November 26, 2005
Road to Perdition by Max Allan Collins
Road to Perdition is a hard-boiled adaptation of the famous and influential manga series Lone Wolf and Cub (Kozure Okami) to the Depression era mobster history of the Midwest. Set in Rock Island, Illinois in 1929, it tells the story of Michael O'Sullivan, the chief hitman for John Looney, the town's Irish Godfather of crime. A particular transaction goes awry due to Connor Looney, the hotheaded son of John Looney, Michael O'Sullivan has to join him in killing several rival gangsters. When Connor sees that Michael's teenage son has witnessed the crime, it spells tragedy for the O'Sullivan family. Soon the "Angel of Death", O'Sullivan has to travel down the hellish road of revenge with his son.
The other influence mentioned in the introduction by Max Allan Collins are the Hong-Kong movies of John Woo, and the balletic scenes of gunplay drawn beautifully in black and white by Richard Piers Rayner show this cinematic influence.
Max Allan Collins is the author of several true-crime novels where historical facts are presented in a fictional setting. He also uses famous historical figures in this comic to great effect. Characters like Al Capone, Frank Nitti and Eliot Ness play important roles in the storyline. John Looney also did exist in Illinois in the late 1920s, as did a betrayed lietenant of John Looney. Many of the events portrayed in this comic actually did happen.
The art is spectacular and you can't go wrong with a story of a father and his son on the road to Hell.
%T Road to Perdition %A Max Allan Collins %A Richard Piers Rayner %I Paradox Press %D 1998 %G ISBN: 1563894491 (pb) %P 303 %K graphic-novel
Review written: 2002/07/02
November 22, 2005
The Mystery of the Aleph: Mathematics, the Kabbalah, and the Search for Infinity by Amir D. Aczel
This book is a short popular introduction to the theory of sets, the notion of an infinite set of countable numbers, and the existence of infinities greater than the infinity of the countable numbers. In addition, it also serves as a concise history of the life of Georg Cantor and his work on the continuum hypothesis, a statement that was later shown to be undecidable by Kurt Gödel.
The book also draws some parallels between ancient conceptions of infinity by the Greek mathematicians (particular the discovery of irrational numbers by the Pythagoreans) and modern ideas of mathematics. Where the comparisons become a bit frayed and sensationalistic are in comparisons of the Reimann Sphere which maps each point on a hemisphere to points on a plane with the concentric spheres that are frequently drawn in Kabbalistic texts and also the spheres of Dante in the Divine Comedy.
It seemed to me that the direct comparisons of Cantor's mental illess, and also Gödel's paranoid delusions with the madness of the Rabbis that contemplated the infinite nature of God using Kabbalistic methods are suggestive melodrama on Aczel's part, creating parallels where little evidence exists to show that such parallels should even be made. Such ideas belong to the realm of science-fiction: a similar idea was used in the movie "π" where a mathematician tries to find a single equation that describes all natural phenomena and goes mad in the process. π also picks up on the Kabbalistic idea of going mad by contemplating the word of God. ``Is it a coincidence that priests turned cryptographers and mathematicians both go mad?'', both π and Aczel seem to be indicating a deeper connection, where a superficial one will suffice.
Some mathematical ideas are expressed eloquently, while others are casually addressed, without enough information to make them sensible to an audience that is not already familiar with the ideas. In the central aspects of explaning the ideas on countable numbers, Aczel does an excellent job, while in peripheral ideas such as explaining the Reimann sphere he does displays a less then exemplary effort.
On the whole, for a layman's description of the nature of infinite sets in mathematics you can hardly find a better introduction than this book.
%T The Mystery of the Aleph %T :Mathematics, the Kabbalah, and the Search for Infinity %A Amir D. Aczel %I Pocket Books %D 2000 :trade paperback edition 2001 %G ISBN: 0743422996 (pb) %P 258 %K mathematics, religion
Review written: 2002/06/18
The Chronoliths by Robert Charles Wilson
Nothing is coincidental. I know that now.
