Friday, May 28, 2010


Songmaster centers around a group of "singers" that sing songs that can greatly accentuate feelings. The hero is an empathetic young boy who becomes attached to the emperor of the universe. He is part of the palace intrigue that leads to the peaceful succession of leadership, and eventually to himself assuming the position of empire for a long time.

His character is quite similar to Ender and other Card "youth heroes". He always seems to know what people need at any point in time and is able to do it. (His only major self-inflicted problem is caused by showing compassion towards a bisexual man. This character gets built up, but then quickly dies. ) Eventually, he returns to the home of his youth in an attempt to return to attempt to regain the childhood that was "lost" in ruling the empire.

Music today is an extremely powerful device for altering emotions. It is not far fetched to see it be "amplified" by a group of wise gifted people. This makes for an intriguing premise. However, the novel has a number of lose threads that could be better developed. The fact that the "hero" was kidnapped from wealthy parents (and these parents are known) was not built up, but then dropped.

Hart's Hope

Hart's Hope is a fantasy novel about a vulgar incestuous kingdom where magic depends on blood. The themes fail similar to Card's Homecoming saga, though the content is somewhat original. However, it is also one of his most graphically disgusting novels.

Animal Farm

Animal Farm comes across as a scything critique of the communist revolution. Things start out with an old, wise pig predicting an overthrow of the cruel human opressors and the establishment of an animal utopia. Later, given a bit of human cruelty, the revolution is carried out. Two pigs end up being the primary influencers in utopian animal farm. Initially the animals are happy and the farm is more productive than it has ever been. Eventually, the "militant" pig chases away the intellectual pig. The ruling class of pigs gradually inflict greater repression on the other animals, while enriching themselves. Eventually they reduce the utopian animal rules to the immortal "all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." The ruling pigs eventually becoming nothing more than a more cruel class of humans.
Absolute equality may appear good at first. However, tendencies towards power and laziness will lead to to eventual problems. While the book seems to directly relate to Russian communism, the themes are also applicable to many civil rights and quests for equality.

The Perfect Storm

The Perfect Storm purportedly tells the story of a boat from Gloucester, Massachusetts that was lost at sea during a "perfect storm". However, it is both much more and much less than that. In the introduction, Sebastian Junger mentions that he was unsure how best to handle the story, and chose a "pure factual" route rather than a fictionalization. Instead of trying to make up details about what happened on the ill-fated ship, he instead sought out what happened to survivors in similar situations. Alas, this leaves the book with a jarring divide.

The first half of the book is primarily a background on the lives of the crew members of sword fishing in New England and the lives of the crew members of the ill-fated trip. It provides a detailed picture of the lives of the New England fisherman and even "follows" them out on an earlier trip on the boat.

Then the storm hits, and we really don't hear much more from the crew. We do get accounts of failing boats, refueling rescue choppers, coast guard crews, and rescue swimmers. This is almost a "short story" collection of exciting rescues during the same storm. After this the novel switches briefly back to the initial crew and the people lost at sea.

All of the sections work well on their own. The author comes close to tying everything together well, but doesn't quite make it. However, you can see how a little fictionalization would help turn it in to riveting moving.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Invasive Procedures

The bad guys save dying children, feed the homeless, and have a goal of curing the world. The good guys, on the other hand, commandeer cars, prevent kids from being healed, and let others die in a burning building. The moral ambiguity makes this a tough read. The author clearly wants you to side with the "good guys".

On the outset, the "bad guys" do have a convincing case. The case is only hurt by the auto-deification of the scientist leader. He wants to heal world with his genetic cures. However, to do this, he attempts to duplicate himself in others, as well as use mind-control techniques and coercion to control people.

The principle argument seems to be of speed versus thoroughness. Is it worthwhile to rush in cures before all the details are known? This may be the only way to save certain people. However, it could also hurt others. (In this books, personalized "cures" bring about near instant death of others.)

The book supports the view that slow, steady progress in medicine is best. However, does this just leave the bad guys to pursue really bad viruses on their own? Is limiting progress a good thing, especially when knowledge is out there on how to work otherwise.

Another key element in the book is "brain control". While the evil scientist can duplicate his DNA in others, he still needs to be able to duplicate his mind. He does this by implanting his "memories" in others' minds. This, however, has unforeseen consequences as the recipients end up combing their original memories with his implanted ones.

This book explores a lot of interesting subject matter. However, the characters and storytelling have a lot to be desired .

