Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Martian Via StarTalk


Neil DeGrasse Tyson looks pretty amazing despite the passage of several decades in this fake episode of StarTalk, a very clever piece of marketing for Ridley Scott's adaptation of Andy Weir's The Martian. I'm really looking forward to this. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

How Does a Phalanx Destroy a Battleship?

On the far side of the world
In lush lands untamed by modern empires
My lookout spots a mighty phalanx
Armed with shield and spear
My officers and I gather on deck
To marvel at this vision of times past
We laugh as the barbarians hurl spears from the beach
Most fall short, crashing into the seas
But one, carried by an ill wind,
Plugs an exhaust port
And kaboom

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Dick's Final Revelation

Over the course of the last month I've read 13 novels by Philip K. Dick. It's been a revelation, and I choose that word carefully; Dick's later work is chiefly concerned with divine revelation, and nowhere does that theme resonate more poignantly than in his last novel, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer.

Written from the perspective of the title character's daughter-in-law, Angel Archer, and set against the backdrop of the assassination of John Lennon, Dick explores the nature of religion (and, ultimately, the universe) via the later life of one Timothy Archer, Bishop of California, a man struggling with the implications of an archaeological find that threatens his faith. Angel inadvertently contributes to Archer's eventual fall from grace by introducing him to her friend Kirsten; she and the bishop have an affair, and to make matters worse her own husband, Timothy's son, falls in love with Kirsten and eventually commits suicide, torn between his infatuation and his father.

In Angel, Dick has created a rich, sympathetic protagonist; she's smart, compassionate, quick witted and skeptical, and she bears the burden of her losses with great strength. Angel presents her self as non-Christian (or non-whatever, given the context of the religious discussion), and her doubt is essential to understanding Timothy's path. The bishop has doubts of his own, but true to his convictions (and faults), he searches for revelation and dies, appropriately, in the desert that gave birth to the Abrahamic religions.

As in Dick's other best works, the author displays a keen sense of empathy and compassion for all of his characters; there are no villains here, just flawed individuals, each following his or her own truth to its logical conclusion.

While I myself am an atheist, I'm very glad to have read this moving and insightful novel about faith and the search for meaning. It seems clear to me that Dick was a very deep thinker with serious questions about the nature of reality, and in his later works (for example, VALIS and The Divine Invasion before Archer), he's clearly trying to come to grips with his own beliefs. I wonder what he wound up believing in the end, and I hope he found the answers he was clearly looking for. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Night of the Dark Knight

On Friday night something stirred me to semi-wakefulness. I giggled with glee and repeated the phrase "I'm Batman!" over and over in my best Christian Bale impersonation. I don't remember if I was dreaming or not, but I was certainly amusing myself; I couldn't stop laughing.

Sylvia doesn't remember this, but she protested "I'm sleeping!" while I was babbling.

I'm not Batman. 

Saturday, August 22, 2015

My Go-To Book Buying List

There's a short list of authors who consistently deliver the type of reading experience I enjoy most. That list evolves over time, with authors dropping off and joining the list.

I'll buy any and all new releases from the following authors:

Catherine Asaro
Greg Bear
David Brin
Lois McMaster Bujold
Tom Dorsey
Joe Haldeman
Theodore Judson
Stephen King
George R.R. Martin
Jack McDevitt
John Scalzi
Allen Steele
Jo Walton
Andy Weir
Connie Willis
Robert Charles Wilson

Of course each of these writers delivers hits and misses relative to their own talent, but by and large I can pick up a book by any of these men and women confident I'll have a good experience.