Review: Foundation and Empire

The clash against the Empire was inevitable. The Foundation was small but more advanced, while the Empire was massive as fuck. This conflict though, seem to me, only served as introduction to show the extent of Hari Seldon’s psychohistory; the people of the Foundation really put much faith in it. Such reliance on “scientific” prophecy made them arrogant and complacent. The Foundation grew too big and began to possess some traits of ugly bureaucracy they once opposed.

Bayta, a female character in the story said:

“It’s almost a century since the last one, and in that century, every vice of the Empire has been repeated in the Foundation. Inertia! Our ruling class knows one law: no change. Despotism! They know one rule: force. Maldistribution! They know one desire: to hold what is theirs.”

Then came the Mule. A terrifying opponent. He’s a mutant with an ability to affect emotions. This factor introduced an alien variable outside the psychohistory’s equation. When the holographic form of Hari Seldon re-appeared, the crises he described was different. Everyone shocked and panicked. They didn’t expect this. Their faith betrayed them. Soon after that, the Mule amassed tremendous power. World by world fell to his dominion. Allies turned and converted. The main characters fled here and there in desperation to avoid peril while also trying to find a solution. What’s the key to stop this powerful mutant? Even the great Hari Seldon didn’t foresee this.

This second book of the trilogy is more story based compared with the first book. Foundation and Empire has more focus on how people would struggle in what seemed like a comfortable predictable world against something alien, while the first book was more about how the Foundation survived by adapting its shape to the organic contraction of history. Of course I prefer the first book, but Foundation and Emperor is still a very interesting read and may or may not lay a solid basis for the next book I’ll read after this.

Review: All the Birds in the Sky

Beautiful, effortless, and calm. Like two rivers merged into a lake, where rainbows came for naps; only showing its magical strength when the time was ripe.

 

The book started like a story for children. Simple, but entertaining enough to reel me further. It started with each protagonist’s struggle against their own family. As they grew older, the number of their oppositions increased; schoolmate bullies. Laurence and Patricia sought an ally and found it in each other. They tried their best to help and comfort for each other, but life’s a mess, and both of them were little children. It got worse when an assassin decided to be involved in the growing resentment between their messed up alliance. They separated for quite a long time and had the chance to cultivate their own gift; Laurence’s mind for science and engineering and Patricia’s heart for healing and trickster magic. Their path eventually crossed, only to be separated again.  The rest was constant struggle against everything, and against each other, and against their own selves. Magic and science entwined; talking birds and tree, wormhole and time machine; struck each other violently because of fear, but there were also kisses because of love.

The first half of the story most comprised of ordinary slice of life events, except the quirks put here and there like, the talking animals and the two-seconds time machine. The book didn’t need to throw big things at my face. It’s pretty calm yet rewarding. That’s why it felt effortless to me. I got to know the characters in slow and intimate pace. The second half was when the lightning began to dance. They were so close yet so far, near but pulled apart. Super storm happened. War waged across the land. Doomsday machine. The unravelling. Parents and friends died. Fear. Fear. Fear. An oath got broken in order to save the dearest one. The story ended a bit weird. Not as satisfying as I would prefer it to be, but not bad.

 

Review: Foundation

It’s nice to feel validated, even by fiction. But it’s a fiction by Isaac Asimov for fuck sake. Reading Foundation made me felt that. I was always convinced that religion must be preserved for its utility to accelerate a civilization from chaotic deep shit into a recognizably lawful society. But like a weapon, it must be unsheathed and sheathed in a proper manner. To actually do that, unfortunately, we pudding brain apes aren’t capable of knowing surely when. But in Foundation, Hari Seldon managed to calculate it with his Psychohistory.

