Monthly Archives: November 2013

page 225 of 784 of In the First Circle

The idea that the Zeks are not allowed to wear their crappy overalls but instead must ‘dress up’ when their relatives visit so that the relatives ‘do not get a bad impression of prison life’ is absurd, counter-productive since you want to deter possible traitorous family members, but also kind so that the family doesn’t worry. It’s amazingly complicated and fascinating and neurotic.

Kim: Read from November 17 to 26, 2013

The most interesting, and shocking fact about history is just how young so many of the military commanders and leaders actually were down through time. One of the most famous, Alexander III of Macedon, was barely into his 20’s when he began conquering the known world. Wars today are still fought by people the same age as Alexander (some even younger), and there will always be glory in war for a young man wanting to make a name for himself.

Kim begins with a gun, a giant canon representing the strength, struggle, and oppression of India and the people who wanted control of the subcontinent. The book ends with a choice. In between we get the education of young Kim by his elders who see great promise in this talented, smart, cunning, and devious boy. Some wish to use him for the Great Game, that struggle for control over India (and now Pakistan), others wish to see him stay true to his native people (though little do they know he’s actually white – a ‘Sahib’), and one man, Teshoo Lama, wishes to set him on the path of ‘the way’, the true path of eternal salvation and freedom from sin.

And this struggle for Kim’s soul – both figuratively and literally – makes up the heart of the book, and not so much for the character’s sake, bot for our own. Kipling is forcing us to decide which way we would choose to go (war, peace, or indifference) by letting us inhabit a main character who makes us feel smarter than we probably are in real life, more cunning than we are even on our best of days, braver, stronger, and more experienced than we would admit to being and then leaving the final decision open to our own interpretation as a test to see what we would do with Kim’s talents and teachers influence.

The novel does seem to aim for an audience of boys aged somewhere between 10 and 16 and Kipling does seem to be square in the camp of hoping young men will grow up to choose the way of peace, like the Lama, yet he doesn’t beat you over the head with his morality, either. The life of the Great Game is very exciting, could lead to great renown, money, women, respect: all the things us boys dream of when we’re young (and pretty much till the day we die old men, too). And even the simple life of just living your life out with basic comfort, a family, your head down and nose clean (the typical life most of us wind up choosing) is here seen as exotic, profitable, and, at the least, interesting.

In fact considering how much of the novel is focused on the relationship between Kim and the Lama and how relatively little is devoted to a more exciting life, goes to show just how difficult it is to steer people away from war, from vain glory, from ‘illusion’ as the Lama would say. Just one encounter with a spy, with a Russian with a gun, with a mysterious gem trader can nearly undo years of fellowship with a peaceful Lama whose earthly reward is begging and heavenly reward is uncertain.

And so looking deeper into these decisions it seems much clearer how in that particular part of the world even today it’s not so difficult to see why young men chose to join up with groups that offer far more attractive and comfortable rewards here on Earth instead of following the ways of a prophet. Life in Pakistan and the surrounding area is harsh, dangerous, other cultures and foreigners look down on them as dirty and stupid, there are no real opportunities, and so it’s not hard to understand why on the one hand even a powerful religion such as Islam can teach peace and on the other young men will kill in the name of it.

So in many ways that I doubt Kipling would have ever imagined, Kim is a very relevant novel today that teaches us quite a bit about ourselves as well as the people of an ‘exotic’ land in the middle east and subcontinent. Kipling shows us the struggle between right and wrong, good and evil, and though he aims for a younger audience, the book is filled with a wisdom that is well beyond the age of the intended reader.

I am a little uncomfortable with some of the generalizations Kipling paints with concerning nearly all the ethnicity. Mahbub Ali, a Muslim, is dangerously close to the stereotypical dangerous and shady Afghan Muslim, Hurree is a buffoon even when he’s tough as nails and brilliant, Creighton is far too fatherly and pretty much stands for all of British colonialism, the two chaplains (a Catholic and a Protestant) are comic relief, and even the Lama seems very one-dimensional and straight out of a bad Hollywood interpretation of the wise, Tibetan monk.

