Tag Archives: Stephenson

A Little Irrationality

Numbers can be irrational. Euler’s number, e, is between 2 and 3, so in my numerical sequence, e comes next.

If you clicked on the link above, you were reminded that e=1+1/1!+1/2!+1/3!+1/4!+… This is very exciting. Look at all those excited numbers! You also may wish to recall that when a number gets excited it multiplies like this: 4!=4x3x2x1. Numbers in excited states often work well into probability theory as well as calculating Euler’s number.

How on earth does the irrational number e (approximately 2.718281828459045…) connect with books? I’m glad you asked. Initially I also had a hard time with this question. I’ve decided that the book that I’ll talk about that I’ve read that has the most to do with e is Anathem by Neal Stephenson. I’ve mentioned Anathem before, but a quick review of my posts indicates that I’ve not really discussed the book at any length. Let me remedy that situation.

I think that Anathem is Neal Stephenson’s best work to date. He is a pretty good writer in my books, so this is saying something. The book is set in a place that is like Earth, but not quite. The action takes place in an enclosed area called a “Math” which is something like a monastery. The main character is called Erasmas, and he lives in a ten-year Math — which means the math only opens its doors for a week every ten years. The book begins just before the open week after Erasmus’s first ten years inside. Within the week, everything starts to change. Along with the math references, the book involves fun with Quantum Physics and the multi-verse. Don’t worry if you aren’t a math/physics geek, this is also a good story.

(There are also books about Euler, the guy who the number is named for. He is pretty interesting. I’ve just not read a biography yet.)

 

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Reading on the bus

I’ve moved. This means I take different buses to work now. This evening I took only buses home from work. This meant I got to sit and read my book for an hour after work. I find this pretty relaxing, so I think that the only-bus on the way home thing is going to happen regularly, especially when the two buses vs. subway and bus option take about the same time. This may seem unreasonable, but the reason is in the transfer time between vehicles. The subway plus bus option generally means a long wait for a bus that will actually go past my house. I like reading on the bus, and the non-crowded state of the two buses I took today meant that was possible. It isn’t always.

Today I read more of Cryptonomicon on the bus. I am now getting pretty close to the end of this mammoth novel, so I will not belabour it too many more days. Keep in mind that I’ve been packing/moving/unpacking while reading it, so this hasn’t left a whole lot of time for the book. I’ve been listening to audio books during the move, which has been pleasant. I enjoyed In the Bleak Mid-Winter by Julia Spencer-Fleming, and will hunt down more Spencer-Fleming works. I’m now listening to A Pale Horse by Charles Todd. I’m enjoying that as well and will look for more of Mr. Todd’s works.

Of course, reading gets shelved for the whole NaNoWriMo thing. You can listen to audio books while moving, but not while writing.

How is your NaNoWriMo going?

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Does reading influence writing?

At the moment I am reading (for the fourth or maybe fifth time) Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson. Stephenson used flashbacks to tell his story often, so that I sometimes forget whether one is in the story-line present or hearing a story from the current point-of-view character’s recent past. It is almost as though a bit of the suspense gets taken out of the story. You know the character survived the bit of the story you are hearing because you are hearing it from their future. This doesn’t always happen in the book, of course. All that to say that my point-of-view character in the NaNoWriMo book I’m writing madly spends most of her time reflecting on her past, so the story we get is not in her present, but in her past. I’m not sure why I decided to tell the story that way. It is one of the things I am already thinking about changing during the December Edit. I realized this morning that there was a similarity to what I had my pov character doing, and what Stephenson does. I wonder if the book one is reading at the moment has more influence that we realize. Things that make you go hmm while writing.

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Familiar Books while Moving

As previously mentioned in this space, I am moving. While I think this is a good thing, it is an unsettling process to move. Moves involve culling books and possessions, encountering new people and situations, and adjusting one’s schedule and routines. While I’m not moving a huge distance (just over 3 km by any road route), there is a certain amount of chaos and instability in the process. In an attempt to keep some things in my world familiar, I’m my current read is a re-read. The book I chose to re-read for this move is Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson, partially because I’d been thinking about it all summer. I’m not sure exactly why I was thinking about this book all summer long. Little snatches of the book kept popping into my head. It wasn’t always the same scene either. Haiku opens the book, so someone trying to write a poem would remind me of Bobby Shaftoe (really, that’s a character in the book) and his cultural exchange with Goto Dengo that began in a sushi bar. The book centres on code-breaking and information processing, and for some reason that kept coming into my head over the summer. The settings, cross-country drives, banking crises, all these made me think of Cryptonomicon. So I’m re-reading it.

I love re-reading this book as it has so many things, including theological references, in it that I haven’t seen yet. There is a lot in this one. Here is a theological reference I saw last night for the first time. Bobby Shaftoe meets his detachments chaplain while in a large meat locker (“the size and temperature of Greenland”) separating a frozen pig corpse from a frozen human corpse (long story):

They are all working away silently when a new voice interrupts. “Dear Lord,” the voice begins, as they all look up to see a man standing nearby, hands clasped prayerfully. His words, sacramentally condensed into an outward and visible cloud of steam, veil his face. His uniform and rank are obscured by an Army blanket thrown over his shoulders. He’d look like a camel-riding Holy Land prophet if he were not clean-shaven and wearing Rape Prevention Glasses.

That whole sacramentally condensed words part is great!

The last time I moved I re-read Girl Meets God. The time before that, it was The Bourne Identity. The first book I read in the apartment I moved into before that was a new book to me, Contact by Carl Sagan. It was a connection with my aerospace engineering past as I moved into my seminary and theological education future.

What books do you chose during unstable times?

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10 Science Fiction Books People Pretend to Read

I found a list of 10 Science Fiction books people pretend to have read. I felt all virtuous as I read the first book on the list – Cryptonomicon, check, I’ve read that! I also re-read that. I still felt virtuous with the second book – Dune, check, read that. Haven’t re-read it, but definitely read it. The other eight I have not read. I own Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, but haven’t yet read it. I’ve read Asimov, but not the Foundation books. Many of the rest of the books I’ve not even heard of. Don’t worry, I’ve heard of Gravity’s Rainbow, but am really intimidated by it.

Have you read any of these? Do you agree that people should read these books instead of faking it?

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