Tarzan the untamed

A group of German army-men ransack Tarzan's home while he is away. When he returns, he discovers he dead bodies of his mate and her bodyguards. With this, he discovers that he has no more need of civilization, and returns to his savage state to seek revenge. He finds the supposed killers of his mate and summarily executes them. He then decides to kill other German's and help out some of the Brits. He eventually decides to leave the war effort, but he ends up with a beautiful young female German spy.

Today the story is ridiculously politically incorrect. Black Africans are mere savages, less sophisticated (and more brutal) than the apes. Whites are superior, though Germans are demonized. (during the time this was published it would probably have been hard to portray them in a positive light.

The story seems rather artificial. The plot elements are mere excuses to connect the action sequences. The characters are all fairly shallow, after all it is the action that is important. The end has a couple big twists. However, I was already expecting these early on in the story. This seems a case of Burroughs running out of originality, and just giving the readers plenty of action.

Magic Street

What if everybody's deepest wishes came true? In this book, nothing much good. Every wish comes "true" but with side effects that make everyone miserable.

This book is set in a tony African American neighborhood in L.A. At the outset, a mysterious homeless man leads a professor to an odd experience that produces a mysterious baby. Eventually this baby is raised by a single nurse, with plenty of assistance from a teenage boy. As a kid, he has "cold dreams", which are actually other people's dreams - that often come true.

This is one of Card's better books. The characters are fresh and original - not rehashes of characters in his other novels. The parallel fairyland universe is also a great twist. Here is a place that is totally different from our universe, yet everything that happens there has some parallel result in the "real" universe. The general portrayal of fairies that date back to Shakespeare's time is also ingenious. These "fairies" have always been around, usually giving people exactly what they "want", but almost never what they really need.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Short History of Medecine

This is a rapid-fire, almost encyclopedic analysis of the key players and discoveries in the field of medicine. It goes around thematic areas, with coverage of the Greeks, Middle Ages, and even bits of Chinese and Native American medicine. Most time is spent on the modern medicine, with coverage of key players and inventions.

The approach is both positive and skeptical of the advancements in medicine. While acknowledging that medical advances have brought about improvements in quality of life, it also acknowledges that there is also a tendency to go too far in the use of medicine. There is also criticism of the 'de-personalization' of medicine today, with doctors using a corporate approach to the patient relationship. There is also a tendency of those profiting from different conditions to encourage more people to be 'diagnosed'.

History shows that the tendency to seek "medical" solutions goes back a long time. People expected doctors to help them, with minimal effort on their part. Even as solutions get more and more complicated, the placebo effect still plays a major role. Further advances often lead to the loss of previous techniques. (One example in the book was smelling of urine - previously doctors could quickly diagnose a problem with smell, while now it all goes to a lab, where it is only numbers that come back.) Do new advances really make things better, or simply make things more expensive? Is it really possible to eliminate "diseases"? Microbes will always evolve to get around our new defenses. Even if we eliminate most external problems, we may just see many additional currently ignored conditions as situations that need to be "cured". Regardless, it sounds like a full-employment act for the medical profession.

Monday, May 17, 2010


The human brain is a haphazard kluge that often does things that do not now appear to be in its best interest. The rational brain can be subverted through framing, short term appeals, or even momentary blips. This book provides evolutionary explanations for some of this behavior, along with plenty of examples of the kluges in action.

I found the book interesting at first, but the later chapters became more difficult to slog through. The book seemed to lose focus, and simply repeat the same generalities from a different view. The author's spurious attacks on creationism became tedious and distracting. (The typical attack: "the human mind is not perfect, therefore there could not have been a creator." Hmmm. does that I could not have possibly created some software because it has bugs? Well, looking at some code, maybe it did just randomly evolve.)

At the end, the book transforms itself in to a "self-help" book, summarizing the book by presenting 13 methods for "coping" with the brain kluges. (Well, at least the major ones. There isn't a section on popping pills to cope with psychosis.) The book would almost work better backwards. Read the coping methods, then scan the earlier part fro some of the good anecdotes, skipping over some of the 'kulgey' writing.

The Genesis Enigma: Why the Bible is Scientifically Accurate

The first few chapters of this book ramble a lot, nearly hiding his main point in tangential facts. It is unclear what audience he is targeting. He goes through the Genesis creation account, saying that it accurate predicts what an ancient Hebrew could have never known about the current science of the earth's creation. (Though some of this seems rather forced.) At the same time, it also bashes creationism, saying that biological evidence clearly makes "creationism" impossible. These chapters seem to be about using the tale of Genesis to advance some of the author's pet evolutionary theories. (This is a nice twist on the apologist quest to use any science as 'proof' of a biblical theory.)

