Thursday, September 11, 2014

1 + (2 + 1) + 1

I had been really looking forward to reading "The Causal Angel", by Hannu Rajaniemi. This completes the trilogy that started with "The Quantum Thief", and continued with "The Fractal Prince". (Hah, these 3 books trace my arc in eBook buying. I have the first in an Apple eBook, then 2nd in a Kindle eBook, and the 3rd in a Kobo eBook. Sure would be nice to be able to consolidate these ...)

This book made me realize how similar in background Hannu is to Greg Egan. When Egan's first novels were coming out in the mid-90s, I was blown away by (and jealous of) his knowledge of both computer science and physics. Egan seemed to start out writing more about artificial intelligence and gradually move to writing more about physics - his latest trilogy is in a universe where the laws of physics are different than ours. This is a very interesting mental exercise, but I haven't found it as compelling as his earlier AI stuff.

"The Quantum Thief" was completely groundbreaking in its insight into computer privacy and information sharing issues. Hannu's vision was years ahead of anything else written on the subject.

I think the trilogy as a whole doesn't maintain that level of brilliance - but, I think it would be hard for anyone to keep that up. We continue to follow the thief/scoundrel Jean de Flambeur and his and his frenemy turned ally Mieli as they wend their way through the various flavors and factions of post-human intelligences in a century+ future. He's one of those "rakish wag" types -- whatever that means. He reminds me somewhat of Keith Laumer's Retief character. Retief was a diplomat rather than a thief, but I think had the same level of insouciance.

I really have trouble writing a review of a book and giving many details -- I certainly don't want to be a spoiler to anyone else. Suffice it to say, "The Causal Angel" is a good read. It winds more with new physics rather than new computer science. I think I find this less appealing because, since Dark Energy, I sometimes feel that modern physics is somewhat flailing against the limits of what our current instruments can observe.

Next I read 2 novellas and 1 short story by James S.A. Corey, set in his Expanse universe; in 100 years or so, humanity covers most of the solar system, including the Oort Cloud, with standard inner/outer planets conflict.

The 1st novella was "The Churn". This is the backstory of Amos Lucas, one of the crew members whom we follow through the Expanse novels. I like these quick reads, and "secret origin" stories were always favorites in comic books. It's a nice, self-contained story.

The 2nd novella was "Gods of Risk". This is parallel fill rather than backstory. The protagonist is the teenage nephew (so does that make this YA?) of kickass martian marine Bobbie Draper. It's a nice read.

The short story was "The Butcher of Anderson Station". This is the backstory of how Fred Johnson went from the inner planets to the outer planets side. A nice, easy read.

I like the way they are using these short pieces to fill in the gaps of the Expanse universe. And at $2.99 and $1.99, easy to click on and buy.

Finally, I read "The Magician's Land", by Lev Grossman. This is the third of a trilogy. Kind of Harry Potter meets Narnia, for adults. It is well plotted and well written, and an enjoyable read, and reaches a satisfactory conclusion for the trilogy. I didn't notice any dangling plot threads.

Well I should probably start reading Keynes's "General Theory", but I'm kind of burned out on economics. It really seems to be such a politically contentious mess that I feel like, even if you could write a model that perfectly described all of economic history, it wouldn't change anybody's minds, if it disagreed with their politics. And, as I mentioned at the end of the post on Piketty, the political differences I think wound up being based on different ideas of morality.

So I think I'll read some more escapist stuff. I have a dozen or so unread novels and a few unread short story collections on my iPad -- it's just so easy to buy eBook, anytime a book gets some favorable references, boom, 2 minutes later I've bought it. Plus the new "Year's Best" is probably out and I need to pick that up in hardback (from Joseph-Beth, my local excellent bookstore). So, a bit more escapism, then maybe Jared Diamond's newest, then hopefully back to economics.


Erica said...

Based on the title of this post, I'd say you now must read

Chris Heinz said...

Ha ha Erica. Nice! So glad to have raised you numerate.