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Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category

I have been a fan of science fiction literature since my youth. It started with a few books in Dutch when I was a teenager, with books from Paul van Herck and Carl Lans. I currently own 300+ titles, almost exclusively in English – going to the source seemed the best way to enjoy the genre.

So after talking about 1984, allow me to introduce another literary classic (which I haven’t yet read in its entirety, alas), commented by Cory Doctorow in a Slate article titled “I’ve Created a Monster! And so can you.“:

Frankenstein warns of a world where technology controls people instead of the other way around. Victor has choices to make about what he does with technology, and he gets those choices wrong again and again. But technology doesn’t control people: People wield technology to control other people.

People wield technology to control other people” – how true. Machines, be they constructued in hard- or software, don’t do anything, unitl guided by people. But is Cory Doctorow talking about the Facebooks and Twitters of this world, or about the NSA and other hackers? Both, probably. It remains remarkable how this insight was captured in a book more than 100 years ago.

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Gods Galore On Netflix?

I have just finished reading Neil Gaiman’s ‘American Gods‘ – what a great book! Turns out that Netflix has turned the book into a tv series (although one could argue that the term ‘tv series’ does not apply to Netflix). One Sam Machkovech is quite enthousiast about the first episode, as he writes in “American Gods may have finally nailed the modern-fantasy formula on TV“:

Between the solid acting and the incredible cinematography, complete with gorgeously framed interiors and sweeping open-road shots of Moon crossing the United States, this episode puts Starz in an unfamiliar position. The company has an upcoming series that’s genuinely saddled with incredibly high expectations.

I still have the vivid imagery of the book in my mind. Hence, such a raving review makes me wonder: should I get Netflix, even just to see this series? And if I do, do I get an AppleTV or a Google Chromecast, or a Roku, or… ?

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RIP Robert M. Pirsig

There is no way I can forget Robert M. Pirsig (September 6, 1928 – April 24, 2017). It took me a while to read his first book, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values“. Mostly so, because after the first chapter I wanted to understand, even contemplate, every paragraph he wrote.

In ZatAoMM, Pirsig wrote down the best possible description of what motorcycle riding means to me:

In a car you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.

On a cycle the frame is gone. You’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming.

To me, Pirsig will remain a philosopher rather than an author. That is also why from time to time, I am able to pick up his books, read a bit at a random page, then find myself contemplating his words and their implications for life in general and my life in particular. In fact, ZatAoMM is the only book that makes me do that…

My personal feeling is that this is how any further improvement of the world will be done: by individuals making Quality decisions and that’s all.

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Not even two weeks ago I wrote about Einstein, or about Brian Greene, to be exact. Since then I did finish William Gibson’s “The Peripheral“. The reviewers of that book must have been better, faster readers than me to call this a brilliant book. Don’t get me wrong: it’s a dazzling book. It challenges your brain to see the world painted just by words – Gibson certainly has a vivid imagination.

Cover of the paperback edition of William Gibson's 'The Peripheral'

Cover of the paperback edition of William Gibson’s ‘The Peripheral’

But I will have to read it again to get a better grasp on what the story really is about. It’s not an whodunnit, that’s for sure. And it’s not your classic scifi either. It sets your brain to work, just like Greene’s. Isn’t that what books are supposed to do?

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How To Conquer Your Fear

Frank Herbert taught us the “Litany against fear” in his Dune novels. Hayley Ashburn applies the litany in her highline walk, high up in the mountains. Quite an exploit, I’d say. 

Hayley Ashburn on a highline in the Italian Alps. Click the image to see the video on Vimeo.

Hayley Ashburn on a highline in the Italian Alps.
Click the image to see the video on Vimeo.

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There is a form of virtual reality in every fiction book and story. Some book and stories require a map, so that readers can better understand the geographical positioning of whatever it is that happens in the story. Tolkien prepared his own maps to illustrate parts of the world inhabited by Hobbits, Orks and Wizards. George RR. Martin did the same for his “A Game of Thrones” (AGOT) books.

agot-map.png

A UK dude called ‘theMountainGoat‘ is a big fan of AGOT, and among other things he has created an interactive map of the known parts of Westeros and Essos. You’ll find the “Speculative World Map” at this address: http://quartermaester.info/ . The map includes annotations about how the map was constructed and why it sometimes conflicts with the original maps in the books. You’ll find supplementary information about the this map – and about ‘theMountainGoat‘ – on his personal website called “serMountainGoat’s website“.

That’s all well and dandy, but what if you want to write a fantasy story and you need a fictional map, fast? Additionally, let’s assume that you can’t draw maps. No worries, the Internet has you covered: BoingBoing can point you to the required software and instructions on how to create your own maps. A lack of geographic inspiration should not stop you from writing the next Lord of The Thrones trilogy!

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BoingBoing signals an intriguing question: “Can a sexbot be a murderer?“.

[The robot] walks into a police station carrying a bag with the severed head of her former owner. She announces that she murdered him because his masochism kink insisted that she be real, and thus capable of being hurt, and so she learned to be real, and then she killed him, because he insisted on hurting her. Now she wants a public defender.

The story, written by , is published on the Slate website. If you’re going to read it, you should also read the comments on this story by a “an expert on robotic law”: “When a Robot Kills, Is It Murder or Product Liability?

Rights entail obligations. If I have a right, then someone else has a responsibility to respect that right. I in turn have a responsibility to respect the rights of others. Responsibility in this sense is a very human notion. We wouldn’t say of a driverless car that it possesses a responsibility to keep its passengers safe, only that it is designed to do so. But somehow, we feel comfortable saying that a driverless car is responsible for an accident.

It’s not that simple, of course. In fact, I’m guessing that this subject will remain a matter of debate for many years to come, as lawyers, insurance companies and politicians try to make sense of what is, in essence, an ethical question. Can a man-made object have “a free will”? Is “articial intelligence” really different from human intelligence?

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