David Loeff's musings on books and other topics
I saw the Dalai Lama speak in Boulder, Colorado this morning. I couldn’t hear well and it seemed like every time he made an important point I only heard the grinding of an ice machine in the concession stand. Even so, I feel fortunate and grateful that I was able to attend.
Before he began, the city of Boulder presented him with a bicycle helmet—an appropriate gift for that college town. He put the helmet on, then he said it could represent protection against affliction on one’s life journey.
He spoke both in English and Tibetan (through his interpreter), and impressed me as both erudite and humble, both knowledgeable and inquisitive. He urged his fellow believers to practice a 21st century Buddhism, rather than one appropriate to the past—a very contemporary idea from a man born 81 years ago.
I won’t be lengthy and conclude with these words which I hope I took down correctly, “It is very important to understand that all world religions have the same message, and that is love.”
Duration watched: 7.5 minutes. If the first ten minutes of a screenplay doesn't hook you forget about it.
Plot: Here's what happens after a virus kills most of humanity in 2011.
Science fiction writing rule: Don't be too specific with the year unless it's a few lifetimes away.
I got sick watching this video after a minute, but at least my close ones are still alive.
When I'm not writing fiction I'm often out walking and pondering the nature of consciousness. This video makes the point that Quantum Physics proves that consciousness brings material reality into being. It then hodge-podges its way into a discussion of how the brain creates consciousness. So how can material reality and consciousness mutually create each other?
I read somewhere that there are deal breakers when it comes to finding a blog to follow.
At first, I dismissed it as a non issue.
But then when I read a reviewers giving this piece of crap 4 stars and said it was informative. Inform about what? I know it is either a fake,or I am reading a global warming denier's blog.
Click to the link to see a long list of global change deniers who wrote crap books.
My feeling when I see that book is like....
Here's a dilemma: Most psychologists are materialists and consider thoughts and consciousness to be epiphenomena. An epiphenomena is one that occurs parallel to the phenomena under study. It's there, but psychologists can't measure it like behavior, or treat it like a physical object. It's ephemeral, and undescribed. Materialists deal with matter, and thoughts aren't that. Whatever thoughts may be, they are not something that materialists are comfortable with examining.
Quantum physics presents a picture of reality that is very different than the one presented by classical, Newtonian physics. Although quantum physics was born over a century ago, some scientists cling to the materialism that grew out of pre-quantum, Newtonian physics. This works well for describing reality most of the time, but occasionally it biases what we consider possible, or restricts our methods of inquiry.
Quantum physics has called traditional materialism into question, and Amit Goswami questions materialist explanations of consciousness as well. Quantum physics proves that observers can't be separated from observations. Before an observation is made, little can be said about atomic particles--they only exist as probability waves. Only when observation collapses a probability wave, creating a measurement, can anything certain be said about particles. This finding has baffled many and continues to do so. Goswami believes it implies that consciousness is a force in nature. As such, consciousness is unitary in nature, however people experience themselves as individuals and only occasionally become aware of the One that they are expressions of. For hundreds of years religious mystics have sought direct experience of the One through prayer, meditation, fasting, sitting vigils, etc. For mystics, direct experience constitutes proof. For scientists, experimental results are required.
Goswami provides no experimental proof. He doesn't even suggest an experimental path to test his theory. Physicists critical of String Theory acknowledge its elegance, but complain that it lacks testability. Goswami's theory is likewise elegant but lacking testability. He suggests that proof may come through paranormal research, but much of that research is highly controversial. Too many paranormal-leaning scientists have accepted results that stage magicians have easily refuted. In the end, Goswami's ideas are more suggestive than explanatory. I'd recommend another book with a more convincing explanation of consciousness, but I haven't found it yet.
They say it's tough to keep a secret in a small town, but in Settler keeping a secret is a matter of life and death. That's because of the rift between the two obsidian columns. Unearthly things come through the Rift. The Rifters protect us from those nasties while keeping their existence secret.
Although she's a newcomer to settler, and hasn't even drawn her first paycheck as town librarian, Daelin is not only a Rifter but has also been recently promoted to Initiate. A lot has happened to her since losing her job and personal goods in New York. There, her boss betrayed her. Here, she's asked to trust the Rifters. It bothers her to be keeping secrets from her new teammates, but her life is full of uncertainties and it's difficult to know where to place her trust. Unresolved issues with family, friendships and teammates fill her head when she's not fighting for her life.
One thing I like about this story is the way it explores the main character's personal issues and back stories. Another thing I like is its location. If you've ever wondered what it's like to live in a small western town and about the secrets that small town people keep, you'll find out here, at least
fictitiously. It's a story filled with goofily repurposed gadgets, missing and temporally misplaced persons, and lots of sandwiches.
Just as an electron leaps from an atom's inner orbital ring to an outer one, creative ideas occur just as suddenly. Such quantum leaps inspire this book's title.
But it's a mish-mash. True, there's some physics in it. There's also ideas from Hinduism, Jungian Psychology, and some others that are the author's own. However, the book lacks a coherent theory or argument. And that's why it doesn't work for me.
I didn't finish this book, but I did read enough to know it wouldn't provide the answers I sought. This is the paradox I want to solve: Quantum Physics proves that observers can't be separated from observations. This implies, as Goswami believes, that consciousness is a force in nature. Yet psychologists treat consciousness as an epiphenomena. An epiphenomena is one that occurs parallel to the phenomena under study. This means one can study activity within the brain and the behavior it creates, but one can never say anything about consciousness. So, what is consciousness?
