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Post #3761

Book watch: being human, being a teenage geek, retelling Shakespeare and good ol’ (new) science fiction

If you’re the type who makes up a summer reading list, here are a few that you may want to add to it. (Disclaimer: I haven’t read any of these books yet, so including them here does not constitute a personal recommendation.)

The Most Human Human by Brian Christian came to the studio’s attention via Matt Jones. In his review of the book, Peter Merholz says, “It’s a delightful and discursive book, wending its way through cognitive science, philosophy, poetry, artificial intelligence, embodied experience, and more. The author, Brian Christian, writes with a deft touch, in an episodic and occasionally meandering style that feels like you’re taking part in a good conversation.”

The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth: Popularity, Quirk Theory, and Why Outsiders Thrive After High School is unlikely to come as a surprise to any adult who would describe their teenage self as a geek. In the book author Alexandra Robbins explains “Quirk Theory”: “many of the differences that cause a student to be excluded in school are the same traits or real-world skills that others will value, love, respect, or find compelling about that person in adulthood and outside of the school setting.” She also looks at how school teachers and administrators may be complicit in propping up conventional ideas of who is popular and who is not. Listen to an NPR interview with Robbins and read the prologue to the book here.

The Great Night by Chris Adrian takes the story of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and retells it, in a manner of speaking, in a San Francisco park setting. The San Francisco Chronicle’s review described it as “droll, dark and challenging”, adding that “through his own form of magical realism, Adrian boisterously and bravely tests the limits of our capacity to ‘actually understand anything’ about suffering and joy.”

Embassytown, the latest from China Miéville, came out earlier this month. Reviewing it in the Guardian, Ursula LeGuin called it a “fully achieved work of art” and said, “In Embassytown, [Miéville’s] metaphor – which is in a sense metaphor itself – works on every level, providing compulsive narrative, splendid intellectual rigour and risk, moral sophistication, fine verbal fireworks and sideshows, and even the old-fashioned satisfaction of watching a protagonist become more of a person than she gave promise of being.”

The Quantum Thief is the first novel from Finnish author Hannu Rajaniemi. It came out in the UK last year but has just been published in the US by Tor Books. In a science fiction round-up in the Guardian, Eric Brown said, “No précis does real justice to Rajaniemi’s unique, post-singularity vision. Nothing is as it is now, and the author makes no concessions to the lazy reader with info-dumps or convenient explanations. Patience is required and rewarded: the author knows his future and reveals it piecemeal with staggering intellectual legerdemain… A brilliant debut.”

4 Comments and Trackbacks

  • 1. Jaime Scatena said on 26 May 2011...

    Hi Kari,

    I think this first book (The Most Human Human) might be quite interesting.
    I’ve read an article on US GQ’s magazine a short time ago about talking robots. There’s a short version of it here:

    Quoting it:
    I’m having an awkward conversation with a robot. His name is Zeno.
    “Do you enjoy being a robot?”
    “I really couldn’t say for sure,” he replies, whirring, glassy-eyed. “I am feeling a bit confused. Do you ever get that way?”

    Seems like “The Rise of The Machines” might be getting closer…

    Take care,

  • 2. Johannes Kleske said on 5 June 2011...

    Brian Christian (The Most Human Human) has also been a guest at the Monocle Weekly podcast recently:

  • 3. Kari Stewart said on 5 June 2011...

    Brian Christian was recently on the Radiolab podcast as well: . He’s getting around!

  • 4. Matt Webb said on 16 June 2011...

    I read both Embassytown and Quantum Thief on holiday last week — both excellent. Embassytown is proper “scientifical fiction.” It sets up its hypothesis (aliens with a different take on language), sets up the lab (a world which is hard to reach), and runs the experiment. Well crafted, a cracking story, fun ride, and like all really good scifi, makes you think about what it means to be human.

    Quantum Thief is fizzing with neat new ideas. From page 1, you’re lost in a universe much bigger and weirder than you’re used to. And the world in which post-singularity humans live their lives is the one the story is told in. This isn’t a regular story with fancy scifi worlds sprinkled on top (although there’s some of that too, as there should be). Great fun.

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