Friday, August 1, 2014

Eric Hoffer: quiet confidence and noisy insecurity

No. 11

"The passionate state of mind is often indicative of a lack of skill, talent or power.  Moreover, passionate intensity can serve as a substitute for the confidence born of proficiency and the possession of power.  A workingman sure of his skill goes leisurely about his job, and accomplishes much though he works as if at play.  On the other hand, the workingman who is without confidence attacks his work as if he were saving the world, and he must do so if he is to get anything done.  The same is true of the soldier.  A well-trained and well-equipped soldier will fight well even when not stirred by strong feeling.  But the untrained soldier will give a good account of himself only when animated by enthusiasm and fervor."

-- Eric Hoffer --
from The Passionate State of Mind


This reminds me of certain politicians today--those who make a lot of noise and insist they are saving the country from its internal and external enemies, when in reality they accomplish the opposite and, what is worse,  they prevent others from doing what is necessary.  In other words, those who shout the loudest and make the most noise accomplish the least. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Robert Louis Stevenson and Langston Hughes: Two points of view

Requiem

Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
   And I laid me down with a will.

This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
     And the hunter home from the hill.

-- Robert Louis Stevenson --




Death of an Old Seaman

We buried him high on a windy hill,
But his soul went out to sea.
I know, for I heard, when all was still,
His sea-soul say to me:

Put no tombstone at my head,
For here I do not make my bed.
Strew no flowers on my grave,
I've gone back to the wind and wave.
Do not, do not weep for me,
For I am happy with my sea.

-- Langston Hughes --
from The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes
Arnold Rampersad, Editor


It almost seems as though Hughes' poem is a response to Stevenson's.  Some days I'm with Stevenson, but on other days, well, Hughes seems right for me.  Actually I'm of two minds here: both seem right and fitting when I read them. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Joseph Conrad: A SET OF SIX

short stories

"Gaspar Ruiz"
This story takes place in South America during the period when the colonies were struggling with Spain to gain their independence.  While many of the combatants had strong views for maintaining Spanish rule or for gaining their independence, numerous others were drafted or conscripted by either the Royal or by the republican forces.  It was pure chance in many cases which side one ended up with.

Gaspar Ruiz is the son of a poor farmer and had no political views.   A rebel contingent appeared one day, killed the guard dogs, stole some cattle, and persuaded Gasper to join them.  Shortly after he left, a royalist force appeared and finished the destruction of the farm.  In a subsequent battle, Ruiz was captured by the royalists.   He was given a musket and forced to the front of the attacking forces and was given the choice of firing his weapon or of being shot by a royalist officer.

Again he was captured--this time by the rebels.  Declared a traitor, he was sentenced to be shot with a number of others, but covered with the blood of others he manages to play dead.   Wounded, he finds a refuge with local royalists.   Because he feels the rebels treated him unfairly, he becomes an ardent royalist.  

"Gaspar Ruiz" is probably set before the time of Conrad's South American novel, Nostromo, in this story the colonies are fighting for independence while in the novel, countries have their own government but are regularly overthrown by various factions, some little better than bandit gangs.



"The Informer"  is set in the world of Conrad's novels of political espionage The Secret Agent  and Under Western Eyes , the world of anarchists, who are hiding out in England.  In fact, one of the group refers to the Professor who "was engaged in perfecting some new detonators." This could be the same professor in The Secret Agent who supplies Verloc with the bomb that had such tragic consequences for Verloc and his wife Winnie.  That Professor was also known to be obsessed with finding the perfect detonator.

A group of anarchists are located in a house in London on Hermione Street.  The European leadership has come to the conclusion that the Hermione St. group has been infiltrated by an informer.  They decide to gather together some comrades unknown to the Hermione St. group and pretend to be police conducting a raid.  In this way, they hope the informer would reveal himself. 


"The Brute"
This is the only sea tale in the collection.  The Brute of the title is a ship, a monster according to the tales told of it.  The setting is a classic for sea yarns: a small local pub,  on a rain-swept street, with three friends and a stranger in the parlour.  It's the stranger, of course, who provides the tale of the murderous ship, The Apse Family.  It was owned by the firm of Apse & Sons, shipowners.  All of their ships were named after family members. This one, representing the entire family, was to be the biggest and safest ship of the fleet.  Unfortunately, they went overboard and ended up with the biggest, heaviest, and clumsiest ship in their fleet, and murderous too.  During every journey, at least one sailor was killed.  While reading the story, one could almost believe that ship was fully conscious of what it was doing.


"An Anarchist"
This story is a classic example of how a chance encounter can determine the course of one's life.  "An Anarchist" is a story within a story.  The narrator meets the manager of a plantation on an island in a South American river and rents a room in order to conduct his research.  While there the narrator meets Paul, the engineer of the plantation's steam boat.  The manager insists Paul is an anarchist from Spain and has spread the word in the vicinity, thus ensuring Paul can't get work anywhere else.

The narrator's kindly treatment of Paul eventually leads Paul to tell his story.  He is French, not Spanish.  Shortly after serving his term in the French army, he gets a well-paying job as a mechanic.  At a dinner with friends one night, he invites several strangers at a nearby table to join them.  Paul becomes inflamed by their talk of the plight of the working man and drunk, he jumps up shouting "Vive l'anarchie" and "Death to the capitalists."  A riot breaks out and he is arrested, convicted, and sent to prison as an anarchist, a threat to France.  His life has changed irrevocably.

Two interesting characters are developed in this tale:  that of Paul "the anarchist"  and that of the manager of the plantation who is the type of a manager who will turn anyone into an anarchist or anti-capitalist.  Conrad has captured this employee of a large corporation perfectly:  he can justify any cruel act as being for the good of the company profit-and-loss statement, just as government operatives  justify their actions in the name of  "national security."


"The Duel"
"The Duel" is the longest story in the collection--perhaps closer to being a novella in length.  The story covers the events of over twenty years as an officer in the French army challenges another officer to a duel.  It began because of a misunderstanding and continued through the years as various attempts at holding the duel were either prevented by other events or ended unsatisfactorily.  Both officers were generals at the time the issue was finally resolved.  



"Il Conde"
Il conde  (the count), an aged nobleman,  suffering from rheumatism, finds that the climate at Naples is most salubrious for him, but, because of a chance encounter, he finds he must leave.  If he stays, he will be killed, and if he leaves, he will die, probably within a year.  The plot is minimal, barely a story, but the meticulous depiction of the count makes it well worth reading--actually more a portraiture than a story.

