Playpen

Welcome to the Playpen, our space for ferrety banter and whimsical snippets of things that aren't quite long enough for articles (although they might be) but that caught your eye anyway.

at 23:04 on 06-04-2014, Melanie
But on the other hand, you don't get that many books about the time period.


If you're up for some nonfiction, I found Newton and the Counterfeiter really gripping and enjoyable.
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at 18:33 on 06-04-2014, Michal
But on the other hand, you don't get that many books about the time period. Hmm...

Try Salamander by Thomas Wharton instead. It's a heckuvalot shorter, and has automatons in it.
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at 15:31 on 06-04-2014, Dan H
I have just started watching Starz' Treasure Island prequel Black Sails and when this inspired me to do some cursory pirate research, I was interested to note that in 2010 Forbes compiled a list of highest earning pirates.
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at 08:33 on 06-04-2014, Janne Kirjasniemi
Hmm... based on this input, I think I'll go with either Snow Crash or Cryptonomicon. That Baroque cycle thing looks to be interesting for many good and bad reasons, but I'm afraid that reading historical fiction of a somewhat familiar time period might be either very rewarding or endlessly frustrating. I don't know whether I dare to take a chance. That feud setup between Newton and Leibniz and getting some random dude to settle it from the colonies sounds a bit of a stretch already. But on the other hand, you don't get that many books about the time period. Hmm...
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at 06:58 on 06-04-2014, Tamara
Dunno - Stephenson really very good at the underlying craftsmanship of writing, I think. Pace, structure and particularly plot are usually very well put together (barring the OMG it's 3000 pages long!!! of the Baroque and the slogging in Anathem. Maybe he's getting worse.) That's where Mieville tends to fall down, in my book. (Neither of them are that good at characterization.) I don't find Mieville preachy though, nor with Stephenson's patronizing streak. (It may be that I simply don't mind ideology in my fiction but find Stephenson's milquetoast obnoxious but Mieville's at least occasionaly interesting.)
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at 00:31 on 06-04-2014, James D
I think you can draw a lot of parallels between Neal Stephenson and China Mieville, in that they're both kind of manic and love creating weird, intriguing settings filled with cool tidbits, but both also let their worst tendencies get out of hand sometimes, which leads to slogging through pages and pages of them explaining this idea which they clearly think is really really cool but actually isn't that hot. Also both tend to focus more on style and less on substance, and both dabble in lots of different genres. Both seem to fancy themselves allies/feminists/minority warriors" of sorts, but tend to trip up on that fairly often.

Not sure how relevant that is, but it just struck me how many things in this conversation could be applied to Mieville and his books as well.
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at 23:56 on 05-04-2014, Arthur B
The Barqoue Cycle contains one of the worst sex scenes I've ever read, so it might be worth looking at just for that...

As I mentioned in my review of the 40% of the Baroque Cycle I could actually stand to read, I found it to be increasingly dull and preoccupied with some sort of agenda which Stephenson never set out clearly enough for me to be entirely comfortable with.

If you're thinking of the sex scene I'm thinking of, there's some discussion of it in the comments.
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at 21:36 on 05-04-2014, Tamara
A snobbish discussion of the autism spectrum at location 218. I may quit this now.
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at 21:05 on 05-04-2014, Tamara
The very first scene of Stepehenson's Reamde is men firing guns on a prairie, it turns out. Oh dear.
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at 18:58 on 05-04-2014, Michal
Journey across the ice.
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at 18:28 on 05-04-2014, Tamara
Why Left Hand of Darkness?
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at 16:32 on 05-04-2014, Michal
I dunno, my opinion on Anathem is that if you've already read A Canticle for Liebowitz and The Left Hand of Darkness then you've already read the good parts of Anathem. The rest see-saws between ludicrous and boring.

The Barqoue Cycle contains one of the worst sex scenes I've ever read, so it might be worth looking at just for that...
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at 15:39 on 05-04-2014, Tamara
I think I actually read The Diamond Age of his stuff first. I don't remember how accessible it is though...Anathem has got some fascinating bits, but it also has some terribly boring, indulgent stuff and lacks the verve of Cryptonomicon or Snow Crash. I'd start with one of those, I think.

Actually, now I want to go read Reamde. Somehow I'm suddenly in the mood for Stephenson. Life, eh?
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at 11:16 on 05-04-2014, Janne Kirjasniemi
I've been meaning to read Stephenson for ages, since he seems to be sort of influential and apparently a good writer as well. At least the Wire article where he wrote about the cables being installed around the world was interesting. What would be a good book to start with? Anathema has interested me somewhat, as I've understood that there is some stuff about the whole nominalis vs. universalism stuff there, Cryptonomicon is about WWII and cryptography, both of these subjects having a baseline interestingness about them. With some wackiness handling anonymous banking? Well, he sems to have a knack of picking interesting subjects, is what I mean. Any recommendations? I do like the Baroque as well...
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at 08:42 on 05-04-2014, Tamara
I think it's less actual politics/economic with Stephenson (though I guess he's got his moments in Cryptonomicon,) and particularly what with the sub-Stephensonian sort of stuff, cool hackers contemptuous of the vacuity of muggles, etc, etc (because say what you will, Stephenson is very good, even if just in a technical sense, and he does know the politics, economics and history through and through) and more a social/cultural vibe I find it hard to define but I know it when I see it. Men being men doing meaningful man things out on the prairie, with lots of guns. Something like that. It has fuck all to do with international monetary policy or fe unding for thfunctions of the state, but it sets my libertarianism, 20 degrees to starboard, vibe off anyway.
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at 05:13 on 05-04-2014, James D
I honestly don't know how Snow Crash could possibly be read as endorsing libertarianism - all the privatized institutions it mentions, from justice systems to law enforcement to correctional facilities to religious denominations - are given ludicrous brand names that are reminiscent of fast food franchises. The world of Snow Crash is one in which everything runs on the McDonald's model. It's definitely not held up as something to be desired.

