Sunday, 22 March 2015

Book review: Dune

Dune is a 1965 epic science fiction novel by Frank Herbert. It won the Hugo Award in 1966, and the inaugural Nebula Award for Best Novel. Dune is the world's best-selling science fiction novel and is the start of the Dune saga says wiki. And that all seems fair enough. Read more there.

The cover I'm showing you here is the one I remember from my youth, not the one I've just read. Its notable for the rather implausible "ornithopter" but really, what was the artist to make of Frank Herbert's concept?

As to the book, I remember it making a great impression on me when young. Re-reading it now (I don't think I've re-read it since) its fairly clear that it strives for impressiveness, which weakens it from an adult perspective (minor example-of-a-type: often, people say "like wow, he just did that, to convince us-the-reader that the thing just done was like mega-impressive). Various aspects of the "economics" (the CHOAM stuff, say) which seemed rather well crafted to my youthful self now look crude. His interest in ecology fares much better - the sum total doesn't quite work, but much of the detail is believable, and the aura of it well done. and the story overall is good, if you gloss over the defects.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

What would the Tory party say?

I thought, as an experiment, I'd try answering as though I was a Conservative spokesman; or David Cameron making a speech, or writing a manifesto. [Updated: but actually its really hard to do that. Too many of the questions are leading. The sort of questions you expect stupid interviewers to ask. Take for example "No one chooses his or her country of birth, so it's foolish to be proud of it." The Tory answer is clearly "I'm proud of Britain!" But the prefix makes that sound foolish. So in the real world, in interview, the correctly briefed candidate waffles, or avoids the question. In a manifesto or speech, the question never comes up in this form.]

Just a few propositions to start with, concerning — no less — how you see the country and the world.

1. If economic globalisation is inevitable, it should primarily serve humanity rather than the interests of trans-national corporations.

A: agree. Because: these people are pols; the "correct" answer is clearly "serve humanity". Everyone hates evil multinationals.

2. I'd always support my country, whether it was right or wrong.

A: agree. Because: they are Tories.

3. No one chooses his or her country of birth, so it's foolish to be proud of it.

A: disagree. Tories are proud of Britain.

4. Our race has many superior qualities, compared with other races.

A: disagree. Because: meh, crap question, but these are pols.

5. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

A: agree. Because: meh, hard one to guess on their behalf.

6. Military action that defies international law is sometimes justified.

A: disagree. Because: they're Tories, they believe in Law; if they want to defy International law theyll do so by pretending it is other than it is.

7. There is now a worrying fusion of information and entertainment.

A: agree. Because: its the kind of thing the Daily Mail loves.

Well, that's a sample of detail. I got bored though so the rest is briefer.

Now, the economy. We're talking attitudes here, not the FTSE index.

People are ultimately divided more by class than by nationality: agree.
Controlling inflation is more important than controlling unemployment: agree.
Because corporations cannot be trusted to voluntarily protect the environment, they require regulation: agree.
"from each according to his ability, to each according to his need" is a fundamentally good idea: strong disagree.
It's a sad reflection on our society that something as basic as drinking water is now a bottled, branded consumer product: disagree.
Land shouldn't be a commodity to be bought and sold: strongly disagree.
It is regrettable that many personal fortunes are made by people who simply manipulate money and contribute nothing to their society: disagree.
Protectionism is sometimes necessary in trade: agree.
The only social responsibility of a company should be to deliver a profit to its shareholders: disagree.
The rich are too highly taxed: agree.
Those with the ability to pay should have the right to higher standards of medical care : disagree.
Governments should penalise businesses that mislead the public: agree.
A genuine free market requires restrictions on the ability of predator multinationals to create monopolies: agree.
The freer the market, the freer the people: agree.

After that I got too bored to copy them all down, so you'll just have to accept that I did my best to guess as fairly as I could. For example, what to do with "You cannot be moral without being religious". I think that many religious people believe this, and I suspect many Tories believe it, but I don't think I can imagine them coming out and saying it. Meh, in the end I said "agree" for them.

And the result was...

Absolute dead center. Well, close enough. L/R: 0.25. A/L: 0.15.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Book review: Redshirts

Redshirts is a science fiction novel by John Scalzi. Its OK. I enjoyed it, though I didn't wade through all the endless codas. But there are really only two bits to it, and on reflection I think it would have been better at short story or novella length. There's not really enough substance. There are a variety of cute bits ("who are you, who is so wise in the ways of X") for you to congratulate yourself upon your getting-it-ness. But apart from that, it is in a curious way reminiscent of the flimsy sets of the original Star Trek.

Don't read on if you ever want to read it. Wiki says 
Ensign Andrew Dahl, newly assigned to the Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union, works in the xenobiology lab. However, upon receiving the chance to work with famed senior officers of the ship on "Away Missions" to dangerous planets, Dahl realizes that as a low-ranking crew member, he is very likely to be killed while on one of these missions. He and the other new ensigns notice something weird about life aboard the Intrepid — on any away mission, at least one crew member dies. And each away mission seems to follow a bizarre set of rules. The crew of the Intrepid has become very superstitious and fearful about getting involved in the bridge crew's missions. The ensigns get to know Lt. Kerensky, who is Russian, lecherous and constantly getting infected with diseases, beaten within an inch of life, or otherwise hurt — only to be totally fine a few days later. Lt. Kerensky winds up dating Ensign Duvall, one of the new ensigns. After meeting with a lost crewmember, the ensigns learn that they are characters in a TV show.
Somewhat to my surprise, it also says The book won the 2013 Hugo Award for Best Novel and Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel.