What We Have Read 5

From our reading journal:

Legacy (Sharing Knife 2)
Lois McMaster Bujold

Lakewalkers keep separate from other peoples, keep few possessions and live in camps near the lakes, traveling among farmers on occasion in pursuit of Malices, powerful malevolent beings that is their mission to keep from destroying mankind. Lakewalkers are forbidden to marry outside their group, so when Dag brings young Fawn Bluefield to the Hickory Lake Camp, it is a difficult homecoming. Fawn lacks the low-level magic sensing ability of all Lakewalkers, and must learn how to fit in this society so different from farmers. Her presence is especially resented by Dag’s brother Dar and mother Cumbria, who plot to anul the marital binding. Fawn’s character is especially well rendered here, showing a firm and respectful resolve in the face of widespread resentment. Meanwhile, a strangely powerful form of Malice appears, and Dag’s fighting skill and Fawn’s unorthodox way of approaching problems will both be challenged to the utmost.

The Mobius Strip
Clifford Pickover

Explores the Mobius strip in mathematics, technology, arts, and literature, along with related subjects suck as the Klien bottle and trefoil knot, stepping off into discussions in topology, number theory, and chemistry, but also spending time in unexpected realms, such as plot twists in literature, or puzzles and Legos. Stimulating and often light-hearted, presenting such wealth of material that many ideas must be presented briefly, but with pointers to further information on the web.

The Outback Stars
Sandra McDonald

Lt Jodenny Scott gets assigned to the troubled Aral Sea after the destruction of her last ship Yangtze. Heading Underway Stores, she encounters incompetence and conspiracies at every turn in her efforts to reform her department. She must also deal with a forbidden attraction to Sergeant Myell, as they jointly encounter a mystery with the alien artifact space warp used by Space Team to travel between stars, curiously tied to aborigine Australian mythology back on old Earth.

Resembles some of Elizabeth Moon’s Serrano novels in focusing on minutiae of command. The plot only works if an advanced space-faring military ship has negligible internal surveillance, which this reader finds unlikely.

Richard K Morgan

Carl Marsalis is a 13, a genetic construct reviving the alpha-male ruthless loner super-warriors gradually bred out of civilization by the graybeards. Humanity is terrified of 13s and have exiled them to Mars or the tracts, but Carl makes a living as a consultant to UN security, tracking down other 13s.

Another 13 has escaped from Mars, and Carl must team up with ex-cop Sevgi Ertekin and partner Norton to track him down and undercover the conspiracy responsible for a trail of murder.

Worthy cyber-noir thriller.

Three Bags Full
Leonie Swann

George used to read to his flock, from books of mystery, poetry, and sometimes diseases of sheep. Now George is dead, murdered, and the sheep, lead by clever Miss Maple, are determined to crack the mystery and find the killer. Each sheep has special abilities– Mopple has good memory, Maude a good sense of smell, Lane is fastest. Together they strive to understand humans in the nearby village of Glennkill, and discover the tangled relationships that caused the passing of their shepherd.

Highly original.

I am a Strange Loop
Douglas Hofstadter

The writer explores his concept of “strange loops”, explained briefly as feedback with shifting levels of abstraction that can cause emergent behavior, and presents several examples. The author of “Gödel, Escher, and Bach” characteristically uses pun-filled analogies and thought experiments to take us through the complexity. A key paradigm used throughout the text is a camera connected to a video screen which points at the video screen. Even without level-shifting, unexpected behavior emerges. Imagine the visual systems of mobile robots recently developed that can navigate a desert, and such systems must perceive and categorize objects such as “road”, “rock” and “other robot”.

Gödel ‘s theorem is presented as a strange loop. Bertrand Russell carefully presented a formal mathematical system that could not refer to itself, attempting to avoid paradoxes found in set theory with sets that contain themselves. Gödel showed that the system could still refer to itself, and proved that the system was incomplete, in effect an unexpected emergent behavior.

What is consciousness? What causes the sensation and feeling of “I-ness” that I experience? H posits that consciousness is a strange loop, that I-ness is in effect a shared illusion, and gives the example of value of paper money as an illusion we all share by mutual agreement. While I am not a dualist, positing a non-physical-law explanation for consciousness, I am intrigued by the not entirely convinced that strange loops are sufficient explanation. I want humans to build machines that learn with sufficient complexity in categorization and perception, and see if these machines report a similar sensation of I-ness.

Although not the lyrical celebration of thought of his earlier work, this is an important and challenging text that should be experienced by any consciousness that enjoyed GEB.

Mars Needs Moms
Berke Breathed

Martians are abducting Moms, in this delightful children’s picture book. Breathed deftly combines humor and a heart-warming ending.

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