Yet there is also real friendship between Kim and the Lama that transcends the page and in moments of crisis for the two of them genuinely had me worried for the outcome and that strength of the friendship helps sell the idea of the way of peace in the face of so many more tempting options. And it’s that friendship on the page, the real art of the novel that made me really love the book despite its flaws.

91% done with Kim

It didn’t really occur to me how much Kim needed the Lama – beyond just the school – because playing the great game is so dangerous that listening to the old man’s wisdom might keep Kim out of trouble, both in this life and the next.

Still, I wonder how much of what the Lama has demonstrated to Kim will sink in … I’m thinking that the old man will have to die before any major impression can be made on the boy 🙁

85% done with Kim

When the Russian hit the Lama I kept thinking about how many wars could have been averted had each side seen the other as a human being. The very simple effort of just understanding the customs and laws of a foreign land goes a long way to not making more trouble for yourself than you need, but it’s a lesson that never seems to be learned by most military people.

77% done with Kim

Very few stories can pull off a convincing friendship, but here Kipling creates such a powerful friendship between Kim and the Lama that I actually have to remind myself that these are not real people.

In fact what at first I thought were thin characters and gross generalizations has grown to appreciate the subtly of the whole cast of characters.

They are all playing a game so exaggeration fits well here.

page 207 of 784 of In the First Circle

Everyone feels as if they are a good person and that they are hampered from being good because of external pressures. Nobody else can see anyone’s goodness, either, because it could land you in prison.

Fear runs everything and everyone is in their own prison – a whole country of prisoners – and nobody can communicate anything meaningful because that could mean treason or give someone an opportunity to rat on you.

page 171 of 784 of In the First Circle

Stalin is more of a prisoner than the zeks he sent off to Siberia, he’s a self-imposed lifer. Not that I feel sorry for him (the real man or the character here), but it does complicate things because it can be hard to see Stalin as a human. But the sense of paranoia and fear and mistrust builds an atmosphere that fills every page

Chapter 25 is stunningly beautiful, as good as anything by Turgenev. Great contrast

43% done with Kim

I’m assuming that since the novel begins with Kim sitting under a giant cannon that his fate is somehow going to be tied to war. Of course being looked after by military people and sending messages that lead to battles is no subtle clue, but Kim’s role will be more subtle regardless, if not any less dangerous than a mere soldier. Spy, perhaps?

page 144 of 784 of In the First Circle

The scene with Stalin reminds me of the beginning of DeLillo’s ‘Underworld’ with Hoover as well as the scenes with Kutuzov in ‘War and Peace’. Both are fictional accounts of real, powerful men, but are used here to paint a picture of Stalin’s paranoia and self importance.

Caesar is recaled, too with his childhood home and the busts of his family’s ancestors watching over him, motivating him to rise. Stalin = vain

33% done with Kim

“Never speak to a white man before he is fed”

Religion, spirituality, mysticism – they all play a central role to the characters in the novel. It’s as if there are competing forces at work for control of all the people, which would be true, too since this is British controlled India we’re in.

Kim’s ability to manipulate is a thing to behold, but he will eventually meet his equal, or even his better.

18% done with Kim

A good comparison for Kim would be Oliver Twist. Both are orphans, both are poor, both are at the mercy of a greater world. However, Oliver was always being led around and had no sense or cunning where Kim, though small, is smart, observant, charming, and quick.

Kipling is just a better novelist than Dickens. In the scene with the cobra, Kim is taught his first lesson and Kipling writes the transition well.

8% done with Kim

And now for something a little less serious!

I’ve never heard of The Great Game before, but since it’s been going on since 1813 (200 years now) I suppose this struggle for control over Central Asia explains a lot about the politics and issues of the region.