The Galactic Empire was on the brink of its own fate. There’s nothing that could be done at that moment to prevent the fall. But, based on his Psychohistory calculation, Hari Seldon said, he could, at least, try to build a foundation to reduce the dark ages that would come, from 30000 years to merely 1000 years. Thus, it was built at the edge of the Galaxy. At first, the foundation was there only to compile and to process knowledge into a gigantic Encyclopedia meant to be a source of light in the dark, but then it changed and evolved into so much more.

The men from Terminus –the world where The Foundation organization was built– was called “magicians” by the citizens that lived in the crumbling shadows of the old empire. Here is an excerpt:

“There have been stories percolating through space. They travel strange paths and become distorted with every parsec, but when I was young there was a small ship of strange men, who did not know our customs and could not tell where they came from. They talked of magicians at the edge of the Galaxy; magicians who glowed in the darkness, who flew unaided through the air, and whom weapons would not touch.”

The story itself is revolved around the powerplay happened within the Foundation, and its dynamics with external powers, and its whole fate against the crises that had been predicted by Sheldon. It’s merely about ideas illustrated clearly by clever characters and interesting events. It’s great. I really loved it. Thanks, Asimov! I’ll continue to read the next two books of the trilogy.

Review:The Silmarillion

I read the Hobbit,

And I fucking loved it.

In Children of Hurin,

My heart joyfully ruined.

And I,

Skipped The Lord of the Rings,

Jumped right into this Silmarillion thing.


Ugh. Mostly, the Silmarillion itself is about fancy elves making a fuss about their pretty jewelleries. And my main complaint about this is the fact that, even though the lore often mentioned how wise are the elves, yet most of their life wasted in the making and in the bloody-pursuit of gems. Feanor! Smartest, wisest, strongest blablabla, and yet his masterpiece was pretty stones, which then stolen by Melkor, which then made him swore an oath that would curse his descendants also. Come on Feanor, you could build many greater things than that shit; move on! But the tales of foolish bravery unveiled around them are awesome and worth reading indeed.

I enjoyed most of the tales. In the creation tales, Melkor’s act of rebellion, reminded me of myself; when I was a little, everytime I sang in choir, I often brought destruction upon the harmony just so I could hear myself more stand out than the rest. It was childish of course and I think, the creator, the god, Eru Illufarter understood this, so he let Melkor lives. Yeay for free will! Thus, he went on pursuing his malice, playing dark lord on middle earth until some half-elf in flying ship pounce his army down.

Out of many heroic battles in this book, the most daring was Fingolfin. He rode alone to Angband in anger after the battle of sudden flame broke the siege of Angband. Morgoth could not refuse his invitation to duel. So they fought one on one. Fingolfin was a mighty elf, but Morgoth was godly. It was foolish to me, but it was foolishness worthy to be envied for. There’s this song titled: Time Stands Still (At The Iron Hill) which I think illustrates the spectacular feat of Fingolfin properly. I loved this song before, and now after reading Silmarillion, my exhilaration is kind of tripled.

Another great duel was between Luthien and Huan versus Sauron. Luthien’s magic was so great that later, even Morgoth himself was put to sleep by it. This was a part of Beren and Luthien love story. A story that can be summed up into: the suitor sought the dangerous dowry, but failed and ended up saved by the princess. Yeah, so powerful was Luthien, that when she wore the Silmaril, Feanor’s sons were afraid to adhere to their cursed oath.

Tolkien has great influence indeed, for before reading this, I already familiar with many of the terms from various metal band’s songs or names or stage names that adopted names from his works. So reading Silmarillion made me finally able to make sense some of those words. And yes, they’re fucking cool names. Amon Amarth! Gorgoroth!

I don’t know what to write anymore. There are things still in my head, but they’re mere tiny complaints compared to the whole awesomeness of the book. So, I guess, I shall end this here. If you seek mythical tales of foolish bravery written beautifully; if you seek to understand the source of all works that adopted concepts and names from Tolkien’s; eat this book!

Hmmm. Yum yum.

Review: Hyperion

I read the prologue and thought that I would be disappointed by the book. The words written and arranged, mostly to describe sceneries, and the acts of the character. Seemed lacking in the presentation of ideas for a sci-fi book. But when I read the awesome sceneries of Templar Treeship and the might of Tesla Tree in Flame Forest, I was convinced that, this Dan Simmons is the real deal. I kept reading, and still somewhat a bit disappointed though for different reasons.

The book itself is about a pilgrimage. A weird one, it involved a mysterious vicious creature and many death and a number of tragic events. Also, it happened when the world was about to be burned in flames of war. The seven pilgrims gathered and traveled together to the Time Tombs. The earlier banters between these people felt a bit cheesy at first, but when The Priest story unfolded, I was, WOAH, mesmerized, pretty much hooked by the book.

Each story of them are memorable. From the wonders of the flame forest, and the horror of the Bikura tribe in The Priest’s story, The Soldier’s nut-busting adventure and his magical time-manipulating mirror armor, The Poet’s bloody goddamn muse, the merlin disease of The Scholar’s daughter, the ala-matrix adventure in AI datumplane with The Detective’s cybrid boyfriend, to the love story of The Consul’s grandparents. They’re definitely rich, varied, and worth reading and rereading. Wonderful.

Even after finished reading the book, I still think about them sometimes. This afternoon, I wondered about The Consul’s grandmother and grandfather. It was almost tragic and sad when I read it at first, but something felt odd. The story of their encounter, was first, a non abnormal passion of youth, then became a myth, then became a part of subtle political machination, then a legend, and eventually a kickstart of rebellion. There were several reunion happened between them; between the shipman who flew among the stars with a time-debt that made him seem to stay young (compared to her) and the beautiful poet who stayed and waited and got old in her home planet. When was the love ended? Perhaps it never ended, perhaps it never started, perhaps it never mattered. Perhaps I need to read the story once again. Yes, this book is begging to be read and reread over again.

This reminds me of what Gene Wolfe once said in a chain letter to George R. R. Martin and Greg Benford:

“My definition of a great story has nothing to do with “a varied and interesting background.” It is: One that can be read with pleasure by a cultivated reader and reread with increasing pleasure. The business about a varied and interesting background belongs to my definition of a good story.

But. It was just that. This whole book, Hyperion, is just that. Six great background stories of the seven pilgrims. Only six? Why? The Templar was mysteriously separated from the group. No, even until the book ended, I failed to find a decent explanation about it. What about the pilgrimage? No, the pilgrimage didn’t even finish. They didn’t even encounter The Shrike yet. The book ended with these guys singing some wizard of oz soundtrack, holding hands, walking to the Time Tombs together. Yeah. Just that.

If I were the author, I would end this book by using The Templar disappearance as a device so that he would reappear at the end, with a revelation of something worthy. Perhaps, that would make the book ended in more pleasing cadence; giving readers more sense of completion though the pilgrimage didn’t actually finish.

Anyway, I admit that I love this book, despite tossing it away in anger after I finished reading it.  As I read the story after story, each added a larger perspective of the setting. About the Web, the AI, the Farcaster, the Ousters, the Shrike. They’re more than the sum of its parts. Great job Dan Simmons. Love your work.

Because of this book, perhaps, I’ll break my own promise not to buy new books until I read all of the book I already bought. But, damn, now I really want to buy and read the sequel. Yes, I’ll break my own promise for the Fall Of Hyperion.

Preview: Bulletproof -Fortified

Seorang teman menerbitkan buku. Berdasarkan pengalaman membaca tulisan-tulisan teman ini sebelumnya, saya tertarik untuk membaca bukunya. Dia kemudian memberikan saya satu kopi bukunya dalam format digital. Terima kasih!

Kisah ini dibuka dengan kehidupan sehari-hari anak-anak panti asuhan. Mereka tinggal pada sebuah puri di samping pantai. Tak jauh dari situ, ada sebuah desa. Ada pula markas militer. Ada bukit dan hutan. Setting ini menyuguhkan suasana damai nan ramah namun tetap menjanjikan suatu konflik menarik bagi pembaca.