Scott Warden is an expatriate slacker living with his family in Thailand. He has been taking a vacation from his life back in America, and also oblivious to his obligations as a parent. Everything about his life and the world changes when he is a witness to an amazing event: the violent appearance of 200-foot obelisk that is ultimately found to be made from an exotic form of matter and which carries an inscription that is in a pidgin Chinese-English commemorating a military victory by `Kuin` twenty years in the future. This event starts Scott Warden's lifetime obsession with the missives of Kuin mysteriously sent back to the past.
A few years later, a larger pillar arrives, without warning, in the center of Bangkok, destroying the city and killing thousands. Over the next few years, human society in Asia is transformed completely due to the continual arrivals of these monuments. In the meantime, Scott Warden has lost his family -- and he starts his lifetime struggle to remain relevant to his ex-wife and daughter.
But as he makes a livelihood he is obsessed with questions about the chronoliths. Is Kuin a new Alexander the Great or a new Genghis Khan sending a signal of his future victories back into time, or is he creating his own legend by sending back messages which are designed to transform human society so that it can be easily subjugated. Which of the many temporal paradoxes is Kuin exploiting in his plan? Can he be stopped? Can Kuin be stopped without knowing a priori who he is?
The Chronoliths is a story with central strong scientific idea, one that is implausible but nonetheless impacts on human society and our concepts of free will and determinism. Like his previous novel "Bios", The Chronoliths also has strong characters, each of them completely fleshed out by the end of the novel. The writing is also smooth and economical. All the revelations are rolled into the premise, so don't go into this novel expecting a big neat explication of time travel paradoxes at the end. There are some answers that are implicitly given by the end of the novel, but the casual reader might just miss them as they go by.
While entertaining, the novel does expect you to meet it half-way. While the novel uses several routine time-travel ideas (such as the many-worlds theory and time loops) it introduces some new ones, including the idea of feedback loops in time and Minkowski ice. The Chronoliths is a welcome addition to the crowded time-travel sf sub-genre.
%T The Chronoliths %A Robert Charles Wilson %I Tor Books %D 2001 :mass market edition 2002 %G ISBN: 0812545249 (pb) %P 315 %K science-fiction
Review written: 2002/06/18
Ventus by Karl Schroeder
Ventus is being terraformed continuously by a whole ecosystem of nanotech AIs called Winds. The Winds were supposed to create a Earth-like paradise out of an otherwise hostile planet for future human colonists. However, something went wrong in the years between the start of the terraforming process and the arrival of the colonists. The Winds are not hostile to the humans but neither are they subservient to them. The humans are treated like any other part of the constructed ecology of the planet. Any attempt by the humans to substantially mould their environment is brutally struck down by the Winds. The colonists have survived on Ventus, living within a feudal culture.
Jordan Mason is somewhere near the bottom of the feudal structure. He has just started working, taking his father's place, as a stone worker for the local Salt Inspector. His life seems set towards one of idyllic village life and oppressive bondage to his masters. Except he seems to be having visions of events that happen far away. Events that are verified to be true. Before he can explore his powers, he is abducted by a local member of the aristocracy, Calandria May, who seems to be hunting for something with her friend, Alex Chan. Both of them seem to be visitors from off-world, from a unknown culture alien to Ventus.
Calandria's quest is to find a certain General Armiger and to kill him. Just when Calandria and Alex meet up with Jordan, Armiger is killed in a skirmish with the Winds. However, even in death, Armiger is more powerful and unpredictable that Calandria fears him to be.
A first glance reveals few original sf ideas in this novel. Many of the basic ideas have been seen before in earlier sf, but there is still a lot of originality that clearly shines through. The combination of nano-technology and artificial intelligence towards the startling application of terraforming an alien planet might have been imagined before, but never like this.
The sensibility of the novel has drawn several favorable comparisons from other reviewers with the recent novels of Vernor Vinge. Like Vinge's work, the big scientific ideas provide the internal structure for an adventure story. It is a safe bet that if you liked "A Deepness in the Sky", that you will find this novel appealing as well.
