On the surface, it is the story of Poggio Bracciolini, a 15th century Italian scholar who uncovers one of the last remaining manuscripts of Lucretius’s On the Nature of Things. The meta-story is really about the power of ideas to survive the fall of empire, the dark ages that come after, and re-emerge as the seeds of enlightenment. The narrative is engaging and coherent, and I left both inspired by humanism but also regretting how much knowledge must have been destroyed over the centuries by the forces of superstition and dogma.
My first audiobook! I chose a topic of which I had prior knowledge, but I was surprised how many new things I learned from McCullough’s account of the Wright brothers’ journey to making the world’s first controlled, powered flight in an airplane. Like all good historical nonfiction, the account interweaves the individual human level with the big picture. McCullough shows the personal lives of the Wright family as well as the broader technological and political implications and context of their work.
I especially enjoy that the book is also a fine counter to the myth that genius is the product of natural talents and sudden epiphany. McCullough shows the childhood influences the brothers had to encourage tinkering and creativity, and details at length the decades of thought, experimentation, innovation, and perseverance through failure, injury, and ridicule that were necessary to arrive at their world-changing achievements. The book is as much a testament to the personal qualities and character of the whole Wright family as it is an account of their technological contribution to history.
This is Part 1 of a six-part response to Visions, Ventures, and Escape Velocities: A Collection of Space Futures, which is available for free from Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination thanks to a grant from NASA. I say “response” and not “review” because I intend to engage with the ideas presented from my own point of view.
Section I of VVEV is entitled Low Earth Orbit, and contains two short stories and three essays:
- Vanguard 2.0, by Carter Scholtz
- Reflections on the Dual Uses of Space Innovation, by G. Pascal Zachary
- Mozart on the Kalahari, by Steven Barnes
- Past Empires and the Future of Colonization in Low Earth Orbit, by William K. Storey
- Expanding Our Solution Space: How We Can Build an Inclusive Future, by Deji Bryce Olukotun
This blog post contains spoilers!
I’ve come to this book later than most, and I’m so glad I did.
I’ll start with the criticism. First let me acknowledge that, as a book published in 1965, Dune contains a few elements that are likely to be problematic to the modern reader. The world depicted (which is an active choice made by the author) is almost universally patriarchal — not just one society, mind you, but all of them, with the possible exception of one. (However, even that one, the Bene Gesserit multi-generational society of powerful sorcerer-ninja women, is incomplete and cannot fulfill its ultimate purpose until a LONG-PROPHESIED MALE CHILD is born to do what somehow none of them can.) And apropos of long prophesies, the story is definitely among the Chosen One narratives, which seem to have gone decisively out of style (at least in more literary science fiction).
All that said, I was thoroughly engrossed in the world: the captivating setting with its desert aesthetic strongly influenced by the Islamic world, the interweaving of complex politics and deep religions, and the layers upon layers of motivations and counter motivations that tear at almost any character with a name. Dune also falls within the prestigious company of those few books that I’ve read which manage to blend hard science fiction and fantastical elements seamlessly together in the service of evoking wonder — such as Revelation Space or Anathem.
I’m hooked. I can finally understand why Dune became the genre’s gold standard for science-fiction that isn’t afraid to talk about the human element, and does it exceptionally well. I definitely plan to add the rest of the series to my To-Read list.
The original “Bladerunner” was possibly my favorite science fiction movie for a long time. After seeing Bladeruner 2049 yesterday, I think the sequel has pushed the series back to the top of my estimation.
Visually, this was one of the very best films I have seen: a fantastic future as if imagined from the 1980’s, which allows it to stay true to (and even surpass) the original aesthetic.The atmosphere accurately and brutally captures the paranoid, soul-twisting vision of Phillip K. Dick, and the questions raised are just the kind that would keep PKD up at night. What is reality? What is the self? What constitutes human / consciousness / memory / morality? And what happens to our identity, love, and sense of self when the above can be commercialized and sold?
The experience of watching the film is jarring, and the questions it raises are uncomfortable. A few people walked out during a certain scene, and I am not surprised that it did more poorly than expected at the box office. But this is exactly the kind of science fiction needed to jolt people out of the endless desire for escapism, low-brow action, and stock plots in the genre. With the current pace of biotechnology, artificial intelligence, climate change, off-world colonies, and mass surveillance, we cannot afford to ignore the issues raised in this film.
THINK. It’s not illegal yet. And see this movie.