However, this book is more fun than that and we already have colorful, shady characters and the promise of a road trip, exotic locales, intrigue!

page 98 of 784 of In the First Circle

The best voice encryption system ever invented is a man saying one thing to a man when he really means something else. The message is received loud and clear when everyone gets the message.

The theme here is communication of all kinds, perceived, imagined and real.

Bobynin’s rant to Abakumov is the very thing you want to tell your idiot CEO who has no idea what the hell goes on in the company they run.

Lord Jim: Read from November 06 to 17, 2013

” …there are as many shipwrecks as there are men …”

Imagine, for a moment, that it was Brown’s sunken schooner which makes its way back to the beginning of the novel and becomes the wreckage that caves in the Patna’s bulkhead (“as though the ship had steamed across a narrow belt of vibrating water and of humming air”), thus setting the events in motion all over again. This novel would then be a wholly contained circle of doomed fate and circumstance destined to play out the same way over and over, time after time. Perhaps this is why Conrad chose to not only describe Jim as “inscrutable” but also to tell the story through Marlow – a story within a story so that Jim, in essence, more easily becomes us (“one of us” and, truly, “any of us”) and Marlow becomes a sort of God who dispassionately watches us folly.

The nested storytelling, the subtle wordplay, the idea that “three hundred miles beyond the end of telegraph cables and mail-boat lines, the haggard utilitarian lies of our civilization wither and die, to be replaced by pure exercises of imagination” creates an unreality that speaks to a truth of our own being better than if we were given an exact replica of Jim. Conrad gives us something infinitely better than an anatomically perfect recreation of a man who, for all the reasons and complexities that make a person a person, fails in his honor and shipwrecks his future – we get “the exact description of the form of a cloud” – a cloud in which we each see something different but is just simply a cloud – just simply us.

Ultimately, for me, the novel was about chances, specifically the chances that are missed in life; the missed chances we always remember and can never let go of and forgive ourselves for. And Jim could have easily asked for forgiveness, too – his father, a parson, seemed a very thin analogy with God himself, a God who will forgive if only you truly believe in him, but Jim couldn’t even forgive himself for the missed chance and for how he ruined his life.

And I kept wondering about his father. Jim kept that letter all those years so you knew it pained him to turn his back on his family and even though he ‘knew’ he could never go back, he also knew that he didn’t actually know that – he still held onto a sliver of hope, even if it was only a hopelessly romantic and boyishly nostalgic one.

I wonder if what Conrad was also trying to say is that man is always doomed? There really are no heroes in the novel, in fact the best man we come across, the most successful man, Captain Brierly, just up and decides one day to jump off his ship and drown himself. Did Brierly see his fate clearly to know that he too was doomed, like Jim? Or did he know that if push came to shove he would be just as cowardly as Jim and he couldn’t face it, not like Jim could? And how come the biggest bastard in the novel, Captain Brown, is most able to act ‘heroically’? Is Conrad trying to say that heroism is born only from selfishness? From wanting to fill one’s belly?

While I don’t know what Conrad actually thought, it seems clear to me that he felt it important to write an entire novel that makes you question the definition of morality, of honor, and of character. That’s why Conrad created the ‘character’ of Jim because he could be any of us, he could be all of us, he represents every one of our individual failures and missed chances and misunderstandings. Jim is like the inner doll of a Russian nesting doll and each character in the novel is one doll larger until we get to the outer doll, us.

However, I’m still unsure of what I think the novel was all about. Conrad plays such a literary master game with us that by the end I feel like my head is spinning. The language is beautiful but nonspecific (as Conrad always writes), and the “point” is unclear and open to really any interpretation – I have more questions than answers, but I love that he got me thinking about so many ideas.

And this has been the most difficult review of a novel I’ve ever had to write because it would be like trying to recreate one of Steins perfect butterflies from far away based off of just the verbal description given to us through multiple sources handed out from the jungle 300 miles in and pieced together over a life time. I could spend my life getting caught up in this beautiful novel, constantly going around and around, like Jim, or like fate, or like all of mankind.

