AndyHat (andyhat) wrote,

If anyone has a few million dollars to spare, Tower Records is up for sale. Back in college, I used to love making trips up to Tower on Clark Street (often combined with a meal at Max's Deli (matzoh ball soup & chocolate chip pancakes, with Dr. Brown's Diet Cel-Ray to drink. Cheap and yummy)). Back then, they had a fantastic Classical selection, their prices were discounted, and they always had extra discounts for CSO subscribers. It's sad to see how badly they've screwed it all up in the years since.

Recent reading:

  • Leo Szilard. The Voice of the Dolphins and Other Stories: Expanded Edition. Stanford University Press, 1992.
    • "The Voice of the Dolphins", 1960, Novella.
    • "My Trial As a War Criminal", 1947, Short Story.
    • "The Mark Gable Foundation", 1948, Short Story.
    • "Calling All Stars", 1949, Short Story.
    • "Report on 'Grand Central Terminal'", 1948, Short Story.
    • "The Mined Cities", 1961, Short Story.

      Leo Szilard was a nuclear physicist who worked with Fermi to produce the first self-sustaining chain reaction at the University of Chicago and then went on to work on the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos. By 1947, however, he apparently had come to feel guilty about his own involvement in the creation of the bomb, and he had become quite pessimistic about mankind's chances of surviving the nuclear age. As his ideas became more radical, Szilard turned to fiction as a means of promulgating his thoughts.

      The earliest story in the collection, "My Trial" describe Szilard's war crimes trial for his involvement in producing the bombs dropped on Japan. Modeled on the Nuremberg trials, his trial is conducted by the Soviets after they win World War III. Written for the University of Chicago Law Review, the style is rather dry (as with all these stories), but it's an interesting take on the United States' moral position at the time.

      In "The Mark Gable Foundation", a man cryogenically freezes himself for 300 years so he can see the future. Awakened after only 90 years, he discovers a world in which science has continued its relentless advance much faster than society can develop the moral, ethical, and religious framework to absorb the changes. In "Calling All Stars", an alien intelligence sends a message to the stars seeking help in identifying the nature of the apparently irrational beings on Earth who have detonated atomic devices. And, finally, the "Report on 'Grand Central Terminal'" describes an alien archaeological expedition to Manhattan after all life on earth has been exterminated in a nuclear war. All three stories lack any sort of characterization, and have only minimal plot, but they're still interesting views on the progress of science, especially as Szilard projects his own agenda on his aliens.

      Finally, we come to the major work of this volume, "The Voice of the Dolphins". This story is a future history of the years 1960 to approximately 1985, and attempts to describe a way that the US and USSR might escape from the trap of the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction. Reflecting the fact that he didn't entirely believe humanity alone could achieve this trick, the story starts off with the development of a means to communicate with dolphins, and the discovery that dolphins are far smarter than humans. Acting behind the scenes via the Vienna Institute, the dolphins are able to bring about the political results necessary to achieve eventual disarmament. The story reads more like a history book than fiction, but the ideas alone were enough that I found it a fascinating take on what might have been.

  • Ray Aldridge. "Soul Pipes". In F&SF 12/02. Novella.
    • This is an account of an archaeological expedition to a failed human colony as told in first-person by a former artist whose brain has been modified so he can no longer feel the effects of pleasurable drugs, a procedure which had the side effect of leaving him with no imagination. Naturally, the members of the expedition start to see things, and only the one with no imagination can be trusted to report on the events (or even to survive the experience). Nothing terribly original, and the most interesting parts are the snippets of back story about the society from which the artist and his colleagues have come. But it was still a good read.
  • Eleanor Arnason. "The Potter of Bones". In Asimov's 10-11/02. Novella.
    • Told in the style of a bedtime story for children, this is the story of a potter in this planet's distant past who likes to collect shells and bones and other fossils. By the end of the story, she's worked out the beginnings of the theory of evolution. Someone who likes Le Guin's xenology stories would probably like this, but as with many of Le Guin's stories, I just don't care enough about any of these aliens to care about the details of their society. And Darwin himself makes the discovery of evolution a whole lot more interesting than Arnason.
  • Cory Doctorow. Down And Out in the Magic Kingdom. TOR. 2003. Also available for free electronically.
    • It's cyberpunk without the dystopia. Instead, we get the usual assortments of brain implants, and memory uploads and downloads, and other cyberpunk trappings in a world in which capitalism has been entirely replaced by the Bitchun Society. Currency has been replaced by "Whuffie", a measure of the esteem in which you are held by those who know you. In this world of plenty, nobody starves, but only those held in high regard (as measured by their Whuffie) get to eat in the best restaurants. As the title implies, this story is set in the Magic Kingdom and describes the battles between two "ad hocs" (temporary gatherings of like-minded individuals that have replaced corporations) to attract Whuffie by making their attractions the most popular. Doctorow throws in so many ideas that the whole thing becomes rather implausible, but taken as a light-hearted comic cyberpunk novel, it's a lot of fun.


  • (no subject)

    The Hilliard Ensemble concert tonight was excellent, and definitely worth the drive to Duke Chapel in the snow. Turns out that this 40th anniversary…

  • (no subject)

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