Feb 15, 2011

Ted Chiang - Stories of Your Life and Others

A tower that rises above the Mesopotamian plain to touch the vault of heaven.

Two men who achieve a level of intelligence so high that they resemble gods.

The mathematical proof that Mathematics are meaningless.

An alien language that allows those who read to expand consciousness over time.

Kabbalah and the theory of preformation combined output in a Victorian England of our dreams, or our nightmares.

Before the arrival of the metahumans, human science is reduced to a footnote on page.

In a universe where God exists without any possibility of doubt, is it possible not to love?

And if you could program yourself to ignore the appearances, will you risk losing all perceptions of human beauty?

Ted Chiang, awarded the John W. Campbell Jr., shines like a new star in the firmament of science fiction. With a Hugo Award, three Nebula, a Sturgeon, a Seiun, a Sidewise and two Locus, The Story of Your Life is an essential book.

Tower of Babylon, Understand, Division by Zero, Story of Your Live, Sevent-Two Letters, The Evolution of Human Science, Hell is the Absence of God, Liking What You See: a Documental, What's Expected of Us, The Merchant and The Alchemist's Gate, eight stories, eight masterpieces.

Chiang's ideas are full of that originality and wonder that I wish I could find in everything I read but is so rare that it's precious. Magnificent.

Feb 13, 2011

Doris Lessing: Canopus in Argos

Canopus in Argos: Archives is a sequence of five science fiction novels by Nobel Prize in Literature-winning author Doris Lessing which portray a number of societies at different stages of development, over a great period of time. The focus is on accelerated evolution being aided by advanced species for less advanced species and societies.

The Canopus in Argos series as a whole falls into categories of social or soft science fiction ("space fiction" in Lessing's own words)

These are the novels in the series:

Shikasta (1979) – A secret history of Earth from the perspective of the advanced Canopus civilization that is thinking in eons rather than centuries. The history spans from the very beginning of life into our own future. The book ends with a metaphorical telling of the trial of Socrates.

The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four and Five (1980) – Depicts the influence of unknown higher powers on interactions between a series of civilizational "zones" of varying degrees of advancement that encircle the planet Earth. One zone is representative of an overtly feminine high civilization initially coupled by royal marriage to a militant and male civilization. The novel culminates with the latter, male, civilization allying with a tribal female realm again due to directives from Canopus.

The Sirian Experiments (1980) – Focuses, like Shikasta, on the history of Earth, but from the perspective of visitors from Sirius rather than Canopus. The Sirians are depicted as a highly managed society with fascist overtones, that attempt experiments on lesser civilizations while trying to mitigate the stagnation of their ruling class. The story is told from the perspective of Ambien II, one of a peer group of five who rule Sirius.

The Making of the Representative for Planet 8 (1982) – The story of the civilization on a planet that, due to interstellar "re-alignments", is slowly facing extinction, and Canopus's relationship with them. The story is greatly influenced by Robert Falcon Scott's Antarctic expedition, and is Lessing's homage to it.

The Sentimental Agents in the Volyen Empire (1983) – A story of Canopean agents on a less advanced planet; explores hazards of rhetoric and mirrors events in revolutionary societies such as Communist Russia.

Although Lessing dropped school at the age of 14, it's impressive the amount of varied knowledge she's able to display in this interesting if difficult book, a fascinating parable or an alternative mythology, these books beautifully show how conditioning cripples our abilities to perceive and evolve. On my opinion, she takes advantage of the book to make quite a lot of personal moral/philosophical statements than sometimes end up getting a bit tedious. A worthwile exercise of "thinking outside the box" at times disfigured by excessive use of repetitive ideas. Too sanctimonious and politicaly correct for my personal taste, the book are, however, a glorious display of historical knowledge and love for humanity despite its many shortcomings (humanity's, not the books' :))))

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