95% done with Lord Jim

Everything comes full circle.

Brown is like a golum given life by the fates themselves to exact payment from Jim. Everything about him is dirty, earthy, unclean, but also sure of himself, honest in his brazenness, and not the least bit honorable or tied down to any ideal beyond that of filling his belly.

page 51 of 784 of In the First Circle

“Do you know how to make shoes?”

More than anyone so far in this novel, Simochka embodies the typical Soviet citizen. Since everyone is guaranteed work in Soviet Russia nobody is really doing anything worthwhile and even their schooling is pointless. She’s an audio engineer who can barely work a microphone. She was graduated through school because nobody was allowed to fail.

Everyone’s life here is wasted.

88% done with Lord Jim

If someone never trusts you, would that cause you to go do the very thing you are mistrusted for? Would you have never done it had you been trusted? How much of other people’s perception of us make us who we are?

Brown knows who Jim is, even if he hasn’t even met him yet. And through Brown we feel we know that Brown’s assessment is probably right, even if it isn’t nearly as layered as our own.


78% done with Lord Jim

the whole island now seems to be in shadows, as if darkness is slowly rolling in over it. Marlow says that when he leaves the whole place will be forgotten by the entire world and when Marlow dies so does Jim and his romantic paradise.

Even the open, felled fields are like as if a storm had passed through, uprooting everything and are now as flat as the sea the Patna steamed through.

Corenlius = Jim in a way

72% done with Lord Jim

“three hundred miles beyond the end of telegraph cables and mail-boat lines, the haggard utilitarian lies of our civilization wither and die, to be replaced by pure exercises of imagination.”

I love that the Jewel is a woman, not a precious emerald, but she is still a jewel, maybe even a talisman of sorts.

It’s interesting how Jim isn’t Kurtz; we get another way a man can go; his own ideal romanticism.

64% done with Lord Jim

“It was immense!”

Well, it’s relative, isn’t it? Like trying to find the truth about who stole some pots, or who was wrong aboard the Patna, or who Jim really is.

Is what Jim did on the island heroic and worthy of elevating him to the status of a deity? Or is it right to take a “white man’s point of view” and declare the island is a shit-hole in the middle of nowhere that nobody cares about or remembers?

54% done with Lord Jim

Whenever it seems as if we are going to get a black or white reading on Jim, Conrad suddenly gives us the opposing point of view and that muddies the waters even further.

We know Jim better at the beginning of the novel than we do as we learn more about him.

The Hamlet analogy is quite clever: it’s not ‘to be or not to be’, but rather ‘HOW to be’ that is the question – only here Marlow does all the asking.

46% done with Lord Jim

I wonder if Marlow is a little jealous of Jim? I mean, what’s to be jealous of, but still, he feels ashamed a little of Jim and tells the one man that Jim was mate on the Patna. He didn’t have to say anything.

It’s almost as if Jim could keep remaking himself, if only he could get away from himself. But, of course, you can never escape your past.

The Australian the captain felt like bookends of Jim’s life.

36% done with Lord Jim

Conrad loves slipping in subtle wordplay: my favorite being ‘a glorious indefiniteness driving us to sea (see, is the play here; to understand and to make others understand).

And that’s the whole point here, as if Jim is standing before St. Peter trying to plead his case and to confess it, too. Only we are not omniscient, we can’t see into the shade of a person’s heart, we either take the leap of faith or not.

28% done with Lord Jim

Jim always compares the voices of the other men to that of animals: owls, dogs, bleating.

One of us = Could be any of us

“There are as many shipwrecks as there are men”

What Conrad is doing here is brilliant because I find myself, at times, empathizing and even believing Jim and his cowardly excuse of a story.