Saya sungguh senyum-senyum sendiri membaca bagian cerita saat Mandy –seorang siswi dari panti asuhan– menyajikan tugas sekolahnya. Untuk mengilustrasikan apa beda reptil dan mamalia, Mandy menceritakan bagaimana nona cicak mengajak nona kucing pergi ke pesta dansa. Nona kucing menolak, karena saat hamil, anaknya harus dibawa-bawa dalam perut, tidak seperti nona cicak yang walau sedang hamil anaknya bisa ditinggal di rumah.

Saat membaca bagian cerita tentang Dimitar dan Strego yang berani berniat menembus hutan dengan bersenjatakan ketapel saja, saya jadi teringat sesuatu pada masa kecil saya sendiri. Saat kecil, saya suka sekali menonton film dokumentasi tentang fauna. Karenanya saya sempat tiba-tiba begitu percaya diri dan gatal ingin menangkap ular lalu memanen bisanya sendiri. Untung saja tidak ada ular liar yang benar-benar saya temui sampai keinginan itu akhirnya pudar sendiri.

Ada bagian cerita tentang bagaimana anak-anak panti sedang bermain bola lalu terlibat masalah dengan tentara. Wes, salah satu bocah panti, kemudian berlarian ke sana ke mari menyelamatkan kawan-kawannya dari tentara. Saat membaca bagian tersebut, simpati saya terbangkitkan. Khususnya terkait rasa tidak suka terhadap orang dewasa dan tentara. Ayo Wes! Lempari mereka dengan batu!

Selain kisah-kisah anak-anak tersebut, ada juga dimensi cerita yang membangkitkan rasa penasaran dan menggugah imajinasi. Beberapa yang menjadi sorot utama adalah tentang Dimitar dan Wes. Dimitar mampu meramalkan kejadian hujan-hujan serangga dan berbicara dengan bintang di langit malam. Sementara Wes memiliki kekuatan fisik yang luar biasa, orang-orang menuduhnya android. Settingnya, walaupun di tempat yang jauh dari keramaian kota, memberikan indikasi-indikasi bahwa teknologi di dunia tersebut menyentuh ranah Sci Fi.

Sesungguhnya jika satu buku ini hanya bercerita tentang anak-anak panti itupun saya sudah senang membacanya. Namun kalau diperhatikan dari simpul depan, juga bagian-bagian cerita yang menyiratkan suatu konflik besar, cerita ini sepertinya akan berkembang menjadi kisah-kisah penuh aksi dan pertempuran. Saya belum membaca buku format digital ini sampai selesai, dan tidak akan saya selesaikan. Kenapa? Karena saya berniat melanjutkan membeli dan membaca buku ini dalam bentuk hardcopy secara langsung!

Sang penulis telah mampu membawakan kisah-kisah sederhana tentang keseharian anak panti asuhan dengan menarik. Saya percaya sisa cerita yang akan saya lanjut baca dalam hardcopy nanti akan tidak kalah menghibur.

Kamu penasaran? Mau menjajal bukunya juga? Mau beli langsung? Di mana?
Bisa di sini: Bulletproof – Fortified.