   "-- having conversed already in the morning I did not think I was intruding when in the evening, finding the dining-room very full, I proposed to share his little table.  Judging by the quiet urbanity of his consent he did not think so either.  His smile was very attractive.
   He dined in an evening waistcoat and a "smoking" (he called it so) with a black tie.  All this of very good cut, not new--just as these things should be.  He was, morning or evening, very correct in his dress.  I have no doubt that his whole existence had been correct, well ordered and conventional, undisturbed by startling events.  His white hair  brushed upwards off a lofty forehead gave him the air of an idealist, of an imaginative man.  His white moustache, heavy but carefully trimmed and arranged, was not unpleasantly tinted a golden yellow in the middle.  The faint scent of some very good perfume, and of good cigars (that last an odour quite remarkable to come upon in Italy) reached me across the table.  It was in his eyes that his age showed most.  They were a little weary with creased eyelids.  He must have been sixty or a couple of years more.  And he was communicative.  I would not go so far as to call it garrulous--but distinctly communicative."


I can picture him now, and his reactions to later events seem perfectly understandable when considering Conrad's outer and inner portrayal of him.

Overall comment:  Joseph Conrad is probably best known for his novels, but his short stories are just as good.  Highly recommended.

Monday, July 21, 2014

David Brin: EXISTENCE, an SF novel of the near future

David Brin
Existence


This is, as far as I can tell, Brin's latest novel, and it's a hefty one at some five hundred and fifty+ pages.  As he did with an earlier work, Earth, Brin set it on Earth in the near future, the mid 2050's probably and used the multiple narrative structure following a number of people.  This does distance the reader from identifying closely with any one character, but it does allow for a better overall impression of the world at that time.
 
Existence needs to be a large book for it explores a number of themes, disparate on the surface, yet Brin manages to interweave a fascinating tale with them.  Existence, first of all, is a first contact novel, but not with just one alien, but with a wide variety of species.  It is also a very dangerous crowd that comes visiting, for if nothing is done,  civilization will be destroyed and humanity itself will bring it about.  It's an insidious attack, well-meaning in its intent, yet humanity will be doomed unless it resists the invasion. 



The Information Age is another theme.  Here is a theme that I recognize as being a frequent topic on Brin's blog  Contrary Brin   --specifically the right to privacy and access to information.  In essence, it appears to me that Brin believes that the issue of privacy is dead.  There is too much information out there and generally speaking, today, only the privileged few have access to it, as well as governments, large corporations and powerful special interest groups.

Alvin Toffler wrote Power Shift in 1970 and posited that land, labor, and capital would no longer be the major sources of power in the 21st century: it would be information. In this novel, Toffler's prediction comes true.   Brin argues that the solution to the problem of information control is to make access to information available to everybody.  In Existence we see several people who are "outsiders" become important because they take advantage of the free flow of information.  It isn't perfect yet, but they have better access than we do today, and they know how to use it.

Project Uplift appears at a very early stage.  In fact, the process of "uplifting" dolphins and chimps has halted for lack of funding.  As usual, governments are playing their usual game of getting enthusiastic about a project because a particular party is in power.  When the opposition gains control, the funding stops, regardless of its value.  Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

This is a big, sprawling novel with a variety of major characters ranging from a reporter so badly damaged that she must live in a mobile metal cylinder; a Chinese man who makes his living scavenging homes flooded out by the rising sea level; a rich, young man who rents small shuttle craft to go into near Earth space; and an astronaut who gets into space because he is hired to clean out all the debris and garbage in orbit around earth.  And, of course, there are the aliens who didn't come to destroy or even conquer Earth.  They have come to spread the Good News.

This is not a book that can be read in short ten to fifteen minute segments.  You have to turn off the TV and all the other distractions and settle down with this one.  It's worth it.

Lawrence Durrell: "Mneiae

I think I had mentioned before that Lawrence Durrell is one of my favorite novelists. His "Alexandria Quartet" and "The Avignon Quintet" are favorites of mine which I have read and reread several times.  It's been some time since I last read them, and I can hear them calling out from the bookcase as I pass by.  Perhaps. . . soon.

Durrell is also a poet, probably one of the most perplexing poets I've ever read.  His poetry is far more cerebral or intellectual than my favorite poets; in fact, his poetry strikes me as being even more intellectual than that of T. S. Eliot.  I can make some sense of parts of a Durrell poem, but I have trouble coming up with more than a few broken ideas or phrases when I try for an overall view.  Here is one of the simplest of his poems, or so I think.


Mneiae

Soft as puffs of smoke combining,
Mneiae--remembrance of past lives:

The shallow pigmentation of eternity
Upon the pouch of time and place existing,

I, the watcher, smoking at a table,
And I, my selves, observed by human choice,

A disinherited portion of the whole:
With you the sibling of my self-desire,

The carnal and the temporal voice,
The singing bird upon the spire:

And love, the grammar of that war
Which time's the only ointment for,

Which time's the only ointment for.

-- Lawrence Durrell --
from The Poetry of Lawrence Durrell
selected by  Lawrence Durrell
E. P. Dutton and Company


A touch of irony here, from a source that's unexpected--at least by me--the spell checker.  My spell checker coughed at Mneiae and, really, truly, suggested a better spelling would be amnesia.  The irony here is that Mneiae is a common name for the Muses, and means remembrance,  according to the Greek Mythology Index (http://tinyurl.com/kpjoltx).  The Greek muses were the nine goddess of inspiration for poets and writers who called upon them for help to present their work with beauty and gracefulness.


 While the narrator begins with what appears to be a merging of past lives,
 
"Soft as puffs of smoke combining,
Mneiae--remembrance of past lives:"


 the theme of separation soon appears--


"I, the watcher, smoking at a table,
And I, my selves, observed by human choice,

A disinherited portion of the whole:"


or does it? 

Are "I, my selves" that which make up "I, the watcher"?   

----------------------------


"And love, the grammar of that war
Which time's the only ointment for,"


 What war is he speaking of--the war between the sexes?  Grammar is defined as a set of rules relating to language.  Is love then, as "the grammar of that war" a set of rules for that war?   Of course, the second line brings up that old cliche--time heals all wounds, perhaps those wounds suffered because of love, "the grammar of war." 