The novel is long, but the length is just about adequate for the adventure to proceed at a natural pace. It also provides space for nine major characters to be completely fleshed out in a way that is rare in this genre. It is also an example of the young-adult sf tale done with the right sensibility.
An ancient sage held that in earlier ages, humans held the senses in different ratios, according to the media by which they communicated and expressed themselves. Hence, before writing, the ear was the royal sense. After writing, the eye.
We say that similar ratios pertain between emotions. Each civilization has its royal affect and its ignored or forgotten feelings. Or rather -- there are no distinct emotions. ...
The task of a queen is to rule her people truly. The task of the Queen of Queens is to rule truth itself. We know that the highest act of creation is to create new emotions, superior to those that, unguided, have fallen to us from Nature. And this We shall do.
As We have won new fields and towns from Nature, We shall win new feelings, superior to love and loyalty, from the field of the human heart.
%T Ventus %A Karl Schroeder %I Tor Books %D 2000 :mass market edition 2001 %G ISBN: 0812576357 (pb) %P 662 %K science-fiction
Review written: 2002/12/20
November 15, 2005
The Telling by Ursula K. Le Guin
Ursula Le Guin has always explored Daoist ideas in her fantasy and science-fiction novels. In this novel, in a fictional setting she makes an attempt to realize in fiction the reality of how traditional philosophy such as Daoism became almost immediately irrelevant to the country that gave rise to these ideas and how popular thought was transformed in the space of a few years during the Cultural Revolution. Of course, there is no mention of China or the Cultural Revolution in this story, but the relevant ideas are sharply drawn in the kind of stylized anthropological science-fiction that Le Guin is famous for writing.
Sutty, the protagonist, grows up in New Vancouver (in the mountains to the north of contemporary Vancouver, which is is submerged under the Pacific ocean, presumably in the far future). She is raised in a community of Indo-Canadians and she deeply wishes to escape the overpowering reach, in her community, of religious fundamentalists into everyday life. Her independence and her sexuality drive her to seek another world to explore. She is selected to visit Aka, a recently discovered alien world, as an observer. She looks forward to exploring a strange alien culture and language, immersing herself in new skills on her trip to Aka.
However, when she actually arrives at Aka, the length of her (slower than light) journey has caused her knowledge to become obsolete. The entire planet is in the grip of a strange mixture of a centralized economy and capitalist ideals, controlled by a meritocracy/politburo, whose citizens are labeled "producer-consumers". All languages except Hainish (a language spoken outside the planet) are banned. Aka tries for several years to make contact with some Akans who live in the traditional ways, but faces several bureaucratic hurdles, until one day she is granted permission to visit a small village far away from the main cities. Here, Sutty tries to discover the culture that has all but vanished from the planet.
The plot is manipulative, and the new culture of Aka with its religion of impersonal producer-consumers is somewhat of a straw-man. Some ambiguities are presented, such as the various drawbacks of the old Akan religion vs. the new one. But it is clear from the start where Le Guin's sympathies lie. The strength of the novel is in the gradual revelation of the Telling, which in the end seems more sensible than profound. Fans of Le Guin should not miss this one, and for those who aren't, The Telling is not a bad place to start becoming one.
%T The Telling %A Ursula K. Le Guin %I Ace Books: New York %D 2000 %G ISBN: 0441008631 (pb) %P 246 %K science-fiction
Review written: 2002/06/18
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
Joe Kavalier, Sam Clay and the Escapist. In this novel, the first two are real characters and the third one is their invention: a comic-book character.
Joe Kavalier is an escape artist in training in Prague. It's 1939 and the Nazis are slowly tightening their grip on the city. When his family arranges for his departure for New York, Joe Kavalier leaves his parents and his younger brother behind, promising to arrange for their departure when he reaches America.
