Monthly ArchiveAugust 2004

Fiction 27 Aug 2004 16:13

Fahrenheit 451

coverFahrenheit 451
Ray Bradbury

A famous (maybe classical) sci-fi story, this novel talks about a not-too-distant future in which books are forbidden (because they can generate discordy and unhappiness) and, whenever found, burned with the house of their owner (who is arrested, as well). The people who do this job are the firemen, their original line of work forgotten and no longer necessary in a world where all buildings are fireproofed. The title of the book, as probably everyone knows, refers to the temperature at which book paper catches fire.

With books no longer available (other than to a few rebels who are always in danger of being discovered), people get their information and entertainment from TV and radio and not much else; whatever information is distributed to the population is heavily manipulated by those in charge, and never questioned by anyone.

The story follows a fireman who is very happy to do his job, but who has a few nagging doubts about the state of the world and of his life. Eventually, he starts to think for himself, but is reported to the authorities and becomes a fugitive.

This book was written in the 60s, but much of what is there is very relevant to today’s world (which, of course, it the reason for the title of the latest Michael Moore documentary). In the book, people are thoroughly controlled by the government due to, first, their lack of access to unbiased information, and, second, due to them simply not caring. They end up being led into a disastrous war with no information on the real reasons and risks behind it, and if that is not relevant to our current state of affairs, I don’t know what is.

My recomendation: read it while it still exists.

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Non-fiction 21 Aug 2004 15:47

The Bit and the Pendulum

coverThe Bit and the Pendulum
Tom Siegfried

The main point of this book is that everything in the universe can be explained in terms of information; that is, bits are the “fundamental particle” of the universe, and everything depends on them. To this end, the author goes to great lenghts to try to include a reasonable introduction to quantum mechanics and, from there, quantum computing. In the end, in my opinion, the result is a little confusing.

True, he makes some very good points, and some of the metaphors he uses are quite good. But the book as a whole feels a little “disconnected”, as if several subjects are being explored at once without much attention to how (or if) they are related. In some places, it also feels like the author in picking a metaphor and acting as if it were physically real.

As I mentioned, though, some parts of the book are interesting, such as the one about the “problem” with black holes violating time simmetry because they do not preserve information about things that fall into them (that is, theoretically there is no way to know what went into the construction of a black hole, even if you could have access to all the information currently stored in it). I am not an expert in any branch of physics, but, based on what the author says, it looks like a serious problem. There are also some good parts about information theory, and in general you can learn a little from this book about several other subjects. Still, it could have been better written and go deeper into the issues; the way it is, it seems to be much longer than it needs to (and it’s not a particularly long book).

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Fiction 12 Aug 2004 13:59

The Confusion

coverThe Confusion (The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 2)
Neal Stephenson

Attention: if you haven’t read Quicksilver yet, you will find a few spoilers in the text below.

The Confusion starts sometime after Quicksilver ends, and in it we go back to following the lives of our two of our main characters, Eliza and Jack (Daniel Waterhouse is largely on the sidelines in this book, but I expect he’ll be back in the third one). Eliza is busy getting rich and accumulating titles in Europe, while Jack is leading a very different, but no less interesting, life as a slave in Africa. Of course, with the aid of the rest of The Cabal, he escapes (using an amazingly well-designed plan) and goes through several adventures all over Asia and Latin America.

Eliza, meanwhile, is navigating a different sea, working her way through the murky waters of Versailles and other places where Persons of Quality dwell. As can be expected from any Neal Stephenson book, Jack’s actions half-way around the globe impact of Eliza’s life, and vice-versa, in ways that aren’t obvious to anyone excepted the reader, who can see both stories developing at the same time.

As in the first book, the backdrop for this one is the set of transformations happening in Europe (and in most of the “civilized” world) in the late 1600s and early 1700s. Newton, Leibniz and other philosophers have roles here, as do many kings, queens and other nobles. We’re introduced to the role Spain plays as the bringer of gold and silver from the New World into Europe, and we get to see the first hints of capitalism developing in England.

The third and final volume, The System of the World, will be released in September, and will certainly be a great book. As is this one.

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