Favorite line: "Soft as puffs of smoke combining"



Any observations--good, bad, or indifferent?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Kenko: longing for the past

29

"When I sit down in quiet meditation, the one emotion hardest to fight against is a longing in all things for the past.  After the others have gone to bed, I pass the  time on a long autumn's night by putting in order whatever belongings are at hand.  As I tear up scraps of old correspondence I should prefer not to leave behind, I sometimes find among them samples of the calligraphy of a friend who has died, or pictures he drew for his own amusement, and I feel exactly as I did at the time   Even with letters written by friends who are still alive I try, when it has been long since we met, to remember the circumstances, the year.  What a moving experience that is!  It is sad to think that a man's familiar possessions, indifferent to his death, should remain unaltered long after he is gone."

-- Kenko --
from Essays in Idleness


This is a common theme in Kenko's collection of essays.  In one essay, he writes that in all things those of the past are superior to the present.    I guess as one gets older one only remembers the good things.  Someone, I forget who, once wrote that perfect happiness was good health and a bad memory. 

I wonder if those "familiar possessions" are really unaltered.  I wonder if they may be changed in some way by the person who uses them or even just contemplates them.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Emily Dickinson, a poem

#9

Through lane it lay -- through bramble --
Through clearing and through wood --
Banditti often passed us
Upon the lonely road.

The wolf came peering curious --
The owl looked puzzled down --
The serpent's satin figure
Glid stealthily along --

The tempests touched our garments --
The lightning's poinards gleamed --
Fierce from the Crag above us
The hungry Vulture screamed --

That satyr's fingers beckoned --
The valley murmured "Come" --
These were the mates --
This was the road
These children fluttered home. 

-- Emily Dickinson --
#9
from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson
edited by Thomas H. Jackson
 

Lucky children .  .  . or so I think, and perhaps Emily Dickinson thinks the same. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Loren Eiseley: Meaningless Voices

Loren Eiseley (1907-1977), as you may have noticed, is one of my favorite essayists and prose writers, possibly my favorite, if I ever took the time to think about it.  He writes clearly and succinctly--his essays are a joy to read.  His poetry, though, is quite different--enigmatic, and puzzling at times, many times actually.  Something there, however, resonates with me, even if I don't understand just what it is.  Here is one of those poems.



Meaningless Voices

Water that comes endlessly from the blue mountain lakes unvisited save by deer

and the deer themselves,
bugling faint calls through the aspen thickets in high autumn.
all talk in meaningless voices.

The valley is filled with cricket chirps and leaf whispers
and whatever it is comes crying
on the rain squalls from the northeast.

Even the grasshoppers have been here a long time and click songs
without the bright, sinister meanings of
the mountain rattlers, whose voice, like death, is purposeful.

All of these have been here for ages, but later
horns rasp in the valley and the voice of dynamite
splits boulders and the roads come, all purposeful, all strident with meaning,
while red-winged blackbirds
fly away to new pools.

Nevertheless the meaningless voices are also significant
in what is past and to come.

-- Loren Eiseley --
from The Lost Notebooks of Loren Eiseley



Are the only meaningful voices those that signify death or destruction?  Yet, those "meaningless voices are also significant/in what is past and to come."  In what way were they significant in the past and, again, will be significant in what is "to come"?


Friday, June 27, 2014

Thomas Hardy: "I Have LIved With Shades"

Could this perhaps reflect Hardy's own doubts about his place in history?


"I Have Lived With Shades"
                       I
I have lived with Shades so long,
And talked to them so oft,
Since forth from cot and croft
I went mankind among,
           That sometime they
           In their dim style
           Will pause awhile
           To hear my say;
                    
                        II
And take my by the hand,
And lead me through their rooms
In the To-be, where Dooms
Half-wove and shapeless stand:
             And show from there
            The dwindled dust
            And rot and rust
           Of things that were.

                        III
"Now turn," they said to me
One day:  "Look whence we came,
And signify his name
Who gazes thence on thee." --
         --"Nor name nor race
        Know I, or can,"
        I said, "Of man
       So commonplace.

                         IV
"He moves me not at all;
I note no ray or jot
Of rareness in his lot,
Or star exceptional.
            Into the dim
            Dead throngs around
            He'll sink, nor sound
            Be left of him." 

                         V
"Yet," said they, "his frail speech,"
Hath accents pitched like thine--
Thy mould  and his define
A likeness each to each--
            But go!  Deep pain
            Alas, would be
           His name to thee,
           And told in vain!"

-- Thomas Hardy --     
from The Works of Thomas Hardy


The poet-narrator clearly seems to be questioning here his own place in history.  He says that the shade pointed out to him will sink into the dead throngs around and nothing will be heard of him.  In the fifth stanza we learn the the shade looks and sounds like him, and the other shades will not say his name for "Deep pain/Alas, would be/His name to thee."

This all seems straightforward, except for the last line--"And told in vain."  Why would it be useless to tell him?  To prevent pain would be a good reason for not revealing the identity, but why include that it would be useless? 

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Village: an SF film

The Village
an SF film


Here's another one of those quiet SF films that I never heard of until I ran across it by accident.  It appeared in 2004 and was written, produced, and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, who has also directed The Last Airbender and The Sixth Sense.  

I'm surprised that I missed this film because it stars William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, Joaquin Phoenix, and Bryce Dallas Howard.  With this cast, it should have received more notice.  Of course, I may just have missed it and am the only person in the world who hadn't heard of it.  The background music is also unique in that the solo violinist is Hillary Hahn, a world-class performer who, at age 35, already has won two Grammys. 

The film opens on a quiet village scene, apparently sometime during the 1800s, according to their clothing and the implements they use.  However, something strange appears almost immediately as two young women who are sweeping the porch with brooms make a game of it, dancing with the brooms.  Suddenly the frolicking is interrupted when one spots a red flower.  They stare at it and one wonders where it came from.  One plucks the flower and immediately buries it, saying "bad color, bad color."

The villagers are all from surrounding towns where each has lost someone through violence or has come here to escape violence.  All have taken a vow to remain in the village and not to return to the towns.  It appears to be one of the many utopian communities formed during the 19th century, one of which was featured in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Blythedale Romance.  These are the 19th century equivalents of the hippie communes of the 20th century.  

The people are happy and content as they go about their daily chores and work.  The town is self-sufficient as it produces its own food in its own gardens, and it has a small herd of cattle.  We see the women making clothing, and a blacksmith forging tools and other implements.  Ingredients for the meals do not come out of cans or boxes.  Decisions are made by a council of village elders, with William Hurt's character being the unofficial leader.