Sam Clay, growing up in Brooklyn, has to share his bedroom with his new refugee cousin, Joe Kavalier. Luckily, he idolizes escape artists (`Houdini was a hero to little men, city boys, and Jews. Samuel Louis Klayman was all three'). Sam Clay dreams of writing and drawing comic books, but cannot draw. Joe Kavalier apart from his talents with picking locks was also an artist in training in Prague. Sam enlists his artistic skills and together with him dreams up a get-rich-quick scheme that involves copying the new fad: comic books. Since `Superman' is making lots of money, they get hired to copy its success. They come up with the Escapist, the American hero who fights Hitler and other miscellaneous evil in Europe and the New World.
There are missteps, but only a few: the deranged German-American Nazi and the off-camera sinking of a ship by a U-boat were both cheaply manipulative. At a few places in the novel when the focus is on the personal, the book falters for a moment. And just like in "Wonder Boys", Chabon has trouble sympathizing or paying attention to the secondary characters in the novel. But the setting of post-war Jewish neighbourhoods in New York City and the personal history of the comic book industry more than makes up for those moments.
%T The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay %A Michael Chabon %I Picador USA: New York %D 2000 %G ISBN: 0312282990 (pb) %P 639 %K fiction, comic-books
Review written: 2002/06/05
To Your Scattered Bodies Go by Philip José Farmer
This Hugo award winning classic by Philip José Farmer is a fantasy about an ultimate Resurrection. It's also the first in what came to be known as the Riverworld series. The premise is quite stunning: all the dead humans that ever lived have been resurrected under quite strange circumstances along the banks of a river that seems to run through the entire world.
Since all the humans who ever lived in history have been resurrected all together, Farmer can pick and choose from history who he wants to be the protagonist. Farmer chooses Richard Francis Burton, the translator of the Arabian Nights, and noted English (Victorian-era) explorer of the East. He is a natural hero for such a story, and his biographical details are used quite skillfully in the service of the storyline (although a sobering reminder of reality appears at the end of this review). Farmer's eye for picking up historical figures is quite quixotic and idiosyncratic as he has Richard Burton team up with Alice Hargreaves (the real-life Alice in Wonderland), an early specimen of a modern human from prehistory, and an alien from our future who is in this Resurrection because he dies during his visit to Earth.
Richard Burton seems to be uniquely poised to discover the secrets of this Riverworld into which he has been resurrected and its peculiar but stricly defined rules (everyone has been resurrected at the prime of their youth, unless they died when they were younger; people who are killed in Riverworld are also resurrected but are spawned at arbitrary locations; and other such strange laws).
While entertaining I did not care for the treatment and the short shrift given to the character of Alice Hargreaves, and the unlikely redemption of Hermann Göring later in the novel was jarring. But, despite some missteps, Richard Burton is a rousing hero and the plot is a classic adventure tale that does not disappoint.
Update, Nov 7, 2005: Science-fiction or other authors who romanticize a Victorian-era explorer like Richard Burton in their books should be reminded of exactly what these dashing `explorers' were really doing. Warning: this is likely to be offensive to many readers, and rightly so. (from Grumpy Old Bookman):
It was Hankey's [Frederick Hankey] oft-expressed ambition to own books which were bound with human skin. ... And when the explorer Sir Richard Burton passed through Paris Hankey asked him to try to obtain the skin of a Negress (preferably torn off a live one). Burton promised to try to get him one, but failed. Burton wrote to Richard Monkton Milnes from Dahomey with the sad news: 'I have been here three days and am grievously disappointed. Not a man killed, nor a fellow tortured. The canoe floating in blood is a myth of myths. Poor Hankey must still wait for his peau de femme.'
%T To Your Scattered Bodies Go %A Philip José Farmer %I Berkeley Medallion %D 1971 %G ISBN: 0425043142 (pb) %P 222 %K science-fiction
Review written: 2002/06/05
November 14, 2005
Korean History Group Blog
The weblog’s name 우물 안 개구리 is originally from a Chinese proverb that comes from the writings of Zhuangzi, one of the founders of what we now call Daoism (In the Burton Watson translation of his Basic Writings the story behind this proverb can be found in Section 17 “Autumn Floods” on pages 107-8). A frog tries to convince a turtle to join him in his wonderful well, of which he is a master. After trying to get in and getting stuck, the turtle withdraws and tells the frog instead of how deep and wide the sea is. The frog is left dumfounded. The proverb, which grew out of this Daoist fable, has come to represent a state of limited vision and even ignorance — of not being able to see outside one’s own immediate environment.
