June 25th, 2008

breaking bad

Red Mars

I am still listening to Red Mars on audio. What an achievement it is. Coming back to it after fifteen years or so I am struck by how well written it is. Also how well it fits into the modern world, and how its themes have stayed with me personally. This may be what got me interested in Jungian personality theory, for instance, and I can see how much of my private writing has been influenced by KSR's way with imagery, in particular the imagery of stone. Coming back to it again I can see through the heavy detail of each scene to understand the overall structure of the book better. Key figure decides to become 'the first detective on Mars' at almost exactly the half way point, for instance, and solves the case at the start of the final act. I think when I read it in the early to mid nineties I thought all SF would be like this from now on, with fully developed characters, a good range of ethnicities, women (including older women) taking an active role alongside the male characters, just like in real life. I don't think the books I have read since have lived up to this expectation (with some beloved exceptions).

One peculiarity of this book, which I had forgotten, is that there don't seem to be any gay characters - which comes across as strange, given the wide range of character types. There is deliberate tension within the plot because everyone on the Mars Mission has been selected by the military-industrial-governmental system which they then come to resist once they get to Mars. It could therefore be argued that the state-run selection process has resulted in a biased sample. However, the issue as far as I can tell is never even discussed.

There is a pretty good overview of the characters of the Mars trilogy at wikipedia
and a wiki just about Kim Stanley Robinson's work here.
breaking bad


The Baader-Meinhof phenomenon is a sub-category of synchronicity:

The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon occurs when a person, after having learned some (usually obscure) fact, word, phrase, or other item for the first time, encounters that item again, perhaps several times, shortly after having learned it... unintentionally coined by readers of the St. Paul Pioneer Press ... a reader submitted a story about how he or she first heard about the Baader-Meinhof Gang and then heard about it again a short while later from a totally different source... There are several theories about the psychological explanation of the phenomenon, including a popular one that cites as its primary cause the recency effect, in which the human brain has a bias that lends increased prominence to new or recently acquired information.

I find that once you have heard about the phenomenon, it will occur as a meta-phenomenon. That is, having heard about the B-M effect, you will notice not only a run of synchronous occurrences constituting a B-M effect, but a run of BM-effects.

A BM-phenomenon happened to me recently after I watched In Bruges. Much of that action in that film centred on the tower of Bruges cathedral. I then listened on audio to the second half of Cloud Atlas, the penultimate part of which was set in Bruges, with much of the action taking place in the cathedral tower. Next I visited my mum, and noticed a framed picture she has owned since before I was born. That tower looked familiar. I looked closer at the artist's initials, next to them was written the tiny word Brugge; I assume that means 'Bruges' in Flemish. The picture was of the tower of Bruges cathedral.
breaking bad

What we read

Hope nobody minds me posting quite a few times today; work is busy but intermittent and I am reading/thinking as I go.

I just looked at my 'Books read' in June and there are hardly any. I've been mainly reading odd poems and bits and pieces, but I haven't sat and read many actual books, cover to cover. There's Red Mars on audio of course, which I started in May. fjm links to this excellent Alison Bechdel cartoon on 'Compulsory Reading'. It's quite long, covering a lot of different issues, like an essay on how we choose what books to read, at different stages in life.

I think my level of novel-reading is moderate at best, and I'm not sure I'll ever get round to War and Peace or modern must-reads like The Corrections or White Teeth or Libra... It's just a mountain. And I identify with Alison Bechdel there, when people say you ought to read something, sometimes it makes you feel excluded and resistant. Which is strange, in itself.

ETA brisingamen links to this annoying post by Megan McCardle about how to persuade women to read SF

Those of you who pitch science fiction to wives and girlfriends who do not enjoy it ... talk about it as a fairytale--only a fairy tale with science instead of magic.

Yes, we don't want to tax the ladies' minds too much do we, or their brains might overheat in all sorts of horrid ways.