Funny how the pilgrims actually did get to Mecca alive and Jim went to hell alive. A living wake

The Nose: Read Nov 08, 2013

Gogol is fascinated with dealing with that which is both ‘there’ and ‘not there’. In ‘Dead Souls’ the titular character(s) are both non-existent human beings long since burined in the ground AND they are corporal entities making up the better part of an inventory and balance sheet. In ‘The Overcoat’ Gogol begins with a stolen coat that the main character spends all story trying to recover and the whole thing ends with a ghost and a haunting.

Here, Gogol’s exploration of the ‘there’ and ‘not there’ is taken to its illogical and comical conclusion: a nose has gone missing and is spending its days going about town as a respectable official. The whole idea is absurd and impossible and defies any analysis beyond that of a writer having a bit of fun with the reader the way an uncle has with his nephew when he ‘steals’ his nose.

And that’s what makes it so much fun to read: it’s funny, it’s absolutely silly, but it also feels somehow right and real. Somehow it feels as if just below the ice crust surface of this story there is a deeper meaning, an interpretation that we could all get on board with (and here is where I absolutely reject Freudian analysis as any rational person should).

Maybe the whole point is like that of ‘Three Men In A Boat’, a comical tale that pretty much goes nowhere but feels right in the moment you experience it.

17% done with Lord Jim

I think I might understand Conrad’s fascination with the sea and sailors: he loves exploring people in an environment that has rules and known expectations and rigid consequences; everything is a known quantity: the ship, the mission, the sea, the charts, the night sky.

Men, on the other hand, are a total mystery. Who can ever know anything about another person?

Each system, man and navy, informs each other.

6% done with Lord Jim

My goal is over the course of my life to slowly read all of Condrad’s novels. This is number three having read Heart of Darkness and Nostromo – loved them both.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to explain why I love Conrad so much other than to say I love how so much is left to the imagination and how there is so much uncertainty within all his characters. Everyone seems to live on a knife edge in dangerous times

Monday Begins on Saturday: Read from October 27 to November 06, 2013

This is one of the most fun and enjoyable books I’ve read in a very long time and it totally came of out of left field for me.

There is a great documentary on YouTube titled Pandora’s Box : The Engineers’ Plot about how the Soviet Union attempted to use mathematical and scientific principles to bring about the greatest amount of happiness and comfort to the Russian people. Through pure logic and reason the Soviet scientists hoped to control an illogical and irrational population. This was a real thing and it went on for decades. And it was a total failure.

This book was published in the late 1960’s during the beginning of a period of Soviet economic downturn. The (relatively) prosperous days of the 1950’s and early 1960’s of the Soviet Union were coming to an end and the reality of grossly inefficient Soviet rule was apparent to everyone – though not many people said anything publicly. The authors, one of whom was actually an astronomer, would have had a front row seat to many of the societal events of their day from a very unique perspective.

And that’s what this book is about.

But it’s not just about making fun of the Soviet Union – it’s about how all institutions are a bungled mess of competing egos and endless bureaucratic quicksands. But unlike Kafka, they take a much more lighthearted approach to the joke of all human society.

Years ago I was friends with a lady who, like Boris Natanovich Strugatsky, was a scientist. She was one of those wiz-kid PhD’s by her mid twenties and had done so in the field of astrophysics. At the time I was working with a friend making hand built telescopes for the (rich) amateur enthusiasts and so she was always coming by our shop and hanging around.

What I quickly learned, however, was that a genius PhD in astrophysics is not nearly as interesting or romantic as it sounds. Her job was (if I remember this right) the study of the gravitational effect between two incredibly distant galaxies and just those two galaxies. She didn’t study anything else about those galaxies or any other structures in the universe, she only studied how gravity worked on a pair of multi-billion year old galaxies in a constellation I had never even heard of.

And her knowledge of general astronomy was laughable in many regards. Current news and discoveries were things she was totally unaware of and was probably why she hung around us so that she wouldn’t totally lose touch with the greater scope of the field she was working in.