Goswami addressed this more thoroughly in a previous book, The Self-Aware Universe: How Consciousness Creates the Material World. When I initially read this book I knew less about physics than I do now. I'm currently re-reading it. I wasn't convinced by Goswami's argument the first time. I'll let you know if a second reading changes my mind.
Although this interesting story is readably told, I didn't enjoy it much. I found the dialog unconvincing and several points overstated.
The title refers to a hypothetical method by which an artificially intelligent machine could convince a human that its intelligence was natural. In the book, robots were indistinguishable from humans because some humans had embedded chips enhancing their abilities. This seems unconvincing to me since it overlooks other ways of telling humans from robots.
I recently re-watched the movie, Blade Runner. Although it was made years ago I still find it convincing despite the cheesy way in which it presents genetic engineering. I had no difficulty believing that Replicants are intelligent engineered beings which exist in the distant future of 2019.
What makes Blade Runner believable is good world building. It's inadequate to simply state that the climate is over-heated and human extinction imminent. A reader must be shown, and not with garden parties that are indistinguishable from those of the present day. Better world building would have improved this book.
A final point: Although the author sometimes gets it right, he sometimes confuses intelligence with consciousness. This is forgivable because some scientific writers have made the same mistake. However, the two are not the same.
It's New Year's Day and I've made a resolution. This year I'll read and review more short science fiction novels. Years ago these thin paperbacks could be found stuffed like bumper crop fruit on the racks of rotating drugstore displays. Now you don't see them much in stores. They've been replaced by longer titles since people want better value when buying much more expensive paperbacks.
Although it's now more difficult to find them in print, many popular books have been short. Consider these:
All contain fewer than 50,000 words. I'll be reviewing books under 65,000 words.
Since these books won't come from retailer's shelves, I'll be reading them as eBooks. Many shorter eBook titles are written by self-published authors. I don't mind that, but I do have standards, so here's what I won't be reading:
I'm open to suggestions and free copies. I'm daveloeff at gmail dot com.
M.H. Van Keuren has a talent for developing interesting characters. Riding with Rhubarb's Martin as he makes his sales calls brought back memories of the long rural business drives I once made. Watching Teague grow up in a future Bangkok made me feel as though I'd done so myself. Even Legitimacy's other protagonist, Rob garnered my interest despite his lack of self-discipline and self-indulgence.
Van Keuren's does not employ his talent for writing interesting characters in Legitimacy's sequel, Belief. Although his writing remains up to par, Van Keuren's characters do not. They are two dimensional and barely compelling.
Orson Scott Card, in his book on writing science fiction, states that there are four types of stories: milieu, idea, character and event. Although stories can have multiple elements, one of the four will predominate. Legitimacy begins as a character story but becomes more of an action story by its end. Its sequel, Belief, is entirely an action story. Teague barely makes an appearance — an appearance by inference only. Rob makes no appearance at all.
Van Keuren states on his blog that he intends a third volume in this series, I hope he restores symmetry to the whole by bringing back Teague and Rob, and by employing his talent for writing strong characters.
Everything King Midas touched turned to gold. Amazon has the same touch. However once something's touched it's no longer useful, no matter how bright and shiny it becomes.
Amazon now sells more books than anyone else. They sell other things as well. People visit big box stores to view merchandise and then they buy it from Amazon. This forces retailers to change how they do business. It's change or die. Huge bookseller, Borders, failed to change quickly and went out of business.
Amazon owns the majority of the eBook trade partly because it made it easy for writers to self-publish. This has been a boon to writers, but also an obstacle. They must play Amazon's game or not play at all. Like all games, the odds in this one favors the house rather than the player. Amazon's subsidiary, CreateSpace, makes it easy to publish paperbacks, but provides no path to getting those books into stores. Bookstores don't stock them because CreateSpace doesn't won't allow unsold merchandise to be returned like traditional publishers do. And now those traditional publishers are facing new difficulties.
After hurting traditional publishers and retailors, Amazon has opened its first bookstore in Seattle. Mom and Pop bookstores are already struggling or failing; there's no way they can compete against Amazon's superior data and pricing. Amazon is becoming an invisible monopoly unnoticed by government watchdogs. Today it's only one store, but that could change tomorrow. My advice: Don't shop there. It's a trap.
Graphic Novel and Set in a Time of War and A Love Story
I got into graphic novels late and am trying to catch up with all the awesomeness that is out there, so my recommendation for these would be the various volumes of Saga. This is space opera and romance and all around fantastic writing and art by Fiona Staples and Brian K. Vaughan, with three or four volumes already out and more to come.
Female Main Character and By an Author Who's Written Over 5 Books and Young Adult Book
For these categories, I'm going to recommend Sabriel by Garth Nix, though pretty much anything in that series is great. It's about magic to protect the living from the dead, fantastic animal sidekicks and realistic relationships.
Male Main Character and Fantasy in General and Includes Sword/Knife Fighting
It has to be Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner, which is one of her novels set in a place called Tremontaine. Our hero, Richard de Vier, makes a living by being a professional duellist and ends up in a relationship with a wayward and somewhat-suicidal scholar with a secret.
Debut Book of Any Author and Diverse Books and Published After 2010
For these categories, I'm going to go with Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone, though the sequels (set in the same universe but not necessarily featuring the same characters) are also awesome. This is a world where accountancy and the law are magic and the gods are dead or defeated, those gods also having a strong MesoAmerican flavour. Highly recommended!