However, in spite of the ordinariness of their lives,  strangeness appears when we realize that there is a circle of wooden poles surrounding the village that bear lit torches at night.  A guard is posted at night on a tall watch tower that can be reached only by ladder and up through a trap door that is locked by the guard at the top.  Children are warned not to go beyond the barrier.  We also learn that there are creatures out there called "Those We Don't Speak Of," and there seems to be an unspoken agreement that neither bothers the other by coming into the village or going beyond the barrier.  However, several incidents suggest that this agreement is breaking down for some reason.

The first half of the film depicts the lives of these people and the series of disquieting events regarding the relationship of the villagers and "Those We Don't Speak Of."   However, the second half turns into something quite different as it now focuses on the relationship between two of the characters.  A young blind woman, played by Bryce Dallas Howard, goes on a heroic and solitary quest to a nearby town to get some medicine for her newly betrothed lover, played by Joaquin Phoenix.  It is her journey that now becomes the center of the film.  It is because of this journey that dark secrets are revealed, at least for viewers. 


It's an interesting film about a small isolated village whose inhabitants have voluntarily cut themselves off from what they perceive as the dangers of  living in large towns.  The film centers on people and ideas, and the special effects and the usual trappings of action-oriented SF are missing. 

Recommended for those looking for something other than noisy space battles, drooling aliens, and special effects that substitute for plot and character development.



Saturday, June 14, 2014

Robert Grudin: what we best understand


II.24    If the words "to have" and "to know" are taken in their deepest sense, then there is nothing in the world that we may truly have or know.  In most of our experiences--personal, professional, political, esthetic--we stand at the periphery, conversant with detail but unsure about structure, basis, context; unsure even about the nature of the emotions that the experience evokes in us.  What we understand best, we understand by renewal--by looking at the same thing again and again in different ways, looking at it internally and externally, walking around it, turning it in our hands, participating in it until some strange abstract spirit of its being rises from the complexity of effort and detail.  And what we have best, we have by renewal--by chronic challenges never refused,  by danger of loss, by repeated cherishings, and by love remembered.

-- Robert Grudin --
from Time and the Art of Living


I don't know--does this sound bleak to you?--that "there is nothing in the world that we may truly have or know"-- that in most of our experiences we are at the edge of things.  Grudin seems to deny the possibility of an immediate intuitive grasp of things, and that it is only through repeated exposure over a long period that we best understand things, and I suspect this would include people also.   In a sense, I think he insists that only through immersion in whatever it is that we can develop any in-depth understanding of the event or object or person, but we still will never truly know or have anything.

I think that what he says about repeated exposure and renewal is true most of the time.  It does take time and repeated encounters to understand the other, whether it may be an event or an object or a person.  However, there are occasions when there seems to be an instant grasp of the other, being it favorable or unfavorable, that repeated exposure only confirms the first impression.  They are rare, but they do exist.       

Monday, June 9, 2014

David Brin: EXISTENCE, an excerpt

David Brin
Existence
SF novel, 553 pages

I'm in the midst of reading a remarkable SF novel by David Brin.  I've always enjoyed his previous works, but this one is something special.  I never thought he would be able to match his earlier ground-breaking novel, Earth, but he has not only matched it, but I think he has gone a step or two  beyond with Existence.  I haven't finished it yet, so I won't comment any more, but I do want to provide this brief excerpt from the novel.

Hamish, a writer and one of many characters,  is reminiscing:


"50
DIVINATION    

The art that I practice is the only true form of magic.
     It had taken Hamish years to realize this consciously, though he must have suspected it as a child, while devouring fantasy novels and playing whatever interactive game had the best narrative storyline.  Later, at university and grad school, even while diligently studying the ornate laws and incantations of science, something had always struck  him as wrong about the whole endeavor.
     No, wrong wasn't the word.  Sterile. Or dry, or pallid .  .  . that is, compared to worlds of fiction and belief.
     Then, while playing hooky one day from biomedical research, escaping into the vast realm of a little novel, he found a clue to his dilemma, in a passage written by the author, Tom Robbins.

Science gives man what he needs.
But magic gives him what he wants.

     A gross oversimplification?  Sure, Yet, Hamish instantly recognized the important distinction he'd been floundering toward.
      For all its beauty, honesty, and effectiveness at improving the human condition, science demands a terrible price--that we accept what experiments tell us about the universe, whether we like it or not.  It's about consensus and teamwork and respectful critical argument, working with, and through, natural law.  It requires that we utter, frequently, those hateful words--'I might be wrong.'
     On the other hand, magic is what happens when we convince ourselves something is, even when it isn't.  Subjective Truth, winning over mere objective fact.  The Will, triumphing over all else.  No wonder,  even after the cornucopia of wealth and knowledge engendered by science, magic remains more popular, more embedded in the human heart.
     Whether you labeled it faith, or self-delusion, or fantasy, or outright lying--Hamish recognized the species' greatest talent, a calling that spanned all cultures and times, appearing far more often, in far more tribes, than dispassionate reason!  Combine it with enough ardent wanting, and the brew might succor you through the harshest times, even periods of utter despair.
     That was what Hamish got from the best yarns, spun by master storytellers.  A temporary, willing belief that he could inhabit another world, bound by different rules.  Better rules than the dry clockwork rhythms of this one." 





Whether this represents Brin's own thinking or is simply part of the creative process of constructing a character is up for you to decide, if you choose to read the novel.  


I think, though, that there are hints or clues here to the present time, with all the conflict and partisan fighting going on all over the world, and right here at home.  Those who fear and hate the inexorable changes that seem to overwhelm all are in a state of denial.  Magic gives them what they want.    


If there is anything that characterizes science for me, it is the following, idealized though it may be:

For all its beauty, honesty, and effectiveness at improving the human condition, science demands a terrible price--that we accept what experiments tell us about the universe, whether we like it or not.  It's about consensus and teamwork and respectful critical argument, working with, and through, natural law.  It requires that we utter, frequently, those hateful words--'I might be wrong.'

Other ways of thinking --magic-- do not face that ultimate challenge for if something is not to one's liking, one simply ignores it or mentally rewrites it.  It may be more emotionally satisfying, but that really doesn't solve real world problems such as environmental pollution of water and air or global warming or disputes among belief systems.  We must learn to face problems and do something about them or go the way of the dinosaur.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Edward Thomas: First Known When Lost

The title of this poem provided the name for Stephen Pentz'  blog,  "First Known When Lost."  I recommend that you visit it, if you haven't already discovered it.  It's listed in my blog list in the column to the right.  A click will get you quickly there.  It was Stephen who first introduced me to Edward Thomas' poetry in any sustained way.  Thank you.