This book deals with pretty much the same idea: scientists have become so hyper-specialized (and, honestly, everyone in higher academia suffers this fate) as to be nearly useless. Here, the scientists are all magus (magicians and wizards – even Merlin himself) who work at an institute devoted to discovering and perfecting human happiness. Their tools include a couch that interperts dreams, a sort of motorcycle that you can drive into the invented future realities of science fiction books. In town there is a mermaid in a tree and a wish fulfilling pike in a well. There are coins that always show back up in your pocket when you spend them and a man who is two men, one who at midnight instead of living into the next day like the rest of us time linear folks, reappears 24 hours earlier and lives that day instead.

It’s a totally bonkers idea, but that’s the whole point, too because in a way it mirrors not only what was going on in the Soviet Union at the time, but also what still goes on in the Ivory Towers of higher-learning around the world.

But there’s a larger theme at work here, too, and that’s of how the general public sees science. For many people the work of the scientists is not much different than that of a magician because it’s nearly impossible to explain what scientists actually do. Academic papers might as well be fairy tales for all the good they do a regular person who has to go to work all day.

The authors then go on to make parallels to the media and the ‘rock star’ scientist who does no real science but the public loves them because they do a lot of neat tricks (like a magician).

Even economics is explored where they take their egotistical, rock star scientist, and task him with trying to create the perfect man but who only turns out to be so incredibly gluttonous because he has everything he wants and can be given everything he wants as to literally explode after gorging on nearly 3 tons of rotting fish heads.

Not bad that they could expose the failings of both Capitalism and Communism with only one metaphor!

And there is so much more here, too. That’s what I love about this book – it’s great fun and wildly imaginative, but it also gets you to really think about a great many concepts and ideas without hitting you over the head with them.

The book is outrageous, the characters are thinner than the pages, there is no dramatic tension at all, but none of that stuff matters because the ideas rule here. And there are also some wonderfully powerful images that will linger : the ride into the future where we meet the soldier near the Iron Curtain thousands of years into the future, or the bird, or my favorite: the giant, lazy mosquito the size of a dog that he shoos out the window into a driving blizzard in the middle of the night where it immediately disappears in the storm and cold.

Strange and brilliant.

page 198 of 222 of Monday Begins on Saturday

“It’s nonsense to look for a solution if it already exists. We are talking about how to deal with a problem that has no solution.”

“There is no such thing as dissociated nonsense.”

I had no idea when I picked up this book it would quickly become one of the most enjoyable books I’ve ever read. I’m sad I’m about to finish it because each page is full of so many ideas that get the mind thinking.

page 172 of 222 of Monday Begins on Saturday

The machine that explores the ‘described future’ is an interesting idea because the authors are basically saying that they way we see the future is more of a reflection of how we see ourselves now. Of course, they also have fun with the idea because since writers only write about the important details, everyone in the described future walks around with no pants on but they do all wear funny hats.

Shaman: Read from October 24 to November 04, 2013

For a long time I’ve been hoping to find a good piece of scholarship dealing with the peoples of the ice age, specifically the people who painted the caves in France and modern-day Europe. I know that there isn’t all that much to go on, however, I assumed there would be at least a few people in this field of archaeology, anthropology, and sociology who could at least offer some solid, historical, factual knowledge on what these people were like, how they lived and survived, what they might have possibly believed.

Sadly, I never really found a work of non-fiction that I felt was suitable – either because the time period was too recent (Mesopotamia and the fertile crescent peoples) or the books were new-age, wack-a-doo nonsense with pictures of burning crystals superimposed over photographs of cave paintings.

About ten years ago I picked up a book called Red Mars because someone recommended it to me and I wasn’t even 50 pages into it before I went back to the bookstore to buy the sequels Green Mars and Blue Mars. In those books Kim Stanley Robinson embarked on a grand thought experiment concerning colonizing the red planet. His book wasn’t filled with any aliens (though the people living on Mars grew quite distant from the people left on poor Earth), and neither was his book filled with any unnecessary action or typically ‘science fiction’ plot points. The books were clearly written in his simple yet intelligent voice and they dealt simply with people and how they interacted with each other. In fact at times you almost forgot they were even on Mars.

