reading 2011, vol 1

What Technology Wants Kevin Kelly

Pretty interesting, there is lots in it, not sure it is essential though.

Argues all sorts of things, but essentially that there is a “technium” – the totality of culture and technology – which can be considered an evolving entity in itself. More interesting for the specifics of the data he brings together than the thesis itself, as he pulls pretty gnarly stuff in from all over the show. The chapters on the Amish and the Unabomber were both fascinating, and not for the usual reasons one might expect. Particularly, the Amish come across not as Luddites but very conscious of the effects of technology on them, individually and socially, and choose only to adopt technologies, which, after testing, prove to enhance their values and goals; which strikes me as about the sanest approach. However, most of us do not have such a strongly defined group with shared values, so we get dragged along into adopting technologies with no thought for the effects, because everyone else does, and we need them to stay in touch, conform and function. But the idea of selective adoption of technologies comes through really strongly, and I have nattered on about the need for this elsewhere, a la McLuhan; and indeed in Kelly’s own life.

The Knife of Never Letting Go – Patrick Ness

Ripped through this in a few hours. Young adult SF novel, set on a pioneer world where, so it seems, a disease has killed all the women, and the men can all hear each other’s thoughts. From there it goes in pretty consistently unexpected directions. Tight, gripping, fun.

Cults of Unreason – Christopher Evans
Excellent history of early Scientology, and other cultish stuff. I can see why they try to suppress it.

Counting Heads – David Marusek
Debut novel from a guy to watch. A SF future world with virtual immortality, mucho AI, clones, crazy nano, and fabbing, all happening all at once, and really well integrated into a fairly dizzying experiential ride of what living in that would be like on a regular human level, while dealing satisfactorily with humanity and emotions. Impressive. Biggest gripe: it feels like an episode of something larger, rather than a really complete entity in itself. (Which, to be fair, it is.)

Michael Moorcock – The Warhound and the World’s Pain
Years back I bought a bunch of Moorcock omnibus editions and never read them. Read this novel after snooping around the web and it coming up heavily recommended a lot. It was fun, diverting, and there was a lot I enjoyed in it, particularly its fluidity and narrative sweep, yet even with the philosophical resonance explored via its quasi-Faustian bargain, it felt sort of… empty afterwards. Like the depth of imagination that goes into creating a world is somehow lacking when you churn out books at 15000 words a day, maybe. (Any other strong Moorcock recommendations? I think I read the first Elric novel and didn’t think much of it, and one of the Jerry Cornelius novels (The English Assassin, I think), which was totally demented.)

The Possessed – Dostoyevsky
Felt I had been reading a bit too much genre insubstantiality, and prevailed upon my friend Brian for the Best Novel Ever Written; this got the nod. It is pretty remarkable how gripping a novel which is mostly people standing around chatting in polite society in 1800s Russia can be. Brilliant psychological observation, and in general brilliant; not sure it is the best novel ever, but it is pretty damn impressive. Left me wondering what its equivalent would look like if it were written now. Ultimately seemed to be arguing that we are lost without God, or some Idea on that scale.

Jan Fries – Visual Magick
Really good, grounded, experiential guide to creativity, magic, art, and presence in the moment.

One Response to “reading 2011, vol 1”

  1.   Vicki
    February 28th, 2011 | 3:14 pm

    I started reading The Devils/The Possessed a few weeks ago so am glad to hear that it will be well worth my time. I kinda felt like I had to do a bit of research before I started so I could get all the references/parodies (eg Turgenev). I don’t like missing out on those.