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Comments on June's list [Jul. 3rd, 2008|12:22 am]
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Anathem, I should state from the get-go, is exactly what Stephenson fans would want to read from him, and exactly what Stephenson haters do not want to read. It takes place on an alien world where cloistered, monastic academics tend to millennium clocks and wallow in Neoplatonism. The whole thing is kind of sloppy, with too many characters and incidents, and not every plot thread is going to be neatly tied off, but 1. it does have an ending, 2. the long b.s. philosophizing sections are integrated well into the text, and are often pretty interesting, and 3. the big complaint I had about the book is explained away in a very satisfying fashion that--fair's fair--I should have figured out before I did.

The book that I would like the most to discuss, except for the fact that no one I know has read it, is Herman & Weiner's The Year 2000: A Framework for Speculation on the Next Thirty-Three Years. The book is not a bunch of pie-in-the-sky pronouncements, but a sober attempt to make plausible predictions and draw up likely scenarios for the future. I compared their population projections with a 2001 almanac, and they did pretty well there. The two biggest mistakes they make are 1. overestimating the perdurance of communism and 2. believing that the economy in 2000 will be super-awesome, with everyone working four days a week or fewer, and consequent expanded leisure time. (Obviously they could not predict AIDS, but they do mention pandemics as the kind of thing that could throw all their calculations off.) The also underestimate the importance of Islam and (although they constantly stress that they are underestimating the importance of computers) the importance of computers, or at least they fail to see what computers will be used for in the year 2000 (pornography).

Basically, I want someone who knows something about the world (which I do not) to read this book and tell me what they got wrong.

Briefly, I should mention the Two Spanish Picaresque Novels (listed separately but published together by Penguin), because they are hilarious, and involve amoral rogues pulling tricks and cutting capers--which I guess I knew is what a picaresque is going to be about anyway, but I was not prepared for the extent of the amorality or the scatological excesses of some of the tricks. Anyone who plays a rogue should probably read these books for ideas.

And Tom Brown's Schooldays is an interesting (once it gets rolling, which takes like 75 very dry pages) depiction of an utterly alien educational experience. On the one hand, believing that rugby games for the honor of the "house" are an opportunity for "manly" "heroics" (as Hughes clearly does) is obviously a joke, and any system in which the exploitation of smaller boys by larger is in fact officially institutionalized as well as tacitly condoned sounds horrific. On the other hand, a school that offers some degree of autonomy and privacy to the students, that takes education seriously, that teaches "to the young boy, for the first time, the meaning of his life--that it was no fool's or sluggard's paradise into which he had wandered by chance, but a battlefield ordained from of old, where there are no spectators, but the youngest must take his side, and the stakes are life and death"--well, I did say it was utterly alien.

Also, I've never see the word "fag" appear so often in any other book I've ever read, and this is at times hilarious (as are certain other words Hughes employs in all innocence. "Constant intercourse with Arthur has done much for both of them...").

From: yrlnry
2008-09-15 02:45 am (UTC)

What Kahn and Weiner got wrong

I mentioned this in passing a couple of years back on my own blog. Here was my extremely brief summary of the book: "The predictions about computers are surprisingly accurate, if you ignore the fact that they completely failed to predict the PC. The geopolitical predictions are also surprisingly accurate, if you ignore the fact that they completely failed to predict the fall of the Soviet Union."
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