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Posts Tagged ‘Isaac Asimov’

High Justice” (1974©) — book review
Today’s review is for an “old” science fiction collection of short stories written by Jerry Pournelle.  Most of the stories were originally published in “Analog: Science Fiction And Fact” magazine.  Analog has been around since the 1930’s and has published a whole lot of “pulp” SciFi over the years.
Pournelle (and his partner – in many other works – Larry Niven) is one of the “greats” of SciFi.  I have my standard of SciFi “demi-gods”: Robert Heinlein, Arthur Clark and Isaac Asimov.  Pournelle (and Niven) rate just below this level.  He is definitely amongst the historically significant writers in SciFi from the last century.
Pournelle is considered a “polymath”, that is, a person who is accomplished in more than one scientific / technical field.  After many years in the aerospace field, he changed career and concentrated on writing.  He created a number of SciFi (actually military / paramilitary SciFi) novel series which I’ve enjoyed over the years.  The series I have most enjoyed (of his) was his “John Christian Falkenberg” series.  I purchased this book thinking it might be a prequel to that series.  It isn’t.  Well, it kind of is, but not really.
(The Falkenberg series is a similar vein to the “Hammer’s Slammers” military SciFi series by David Drake which I also like.  But that’s for another post…)
Anyway, this set of stories is not “really” about military SciFi.  It’s more or less a precursor book to what has come to be know as Pournelle’s “CoDominium Future History” series.
Pournelle’s personal politics leans to what is known as “paleoconservative” and this is reflected in this anthology.  Basically, think Ayn Rand “lite”: government’s are welfare traps, society is going to hell in a hand-basket, corporations will save the world (if we get out of the way and let them), and, (of course) unions are bad.
Putting aside the politics, Pournelle has some insightful views of where the world is headed over the “next” 50 to 100 years – basically, where we are now.  Or, where we soon could be.  (Remember, these stories were written back in the 1970’s.)
The stories deal with clean power, corporate greed, political corruption, increasing food production, space based manufacturing (and asteroid mining), and rights and laws in space, in general.
So, are the stories any good?  Yes!  Once I finally got the hang of his theme, I quite enjoyed all of the stories.  Pournelle is considered a “hard” science SciFi writer. This means he goes into some detail about the science behind the technology discussed in each story.  If you lean more to the fantasy (“horror, dragons or magic”) SciFi, you may not care for his writing.  I found the technology being proposed (like using icebergs to get fresh drinking water) interesting.  They are definitely BIG engineering ideas which would take governments or very large corporations to fund.
Final recommendation: Strong to Highly recommended.  Not the “action” SciFi I normally prefer, but I enjoyed it and look forward to looking back at more of his future histories.
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On This Day In:
2018 True Measures
2017 Hoping For Tapes
In It Now
2016 On Viewing This Mudball
2015 It Takes A Village
2014 In God’s Eyes
2013 We Root For Ourselves
2012 Like A Shark
2011 Discernible Virtue
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David And Goliath”  (2013©)  —  book review
Today’s book review is for non-fiction “popularized science” / sociology genre book” “David And Goliath“, written by Malcolm Gladwell.  Now, in the interest of full disclosure, Gladwell, Steven Levy and James Gleick are my favorite three “modern” “pop”-science writers, so I have a natural inclination to review this book favorably.  (Of course, my “All-time” favorite for this genre is Isaac Asimov, who could explain almost anything to the common reader – and with over 500 books to his name, he certainly tried.)
Anyway, as stated, I was (am) predisposed to a favorable review.  And, I’m giving it that…
It’s not a “great” book and it didn’t make me feel like I just hit myself on the side of the head (“Wow!!).  But, with Gladwell, you pretty much know what you’re getting when you hand over your dosh.  One, two or three observations about human behavior, a bit of socio- / psychological support (a few facts to support the point and not much to contradict the point) to bolster the observations, and then a bit of storytelling to make Gladwell’s conclusion seem more palatable.  Generally, if you “want” to agree with Gladwell’s observations you won’t look too closely at the support, because, heck, you already agree.  Right?  And if you are not predisposed to agree, Gladwell offers almost twenty pages of “Notes” for further research.  But, if you’re going to all that trouble, you probably have some subject matter expertise and don’t need to read a “popularized science” book on this topic.   Do you?
Per his normal format, Gladwell breaks the book into three main sections:
1) The advantages of disadvantages (and the disadvantages of advantages);
2) The theory of desirable difficulty; and,
3) The limits of power.
Amplifying the observations:
1)  Underdogs win more that we (the average reader) would expect – in some specific categories as much as 30%.  Why?  Because we see our disadvantages as their disadvantages, when they (the underdogs) don’t.  And, if they don’t see themselves as underdogs, they have no incentive to quit before they even try to succeed.
2)  Sometimes disadvantages turn out to be advantages and vice versa.  Great schools and small class sizes don’t necessarily produce the best employees or academics.  Gladwell introduces the idea of a inverted U shaped graph to explain this phenomena.
3)  People with challenges (dyslexia, early family tragedy, ADHD) can still become very successful.  Sometimes / somehow the “challenges” early in life prepare them better than their peers for challenges later in life, so they are “ready” when the real life test happens.  And,
4)  You can never “really” know how people will react when they are placed under pressure.  You generally, expect them to fold (because we believe we would, too), but sometimes they exceed your expectations.
My reaction to all of this?  Yes, it may all be true, but how do you build a society around the observation / hypothesis?  With no controls, you have observations, but you cannot test hypothesis.  And, if you could create similar situations, is it ethical to do so?  …For a hundred people, just so five or ten or thirty percent can overcome them?  What does society say to the others who don’t overcome and become super-achievers?  We’re sorry we ruined your life, but we wanted to see if you were “destined” to be elite.
Final recommendation: moderate to strong.  The book presents some interesting ideas and promotes thought by the reader.  (It certainly made me think!)  It successfully brings academic observations to the masses by means of popular writing.  However, in the end, I was left feeling neither individuals nor the government have the ability (or wisdom) to use power effectively in attempting to control the actions of others.  But for me, making me think is enough to prompt me to recommend the book.
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On This Day In:
2018 Still More Prejudice
A Well Trod Path Of Hopes, Expectations And Surprise
2017 …And With It Civilization
2016 Just Like My Mother
2015 All Omissions Are Mine
2014 Precise Order
2013 Uh, No. Not Really…
Deep Regions
2012 A Pre-Valentine’s Day Message
2011 Easy Like Sunday Morning
May I Have A Little More, Please…
2010 Valleys and Peaks

