Archive for Philip K. DIck

the ultimate simulation

Posted in Books, University life with tags , , , , , , on February 23, 2014 by xi'an

Another breakfast read of the New York Times that engaged enough of my attention to write a post (an easily done feat!): besides a lengthy introduction, Edward Frenkel, the author of the column, considers the Platonic issue of whether or not “mathematical entities actually exist in and of themselves”, an issue also central to Neal Stephenson’s Anathem. And suddenly switches to another philosophical debate, realism versus idealism, the later view being that reality only exists in the mind. And seriously (?) considers the question of whether or not we live in a computer simulation… Uh?! There is actually research going on with this assumption, as shown by the arXiv paper the column links to. This is also called the Matrix Hypothesis on Wikipedia. While I understand the appeal of arguing that we cannot distinguish between living in a real world and living in the simulation of a real world (this is a modern extension of Plato’s cave), I do not get the point of addressing the issue in a Physics paper. Seems more appropriate for science-fiction literature. Like Philip K. Dick‘s…

summer reads (#2)

Posted in Books, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 26, 2012 by xi'an

As mentioned in a previous blog, I only packed four books in my suitcase in early July. Among those, Richard Ford’s A Piece of my Heart, and Niccolo Ammaniti’s La Fête du Siècle (Che la festa cominci). I also bought Dan Simmons’s Hyperion in the (same) nice bookshop near Bondi Junction in Sydney, Berkelouw Books.

Whoever it was, though, didn’t have no business being here. I’ll tell you that. I’ll tell you that right now.A Piece of my Heart, R. Ford

A Piece of my Heart is the first novel written by Richard Ford and I did not even know about it. (I happen to have bought it perchance in a closing bookshop in Bristol selling every book there for two pounds!) I feel it is quite different from the other novels of Richard Ford I read so far. A Piece of my Heart is quite harsh and bleak in a Southern (U.S.) way, making one feel all characters (esp. men) are doomed from the start and that there is no use fighting against this… This makes their actions and decisions unpredictable and mostly irrational, but there is a kind of beauty in seeing them succumbing to this doom. I also found there is a sort of Faulknerian feeling in the novel, particularly in the character of Mr. Lamb, an old recluse living on an island that does not even exist on official maps. The tragic and foreseeable ending of the book is actually announced in the very first pages, but this does not make A Piece of my Heart less fascinating to read. Because this is not what matter…

There’s a legend that Cowboy Gibson did it before the Core seceded.Hyperion, D. Simmons

I finished reading Hyperion in the plane back home. This again is a (1989) book I had not heard of until I saw it in the Gollancz 50 series (which delivers at a low price the “best” 50 books in science-fiction and fantasy, like Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind and Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun, its only drawback being a vivid and ugly yellow color!) I do not often read space opera sci’fi’, however this book is a masterpiece that completely deserves its inclusion in the Gollancz 50 series… Hyperion offers a complex plot, compelling characters, an interesting universe, a credible political structure, and, above all, relates quite strongly and openly to literary history, from Chauncer’s Canterbury Tales, to H.G. Wells, to William Gibson’s Neuromancer, to Philip K. Dick (and Blade Runner), and to Keats as a central figure. Plus interesting plays on religions and beliefs. The book does not conclude, as there is a sequel, The Fall of Hyperion, that I will most certainly read.

La Fête du Siècle (Che la festa cominci) is an hilarious book by Niccolo Ammaniti that I can only classify as picaresque, given the accumulation of well-drawn characters and of fantastic events that build throughout the book. It is very different from the much more intimate Io non ho paura, however La Fête du Siècle reads very well and offers a very harsh criticism of the Berlusconi era and of the new social class it created. From nouveaux riches to would-be Satanists (all) looking for recognition or at least a few minutes of fame on TV… And meeting their end in a grandiose way. (I do not know if this book has been translated into english.) I read it in a few hours during my vacation week along the Great Ocean Road. And am still laughing at the comedy it exposed.

black man [a.k.a. TH1RTE3N]

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , , , , on November 27, 2011 by xi'an

Human intuition is deceptive because it is not always consistent. It is not necessarily a good fit for the environments we now live in, or the mathematics that underlie them. When it does echo mathematical form, it’s clearly indicative of an inherent capacity to detect that underlying mathematics (…) When they clash, the mathematics remains correct. The intuition merely indicates a mismatch of evolved capacities with a changed or changing environment.Black Man, p.441

thirteen is the only genetic variant Jacobsen thought dangerous enough to abrogate basic human rights on. You’re talking about a type of human this planet hasn’t seen in better than twenty thousand years.Black Man, p.102

This is the last book by Richard K. Morgan I read (after the Kovacs series, Market Forces, and The Steel Remains). It has also  been published under the title Thirteen (or Th1rte3n..) Black Man has some resonance with Broken Angels, with the central hero, Carl Marsalis, having some common points with Takeshi Kovacs. However, while the theme of a future hard-boiled hired detective in a bleak future is found in both novels, both Carl Marsalis and the tone of the novel are much more pessimistic than the Kovacs series, with no-one getting a clean and nice grade by the end of the book… The description of the future Earth is less technical than in the other novels, the focus being more on race, power, and politics. Carl Marsalis himself is facing a double stigma in this futuristic society, by being a black man and a genetically modified human, restored to the primal urges of 20,000 BC Homo Sapiens, a “thirteen”. Add to this being a traitor to his group by hunting runaway thirteens for a UN police force.

