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By TheophileEscargot (Fri Oct 21, 2011 at 09:58:52 AM EST) Reading, Links (all tags)
Reading: "Slan", "Of the Farm", "A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines". Links.


What I'm Reading
Somehow I never got around to reading classic science fiction novel Slan by A.E. Van Vogt. One of the early books in what is now a cliché: mutants with superhuman abilities (mind-reading, increased strength, stamina and intelligence) emerge but are oppressed by the plain old humans. Was originally serialized in 1940, but updated in the Sixties.

Actually works pretty well despite the dated touches (slacks?) since it's very fast-paced: it moves too quickly for you to be bothered by the gosh-wow style. The plot is well done too, with enough twists to keep you happy.

Overall, stands up pretty well, but I think you'd have to like Golden Age science fiction to appreciate it.

What I'm Reading 2
Of the Farm is a novella by John Updike. Written in the Sixties but feels somewhat timeless. A divorced man returns to the family farm, along with his new wife and stepson, to do some work.

Beautifully written, but tending towards a mood piece. Even so, keeps attention very well as the protagonist goes through a kind of internal journey. This one doesn't go over the top with the sexual imagery. Worth reading if you like Updike.

What I'm Reading 3
A Madman Dreams of Turing Machine by Janna Levin is one of those half-novel-half-fact books. Has a series of fictionalized vignettes from the lives of Alan Turing and Kurt Godel. Draws attention to the similarities between them, both unworldly eccentrics who struggled to cope with everyday life.

Not sure if the comparison is that accurate. Alan Turing was a somewhat oblivious to social conventions in that he talked too loudly and dressed untidily, but his main social problem was just being gay. If he'd lived a few decades earlier or later Turing might well have just been an absent-minded professor in a rumpled suit. Godel however seems to have had fairly intense mental problems, being institutionalized occasionally, and essentially starving himself to death when his dietary obsessions became unmanageable once his wife couldn't force him to eat.

Also there is inevitable guesswork about the motivations behind their actions. Alan Turing made a fateful decision to make a full confession of his homosexuality to the police, which eventually led to him being incarcerated, forced to take female hormones, and eventually suicide. Janna has the confession apparently motivated by an other-worldly obliviousness, but could it have been a deliberate act of conscience: either a political statement, or an act of martyrdom?

Kant's ethics famously or notoriously demand that one tells the truth even if it causes great harm. Philosophers of Turing's period Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein both had extreme rigour in their philosophy and personal decisions: Russell going to prison as a conscientious objector, Wittgenstein fighting in the First World War and spurning his wealth. It seems to me possible that Turing understood the consequences of truth and decided to be truthful anyway.

Returning to the book, the accounts of their lives are vivid and moving. It's well-written with a distinct period feel. Overall, fairly interesting.

Web
Socioeconomics. Bitcoin falls, US support for marijuana legalization rises. "Mexican mafia" prison gang.

Articles. Backlash against infographics. How genre conquered literary fiction.

Pics. Teenage mutant ninja noses.

Sci/Tech. Early web browsers. Analysing iOS app web traffic.

Video. Airplane and Zero Hour. Nassim Taleb on Occupy (13mins, annoying initial ad). Clip montage remake of Bill Bailey's original Docteur Qui.

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How genre conquered literary fiction. by wiredog (4.00 / 1) #1 Fri Oct 21, 2011 at 10:22:44 AM EST
Tor.com has been doing Genre in the Mainstream articles for several months.

Earth First!
(We can strip mine the rest later.)

Haha by priestess (4.00 / 1) #2 Fri Oct 21, 2011 at 10:40:59 AM EST
Now I want to convince my frienimies to get a tattoo like that ninja nose on their faces.
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Chat to the virtual me...
Nostalgia ! by Phage (4.00 / 1) #3 Fri Oct 21, 2011 at 11:48:55 AM EST
I read that a <ahem> few years aqo. I great read.

Until I read the Monk bio by Scrymarch (4.00 / 1) #4 Fri Oct 21, 2011 at 11:57:16 AM EST
... recently, I didn't know that Turing attended a semester of Wittgenstein's lectures at Cambridge. W only worked in small groups of a dozen and they soon developed into an argument between the two of them on the nature of fundamental maths.

Which is also to say that they were part of the same mileu to an even greater extent than you mention here. What can be said can be said clearly - it's not unreasonable to suggest Turing made himself a martyr to truth.

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