First known when lost

 I never had noticed it until
'Twas gone, --the narrow copse
Where now the woodman lops
The last of the willows with his bill.

I was not mre than a hedge overgrown.
One meadow's beadth away
I passed it day by day.
Now the soil is bare as a bone,

And black betwixt two meadows green,
Though fresh-cut faggot ends
Of hazel make some amends
With a gleam as if flowers they had been.

Strange it could have hidden so near!
And now I see as I look
That the small winding brook,
A tributary's tributary, rises there.

-- Edward Thomas --
Edward Thomas:  The Annotated Collected Poems
Edited by Edna Longley 


There seems a touch of irony here for he discovers two things.  The first is the copse that he never noticed until it was gone, and now its absence allows him to discover the source of that small winding brook.  


"A tributary's tributary". 

A "tributary" can be a small river or stream or brook that flows into another river, but not into a sea or ocean.  Perhaps this tells us that the brook flows into another stream that is also a tributary of another.  A "tributary" can also mean  paying something to another to acknowledge submission, to obtain protection, or to purchase peace.    I wonder if Thomas is being ambiguous here. 

Friday, June 6, 2014

Loren Eiseley: THE NIGHT COUNTRY


"To an anthropologist, the social reception of invention reminds one of the manner in which a strange young male is first repulsed, then tolerated, upon the fringes of a group of howler monkeys he wishes to join.  Finally, since the memories of the animals are short, he becomes familiar, is accepted, and fades into the mass.  In a similar way, discoveries made by Darwin and Wallace were at first castigated and then by degrees absorbed.  In the process both men experienced forms of loneliness and isolation, not simply as a necessity for discovery but as a penalty for having dared to redraw the map of our outer, rather than inner, cosmos."

-- Loren Eiseley --
from The Night Country


Perhaps among the majority of scientists and perhaps the general population, this might be true, but there still are groups of howler monkeys out there who haven't accepted evolution, even after some 150+ years of evidence.  Other groups, and there is considerable overlap here, still deny the existence of global warming, again in spite of overwhelming evidence.  Other groups, again with considerable overlap, still believe the world is only 6000 years old, having been created in 4004 B. C. 

I wonder how many members of these groups also belong to the Flat Earth Society.   Yes, they still exist and here's their web site:  http://theflatearthsociety.org/cms/


Friday, May 30, 2014

Loren Eiseley: from THE NIGHT COUNTRY


"It is frequently the tragedy of the great artist, as it is of the great scientist, that he frightens the ordinary man.  If he is more than a popular story-teller it may take humanity a generation to absorb and grow accustomed to the new geography with which that scientist or artist presents us.  Even then, perhaps only the more imaginative and literate may accept him.  Subconsciously the genius is feared as an image breaker;  frequently he does not accept the opinions of the mass, or man's opinion  of himself.  He has voiced through the ages, in one form or another, this very loneliness and detachment which Dewey saw so clearly at the outcome of our extending knowledge.  The custom-bound, uneducated, intolerant man projects his fear and hatred upon the seer.  The artist is frequently a human mirror.  If what we see there displeases us, if we see all too clearly our own insignificance and vanity, we tend to revolt, not against ourselves, but in order to martyrize the unfortunate soul who forced us into self-examination.

In short, like the herd animals we are, we sniff warily at the strange one among us.  If he is fortunate enough finally to be accepted, it is likely to be after a trial of ridicule and after the sting has been removed from his work by long familiarization and bowdlerizing, when the alien quality of his thought has been mitigated or removed.  Carl Schneer recounts that Einstein made so little impression on his superiors, it was with difficulty that he obtained even a junior clerkship in the Swiss Patents office at Bern, after having failed of consideration as a scholar of promise.  Not surprisingly, theoretical physicists favored his views before the experimentalists capitulated.  As Schneer remarks: It was not easy to have a twenty-six-year-old clerk in the Swiss Patent office explain the meaning of experiments on which one had labored for years."  Implacable hatred, as well as praise, was to be Einstein's lot.

-- Loren Eiseley --
from The Night Country


I have one small quibble here with what Eiseley is arguing--he says "uneducated" as a characteristic of those who fear the genius or one who goes beyond the accepted dogma.  I would remove "uneducated" because I see many "educated" people in the ranks of those terrified by the new or the original. 

Just because it is new or original or unique does not make it bad or wrong or good or right.  It is hard to judge something that is novel objectively or fairly, for our biases and prejudices immediately come into play.  For this reason, we should always wait a while before passing judgement.

Too many times those first immediate snap judgements are proved wrong later.   Some are able to  reevaluate their position and admit they were wrong, facing unfortunately, derision and even isolation from those around them--wobbling is unacceptable to many.  Others unable to admit their errors then search out evidence that appears to support their position while ignoring, avoiding, or ridiculing contrary evidence.   Mocking or ridiculing those who disagree is also a common tactic employed to protect oneself from having to admit one made an error.

It is unfortunate for a country or other political entity when the leaders, elected or appointed, are among those who are shackled by the past and unable to consider new ways of doing things or new ways of thinking, simply because they are new.  We should wait before dismissing the new, for there just might be something there worth thinking about, something better than today's universal truths.

It's been said in many ways: Yesterday's heresies are today's revelations and tomorrow's dogmatic truths.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Friedrich Nietzsche: some aphorisms

"The good four. Honest with ourselves and with whatever is friend to us; courageous toward the enemy; generous toward the vanquished;  polite--always: that is how the four cardinal virtues want us."   

I don't know what he means by "the four cardinal virtues,"  but as I was raised a Catholic, they were justice, temperance, fortitude, and prudence.    Doesn't seem to be much of an overlap here, is there?
Polite?  That seems to have disappeared today or so it seems to me. 




"Against an enemy.  How good bad music and bad reasons sound when one marches against an enemy!"

I guess the mind or the reasoning faculties shut down and emotion takes over.



"Shedding one's skin.   The snake that cannot shed its skin perishes.  So do the spirits who are prevented from changing their opinions; they cease to be spirit."  

Didn't one of our two political parties make a virtue recently of not changing one's opinions regardless of the situation.  Those who do are accused of "wobbling."



All quotations are from
The Portable Nietzsche
Walter Kaufman:  Editor and translator

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Theodore Sturgeon: "The Heart"

Theodore Sturgeon
"The Heart"
The Ultimate Egoist
Volume I: The Complete Stories


"The Heart"  is a quiet little shocker with a warning about getting what one wants.  It's also an early tale about the power of hate.