The appendix, is primarily a rehash of Friedman's Who Wrote the Bible?, which seems to be out of place (and clearly out of the author's domain of expertise.)

The saving grace of the book is the last chapter. This chapter takes on the creation / evolution debate itself. Instead of declaring one or the other the "winner", it acknowledges that there are things that we can't explain scientifically (and others that we may just not know how to measure.) Religion still provides explanations for areas that science cannot yet explain. Meanwhile, scientific explanation fits in brilliantly with a figurative explanation of scripture. Instead of being opposed, science and religion are great complements.


When I started reading this, I thought I finally came across a Card novel that didn't recycle the same ideas. This was one of his first novels, so maybe he was still feeling around in original territory. The novel is set on a 'prison' planet, where leaders of an 'intellectual revolution' were exiled. Each member of the group has now (a few thousand years later) spawned a clan that shares some special "power". The planet has no easily accessible supplies of iron. However, every clan does have a device that allows them to send something of value back to the main "empire" in return for the precious metal. The goal of each group is to get enough metal to build a space ship to return to earth. (And on the side fashion enough weapons to defeat the enemies.)

The main character is a decedent of a geneticist. There society has developed the ability to rapidly heal themselves. This sometimes mutates to "radical regeneration" where extra body parts are produced. People with extra parts are treated as animals, with their extra parts harvested for sale to the "empire". The hero, while a male heir to the thrown, has started growing female body parts and finds himself exiled. In this exile he gets to know many of the others and eventually destroys a plot by one group to take over the planet, and in doing so, also destroys the devices that connect them to the empire.

This was all quite intriguing until the hero stumbles across a group of geologists and their "living rock". Hmmm... This seems a lot like the living rock in Stonefather or the Alvin Maker series. And it also started to stretch the "science" explanation to the extremes. Oh well.

Other "powers" were a little more in the science fiction vein. One group was able to alter the flow of time. Another group attempted to have a pure cash-free egalitarian society. (However, things were generally only "freely given" if something else was "freely given" in return.) Another group (the decedents of politicians) were able to make people believe anything - even allowing people to see a total stranger as their own son.

In his running, the hero is attacked, and eventually manages to spawn a duplicate of himself (that he attempts to kill). This duplicate however, ends up being used as a pawn of the politicians to ransack the planet. Luckily, the hero uses all the powers he has learned to destroy all the members of the political class, and finally, at the end, befriends his "spawn", and ends up living happily-ever-after with the girl of his dreams.

The first-person narrative keeps this novel moving more quickly than Card's other novels. The characters, while starting to show some of Card's "superman" behavior, are still different enough to keep them interesting. And, it is loaded with all sorts of interesting "sci-fi" that keeps the novel interesting.

Sarah: Women of Genesis

Take a few modern students of the ancient near east, pluck them down in the middle east of a few thousand years ago, and you will end up with the feel of Sarah. Though the characters seem to know what things are supposed to be like in the times of the early old testament, they still feel like 21st century characters. They also sound just like some of Card's other characters. (Abraham could easily substitute for Ender or Alvin Maker in Card's popular series, and nobody would bat an eyelash.)

The story begins with Sarah as a young girl and ends with Abraham and Isaac leaving her (likely for the 'sacrifice' of Isaac. In between, the author generally sticks to the scriptural account of Abraham's life, though he freely makes up additional facts to fit the narrative. (For example, Sarah in the this novel is the sister of Lot's wife.) He occasionally gives "scientific" explanations for biblical miracles, but still leaves a roll for God's intervention.

The fictional characterizations help bring alive some of the well known old testament stories. Lot's family is in particular well developed. This helps to enrich the vibrancy of hte destruction of Sodom and Gomorra. (While here, Lot's wife is "destroyed", rather than simply turning in to a pillar of salt, we can clearly see why she would have wanted to "look back".)

Overall, while the main characters are fairly shallow, the storytelling helps to bring ancient characters up to the modern age. It does not attempt to be wholly historically (or biblically) accurate, but does try to honestly give a modern spin to the life of Abraham's wife.

Friday, May 14, 2010

A Princess of Mars

The hero is off in Arizona digging for gold, when he runs from Apaches, and next thing you know it, he is surrounded by some Martians on the red planet. Luckily, with lower gravity, he can do some great jumping and impresses his captors. The martians are warsome buglike creatures. However, there is another slightly more civilized race of martians that they battle. One they capture just happens to look like human woman, and of course he falls in love.

