New Caelifera

New Caelifera

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Books: Fleet of Worlds Books 1, 2, and 5


Fleet of Worlds by Larry Niven and Edward M. Lerner
Juggler of Worlds by Larry Niven and Edward M. Lerner
Fate of Worlds by Larry Niven and Edward M. Lerner

Summary: As a physics loving kid growing up in rural Northern California my sources for physics were few and far between. Mostly there was the county library. I learned calculus from a textbook in the library (when I went back a decade later, my checkout date was still stamped on the circulation slip, only ten people or so had checked it out after me over the course of a decade.) The first edition of Spacetime Physics by Taylor and Wheeler taught me hyperbolic trigonometry before normal trigonometry. But there was no physics text book. Instead I turned to the vast archive of Scientific American magazines, the pop-sci physics books, and eventually, for Christmas one year, I got a college physics textbook.

In addition to this, of course, there was also the science fiction section. Hard science fiction in particular was something I ate up. In this mode I first encountered Larry Niven. His Ringworld is a wonderful novel, but more importantly Niven did try to bring in valid theoretical physics to his novels. So, when November of 2016 hit, and I found myself in need of withdrawal from news, I decided reading some Niven would be my comfort food. It was this that led me to pick up book 5 of the Fleet of Worlds pentalogy. Oops, wrong order. So then I read book 1. And discovered that I head read it years before. So then I read book 2. Book 1 is the story of the revolt of captured humans from Puppateers. Book 2 is the other side of a bunch of “known space” stories from the perspective of paranoid detective Sigmund Ausfaller. Book 5 is the final cleaning up.

Rating: Book 2 is very disjointed if you haven’t read much other work set in Niven’s “known space”. Book 1 and 5 are both big plot focused, there is still a bit of the hard science fiction in both that I enjoyed. I’ve never read Niven for his characterization, but I did enjoy the attempt in these books to show events from different alien perspectives. If your a known space junky these books are a good read, otherwise, I’d recommend other Niven material like Ringworld or the Mote in Gods Eye.

admin December 31, 2016 Leave A Comment Permalink

Book: Death’s End

Death’s End by Cixin Liu translated by Ken Liu.

Summary: The third and final book in The Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy (best known for its first book, “The Three-Body Problem”). To say that this is an epic conclusion is an understatement to what the word epic means. The story is manifold but primarily focuses on Cheng Xin, an aerospace engineer of the 21st century, and picks up after the defeat of the Trisolarans via the dark forest deterrence. The novel then swings a wide arc into the future, with some very interesting physics ideas spaced in along the way.

Rating: I’m inclined to put this one at about the same level as the first novel, I think I enjoyed the second the most (though I suspect that I like Ken Liu as a translator better. I can’t attest to how the translation compares to the original but there were less points in his translations that I knew I was reading a translation). I highly recommend the entire trilogy, especially if you like hard science fiction.

Speculation: Would give away too much! This is speculative hard sci fi at its best.

admin December 21, 2016 Leave A Comment Permalink

Book: Rebel Genius, Warren S. McCulloch’s Transdisciplinary Life in Science


Rebel Genius: Warren S. McCulloch’s Transdisciplinary Life in Science by Tara Abraham

Summary: In “A Logical Calculus of the Ideas Immanent in Nervous Activity” Warren McCulloch and Walter Pitts presented one of the first mathematical/logical models of a neuron. The model is at once naive and also incredibly insightful: it certainly is not fully realistic, and yet it is an attempt to reduce the complexity of the brain and intelligence down to a simple model amenable to logic and mathematics. In many ways the model is a founding paper for the connectionist approach to understanding the mind, though one can see through its connections to boolean algebra the thread of computationalist ideas as well. This book is a very academic biography of one of the authors of this important paper, Warren McCulloch.

Rating: This is the sort of book you get assigned to read in a history of sciences course. The strength of the book is in its examination of the challenge of transdisciplinary work, here defined not just as a mingling of disciplines, but as one discipline being used as a stronger tool in another (here logic and math being applied across the divide into neuroscience). I found the sections discussing how McCulloch’s work was perceived of across the disciplines interesting. Unfortunately the book is very light on a detailing of the actual contributions of McCulloch. I left the book having some idea of who McCulloch was, and the events that transpired to put him where he sits in the pantheon of early neuroscientists, but didn’t come away with a deep understanding of the details of his work, or how it compared and contrasted with that of other early AI pioneers (like Hebbs and Weiner).

Speculation: Mappings from one field into another often bring about great change in the target field. Consider these mappings as reductions in the computational complexity sense. In computational complexity reductions lead to complexity classes and the realization that for some of these classes there are complete problems: every problem in the class can be reduced to these complete problems. One wonders if there are similar notions across the disciplines. And what the complete problems we should seek out when at first delving into a new field?

admin December 20, 2016 Leave A Comment Permalink