The tale is a nested story-within-a-story.  A writer is sitting at a bar when a woman comes up to him and says she knows he's a writer and that, for a drink or two, she will tell him her story.  

 She describes herself as a plain woman who buried herself in her job as a records clerk in the coroner's office.  She meets a man who has serious heart problems (this was written prior to the development of heart transplants).  They fall in love.  Since he won't, she proposes to him.  He says no because she would be a widow in a short time and he doesn't want to put her through that.  He then leaves her, saying it is for the best.

She can't let it go like that, so she decides to do something about his problem, something unique and unexpected (at least to me).  She tells the writer:


"Hate's a funny thing.  I hope you don't ever know how--how big it can be.  Use it right, and it's the most totally destructive thing in the universe.  When I realized that, my mind stopped going round and round in those small circles, and it began to drive straight ahead.  I got it all clear in my mind.  Listen now--let me tell you what happened when I got going.

I found something to hate.  Bill Llanyn's heart--the ruined, inefficient organ that was keeping us apart.  No one can ever know the crazy concentration I put into it.  No one has ever lived to describe the solidness of hate when it begins to form into something real.  I needed a miracle to make over Bill's heart, and in hate I had a power to work it.  My hate reached a greatness that nothing could withstand.  I knew it just as surely as a murderer knows what he has done when he feels his knife sink into his victim's flesh.  But I was no murderer.  Death wasn't my purpose.  I wanted my hatred to reach into his heart. sear out what was bad and let him take care of the rest.   I was doing what no one else has ever done--hating constructively.  If I hadn't been so insanely anxious to put my idea to work, I would have remembered that hate can build nothing that is not evil, cause nothing that is not evil."
   

In short, she attempts to use her hatred as a kind of a psychic laser which will burn out the diseased cells in his heart.

 Spoiler: discussion of the ending



A short time later, the coroner hands her notes from several port mortums he recently conducted.  One of them was for Bill Llanyn.  The diagnosis was heart failure.  The coroner tells her he can't be more specific than that.  She should just put down heart failure.  When she asks why, he replies that the man had no heart at all: there was nothing there and he wasn't going to put that on the official form.

Was it that  her control over her hate powered psychic laser was insufficient to accurately distinguish between the diseased cells and the healthy cells in his heart?  Or, were there no healthy cells at all left in his heart?  Or, did she subconsciously hate him and therefore killed him?  Perhaps she didn't know what was in her own heart at that time.   Could this explain her actions after having told her story?

"The woman got up and looked at the clock.
     'Where are you headed?'  I (the writer) asked.
     'I'm catching a train out of here,' she said.  She went to the door.  I said goodnight to her on the sidewalk.  She went down toward the station.  I headed uptown.  When the police emergency wagon screamed by me a few minutes later I didn't have to go down to the tracks to see what happened."



Guilt?  Grief?  Both?

It is said that only a thin line separates love and hate. 

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Robert Frost: "Into My Own"

Into My Own

One of my wishes is that those dark trees,
So old and firm they scarcely show the breeze,
Were not, as 'twere, the merest mask of gloom,
But stretched away unto the edge of doom.

I should not be withheld but that some day
Into their vastness I should steal away,
Fearless of ever finding open land,
Or highway where the slow wheel pours the sand.

I do not see why I should e'er turn back,
Or those should not set forth upon my track
To overtake me, who should miss me here
And long to know if still I hold them dear.

They would not find me changed from him they knew--
Only more sure of all I thought was true.

-- Robert Frost --

This is one of his early poems, first published in A Boy's Will which first came out in 1913 and then a second edition in 1915.  For some strange reason, whenever I've opened my collection of Frost's poems, I have always skimmed by this one and never really looked closely at it, until now.  While it may be one of his early poems, it is still a classic example of Frost being his usual perverse self.

It's a growing up poem, in that the narrator hopes that the darkness of the future is ever-present: one will never know just what one will encounter, or what will encounter him.  Some of his later poems take up this issue more specifically, I think. But, here, it is enough that he realizes that he must go on, even though he may never see a clearing or "Or highway where the slow wheel pours the sand."  That's a great line: I can see that wagon wheel rolling down the road, catching up and dropping the sand and dust of the road.

He sees no reason for turning back.  And, he realizes that others who miss him may wish to follow him to see if he still "hold(s) them dear."  But, the last two lines, as frequently happens in Frost's poems, turns expectancies around.  What should happen when those who have come in pursuit find him.  Why, they should find him different, for after all, people have always gone off into the wilderness to seek a vision or a new life or a new philosophy to share with others.   Aren't we products of our environment, conditioned by those around us?  Different environment = a different person,

Many psychological theories insist that there is no hard core to the personality, that there really is no "I,"  that the "I" is really a delusion, a construct of desires, momentary flitting ideas, sensory impressions, responses to our environment.  Therefore, setting off alone, without the familiar, should result in a change in the personality over a period of time as the person adjusts to the new environment and as new ideas and behaviors are incorporated.

But--

"They would not find me changed from him they knew--
  Only more sure of all I thought was true. "

Frost disagrees for he says that they won't find him changed for this isolation, this time of separation will allow him to get a clearer view of what he is, to see himself as he really is, and, therefore, more secure in his self-image. 

Another example of Frost being Frost.  

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Some novels, stories, and poems that I revisit regularly, Pt. 2

These are stories and authors who popped up after I began the first post on works I regularly reread.  And, as I think about what I'm going to write about them, the urge to jump up, hustle over to the bookcase, and dust them off for another reread is ever present.  Oh well, it's that old "too few hours or years and too many books" problem as usual.


Herman Melville
Mardi
I have a theory that every writer has a wild book tucked down deep inside somewhere.  Some manage to get it out, while others either repress it or aren't aware of it.  If it does get out, then readers and critics are confused and generally don't like it, for it's not what they want or expect from the writer.  I think Melville's wild book is Mardi.  And, in my usual contrary way, I consider it a favorite.  Mardi is satire, rather like Gulliver's Travels which was published in 1726 and revised in 1735,  whereas Melville's work was published in 1849Melville may have been influenced by Jonathan Swift, but I haven't read any scholarly commentary that suggests that.