The hero then has all sorts of adventures where he uses his strength, cunning, and "powers" to defeat plenty of enemies, unite warring groups, save the princess, and possible even save all life on the planet.

It's pure escapism, though it feels more in the vein of Gulliver's Travels than Tarzan. Mars is portrayed as an ecological basket case that is barely limping along due to intervention of some of the residents. The "science" part is based on the theories of its time, though it still seems fairly plausible today. It is however, still a mystery as to how he got to mars and how he returned. In the end it is about entertainment; unfortunately, I didn't find it as entertaining as some of Burroughs other work.


Wyrms is a fantasy "quest", set in a futuristic time and planet. The teenage girl, Patience is the legitimate ruler of the world, but is currently a slave to the actual ruler. The ruler uses her for her skills at assassinations, but once her father dies, she flees so she is not killed.

The planet is home to "superDNA" that adapts and consumes all living organisms. Thus, wheat, once bred on the planet, will soon become a new "super-wheat", with enhanced traits. The wheat genome is "wrapped" in the genome of the super species. The original beings want to do that to Humans also (the heroine is the 7th 7th 7th daughter, who is predicted to be the "mate" of the ""unwyrm".)

In the end, the heroine mates with the unwyrm, but manages to kill him in the process. Her quick-to-be-born offspring dies shortly thereafter. She thus saves the human race, and then engages in a peaceful coup to take over her rightly throne and lives happily ever after. (Though she still questions why it was good to preserve humans instead of the "superior" race that she may have mothered.)

Card wrote this between Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead, and it clearly shows. There are a lot of the same themes from those, as well as the Alvin Maker and the Homecoming saga. He is considered with different biological interactions of non-earthly beings as well as "non-verbal" calling and impulse control of others. It's almost as if he took some of his other books, mixed them a twisted version of a Tolkein universe, and popped out with Wyrms.

It also explores some moral ambiguities. Many people in the novel are "slaves", but the relationship with the master is more akin to modified employment. Technological innovation and killing are two traits that humans had brought to the planet. Destroying metal allowed the wyrms to reduce the strength of technology. However, murder is still a source of power.

At times the book slows to a crawl with long bouts of philosophy. Some of this could have been better tied in to the actual story.

One Second After

Newt Gingrich's introduction sets the tone for this book. Unfortunately, its not good. It gives away the source of the problem as an EMP devise that shuts down all electronics. It also lets us know that the book takes it way to seriously.

The characters come across as characatures of utopian rednecks. Everyone seems to be perpetually smoking (I guess they are in tobacco country). The hero always seems to do what is right (except for the obligatory times he goes ballistic in support of his family at the expense of others.) The doctor is perfectly detached and has perfect foresight in to the future calamities that will befall the community. And the college students, the hero's daughter, the woman mayor, the "Satan worshiping bad guys" - well, the characters are not very original.

My impulse after reading was to become a survivalist. How could I have everything needed for survival if a calamity did strike? Of course, the other point brought out by the book was that it didn't really matter. Even if you were prepared, many others would not be prepared, and they would likely seek out those that were. (It may take the Amish a few days to notice that there is no electricity - however, they will probably quickly have other show up at their door begging.)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Second Foundation

This third foundation book continues directly where Foundation and Empire left off.
The "second foundation" was discovered when they came out to stop the "Mule". This discovery, however, caused others to put down their guard. They figured they wouldn't have to work very hard, because if anything bad happened, the second foundation would save them. However, while they had theories as to the whereabouts of the second foundation, nobody was sure.

Some people, however, thought that the "mind control" abilities of the second foundation were an affront to personal freedom. They sought out to discover this second foundation to destroy it. The second foundation was playing right along with them. If people knew there were others still guiding them, they may continue to get lax. Thus, the second foundation encouraged a "discovery" and "destruction" of the "second foundation". This coupled with an easy war victory helped people that the first foundation was the ruling power, and that there was no second foundation that could step in and help steer history in the right direction. This allowed the second foundation to continue to exercise its full control, for people were now acting in their best interest.

From the "quotes" of fictional works in the books, it is obvious that the foundation plan had succeeded in the future. It would be interesting to see how the "philosopher kings" did manage to make it in to power. Was the "psychohistorian" really powerful enough to plan and predict the course of events for the next 1000 years? Or was it simply a guise to steer history in that direction. (If people are expecting the plan to be predicted, and a clandestine group steers it that way, there are bound to be more and more believers.)