Also, it mentions a number of different "enclaves", essentially gated communities-cum-city states, which include a redneck confederate/South African version which enforces apartheid - and the novel absolutely doesn't defend that. There's not even the faintest whiff of the libertarian "racism = bad, but it's private institutions' right to be racist if they want to be" apologetics.
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at 01:05 on 05-04-2014, Arthur B
I think it is viable to read Snow Crash as satirising libertarianism rather than endorsing it, though the borderline is admittedly thin.

I think the sense of superiority over "ordinary" lives is common to geekdom in general, though there's an alarming overlap between geekdom and libertarianism.
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at 18:43 on 04-04-2014, Tamara
@Robinson - I don't think Snow Crash is that Libertarian. There's something cartoony and swashbuckling about the setting and it gets more than a bit of mockery. On the other hand there's a sort of cultural-libertarian vibe to Cryptonomicon and Anathem that I found more insidious. These incredibly patronizing and heavy handed episodes of just sneering at, you know, ordinary life which I associate - perhaps unfairly - with libertarianism.

(I am, of course, convinced that I'm utterly fascinating :-), but I suspect I just look that way because of a bit of a culture gap - we have compulsary military service here, and it's always possible to spin a couple of funny stories out of that.)
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at 11:15 on 04-04-2014, Arthur B
Indiegogo proves that it's Kickstarter's shadier, less ethical cousin. Then again, most people knew that already from the way that Indiegogo lets creators set up fundraisers where they get the money pledged even if the target isn't hit (which just sounds like a recipe for utter disaster to me).
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at 00:36 on 04-04-2014, Robinson L
Arthur: That plot point made much more sense when William Burroughs used it in the Nova Trilogy.

Huh, then I guess I ought to check that out sometime, because I actually found the religion/language/virus stuff cool and mind-bending when I read the book. What got me most were the abrupt ending, and the long and (for all that I could figure out) pointless world-building tangents.

That was several years ago, though, and I was not at a point where I could really recognize much less evaluate the extreme libertarian setting.

@Tamara: the more I learn about you, the more fascinating your life sounds. (I mean, I've been in similar social milieus in educational settings - but not in a military setting.)
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at 00:24 on 04-04-2014, James D
Yeah I more or less agree with the general consensus that the earlier parts are cooler; it seems to me like stephenson did the whole "mind hacking" bit because he felt the concept tied in well with hackers and hacking being central to cyberpunk. I thought the concept itself was interesting, but it seems like Stephenson did a whole bunch of research on it and felt he really, REALLY needed to justify the "mind hacking" in the book as scientific in origin, rather than have it come across as magic. So, he infodumps rather shamelessly. Still, I think it fits with the whole wacky, cartoonish universe he created; he just should have been content to hand-wave the pseudo-science and explain it as just a more effective form of brainwashing. The plot and pacing in general were pretty rickety.

I don't remember the sex being that bad - there's only one that I can remember and it's like two paragraphs long at the most. What did bug me was Hiro's ex-girlfriend being built up through his memories of her, hints dropped that she's doing something really really important, and then she just shows up right near the end and does like one thing and then that's it. The plot seemed to imply that she'd be delivering some sort of epic revelation, but no, I guess not.

All that aside, I still enjoyed the other parts of the book a hell of a lot. Absolutely style over substance, but that's cyberpunk for you.
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at 22:50 on 03-04-2014, Arthur B
By the way, was anyone able to decipher that bit about religion,languages, and viruses all being the same thing? The book lost me there.

That plot point made much more sense when William Burroughs used it in the Nova Trilogy.

Which is pretty damning as far as Stephenson is concerned.
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at 22:15 on 03-04-2014, Bookwyrm
I attempted to read Snow Crash a while ago but I lost interest about half way through. I think it was around the point where Hiro and the computer had that long, long conversation about the connection between Mesopotamian religion and the computer virus. For a sizable chunk of the story Hiro is essentially standing around, doing nothing but relaying a ton of exposition. By the way, was anyone able to decipher that bit about religion,languages, and viruses all being the same thing? The book lost me there.
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at 16:49 on 03-04-2014, Tamara
Oh man! I had managed to completely forget about the language-brain-hacking stuff and the awful...can you call them sex scenes?
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