Review: Asimov, Vinge, and Eagleman

I recently read these three books, and I’d like to share my experience reading them. The first book was, Isaac Asimov’s The End Of Eternity, the second book was Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon The Deep, and the third was David Eagleman’s SUM: Forty Tales From The Afterlives.
I had been craving to read Asimov since the first time I stumbled upon a web comic adaptation of his story titled The Last Question. Then I decided to buy some of his books. One of them was The End Of Eternity. It tells a story of Andrew Harlan, a Technician of time. He was recruited, educated, and trained to be a part of the Eternity—an organization that spans across time enforcing their computational result of minimal human suffering through their method of Reality Changes.
Andrew became Computer Twissell’s personal Technician supposedly because of his talent as an observer, though later revealed it was for another greater complex reason. It’s described in the story that Technicians are commonly avoided and feared; other Eternal would throw their gaze away from Technician’s presence. This is related to Technician’s authority over the fate of many. There’s a saying in the story: A trillion personalities changed—just a Technician’s yawn.
As I read the book, some part of Andrew’s struggles resonated within. It made me excited for the story and rooted for him. Anyone with some kind of nomadic lifestyle, whose possibility to settle down is thin, might sympathize with the life of an Eternal. They’re forbidden to have a family and to settle. The rule served as a prevention against individual attachment with a particular time frame; they’re only permitted to arrange temporary liaison with a timer through some kind of bureaucratic process.
Because their main job is to enforce Reality Changes, an Eternal must be detached from time to maintain objective judgement. Suppose a Technician has a family in some century, how then would he react if suddenly there’s a policy to enforce Reality Change upon said century? His family might no longer existed or changed to a degree that render them too different to be regarded as the same persons. In Andrew Harlan case, he fell in love with a girl from a century he was investigating. He hated her. He feared her. Then, as he lowered his defense for that first love he ever encountered, he suddenly find himself willing, to end the Eternity itself just to stay with her. Yes. This is basically a love story. A love story that’s imbued with time paradoxes and rich wonderful sci-fi world building.
There are weaknesses in this book. It’s too short. Asimov didn’t let the characters to build enough tension within sufficient time for them to naturally fall and hate each other. This resulted in a payoff that is somewhat a bit lacking despite the big impact of its characters’ decision at the ending as suggested by the title of the book. With The End of Eternity, I think Asimov was trying to tell us, about love, humanity, and the infinite possibilities that may rise from its ruins and wreckages.
I’m merely an insecure visitor and silent reader in LessWrong community. I also quite fancy Eliezer Yudkowsky, its founder. While I was reading his personal site, I saw a post recommending a sci-fi novel: A Fire Upon The Deep. After a bit of looking into it using search engines, I was captivated by the world building. The galaxy consisted of several variable physical laws called The Zones Of Thought. Closer to the center of it, the more intelligence and techs failed to survive or emerge; the closest zone is called the Unthinkable Depth, no civilizations mentioned ever exist there. While the zone at the outerside allowed miracles such as super artificial intelligence to exist; this outer zone is called The Transcend. Between them, there are the Slow Zone and the Beyond. Slow Zone is where the Old Earth resides; there the physical law only permit slower than light travel. The Beyond is where most of the story happened. It’s a place where various intelligence able to reach each other and built vast society because faster than light travel is common. This fascinating setting itself that swayed me to purchase the book, I didn’t even bother to check the plot and the characters.
Basically there are two things happened alongside each other as the story unveiled. First is the story of the two refugee children who were trapped in medieval conflict between aliens that look like dogs. And the other one is the story of a rescue mission unit. It wasn’t a mere rescue. There’s something in the children’s crashed ship that may or may not stop the cosmic calamity.
There are numerous aliens and characters in the story.
The Tines, the doglike medieval alien is probably everyone’s favourite. These dogs become intelligent when a number of them grouped together, but they wouldn’t likely to survive as a singular member. This characteristic raises fascinating wonders that are tightly related to the plot. Specifically to the political difference regarding soul arranging methods that caused the tension between the two factions. The antagonist enforced a dictatorial soul mutilation to members of groups in order to create ideal identity related to its engineering purposes. Guess what? The leader of the antagonist faction was an offspring of the protagonist faction.
The Skroderiders are some kind of ancient alien plants using a platform to float around fulfiling their noble and peaceful pursuit. But, watchout, there are awful secrets regarding the myth of their origin.
The Powers are godlike beings from the Transcend that sometimes interract with people of the Beyond. Old One is one of the Powers who was snooping around to investigate the disaster using a human interface it has built named Pham Nuwen. But then, the Old One eventually murdered by the disaster and that’s where the disaster started to deliver serious threat to the whole inhabitant of the galaxy.
I really enjoyed the various aliens and characters and technological differences as they affected each other in meaningful ways, like when the rescue unit gave an instruction from afar for the Tines to invent radio and gunpowder in order to help their war.
For me, the book main weakness is the disaster itself. I think it was supposed to deliver cosmic horror to the reader. But it didn’t work. Yes, there are the murder of the Old One, the fall of Relay, the destruction of Sjandra Kei, and much of the disaster’s rampage upon the top of the Beyond. But those happened far from where the point of view locked on, which are either at the Tines planet, or at the rescue ship. They’re just like news. Bad news. The fear experienced by the characters are largely based on assumptions. Sure there are closely happened evil that threatened the rescue unit, like the betrayal at Harmonious Repose and the pursuing fleet sent by the disaster. The disaster felt so passive and lacking in presence, as if it was invented just to let the world being illustrated to us because of the conflict it allowed. But still, the world of A Fire Upon The Deep is one of the most epic delicious cake to feast upon. Enjoy!
The last one I’m going to review is the book by David Eagleman titled SUM: Forty Tales From The Afterlives. Years ago, this book was mentioned in some articles and I fell in love at once with the concept because at the time I was fascinated by the speculation of the afterlife; I participated in a local short story contest thrice, and thrice I submitted stories concerning such tales. Back then, I didn’t have the cash to purchase the book, it’s only recently that I started generating a bit of cash.
Before reading the book, I was so cocky that I expected what’s inside of it are some things I might’ve thought or written.
I was proven wrong.
I expected a longer form of short stories.
But these are far shorter than what I expected.
And far more powerful.
SUM: Forty Tales From The Afterlives is a book where you can find such surprisingly powerful impact within very short narratives. As I turned the pages, I was like being mercilessly bludgeoned by David Eagleman’s awesomeness. I think, he was really confident that he didn’t need more words to push the readers’ buttons at the right places.
He was right.
SHIVERS. SHIVERS. SHIVERS.
I find my eyes getting wet, and my body shivering everytime the stories take turn to reveal the horror of its seemingly harmless introduction at each of its narratives.
Imagine the shivering I got when I read passages regarding “two-stage process of Death” from one of the stories titled Mirrors:

