Tag Archives: Stephenson

S, Stories

So in that novel I talked about before, The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland, a multi-verse theory of storytelling is put into the mouth of one of the characters, Rebecca East-Oda. I think I can relate this without it being a spoiler. East-Oda says this regarding “crosstalk” between the Strands of History:

We’ve seen it before in creative arts settings, especially storytelling. If you think about what is going on in a storyteller’s mind when he or she spins a fictional yarn, what they are trying to do is come up with a story that did not actually happen, but that seems as if it might have happened. In other words, it has to make sense and to be plausible. Typically such a story makes use of real places, historical events, characters, etc. but the events of the story itself seem to take place in an alternate version of reality.

The conventionally accepted explanation for this is that storytellers have a power of imagination that makes them good at inventing counterfactual narratives. In the light of everything we’ve learned about Strands at DDO, however, we can now see an alternate explanation, which is that storytellers are doing a kind of low-level magic. Their ‘superpower’ isn’t imagining counterfactuals, but rather seeing across parallel Strands and perceiving things that actually did (or might) happen in alternate versions of reality.

I like this a lot. Storytellers are actually wizards.

In other news, my personal top fictional reads of 2017 all involved playing with the idea of telling stories in some way. They are (in no particular order):

  • Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salmon Rushdie
  • The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland
  • A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

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R = Revisionism

It turns out that I am a revisionist. I rewrite history, correcting the standard view, particularly the standard view of the history of the interpretation of the Bible. Generally I’m all about remembering that women also read, interpreted, and wrote about the Bible. Women also did theology, wrote about it, and their books were published.

Not so long ago, I used the word “revisionist” as a derogatory term for some historical fiction, those that had a character that seemed to reflect twenty-first century views rather than those of the time period where they lived. I need a new word for that, because I think that reading our times back into history is a trap that anyone revisioning the past can fall into. It seems legitimate to revisit our understanding of history as we look at the data differently, as we find new data, and as we see ways earlier historiography was biased. It does not, however, seem legitimate to impose new or late concepts backward in time. It is difficult to avoid this as we read old texts from our present with our categories, with our own understandings of the way the world works. It seems, however, that attempting to avoid imposing our view of the world upon old texts is a key discipline in reading old books well. I refer you to C.S. Lewis The Discarded Image for some thoughts on reading medieval texts well.

In other revisionist news, I’ve just finished this book:


It is wonderful. Quantum Theory. Time Travel. Changing History. Ridiculous Acronyms. What more could you want? And Neal Stephenson. Seriously. Go get the book. Have fun.

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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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Another Reading List

I  found another list of books you must read. Cleverly, this is a personally adaptable list, and so almost everyone will read something in all the categories. It also has a really good reading chair picture which I will not replicate here. I will tell you about my 10 must-reads though, and you can figure out your own.

1. Every single book by your favourite author — I’ve got a few authors whose entire list I’ve read or am trying to read. These include P.D. James, Ian Rankin, Dorothy L. Sayers (even the translations of Dante, but those are still to be read).

2. The one that a friend recommends even though it’s in a genre you’ve never read — Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse series. These are mysteries with a twist, and the TV series True Blood is based on them. I don’t usually read vampire books but my friend the Street Pastor was quite enthusiastic about them, so I gave them a try. I’ve read the first five, but now I think I’m done.

3. The one by the debut novelist you aren’t familiar with.What Was Lost by Catherine O’Flynn. I saw a book review of this and went and got it based on the review. I seldom do this. It turned out to be a good read.

4. The books that mean something to your parents. I’ve read lots of books in this category, both fiction and non-fiction. I’ll stick with the fiction for now. For ADad, anything by Nevil Shute or Alaister MacLean. For AMom, I’ve got her old set of L.M. Alcott books in matching covers. I’ve also read them all. 1Mom is still passing me books. William Faulkner was an author I hadn’t read until she listed him as a favourite. Room we both thought spectacular.

5. At least one book that was written in another language (preferably a translated edition…unless you can speak the language. In that case, show off) — Anna Karenina by Tolstoy. It is the only Big Russian Novel I’ve read so far. People keep talking about Dostoyevsky, but I haven’t gone there yet.

6. The one with the really cool cover that caught your eye – The Firm by John Grisham. Really. I bought it because I liked the cover. I saw the cover everywhere because it was a bestseller, people were reading it, but the plain cover with the gold lettering caught my eye. There are others as well, but that is the one I clearly remember.