Carl entered the equation with no local axe to grind, and nothing to loose…Black Man,  p.305

The book starts like a space opera, but quickly gets grounded to the former U.S.A., split between a relatively tolerant Rim and backward Jesusland. The action immediately quicks in as well with many characters central to one chapter and dispatched in the next. Which made my reading the first hundred pages a bit hard. But after that the central characters were well-enough done to get familiar and the remainder of the story went by very very fast…

After a while, when you’re on your own out there, you start making patterns that aren’t there. You start asking yourself, why you? Why this fucking statistical impossibility of a malfunction on your watch? You start to think there’s some kind of malignant force out there.Black Man, p.328

Judging from some reviews found on the web, readers seem to prefer the Kovacs series. I am more ambivalent, in the sense that the pace and setup of the series is more grandiose and breath-taking. However, the less military/more political [in the wide sense] vision of the Black Man really got me in its grip and the ending(s) was (were) a superb piece of literature. The  announced departure of one of the major characters is very well rendered. Both novels are excellent books, that’s all! To wit, one got the Philip K. Dick Award, while the other got the Clarke Award. (Somehow inverted: Black Man would have been more fitting for the Philip K. Dick Award. If only because Marsalis’ hunt for fellow thirteens was reminded me of Deckhard’s parallel hunt in Blade Runner—a.k.a. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?)

Hull Zero Three

Posted in Books, Travel with tags , , , , on March 5, 2011 by xi'an

“Dreamtime is the reality, obviously, and what I’ve just experienced is a nightmare, but struggle as hard as I can, there’s no way to invert the relationship.” Greg Bear, Hull Zero Three

I very rarely read science-fiction of this kind and I frankly cannot remember why I bought this book by Greg Bear… Maybe the cryptic title? Hull Zero Three sounds intringing enough.. In any case, I found the book a quite interesting read. Of course, most space operas are centred on a spaceship, so this is not a major surprise, but the ambiguity of the nature of the ship is quite appealing (to the reader). The plot itself is somehow secondary as what really matters is to discover where the reality lies. The book is thus much more psychological than action-oriented. Closer to Phillip K. Dick’s Ubik than to Arthur C. Clarke’s Rama

“Somewhere inside me there is knowledge, but it isn’t integrated. It can only be unleashed by a combination of experience, observation, and …. guilt. Trauma.” Greg Bear, Hull Zero Three

At a primary level, the narrator starts from scratch, having to learn everything about Ship trough experience, with induced memories from an Earth left centuries ago. This is not the most successful part of the story as this nth replica of a unique ancestor is endowed with a complete memory and some of the earlier pages are not self-coherent for this reason. However, the griping pace of the gradual uncovering of the problem with Ship, then with Mother, more than makes up for the above. There are enough turns and surprises along most of the book to keep the reader hooked and the final twist about Destination Guidance was surprising enough to justify all the circumlocutions and the frustrating doubts of the narrator. (As a non-native reader, I also found the never-ending technical description a wee too much for my taste, as I was not so interested in the inner details of the Ship. But the overall style is quite tolerable, with gems like “the constant sound of the hull being sandblasted by the ghosts of unborn worlds” and “a lot of us have died—sometimes hundreds of times“…)


Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , , , , , on August 11, 2010 by xi'an

On Sunday night, my son and I walked to a local San Francisco cinema to see Inception. Although I was not particularly eager to see this film, I came out of the theatre with a high opinion of Inception! The story in the movie is deep enough to make the high quality of the visual effects sounds secondary. (The post-modern settings of the deepest dream world are nonetheless striking, with decayed buildings slowly collapsing like icebergs… I also like the experiment when the skies of Paris progressively fold into Hausmanian buildings.)

The idea of dreams within dreams (within dreams within…) and of the possibility of taking control of the dreamer is not novel, Philip K. Dick being the most obvious reference (with references to Gibson’s Neuromancer and Hofstader’s Gödel, Escher, Bach as well). The realisator, Christopher Nolan, mentions the immense writer Jorge Luis Borges as being influential, maybe because one of his books is called Labyrinths, but I fail to see the connection… Nonetheless, the story is well-brought, with enough levels of uncertainty at the beginning to make the unfolding anything but obvious. The role played by Marion Cotillard as Mal, the dead wife of the main character, Dom, is suiting her very well, as an evil madwoman whose madness comes as a major twist in the film. (Although I do not understand why the composer kept Piaf’s song given Cotillard’s previous acting as Piaf…) The counterpoint to Mal is  a Paris student, appropriately called Ariadne, who is played by Ellen Page, the (great) main character of Juno. In this movie, she is less convincing, looking too young for her maturity. Overall, the pace in the movie is gripping, even though it becomes (too) soon clear that the team is going to succeed.

In a Philip K. Dick or a Jorge Luis Borges story, the ending would have been much more ambiguous, even though the very final image made me wonder if this was the real world or yet another dream world in which the main character, Dom, would stay forever… The second part of the movie is somehow too literal and linear, but Inception still is a good sci-fi movie, thus recommended!