Tag Archives: Neal Stephenson

James Gleick again

I’ve been trying to read James Gleick’s latest book Time Travel: A History. I say trying because I’ve had great difficulty in recent months focusing on books. (I’ve had great difficulty focusing on almost everything since the lockdown, but that’s another story. Pandemic brain.)

I take a book from the library and then don’t read it. Sometimes I read a few pages and put it down and never come back to it. I’ve done better with Gleick for some reason but I still haven’t finished it and I am afraid the library is going to repossess it soon.

One problem is that Gleick, like Stephenson, is such a deep thinker that he requires good concentration to extract value from the book. with

Stephenson’s novels it’s a lot easier because there is a plot. Gleick is a science writer. One reason I liked his book Chaos so much was that it had a narrative. Time Travel, perhaps deliberately, does not.

Gleick shows that time is a concept that humans both understand and do not understand. Even the measurement of time, which we in Western civilization like to think is straightforward, is dependent on consciousness, which leads to memory, which for me today leads to Zach. Nowadays, I think of Zach as being in the past but his memory is with me in the present. In a way he is as alive in my memory as he ever was before when I was not in his presence.

The future we tend to take on faith. After Zach was killed I remember telling people in grief sessions that I had to rewrite my future without him. There was a hole where I had expected him to be. So the future we expect is not assured. This is hardly profound but Gleick presents it engagingly.

I haven’t finished the book yet but I think there is some humor in reviewing a book about time before finishing it. Gleick even comments on how books are time machines themselves in that the reader can go back and forth through the pages if s/he desires.

Of course, the memory of Zach is not the same as having Zach alive in our now world. I can experience Zach by reading his journals and getting wisdom from them, but experiencing his living presence would generate different wisdom. So, I am sad to not be able to experience Zach’s different wisdom in my now. I take comfort in doing my little part in transmitting his now static wisdom into the future.

dystopias

When I went to put The Sheep Look Up back in the bookshelf, I saw a couple of other books there that might qualify as dystopias.

I need to say that I’ve been reading science fiction since I was about 12 years old. That’s more than 50 years, kids! I used to have a large collection but gave away many in my last couple of moves. In my opinion, the ones I have left are the best of the best. Certain authors are well represented: Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Larry Niven, Frank Herbert, Joe Haldeman from the 1950’s through 1970’s. Others have only one.

Alas, Babylon is the only book by Pat Frank in my collection. Actually, I can’t remember even reading anything else by him. It’s not really dystopian. It’s the story of a small community in Florida after a nuclear exchange. Just looking at the book spine today triggered a thought that that was similar to the Brunner stories.

The other one that seemed similar in my mind was the Larry Niven novel about a comet hitting the earth, Lucifer’s Hammer. That’s not really a dystopia either.

John Varley’s Titan trilogy would qualify as dystopian even though the bulk of the action takes place away from earth. In it, the madness of humans destroying their home planet drives the story.

Since the basic technique of science fiction is to imagine a future world and build a story around it, it shouldn’t be surprising that most are rather dark.

Younger authors that I like a lot have written about dystopias. Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson and the early William Gibson novels, beginning with Neuromancer, are clearly dystopian.

The more I write that word, the less I like it. Maybe I’ll do a list of the SF novels in my library – not that many, less than 50 – and do a quick description/review. Some are hopeful . . .