities are an important breeding ground for creativity. I don’t have an issue with that as much as how he gets there, using weak arguments and trying to build a case for cause and affect relationships where there is really only a case for weakly-related events. One instance of that is showing a relationship between walking speed and creativity. Then concludes that a high walking speed increases inter-personal interactions, leading to the exchange of ideas and thus spawning creative moments.

The book does end more strongly, looking at how we treat creative moments, and how we (don’t) nurture them in children. He does make a good case that our education system as it is implemented discourages children from being creative, we make them to be alike and assume they all learn in the same manners. It isn’t better as adults, where work environments can also discourage creative moments.

He does make several good points and has some interesting information. But his repeated jumping to conclusions and is poor arguments make me disappointed in the book that could have been so much more.



image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace