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Science, Fiction, and points in between

Wednesday 28 February 2001

§ Lots of coverage of a new book on Marginalia -- the annotations readers write in the margins of books. An irresistibly self-referential topic; as Slate would put it, you are now reading weblog links to reviews and a review of reviews of a book reviewing the marginal notes of reader-reviewers.

§ A Harvard professor says he's discovered an unbreakable code. (See also Newsweek March 5, page 45; not online.)

Not (yet) online from Time March 5: articles on Sci Fi network clairvoyant John Edward [Behavior section]; the first solar-sail vehicle, and what caused the great extinction 250m years ago [Science]; and a Walter Kirn viewpoint about how the recession is the result of so many New Economy devices that don't work...

[In the New Economy] A hamburger would be defined as two buns around a paper coupon promising the delivery of a meat patty as soon as meat-patty technology was rolled out nationally.

§ SF writer Geoffrey A. Landis recommends all-women crews to Mars.

§ Here's a laptop that opens like a book...

§ Last Sunday's Los Angeles Times Book Review has a remarkably extensive symposium on the theme "Is Publishing Dead?" And it's not about e-books; it's about the factors that "make if difficult (some say nearly impossible) for publishers to acquire and sell--at commercially viable levels--difficult yet important writing." With responses from numerous editors, publishers, and agents.


§ Huxley used zippers in Brave New World as signs of technological decadence, remarks this New York Times essay on material culture.

For many years the zipper was mainly a barometer of ambivalence about a fully automated world especially when it came to intimate matters like dress. The machine-run dystopia of Aldous Huxley's 1932 novel "Brave New World," Mr. Friedel pointed out, is littered with zippers from zippyjamas to zippicamiknicks. "To Huxley," Mr. Friedel wrote, "there was nothing at all natural about zippers, and that is just why they are such a powerful yet subtle symbol throughout his novel."

Thursday 22 February 2001

Science, Faith, and Superstition

§ Slate: Plan for faith-based missile defense.

The faith-based defense would be nondenominational and designed to protect Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and Wiccans, as well as Christians, officials said. (For technical reasons, it is unclear whether nonbelievers can be protected.) Pentagon sources say the system is code-named Rapture. ...

President Bush also authorized the creation of an Office of Faith-Based Research and Development, and named evangelist James Dobson to head the project. "Saddam Hussein isn't working on plutonium, he is trying to develop seven-headed dragons and gigantic armored locusts. We're going to have a little surprise ready when he tries to use them," Dobson said

§ New York Times profiles James Randi --

Although ignorance and lack of education are often linked to beliefs in supernatural claims, the information revolution is now often cast as the villain. Some social scientists argue that the Internet helps promote off-the-wall ideas about miracle cures and mind reading, not only because it can instantaneously distribute rumor and gossip, but also because people can more easily cherry-pick their information, walling themselves off from other points of view.
Also in NYT, Jared Diamond on the "only two scientists in the last 200 years can justifiably be called irreplaceable: Freud and Darwin."

§ The problem with faith-based funding, writes Bart Kosko in the Los Angeles Times, is faith itself.

Thursday 15 February 2001

The Literary Life

§ Little, Brown editor Geoff Shandler is posting a Slate diary this week about what editors do: beg for blurbs, negotiate contracts, and... edit.

Authors always go on about the writer's mission to resist editorial guidance at every turn. Trust me: if publishers did nothing but slap covers on first drafts, readers would be horrified. Sympathy for writers would evaporate.

§ Serious minds think about book reviewing: Walter Kirn in The New York Times Book Review:

If readers are under the impression lately that nothing much is going on in literature other than what they see on ''Oprah,'' perhaps it's because the American salon is so suffocatingly hushed and well-mannered. The strongest voices, judging by their novels, are apparently so unaroused by the whole enterprise of writing and reading that they've taken their cocktails and slipped off to the balcony to meditate. Perhaps they're convinced that awarding each other prizes will be enough to keep the party going. I doubt it. More hurled drinks, more stolen kisses!
Jonathan Yardley responds in the Washington Post:
What is needed is not what Kirn seems to want -- more novelists reviewing the work of other novelists -- but smart readers connected to no circles save their own who are willing to make honest judgments and to express them in published book reviews that decline to mince words. It's a rare soul who can do that when he or she and the novelist under review -- not to mention the novelist's editor and publicist and significant other -- have their fingers in the same bowl of hors d'oeuvres.

§ How reading 300 novels as an awards judge changes your perspective on writing: New York Times.

§ Washington Post Book World review of Exiting Nirvana, a memoir by Paul Park's mother.

§ Salon asks, why are Newbery winning children's books so boring? (With occasional exceptions like Louis Sachar's Holes):

Instead of "The Bronze Bow," the 1962 Newbery could have gone to Norton Juster's "The Phantom Tollbooth;" instead of the forgotten title "Shadow of a Bull," 1965's award could have gone to Louise Fitzhugh's "Harriet the Spy."

§ Novelist David Leavitt on using small insanities as creativity; Asperger's syndrome. -- New York Times [Nov. 2000].

§ Literary Manifestos Dept.: Salon [Nov. 2000] on the 'New Puritans', who call for grammatical clarity, would shun poetry and eschew flashbacks, and would avoid "all improbable or unknowable speculation about the past or the future."

§ Salon's list of the 10 most paranoid novels includes books by Philip K. Dick, Thomas Pynchon, Jonathan Lethem.

§ Michael Dirda visits the Modern Language Association convention: Washington Post.

§ Lingua Franca polls the Best academic books of the 90s.

§ The Washington Post on Richard Shaver.

SciTech, Etc.

§ Is the right literary metaphor for Internet privacy Big Brother? Or perhaps Kafkaesque? -- New York Times.

§ The military is researching exoskeletons.

§ Evolutionary biology applies to everything, even history: The New York Times.

§ Toys were better in the old days; electronic toys don't engage kids: The New York Times.

§ The Y2K faithful think the bug really did cause lots of damage but the government is covering it up.

NASDAQ meltdown? Impending recession? Power crisis in California? They're all a part of the Y2K fallout. And those of us who don't see it are just Pollyannas, too ignorant or happy-go-lucky to consider the mounting evidence.

§ Salon: Caleb Carr's ideas on regulating the Internet have gotten lots of flack; he responds to critics.

§ Physicist Paul Davies' discussion of the theoretical basis for time travel includes thoughts on the mutual influence of scientists and SF writers.


§ SF writer Robert A. Metzger is working with Gregory Benford to use crop residues to mitigate the effects of global warming. -- Wired.

§ Minesweeper may hold the key to cracking the P vs NP problem. -- CNN.

© 2001 by Locus Publications. All rights reserved.