This novella takes a little time to get started, but is not too bad (as far as fantasy goes.) A boy leaves his rural town to go to the city. He lives among "watermages" who discriminate against stonemages. However, it turns out that he has great stonemage talent. (This is somewhat hinted at earlier as he has a "stone face".)

A lot of the story is the story of a stereotypical naive country bumpkin goes to the city. It just happens to be set in a fantasy world.

He discovers his talent when he accidentally turns some stone in his house to "living stone", then in trying to repair a bridge, he accidentally does a too good a job. This gets him and the other stonemage in town in big trouble. However, he uses his power to drain away all the water (by letting it flow to holes between stones.) In the end, the water cools off volcanic rock underneath the city, and the the stone and water people go back to live happily ever afer.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus

Pastwatch is a science fiction vehicle for exploring counter-factual and speculative history. Card speculates that Noah's flood was caused by the bursting of a Red Sea "dam" and that had Columbus not sailed when he did, the Mezo-Americans would have conquered Europe and instituted human sacrifice.

Pastwatch is set in a future time where people have the ability to "look" back in the past. People can analyze historical weather patterns, key events and people. (No mention is made of "short term spying", which would seem to be most useful to society. If somebody commits a crime, simply look back and see who did it, and where they went. This would also open up a huge can of worms in the privacy realm.)

Eventually, they discover a way to actually send people and things back to the past. The problem is that once something is sent back to the past, it changes the future, thus making the "future" no longer possible. Thus a time period could make only one intervention in the past. Once that is made, it would be impossible to do anymore.

In this story, one "future" had made an intervention that caused Columbus to abandon a crusade to Constantinople, and instead devote himself to his voyages. (This was done to prevent the mezzo-Americans from conquering Europe.) The "future" of the novel, however, makes another intervention to attempt to create a peaceful coexistence between the new and old worlds. The "future" of the novel is at first reluctant to intervene. However, after the earth approaches ecological collapse they feel that is the best chance for humanity.

The "time travel" theory is quite plausible. However, the actual results are a tad too Utopian.

intergalactic medicine show

This collection of short stories comes from Orson Scott Card's online science fiction magazine. The magazine uses Card's name (and the promise of "Ender's Game" stories) to help bankroll a collection of stories, generally by new writers. (In the afterwords, many authors mention their participation in Card's "writer's bootcamp.)

The quality of the stories varies significantly. The first story seemed long and pointless. However, things did pick up after that. The audiobook includes five stories by Card. The last two (one of which is only in the audiobook) have been incorporated almost verbatim in Ender in Exile. Of the others, two deal with the early childhood of Ender's Battleschool mates. Both "Hot Soup" and "Bonzo" come from families with exesively doting fathers. From these stories, it is difficult to determine which one would turn out good, and which one would become a bully. Neither of the stories are that impressive.

The best of the Card Stores, "Mazer in Prison", is a story of the pains of nonconformist victory. Mazer was the hero of a space war, who defeated the enemy by disobeying military orders. He is sent on a relativist space flight to preserve him for the next big fight. He desperately wants to be replaced, but struggles to help the military to find the appropriate openminded leader. (And he also struggles with the 'loss' of this family due to the space/time differences.)

Of the others, a few that I really liked included:

"Hats Off" by David Lubar. This is by far the shortest story. It gets to its point and does it well.

"Call Me Mr. Positive" by Tom Barlow. Imagine being stuck in space alone on a long space voyage.

"Tabloid Report to the Star" by Eric James Stone. Space travel and "the King".

"To Know All Things That Are in the Earth" by James Maxey. The "rapture", kevlar-skinned angels and the marvelous divine in common biology.

"Audience" - Ty Franck. What if there was just one "Joe-six pack" that everyone was trying to appease?

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Foundation and Empire

The second Foundation book is more of a novel than the first. The story centers around The Mule, a "mutant" who is able to break the plans for the Foundation as predicted by "psycho-history". The futuristic predictions predict the actions of "mobs". However, it was not very accurate at predicting the actions of a single person. Enter the Mule. His mutant ability allows him to control the emotions of people, and thus to take over the whole empire himself.

In the first book, non-comformist actions by individual were merely "inevitable" actions needed to continue the group actions. In this book, the actions of the Mule are truly 'original', and thus can change the course of history.

It would be interesting to explore the importance of other historical characters. Which historical figures truly changed history, versus simply moved forward the plans already in process?