“…. To understand the meaning of this afterlife, you must remember that everyone is multifaceted. And since you always lived inside your own head, you were much better at seeing the truth about others than you ever were at seeing yourself. So you navigated your life with the help of others who help up mirrors for you. People praised your good qualities and criticized your bad habits, and these perspectives—often surprising to you—helped you to guide your life. So poorly did you know yourself that you were always surprised at how you looked in photographs or how you sounded on voice mail.
“In this way, much of your existence took place in the eyes, ears, and fingertips of others. And now that you’ve left the Earth, you are stored in scattered heads around the globe.
“Here in this Purgatory, all the people with whom you’ve ever come in contact are gathered. The scattered bits of you are collected, pooled, and unified. The mirrors are held up in front of you. Without the benefit of filtration, you see yourself clearly for the first time. And that is what finally kills you.”

The horror of these stories are evoked by pulling the strings of various human conditions and stitching them into a different form that reveal the perceived truth in imaginative ways. Let me give you an example, the opener, titled Sum, told an afterlife story where we relive all the experience we have ever done in our life. Nothing scary huh? Except, we have to relive them in ways that all the moments that share a quality are grouped together. Imagine reliving fifteen months of looking for lost items, six weeks waiting for green light, seven hours of vomitting, sixty seven days of heartbreak, and all things joyful and painful. This raises the realization, that we should choose a lifestyle we would gladly relive in such a way. What are the things you often do but do not actually like it, and still very possible to be eliminated from your life?