November 11, 2005
Mapping the Deep: the Extraordinary Story of Ocean Science by Robert Kunzig
A readable introduction to ocean science, including oceanography, ocean cartography, marine biology and the effect of oceans on the environment.
What follows is a brief summary of the book by chapter:
Kunzig starts off in `Space and the Ocean' with the somewhat contentious issues surrounding exactly how Earth got its water in its formative years.
The chapters `Sounding the Depths', `The Rift in the Atlantic', `A Map of the World' and `The Seafloor at Birth' examine the history and current practice of mapping the depths of the ocean. The technical challenge of constructing a map was considerable since light does not penetrate very far into the ocean. Also interesting are the various geographical details that have been uncovered over the years. Under the seemingly flat ocean are deep-sea volcanoes, ridges, abyssal trenches and other features which in many cases dwarf their equivalents on land.
`Kingdom of the Holothurians', `Islands in the Deep', `Life on a Volcano', `Fantastic, Glistening Jellies', and `Animal Lights' covers the variety of life hidden under the ocean. Entire species were found when scientists first went looking for life under the ocean. Life which also provides a window into the evolutionary past, as well as into life that is quite unlike life anywhere else on Earth. Particularly striking are the organisms that can live off the hydrogen sulphide produced by volcanic activity with a process called chemosynthesis, just like other life on Earth uses energy from carbon dioxide with photosynthesis. They are the most alien lifeforms currently known.
`Greening the Ocean', `Twilight of the Cod' and `Where the Water Goes' provide a crucial insight into the effect humans have had on marine biology. Overfishing and the destruction of various fishing industries are given a detailed analysis here. As usual, nobody listens to the scientists and perhaps its just as well since sometimes the answers to scientific questions are not entirely clear. On the other hand, leaving the decisions in the hands of politicians seems to be definitely a bad idea and any other alternative even slightly thoughtful would be preferable.
Global warming wonks will appreciate `The Climate Switch' which is dedicated to the surprising effects on the global weather with simple weather control experiments in the ocean. A simple addition of iron into the ocean turns out to have a massive impact on the amount of plankton which in turn causes a measurable drop in carbon dioxide levels and fish populations. However, despite these seemingly easy solutions to the problems caused by carbon dioxide pollution, the risks are high. Nobody really knows what would happen, and science-fiction is full of cautionary tales about the hubris of weather control.
Robert Kunzig has several complaints about the lack of funding for ocean science and exploration as compared to the funding (not particularly extensive either) for astronomy and space exploration. It isn't surprising that this happens. Space is a much larger frontier and is mostly easily visible while remaining inaccessible at the wrong end of a gravity well, in constrast ocean science requires a greater imagination while remaining tantalizingly close at hand. This book provides a jump-start.
Perhaps someday we will be doing ocean science on a planet other than our own. When we get to Europa, as suggested in the final chapter of this book `Time and the Ocean', we don't want to wish then that we had done our homework now.
%T Mapping the Deep %T :the Extraordinary Story of Ocean Science %A Robert Kunzig %I W. W. Norton: New York, London %D 2000, 1999 %G ISBN: 0393320634 (pb) %P 345 %Z originally published under the title The Restless Sea: Exploring the World Beneath the Waves %K science, oceanography
Review written: 2002/05/17
Schild's Ladder by Greg Egan
In the beginning was a graph, more like diamond than graphite. Every node in this graph was tetravalent: connected by four edges to four other nodes. By a count of edges, the shortest path from any node back to itself was a loop six edges long. Every node belonged to twenty-four such loops, as well as forty-eight loops eight edges long, and four hundred and eighty that were ten edges long. The edges had no length or shape, the nodes no position; the graph consisted only of the fact that some nodes were connected to others. This pattern of connections, repeated endlessly, was all there was.