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After years of finding mathematics easy, I finally reached integral calculus and came up against a barrier.  I realized that this was as far as I could go, and to this day I have never successfully gone beyond it in any but the most superficial way.
  —  Isaac Asimov
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On This Day In:
2017 And The Future Is Now
2016 I Am
2015 Positively Aiming Higher
2014 Suspicious Minds
2013 We Are Not Alone
2012 Lawyer, n.
2011 Each Day Remember…
2010 Impossible Dreams of Camelot

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I do not myself believe that any person who is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment.
   —  Bertrand Russell
I don’t believe in an afterlife, so I don’t have to spend my whole life fearing hell, or fearing heaven even more.  For whatever the tortures of hell, I think the boredom of heaven would be even worse.
   —  Isaac Asimov
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On This Day In:
2017 Now Pausing Makes Sense
2016 Just Spicy
Only One Part
2015 Positive Acts Of Creation
2014 One Thing Is Clear
2013 Corrections
See Greatness
2012 Gemutlichkeit
2011 Back On The Asphalt

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The history of science is full of revolutionary advances that required small insights that anyone might have had, but that, in fact, only one person did.
     —  Isaac Asimov
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On This Day In:
2016 Be Uncommon
2015 Ooops!
2014 What Price Freedom?
2013 Remembering Val
2012 Good-bye, Val
Survival Value
2011 Traitors In Our Midst
Life Ain’t Easy

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I believe that every human being with a physically normal brain can learn a great deal and can be surprisingly intellectual.  I believe that what we badly need is social approval of learning and social rewards for learning.
    —  Isaac Asimov
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On This Day In:
2016 In Search Of Words
Day 2 – Blending
2015 At What Price?
2014 Intricate And Subtle Order
2013 Attention To Detail
2012 Aequanimitas!
2011 Consider This

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I made up my mind long ago to follow one cardinal rule in all my writing — to be clear.  I have given up all thought of writing poetically or symbolically or experimentally, or in any of the other modes that might (if I were good enough) get me a Pulitzer prize.  I would write merely clearly and in this way establish a warm relationship between myself and my readers, and the professional critics — Well, they can do whatever they wish.
     —  Isaac Asimov
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On This Day In:
2016 Ripple
2015 Amazing Or Full Of Wonder?
2014 Are You Confused?
2013 But The Odds Are Against It
2012 Far Better Off With Books
2011 Timid And Fainthearted

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