In Mardi,  Taji, the narrator, is in pursuit of his lost love, Yillah,  a Polynesian woman whom he had  rescued from native priests who were going to sacrifice her to their gods.  She was once again kidnapped, and Taji, in a small boat, went off in search of her once again.  He is accompanied on his mission byKing Media, who was bored with his duties and looked for adventure; Babbalanja,  a philosopher;  Mohi, an historian; and Yoomy, a poet.   As you can imagine, with such a crew representing the political, the philosophical, the historical, and the poetic viewpoints, there are long and sometimes confusing discussions about the universe and everything else as they traverse the  South Seas in search of Yillah.  During their journey they visit various islands, each of which exhibits some facet of human cruelty or weakness or folly.  One of the islands is obviously Europe and another is the US in the late 1840s.

Some contemporary critics have called it an allegory and others "a mess."  Some have called it both an allegory and a mess.  It's one of those books that the reader has to go along with Melville (or Taji) and enjoy the ride and not insist on a tightly woven consistent narrative with no loose ends at the end.
Read it for fun, and whatever else you can get out of it. 


Herman Melville
The Confidence Man:  This is a short allegorical novel set on a Mississippi riverboat, the Fidele, Fidelity or Faith in English, if I'm not mistaken. It consists of a series of encounters that passengers have with various confidence men (or perhaps really only one in disguise), all "representing" various charitable organizations.  Perhaps what fascinates me the most is that I'm never quite sure what underlies the various encounters.    

Herman Melville
Moby Dick is probably considered his greatest work, if not one of the greatest novels written in the US during the nineteenth century, if not also the twentieth century.  It's too early to say anything definite about the twenty-first century, but so far I haven't seen anything to compare to it.  It's a comedy, a tragedy, a revenge play, a travelogue, a history of whaling, and a scientific treatise on cetology.  Enough said.




Greg Benford:
The Galactic Center Series
Six novels.  The first is In the Ocean of Night which was published in 1977.  It is set in the late 1990s on Earth and near-Earth space and features the adventures of Nigel Walmsley, a Brit who somehow got himself a position as an astronaut in the NASA Space Program.  He wanted to go into space and England didn't have a space program.  The sixth novel is Sailing Bright Eternity, published in 1996 and is set some 30,000+ years in the future in the vicinity of the black hole at the center of our galaxy.

In between are some of the most spectacular science fiction adventures I've ever read and that covers 60+ years of reading SF.   In volume three, Great Sky River, published in 1987, we jump ahead some 30,000 years and meet Kileen Bishop and his group of friends and relatives on the run from the mech civilization, AIs and robots who are determined to wipe out all organic life.  Bishop and the other humans are closer to being cybernetic hybrids than 100% human with their metal and plastic reinforced exoskeletons and electronically enhanced senses.  Volumes Four, Five, and Six are mostly concerned with the activities of the Bishop clan and their struggle to avoid destruction by the mechs. However, there a few surprises in store for the reader.



Dashiell Hammett
The Maltese Falcon

It's one of the great mystery novels, at least to my way of thinking.  Part of its attraction may be that when I read the novel, I always see the actors from the film playing their respective roles.  I must also admit that I've seen the film more often than I've read the novel.  Actually I saw the film first, actually long before I read the novel.  It features a tough, cynical detective, a femme fatale, sleezy villains, and, of course, the Falcon!  Great stuff.


Nikos Kazantzakis
Zorba the Greek
This is another example of having seen the film first and then reading the novel, primarily because of the filmA young bookish intellectual attempts to escape his cloistered life by reopening a lignite mine on Crete which he has inherited.  He is aided and abetted and confused by Zorba, an adventurer, miner, soldier, and survivor.  Zorba is the exact opposite of the intellectual--earthy, practical, exuberant, almost a life force in himself.   The book is ironic in that it encourages the reader to put down the book and go out and do something in the real world.  After reading Zorba, I got so entranced by Kazantzakis' works, that I went out and read everything of his that I could find.  I think that by now I've read almost everything he's written that's been translated. 


George R. Stewart
Earth Abides
This is another of my favorite SF post-holocaust novels.  It's what I call a quiet novel in that it depicts the quiet day-by-day struggles of the survivors of a war that killed most of the humans on Earth.  There are no mutant, slavering monsters, semi-human or otherwise.  The threats are the typical ones of providing food and shelter, and dealing accidents and disease in a world without ERs and vaccines.  And, of course, there are some who figure taking food, etc. is easier than working.  It's also the story of how myths about the survivors or first families begin in a society that is largely illiterate and how those survivors might be viewed in the future.  One other element is that of the making of a sacred symbol purely by accident.  


Lawrence Durrell
The Alexandria Quartet
I was hooked from the first pages of Justine, the first novel in the series.  It was on the reading list of a class I took, and I immediately went out and got the next three.  I've read it at least 3 or 4 times now and had to search for the hardbound copies as the paperback ones were disintegrating.

Justine:  LGD's accounting of events of past year spent in Alexandria just before outbreak of WWII--primarily of his relationship with several women, one of whom is the enigmatic Justine. 

Balthazar: LGD sent his manuscript to Balthazar, one of his friends in Alexandria who also appears in the manuscript.  Balthzar then returns the novel with his version of those same events as seen from his perspective.  We now have two versions of what happened.

Mountolive:  a third version of that same period by Mountolive (who is mentioned in the first two books) of the same events, giving a third and  completely different version of LGD's relationship with Justine.

Clea:  this is an accounting of the events that take place when LGD returns to Alexandria in the midst of WWII, about a year or so after the events told in the first three novels.

The series really asks us if we really ever know the full story of our own history. 


 Durrell's second series, The Avignon Quintet--he sometimes referred to it as The Quincunx and consists of the following five novels: Monsieur, Livia, Constance, Sebastian, and Quinx.

 This is a strange series of novels in which Durrell creates an Author who creates a character who writes a novel in which the Author includes a number of his friends and acquaintances, but takes "poetic" license in his creation. This is the first novel in the series--Monsieur.  

The remaining four novels are about the Author and his experiences in Egypt and France during WWII.  What is bizarre is that "fictional" characters from the first novel appear in other later four novels and interact with the Author and his friends.  In addition, several characters from "The Alexandria Quartet" also briefly appear. It's all rather confusing at times, and I had to create a diagram to keep the characters separate as many of the characters from the first novel are actually created from different friends and acquaintances of the Author. 

One of these days I will go back and reread both series for a third? fourth? time. 