7. The one you found on a park bench/train carriage — I’ve not found a book in these locations yet, but I’ve found lots of freebies by the side of the road. Still in my to-be-read pile in the found category is A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews.

8. The one a struggling writer begs you to read — I can’t tell you about this one because it isn’t published yet, and the writer in question also begged me to keep it a secret. I’ll never tell.

9. The “adult” novel that was just ahead of your reading level when you were 13 — When I was about 13 I started reading Dorothy L. Sayers. I “get” her better now. I thought Gaudy Night was tedious then, I think anything but that now.

10. The Young Adult novel that one of your kids loved — I don’t have kids of my own, but other people’s kids recommended (and I read) A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, Hunger Games (and sequels) by Suzanne Collins, and Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, though Snow Crash isn’t really a YA book. I taught high school and still work with youth, so I get a lot of recommendations in this category.

What books are on your personalized version of this list? Do tell.

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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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Theology is InTeresTing

is for Theology, because, in the words of the Archivist Theologian, “Gosh Theology is interesting.”

I am a theologian, so of course I read theology. I also look for theology in other things I read. I have made remarks about the poor theology in some books (ex. Little Women). There is a remarkable amount of theological reflection in literature written in English. Here is a list of fiction that I’ve read in the last three months that contained and prompted theological reflection of some sort: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven by Fannie Flagg, The Worthing Saga by Orson Scott Card, Anathem by Neal Stephenson, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larson, The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides, Fifth Business by Robertson Davies, Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, and The Manticore by Robertson Davies. Now other books I’ve read may prompt theological reflection – I tend to think that way because of my training – but these all had something intentionally theological about them. Interesting.

Of course I also read books that are about theology that are nonfiction. Lately I finished Why Narrative? Readings in Narrative Theology ed. Stanley Hauerwas and L. Gregory Jones, Figured Out: Typology & Providence in Christian Scripture by Christopher R. Seitz, and Welcoming Children by Joyce Ann Meyer. Right now I’m working on a book about the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII in England. Wolf Hall (listed above) is a novel set in Henry VIII’s court in the time leading up to the dissolution of the monasteries. You can see it coming at the end of the book. It is fun to see people who were characters in Mantel’s novel in the history book I’m reading.

What sorts of theology are you reading?

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Other Books I’ve re-read

It might sound like I’ve only read and re-read two books — Possession (which isn’t about demons by the way) and An Experiment in Criticism (which isn’t about science). In fact I’ve read many other books, and also re-read lots of those other books. For your Friday reading, here is a list of Some Books I’ve Read 3 or More Times (other than the two already mentioned).

Some Books I’ve Read 3 Times (or more)

1. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

3. Scarlet Feather by Maeve Binchy

<Eek, I just noticed I’ve read Possession 9 times since 2004. That might explain why I keep talking about it.>

4. Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy (Just in case you thought you spotted a pattern developing above!)

5. Jurrasic Park by Michael Crichton

6. Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding

7. Proof by Dick Francis

8. The Runaway Jury by John Grisham (IMHO the best of Grisham’s oeuvre so far)

9. About A Boy by Nick Hornby

10. Children of Men by P.D. James

11. Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay

12. All 7 of the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis

13. Killing the Shadows by Val McDermid

14. Houses of Stone by Barbara Michaels

15. Take and Read: Spiritual Reading An Annotated List by Eugene Peterson

16. Coming Home by Rosamunde Pilcher

17. 100 Ways to Improve Your Writing by Gary Provost

18. In A Dry Season by Peter Robinson

19. All the Harry Potter books except book 7, which I’ve only read twice so far. By J.K. Rowling

20. Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers

21. How To Read Slowly by James W. Sire

22. Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson

23. The Twilight of Courage by Brock and Brodie Thoene

24. The Ice House by Minette Walters

25. Girl Meets God by Lauren F. Winner

You may notice that this list is alphabetical by author’s last name. I made it by running through the database I have of Books I Have Read. I’m a little obsessive about keeping track of all the books I read cover-to-cover. And how many times I’ve read them. And when. I might have a problem.

I did notice that the first six of my repeat reads all had movie versions. I got a little worried — though I do know that when a movie version of a book I like comes out, I go and see it. Then I re-read the book, usually to get the movie out of my head. Not all of my repeats have movie versions though, so that is not the only reason I read things more than once. I usually re-read to revisit an imaginary world. Why do you re-read? Or why not?

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