An ambitious beginning for a modern sense-of-wonder fable. However, rather than a dense collection of disparate ideas that is the usual staple of hard-sf, here Greg Egan concentrates on the nub of an idea, one that he has explored in previous stories like "Luminous" and even in a previous novel: "Diaspora". The existence of alternate realities that are, by his construction, far more interesting than our own.
The plot begins more than twenty thousand years in our future. Humans are cleaved in now familiar post-human terms as acorporeal virtual entities, or residing in artificial bodies (an example in this novel is a insect-like body less than a millimeter in diameter) or even those who reside in traditional flesh bodies. Even those who are flesh and blood have quantum mechanical devices called Qusps that augment their brains, backing up their consciousness to remote sites every few minutes, allowing for travel at relativistic speeds by transmission and then subsequent growth of a new body at the destination. Egan also provides a very monogamist view of sex between partners, where distinctions of male and female are dissolved (even though Egan uses gendered personal pronouns, perhaps tired of his genderless pronouns from "Permutation City").
For twenty thousand years, the grand unified theory underlying physics has been the Sarumpaet Rules that use quantum graph theory (QGT is an extrapolation by Egan based on a contemporary quantum physical theory called spin networks. He provides references as an epilog). Cass is a physicist who wants the final confirmation of the theory by creating a perfect vacuum, the conditions under which the original Big Bang occurred. While Egan's stories exists within a rigorous scientific view of the universe, he is also aware of the fallibility of scientific theories. A good theory is one that can be falsified, as Cass finds out with the Sarumpaet Rules. The vacuum that is created at Mimosa Station is not one that quickly dissipates as predicted. The result of the experiment quickly provides proof that the Sarumpaet Rules were not only wrong, they did not even consider a whole universe of possibilities. The novo vacuum produces a new universe expanding at half the speed of light from Mimosa Station, eating our universe while it expands.
Six hundred years later, a new science station skirts the edge of the new universe, while scientists try to understand the new physics that would explain both our universe and the strange new one. In its expansion, the novo vacuum has already consumed several (post)human colonies, albeit without loss of life since the inhabitants have simply faxed themselves somewhere safe. Tchicaya has arrived on the station as a Yielder, expecting that the new universe will contain the seed towards the understanding of our own universe, as well as perhaps a more vibrant universe to exist in. His childhood friend, Mariama, is on the side of the Preservationists, who believe that the human colonies, including Earth, must be saved from their encroaching fate by destroying the novo vacuum.
Apart from the construction of the novo vacuum in terms of a physics that is evolutionarily inspired, Egan populates the book with several truly novel ideas (unlike the usual inbred set of ideas in most of sf): including a solution to the social problems with travel at the speed of light called Slowdown, which makes the majority adapt to the problems of the minority (who travel at light speed).
Greg Egan is probably the most ambitious science-fiction author of hard sf to ever come along. While other authors have challenged readers with complex thoughts and ideas, most of these efforts are self-contained within the novel, and so the reader amenable to being concerted could have a chance at understanding every detail in these novels. Egan, on the other hand, goes farther and uses technical details of mathematically complex theories and then extrapolates from this point into his fiction. In the pursuit of the `pure' science-fiction, he demands from the reader the diligence to follow up on ideas such as decoherence which explain (in real-world physical theories) the absence of quantum effects in classical physics. In many cases, he has explanations along with Java applets on his web page: Greg Egan's web page.
%T Schild's Ladder %A Greg Egan %I Gollancz: London %D 2001 %G ISBN: 0575071230 (pb) %P 250 %K science-fiction
Review written: 2002/05/17
November 09, 2005
When software bugs attack
Here is an important caveat from the article:
Many people believe the worst bugs are those that cause fatalities. To be sure, there haven't been many, but cases like the Therac-25 are widely seen as warnings against the widespread deployment of software in safety critical applications. Experts who study such systems, though, warn that even though the software might kill a few people, focusing on these fatalities risks inhibiting the migration of technology into areas where smarter processing is sorely needed. In the end, they say, the lack of software might kill more people than the inevitable bugs.