Ursula Le Guin
The Left Hand of Darkness

This novel is one of my top ten SF novels.  If anyone ever asks me to recommend an SF novel for someone who has never read SF, I always mention this one.  It is well-written and has  an engaging main character, action, and an idea to explore.  The idea is simple.  Humans do not have sexually active periods like so many of our fellow residents here on earth. Humans are sexually active all the time.   Moreover, humans like most of our neighbors here have two genders, male and female.  Le Guin in this novel asks the question:  What if humans had specific periods in which they were sexually active and in between those periods, they were sexually neuter?

Winter or Gethen, as the inhabitants call it,   is a planet in which someone has apparently modified humans.  Humans on this planet become sexually active every three weeks and remain so for several days.  At this point they develop sexual characteristics, typically at random, so that humans on this planet can become either male or female. If a Gethen is paired with someone It (they are genderless during this period--what pronoun would you use?) likes, then the first one to go into kemmer (their term for the sexually active period) becomes by chance either male or female.  The other one then becomes the other sex.  If the one who becomes a female at that point gets pregnant, then that person will remain female and nurse the child until it is weaned.  At which point, that person then reverts to the sexually neutral state.  So, in a family pair with two children, each of the two adults could have been the mother of one of the two children.  As you can see,  this upsets all of our ideas about what males and females are like.  In fact, that's the issue Le Guin explores in this work: what are the real characteristics that belong exclusively to males and females.  If you haven't read this one yet, I strongly recommend you do so.

   

Kim Stanley Robinson
Three Californias:  Wild Shore, The Gold Coast, and Pacific Edge
When first published, they were known as the Orange County Trilogy, but the series title was changed when the trade paperback edition was issued.  My own name for these three is The California Troika.  A troika is a Russian horse-drawn vehicle in which the three horses are side-by-side, so there is no lead horse.  The three novels in this series all take place in the Orange County area at approximately the same time, some years in the future. But, this is an alternate universe series like no other I have read.  I have made several posts on these works, and clicking on the label Three Californias or The California Trioka will take you to them.  If you decide to read them, it makes no difference with which one you start.

The Wild Shore is set some half century or so after the US was destroyed by a sneak nuclear attack.  It is the story of a young male, late teens, and his experiences during one year in a small village that has grown up after the bombing.  In that respect, it is somewhat similar to another of my favorite post-holocaust novels, Earth Abides by George Stewart. 

The Gold Coast is set some years in the future and is an extrapolation of what life would be like if there were no dramatic changes.  The main character, again, is a young male, whose father is an engineer in the military-industrial complex--he works for a company that strives to get contracts to build hardware for the US military.  Like most of his friends, our hero is mildly opposed to what his father does for a living, and he is mostly concerned about the latest designer drugs, sex, and the contemporary music scene.  The novel is the story of events in this person's life that change him.

If the others can be classified as SF, then Pacific Edge is clearly a fantasy.  It is set some years in the future, again in Orange County,  in a world that has gone green.  Large corporations and nation states have been broken up all over the world.  Small is beautiful.  Recycling has become an important activity.  Cars are a rarity and most people get around a bicycles.  The main character is a young man, possibly in his early20s who has become the local expert in remodeling and fixing up abandoned houses. Local politics features strongly in the novel. 



Fyodor Dostoyevsky
"Notes from the Underground"
This is almost impossible for me to describe.  The first part is a philosophical rant against those who think that human behavior will eventually be completely predictable and explainable by the immutable laws of science.  In addition the narrator contends that there are two types of people:  the doers and the thinkers or the intellectuals.   Everything that is accomplished is done only by the doers, because the thinkers are paralyzed when they attempt to handle all the ramifications of acting.


The second part shows our reclusive narrator in action and supports both of the arguments put forth in the first part.  In one sense, the work is an essay and an example of many of Dostoyevsky's themes that he depicts in his novels.



There are others, of course, but I have resolutely refused to think about them for fear that what was supposed to be one post will expand to a trilogy, or even worse.  Some may find it hard to believe that I actually do so much rereading, but I do and this explains why I really am decades behind in my knowledge of contemporary literature.  But, that's a decision I made long ago.  I'm sure you made your own and very likely it's not the one I made.  Be that as it may, there's room for both of us, isn't there?

I just realized that the title of the posts includes poems, and I haven't mentioned any at all.  Oh well, maybe some time in the not too distant future. . .


I hope you consider reading some of these. 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Gregory Benford: The Galactic Center Companion, an ebook

First things first:  truth in advertising or full disclosure or whatever it's called.  First, I received a free copy of The Galactic Center Companion.  Since I don't have an eBook reader,  Gregory Benford sent it to me by way of a link in an email.  Second, I am one of the contributors to the book. A series of posts I made in this blog were combined into an article for the New York Review of Science Fiction which Benford included in this  eBook.  It is included in the last section, titled "Perspectives."  I do not receive any financial remuneration from the sale of the work.  My sole reward, therefore, is being included in the work and being associated in some small way with what I consider to be the most imaginative hard SF series ever written.

Sections

INTRODUCTION

A Bit of History

A brief history of the sequence of the creation of the Galactic Center series during the years 1972 to 1995


A HUNGER FOR THE INFINITE

"Hunger for the Infinite" is a novella written for Robert Silverberg's  Far Horizons, a collection of short works set in an author's universe.  The collection includes short works by Ursula Le Guin,  Anne McCaffrey, Joe Haldeman, Nancy Kress, Dan Simmons and others.

This story tells of an attempt by the Mantis (a recurring character in the last four of the six novels in the series) to gain a fuller and deeper understanding of the way organic beings think. One of the mysteries which the Mantis and all the higher intelligences of the mech civilization can not crack is that of art.   Mechs can do just about everything humans can do, but art is something that puzzles the Mantis.  Is art something that could enhance mech survival?   In "A Hunger for the Infinite,"  the Mantis interacts with a human in an attempt to discover the nature of art and its significance to humans.



LIFE AT THE GALACTIC CENTER: THE BIOLOGY I ENVISIONED THERE.

An accounting of the various life forms at the galactic center that Benford created for the series.


WRITING THE GALACTIC CENTER SERIES: THOUGHTS ON WRITING A SERIES ALMOST WITHOUT MEANING TO

An extensive account by Benford of the growth of the series from 1972-1995.




ASTROPHYSICAL JOURNAL, 1988: An Electrodynamic Model of the Galactic Center: my first published paper on the physics of the galactic center.

This is just what the title suggests: Benford's first paper on the galactic center and much of the science in the series comes from this paper. 



PERSPECTIVES

Reviews and commentaries

Articles by
Gary K. Wolfe
Damien Broderick and Paul Di Filippo
Fred Runk

Interview conducted by Paul Witcom