Quite some years ago, poking around Apple’s collection of science fiction eBooks, I noticed Calculating God (2000), by Robert J. Sawyer. I’d never heard of him but got the impression he was a literary author who’d written a science fiction novel about God.
But the book’s description intrigued enough to add to my wish list. It sat there for years. An unknown author, a very long reading list, and Apple’s obnoxious prices, all conspired to keep me from buying it. Recently I noticed Apple had removed it from their catalog.
The library didn’t have it either, but an author search turned up lots of his other SF novels. I tried one, loved it, then tried three more with good result. We seem to have similar interests and sensibilities.
Last post I mentioned that I’d started reading The Big U (1984), by Neal Stephenson, one of my favorite authors. (See these posts.) Other than a few books done with co-authors, I’ve read nearly everything of his. The exceptions are The Baroque Cycle trilogy (which I’ve been putting off) and, until now, The Big U, his very first novel.
Stephenson didn’t become popular until his third novel, Snow Crash (1992), which is still one of my favorites (perhaps, in part, because it was the first of his novels that I read). As with his second novel, Zodiac (1988), his first is a biting present-day social satire and not really science fiction.
That said, it does involve nuclear waste, giant mutant rats, and a student-made rail gun.
Back in 2020, I posted about my surprise rediscovery of Agatha Christie. The initial discovery is lost in memory, a hand-me-down from my dad. I favored heroic action figures back then, Superman, Sherlock Holmes, Clint Eastwood. I enjoyed Christie’s Hercule Poirot but filed the rest of her work under ‘dowdy British library murder mystery’ and ignored it.
A mistake. My surprise discovery of 2020 was that Agatha Christie was a fascinating genius who rightfully earned the title Queen of Mystery.
Last week I watched a recent adaptation of Death on the Nile (1937), one of the more well-known Hercule Poirot novels. I had high hopes, but I can only give it a weak Eh! rating.
It started when I watched Jack Reacher (2012), starring Tom Cruise. It was pretty good, and it’s as much fun seeing Robert Duvall in something as it is Christopher Walken. Plus, the bad guy is Werner Herzog! As it turns out, casting Cruise as Reacher is… interesting, but I’ll come back to that.
The movie is an adaptation of the 2005 Lee Child novel, One Shot, the ninth book in his Jack Reacher series. I enjoyed the movie enough that I thought I’d check out the book — my library had it (as well as the others in the series).
I’ve been binging on them ever since. To the point I’ve now read 16 of the 24 Lee Child Jack Reacher novels.
There have been good science fiction movies and TV shows going at least back to Metropolis. Of course, there is always Sturgeon’s Law, so we’ve also had ten times as many that were bad in one way or another. A few were memorably awful; a few are remembered as classics.
When it comes to fantastical material, I’m convinced books are best. Animation is a distant second, and live action can often be a mistake, depending on the material. Too much realism in visualizing the fantastic collapses the wavefunction of our imagination.
But our imagination is the best part, and it needs exercise!
Earlier this month I posted about Quantum Reality (2020), Jim Baggott’s recent book about quantum realism. Now I’ve finished another book with a very similar focus, Einstein’s Unfinished Revolution: The Search for What Lies Beyond the Quantum (2019), by Lee Smolin.
One difference between the books is that Smolin is a working theorist, so he offers his own realist theory. As with his theory of cosmic selection via black holes (see his 1997 book, The Life of the Cosmos), I’m not terribly persuaded by his theory of “nads” (named after Leibniz’s monads). I do appreciate that Smolin himself sees the theory as a bit of a wild guess.
There were also some apparent errors that raised my eyebrows.
Two weeks ago, for Sci-Fi Saturday I posted about Absolution Gap (2003), by Alastair Reynolds. It’s the third book in his Revelation Space series. If you read the post, you know I didn’t care for it. Really didn’t care for it, especially after some disappointment with his writing style in the second book in the series, Redemption Ark (2002).
Now I’ve read Inhibitor Phase (2021), the last book of the series. For the first three-quarters of the book, I was once again rather enjoying Alastair Reynolds. Unfortunately, the last quarter, not to mention the resolution to the series, was a huge disappointment.
In that previous post I also mentioned Uranus (2020), by Ben Bova. Now I’ve read the sequel, Neptune (2021), and it was… strange.
I recently read, and very much enjoyed, Quantum Reality (2020) by Jim Baggot, an author (and speaker) I’ve come to like a lot. I respect his grounded approach to physics, and we share that we’re both committed to metaphysical realism. Almost two years ago, I posted about his 2014 book Farewell to Reality: How Modern Physics Has Betrayed the Search for Scientific Truth, which I also very much enjoyed.
This book is one of a whole handful of related books I bought recently now that I’m biting one more bullet and buying Kindle books from Amazon (the price being a huge draw; science books tend to be pricy in physical form).
The thread that runs through them is that each author is committed to realism, and each is disturbed about where modern physics has gone. Me, too!
Because they are intended for mass consumption, there are few modern science fiction movies or TV shows that really hit the mark for me. Sturgeon’s famous statement about everything being 90% crap seems even more true with mass media. It’s no less true of science fiction books, but there are so many more of those that it’s easier to find good ones. The trick is finding good authors.
Neal Stephenson is one author that usually delivers for me. Ben Bova is another good one, although until recently it was decades since I read his work. Alastair Reynolds, compared to them, is a new entry on the scene. All three write hard SF — my favored flavor of science fiction.
Unfortunately, the last Reynolds books I read was a disappointment.
Welcome to a special edition of Friday Notes. This isn’t just the end of the week or even just of the month (although both are true). It’s also the end of the year!
So this edition of Notes is a reflection on a kind of weird year.