And that was the real key: Robinson is able to draw you into his worlds slowly, carefully, and hardly without you even noticing.

This book is another grand thought experiment, but instead of an alien planet he writes about our own alien planet tens of thousands of years ago when we even lives side by side with our evolutionary ancestors, the Neanderthals. But the book is never strange, it’s always about people, a boy named Loon being trained to be a Shaman, and most importantly it’s about survival. This is a world where people have to stick together to stay alive but could very well take place even today in the wilds of Siberia, or remotest Canada, or Patagonia because aside from their perspective on how the universe works, they are no different than we are. They love, they fight, they create art, and they die.

In a way Robinson takes away a lot of the romantic mystery of what living during the ice age would be because it really isn’t that different from how many people live today. People are people all through history and just because they lived a long time ago does not mean they are some alien species from Mars.

Above all, however, this book is a supreme work of imagination (and I’m sure research, too based on the many people he acknowledges at the end). We can never know what our ancestors were thinking when they crawled into caves and painted on the walls, but we do know that they were good at it and that when people are good at something they probably enjoy doing it, too.

Robinson follows very simple A to B logic in making the story very believable – if you need to tell time, how do you do it without a clock? Or how do you know what ice to step on or avoid? Or how do you treat a wound? Robinson is always turning these simple questions into plot points to advance the story and I get the feeling he had fun trying to think the story through and how the characters would act and survive given such limited tools and knowledge.

As for historical accuracy, well, I can’t say how accurate the book is, and I doubt anyone really could, but it feels authentic and that’s good enough. The story is very simple, there is no epic battle or major intrigue, and there is really only one major change of location for added drama, but mostly it’s about being immersed in a world very different from our own but also very similar to our own – like looking into the eyes of a Neanderthal and seeing a glimpse of ourselves or looking at the beautiful cave paintings and seeing the vast and recognizable reservoir of human talent and ability over the millennia.

This is a wonderful book that while not earth shattering in scope, is quite an achievement in imagination.

page 151 of 222 of Monday Begins on Saturday

I’ve got to hand it to the authors for being able to cram so many ideas and concepts into a single chapter. From discussing how real science is boring and bad science is flashy (like bad magic), to the idea of conjuring art as if it were magic and how difficult it can be to reproduce a concept artistically. And then there’s the economic ideas of consumption and greed … there’s a lot of substance here to ponder.

90% done with Shaman

Though Robinson doesn’t dwell on it too long he does touch on the idea that different bands of people would govern themselves as best suited their needs: some where a man was in charge and others that were more communal or where women made the decisions. Couple those differences with the time and distances separating peoples leaving them to view the universe uniquely and you get a glimpse of how our cultures evolved.

page 120 of 222 of Monday Begins on Saturday

I’m not sure if the author’s are advancing a negative opinion on communism or not – in fact just because this is Soviet era fiction does not mean it must adhere to a black or white ideology – but since the institute’s mission is perfecting human happiness and anyone working their who begins to get egotistical their ear hairs grow as magical warning to live for the group and stop being selfish.

Also Barry Goldwater

80% done with Shaman

When ever the book takes a turn that I’m not totally convinced of – such as the attack and escape – I let it go because ultimately the book is about survival and what a tenuous grasp we have in existence in the world.

For a lot lucky of people alive today life is not a day-to-day struggle for basic survival, though for many others it actually is. This book serves to bridge that gap just a little bit.

page 92 of 222 of Monday Begins on Saturday

Now that we’re actually at the institute, Sasha meets all the old wizards who, like real scientists, are so specialized in their field as to be practically useless. Everyone seems to be studying various methods for measuring or improving human happiness but everyone has totally failed to discover even the slightest insight beyond the fact a person will die if you don’t feed him, give him water or a doctor.