This is presented as an all-or-nothing argument. It is probably rare that smarter processing is so crucial that those using the technology should not insist on being skeptical and really trusting the software they use. This evokes Sean Eddy's note in PLOS Comp. Bio. about ``inter-disciplinary'' research: which should not be construed as the gathering of people from different disciplines, but individual people learning and eventually confident of doing research in multiple disciplines.
November 07, 2005
A Case of Conscience by James Blish
Jesuit missionaries have always been a favorite of science fiction authors because in popular history they have pursued a combination of science, religion and colonial intent. "A Case of Conscience" is arguably the most famous, classic novel that uses a Jesuit priest as the protagonist.
Father Ramon Ruiz-Sanchez is a Jesuit priest, from Peru, and a botanist and biologist. He is part of a team of four scientists that have been given the task of initial exploration of the newly discovered planet of Lithia. Of all the habitable planets discovered by humans in their expansion into space, Lithia holds a special attention because its reptilian inhabitants show every sign of being intelligent. The team is given the task of deciding whether Lithia should be quarantined or thrown open for trade (or exploitation). Ruiz-Sanchez is riveted by the question of whether then Lithians are truly conscious. Do they have free will?
The other question Ruiz-Sanchez has to deal with is an internal one: will he trust his scientific instincts or his religious ones.
Any science fiction author could learn a lot from Blish about what matters in a science fiction novel. The ideas drive everything, and the central question comes into clear focus in a remarkably clear way in just a couple of hundred pages. The ending, in my view, was a bit melodramatic, but most of the interesting speculations occur well before the end.
The most recent Jesuit in science fiction occurs in "The Sparrow" by Mary Doria Russell, which shares many aspects of its setup with this novel.
%T A Case of Conscience %A James Blish %I Ballantine Books %D 1958 %G SBN: 34524480X150 (pb) %P 188 %K science-fiction
Review written: 2002/04/11
A Million Open Doors by John Barnes
It is a common theme in science fiction to address the changes in a society (imagined or real) caused due to the introduction of technology or scientific ideas or ideals. It is less common to investigate the effects of the sudden introduction of artistic expression into a society. John Barnes explores this unlikely question in this novel. In order to do so, he invents two cultures of a human diaspora, both flawed in unique ways.
This is the first novel in a series that John Barnes has written in his Thousand Cultures universe. Humanity has colonized several habitable worlds by sending slower than light generational ships to colonize them. A process which takes thousands of years, causing each human colony to drift apart in several ways from all the others. Suddenly the invention of the springer changes all that. The springer allows instantaneous travel between distances that span light years (however the energy required grows exponentially with distance, a fact which is exploited in the plot for this novel).
Nou Occitan is one of the most isolated of the Thousand Cultures. The springer is gradually making a transformation in this world. Nou Occitan has a violently creative, chauvinistic and flamboyant culture. It is also a culture in which public service is done by lottery.
In one such selection, Aimeric, an inhabitant of Nou Occitan, is sent on a mission to Caledony, the latest human colony to be connected via springer to the rest of the human diaspora. Giraut, a close friend of Aimeric, decides to join him in his mission for all the wrong reasons. Humiliated by his `ententedora' (his mate for life), mainly because of the changes in the culture of Nou Occitan caused by the springer, Giraut decides to leave his beloved culture behind to spend a few years on Caledony. The culture shock is more than they could have imagined. But, as this experience changes each of the team that visits this new planet, the team themselves cause unforseeable consequences for the culture on Caledony. The novel is in the tradition of science fiction that is too engrossed in world building to bother with the (usually superfluous) cliffhangers in the plot. It is a worthly contribution to this genre.
The follow-up to this novel set in the same universe, but with a different sensibility, is "Earth Made of Glass".
%T A Million Open Doors %A John Barnes %I Tor %D 1992 %G ISBN: 031285210X (hc) %P 315 %K science-fiction
Review written: 2002/04/11