Archive for November, 2010

Nov 16 2010

Cutting For Stone

Published by under Books

by Abraham Verghese
I don’t remember where I heard of this excellent novel, but when I tried to get it from our library, I was about the 100th person on the library’s hold list. Eventually, my turn came and the book provided a story that was very different from what I more usually read. Written by an MD, about an extended ‘family’ of Indian MD’s, mainly surgeons, at a poor mission hospital in Ethiopia and to a lesser extent later at a poor urban hospital in the US. The plot flows along well with nicely written portraits of the various characters; mostly doctors. The beginning section seemed particularly strong with a vivid descriptions of an ocean voyage from India and of Addis Abba in the 1940 & 50s. As the story moves along, diseases and operations are described in some vivid detail and with some of the gore they must involve. Overall, the story is suffused with descriptions of and admiration for medicine, but that doesn’t interfere with the telling of an interesting tale.
Definitely recommended.

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Nov 15 2010

The Untouchable

Published by under Books

by John Banville

A story written as if it were an autobiography of a highly placed, but recently ‘outed’ spy in the England. Clearly, a fictional life of the real Anthony Blunt who was the Queens Art historian and one of the ‘Cambridge Five’; a group of highly placed, Russian spies. The book portrays the background and cultural environment from which the spy evolved and how his life progressed. England and Ireland in from the 20s to the 40s is the main backdrop. Not much in the way of spy craft or intrigue, but interesting as a snapshot of a far away time and place as well as the manner in which a privileged person could come to ‘betray’ the source of his privilege and what he might have thought he was achieving. It was easy to think it was authoritative rather than an imagined autobiography.
An undercurrent portrays a gut based dislike for supposedly class unconscious and democratic US culture as one of the rationales for spying on behalf of the Russians. That logic is a bit hard to follow. Anyway, it was a very good read.

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Nov 05 2010

River of Gods

Published by under Books

by Ian McDonald
A novel set in India which mixes Hindu religon and Hindu culture with a super intelligent system (“post human”, “trans human”, “post singularity”, or whatever) that interacts with a fairly interesting set of (human) characters. Unlike a lot of speculative fiction, this one focuses on the humans and doesn’t try to explain or even describe in any detail the super intelligent technology. It just is and its interactions with humans are all there is. The human characters were explored and made interesting (Like in a ‘real’ book :-).
For me, it was not a superb book, but was worth the time. For the first few hundred pages I occasionally considered stopping and I found it irritating off and on all the way to the end. Part of my problem was that it has a whole lot of references to Hindu mythology which didn’t mean much to me.
PS. I read this and Breakpoint (prior post) several months ago. Just took a while to get these comments done.

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Nov 05 2010

Breakpoint

Published by under Books,Speculative

by Arthur A. Clarke

This book gets a mixed reaction from me. Clarke is an acknowledged government security expert with a lot of experience and knowledge who has written a story about his area of expertise. But, in many ways he tells a very simple and not very subtle story. Much of the time it reads like a listing of bad thing that could be done to a country by manipulating computers and the networks that connect them. Overall, it is clear cut bad vs. good with little to no gray aspects and cardboard cut out characters.
But, it is not a lousy book which should just be ignored. While it is very optimistic on technological progress it does introduce some of the issues related to advanced technology. Especially, “nano” technology and biological enhancement. It even touches lightly on the idea of the “trans-human” aspects of what those technologies might lead to. Issues raised include what improvements are acceptable and what’s the importance of the distinction between repairing and enhancing? Overall, Clarke seems to say that fixing is okay, but enhancing is not. Another issue is who will benefit: just those with money? In that case, the result is a likely increase in inequality as the rich get the enhanced capabilities (first) and then gaps only widen.
Worth reading. Especially if you are on a long airplane flight.

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