Thursday, September 28, 2017

What Fun!

1st up, I read an Expanse novella, "Strange Dogs", 2017, 111 pages. A pretty good read. Set on one of the 1000s of colony worlds that got opened up in the 5th or so novel, it features our old friend, the protomolecule. It raises an interesting point in that the generation born to this alien world don't seem to care much about what "people on Earth" think about things.

Then, the fun. "The Lost Books of the Odyssey", by Zachary Mason, 2010, 228 pages. It is subtitled "A Novel" - it is Mason's 1st. But, it is not actually a novel. it is 44 short stories, ranging from a few to dozens of pages, all riffing on the characters and themes of The Iliad and The Odyssey. The wily Odysseus features prominently in most of them. I have always been a fan of Ulysses, particularly after "The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind" identified him as the archetype of the post-bicameral mind, and the father of the secret sauce of the post-bicameral mind - lying.

So many different and creative imaginings of different aspects of these stories. I think my favorite was the one where Agamemnon, jealous of Odysseus' fame and reputation after the Trojan War, decides to have him assassinated. The order wends its way through the bureaucracy and winds up being assigned to the Greek's most wily and capable assassin - Odysseus!

I realized early on that this is not a book you should read straight through. I think you can appreciate the stories more if you read them a few at a time.

So to fill in the space between these stories, I downloaded the free eBook "Overview: Stories in the Stratosphere" from the Arizona State University Center for Science and the Imagination. The ASU group had previously done the excellent Neal Stephenson led collection "Hieroglyph: Stories & Visions for a Better Future", and "Everything Change: An Anthology of Climate Fiction". It is 4 stories about man in the stratosphere. It seems a little suspect to me, in that it was sponsored by a company trying to put man in the stratosphere. The 1st 3 stories were OK. The 4th one was definitely worth reading. It made a telling point about the moral peril associated with using geoengineering to fight the effects of the climate crisis, while not addressing the causes.

A personal historic note, back in the day, from 1972-1974. I worked in an X-ray astronomy group. We had the 2nd X-ray observatory on a satellite in orbit. Prior to those satellites (which have been followed by many others), stratospheric balloons were used to carry X-ray detectors above the atmosphere - the atmosphere is opaque to X-rays, so you must do X-ray astronomy from above it. Satellites were deemed to be definitely the superior technology. So to see balloons championed in some of these stories seemed a little odd to me.

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