The first part of this book is a little confusing, but it eventually starts to become coherent. The final part seems an odd monologue by the Mule, seeming to only explain things. (The character of the Mule was, however, set up to provide these monologues - however, we don't actually see him do it until the end.)

Tuesday, May 04, 2010


Foundation is the story of the 1000 year period between the fall of a great world empire and the arise of the new "civilization". The setting is now obviously the 1950s, set way in the future. "Atomics" are the key to power source and control. Tobacco use is still common place and important. Scientists are able to "predict the future" using complex mathematical models. But in the end, it just seems a lot like the fall of Rome. The periphery "falls" first, but the Foundation maintains scientific progress by induing science with religion, making nuclear technician into priests. The original scientist that predicted aspects of their life is also portrayed as a deity.

The book reads like a collection of short stories. The different stories follow chronologically through different periods of the "advancement" of the foundation. The main characters always seem to do exactly what needs to be done at the exact right time. This is a similar savant believability problem that Card has used in his Ender books. Similarly, in the foundation books, it always seems to be a "young buck" going against society that does exactly what is needed to continue the inevitable path outlined by the predictions.

The Return of History and the End of Dreams

This is an obvious response to Fukuyama's The End of History. The brief peace the end of the cold war was just a blip as other fources were regrouping. Though the west sees a new world order based on common values, other countries still are seeking "old fashioned" nation building. Autocracies such as China and Russia are seeming a return to their prior heights. They don't share the same values or views on human rights.
(Russia considers itself a "democracy" - it attempts to implement the will of the people, it just does that in an autocratic way.)

Radical Islam is seen as a nonplayer in the global game. It lacks a unity and is looking backwards rather than forwards. The liberation of women is seen as one of the enevitable forces that will eventually lead Islam to join the western liberal democratic fold. (Alas, he fails to observe that as long as this liberation does not take place, these countries will likely still have a high birth rate, thus giving them a significant population advantage.)

America (and Europe) see their views as the best for the world. However, these values are really only those that are best for themselves at the present. While the US may see a
human rights violation, china may just see a sovereign nation exerting it's rights. China, Russia, India and japan also seek to expand their spheres of influence. However, autocracies such as China and Russia have a disadvantage running an autocracy in a time when democracy is increasingly important. This disadvantage does not mean that acceptance of liberal ideals is inevitable. The liberal democracies must continue to fight both the external "battle", as well as internal cleansing of the problems.

One problem that is only skirted in this book is the problem of scale. Liberal democracies thrive in the empowerment of individuals. However, as nations become large, the empowerment and freedom becomes limited. Differing values can also make one man's freedom another's limitation.

Monday, May 03, 2010

From Here To Infinity: An Exploration of Science Fiction Literature

From Here To Infinity: An Exploration of Science Fiction Literature is a course on science fiction as literature. Drout devotes an entire lecture to Heinlein, while relegating Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Douglas Adams and others to a penultimate chapter on "satarists". He doesn't like the term "speculative fiction", and prefers S.F. or "science fiction". The lectures summarize a number of key books in the genre and serves as a good jumping off point for further exploration in science fiction.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

History of the English Language

History of the English Language is a very accessible, brief introduction to the language history. The lectures assume no knowledge of linguistics. The first part covers basic linguistics and language history, while the second half covers English specifically. Drout feels that the Danish influence on English has not been given proper appreciation, while the Norman Conquest has perhaps been given a little too much credit.

Dune Messiah

The second book in the Dune series is much shorter than the first. It also has a much more coherent story. It continues a dozen or so years after the first, with Paul having firmly established his "empire". He has also established himself as a quasi-deity.
While the first book covered Paul "going native" and working hard to overthrow the "evil overlords", this book deals more with his struggles as a "reluctant" ruler. He desires to "get out" of his high position. However, others are plotting against him, so he seeks a way to exit without handing the position to his enemies.
A key message is that empire building may be the easy part. Holding on to the empire and keeping it running is the more difficult part. (And with it the similar theme that good conquerors tend to make bad bureaucrats.)
The last part of the book primarily involves Paul "acting out" his vision of events. This was carried out fairly well. Paul was shown to be strong enough to continue on the path that he knew would get his desired outcome - even though he also knew he would suffer in the process.
The Dune audiobooks are very polished productions with multiple "readers" covering different characters. The voicing for Paul makes him come across as a conceited jerk. (His words seem to back up this feel, so it is probably not too much of a stretch.)