Monthly ArchiveMarch 2005

Fiction 29 Mar 2005 15:57

The Light of Other Days

coverThe Light of Other Days
Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter

Imagine a world with no privacy. At any time, anyone, anywhere may be watching you, no matter where you are and what you are doing. This is the world that Clarke and Baxter describe in this book. It is a great example of technology going further than expected (it starts as a relatively simple way of transmitting data at high speeds over long distances) and of the social changes it brings.

If you think about it, it’s a scary idea; even in today’s wired world, we have a presumption of privacy at most times: when we’re at home, when we’re behind closed doors, and so on. If this goes away, many people would not adapt very well; and children brought up in a privacy-less world will certainly have very different attitudes about life and secrecy than we do. The nudity taboo, for example, would be one of the first things to go, followed closely by most other taboos in existence today.

The story reminds me a little of an old (1950′s) short story by Isaac Asimov, in which someone invents a machine that allows people to look into the past, and the government actively suppresses any mention of it to the public at large (because, think about it: when does the past begin?). Asimov’s story ends when the public hears about the invention; Clarke’s book goes further. It’s a great book, even though there’s not much of a plot other than the technology and its implications.

On an unrelated note, Arthur Clarke sometimes makes wild guesses in his books that make it look like he can view into the future. In an older book (Rendezvous with Rama, I think), the first chapter begins with an European city being destroyed… early in the morning of a September 11. In this one, first published in 2000, there’s a passing mention of the International Space Station never being completed, and eventually being abandoned, because of an accident with an old Shuttle…

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Fiction 17 Mar 2005 15:51

The Science of Harry Potter

coverThe Science of Harry Potter
Roger Highfield

Though written by a self-described Harry Potter fan, this is not a book about the well-known wizard from Surrey: this is a book about science. What the author did was to select several interesting scientific facts from different branches of science and tie them together with references to Harry Potter books.

The result, though clearly well researched (both on the science and magic sides) is a book that fells a little “messy”: the mixture of subjects, sometimes in the same chapter, is a little tiring, and the connection with Harry Potter stories is, very often, a little strained.

There is a very interesting chapter on “the need for a belief” (related to why all human cultures seem to have beliefs in supernatural phenomena), and that alone is almost worth the book. But you also get to read about genetics, quantum physics, medieval history (including some passages that are definitely not intended for young kids), medicine, agriculture, pharmaceutical research and so on.

It is not the best book I’ve read recently; it was good at times, but quite boring at others, so I can’t really recommend it. It might be good to guide young Harry Potters fans towards science, but it’s not a “fun” book to read. My verdict would be “so-so”.

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