Thursday assorted links


As a male feminist, but also as someone who is part of humanity, I must applaud the female poets success and fully support it.

Men, white men especially, have occupied the poetic space for far too long DESPITE it being a more suitable space for a woman.

Bravo for her.

Right, women are inherently better at poetry.

But does she deserve a 3,000-word article on Buzzfeed criticising her “for blurring individual and collective trauma in her quest to depict the quintessential south Asian female experience”?

Never change, Guardian.

Is this a troll? It is hard to tell these days.

If I am reading that Guardian article correctly, they think her poetry is trite nonsense, but it is non-White female trite nonsense, so way to go girl.

Which is fair enough. Official poetry is so bad that nothing much could be worse. I like the idea of immigrant girls writing poetry on Snapchat or whatever. Good for her, or them or whatever. After all pretty much the only people who are still interested in poetry are Black rappers.

No matter how many Cixin puff pieces Tyler shares, The Three Body trilogy still sucks.

How do you feel about science fiction in general? I thought the Three Body Triology wasn’t bad sci-fi, speaking as an aficionado since age 10, reminiscent of Niven’s Ring World stuff, with technology and against the odd heroes to identify with. The plot was a bit weaker though with a few holes, but the really interesting part was the Chinese perspective , not exoticised as in most western fiction. Sort of a different set of axioms about how things and people work.

"The plot was a bit weaker though with a few holes, "

+3, the plot was weaker. I'm not going to swallow the red pill and call a series with a weak plot 'Good'.

The Three Body (the first book, I have read only this one at this point) is not bad SF, but is not great either. It is a quite readable without a great deal of originality and insight, and without a great construction. The author seems to know a lot about classical SF and put ideas or pieces of ideas taken from everywhere inside his novel, adding his own half-baked ideas, pell-mell.

For instance, the planet with three suns and the difficulty, much higher than on Earth, to develop science it causes, as well as the many destruction of civilization, is completely from Asimov's "the return of the stars". Also quite Asimovian are all the interest in the psychological motivation of scientists and administrative who want to take some credits from their work. The idea of misanthropic sects willing to destroy humanity is also a very classical one (and a rather uninteresting one, at that, if I may), see for example "the forever peace".

The online game is really in the "air du temps" and I find his description unconvincing: it is always that this is a really deep game, etc. but this is not shown. Essentially the player is just bringing from the outside world some ideas (the chaotic structure of the three body problem, the algorithm to solve it nevertheless (what the f..k?)) and test them in the world of the game. We don't see any serious interaction between the Non Player Characters in the game and the player.

Also quite weak is the way the game is related to the sect. The game is supposed help the latter in finding humans who might agree the sect with its aim, the subjection or destruction of humanity. How could the will and the capacity to help an imaginary human-like civilization solve the problem of living in a chaotic system (this is the capacity the game tests and selects for) be a proxy for the willingness to destroy humanity? I really don't understand what the author wanted us to think there.

The author keeps adding science ideas to the mixture: the sun as an amplification for radio signal (why not?), the nano-material used to slice a boat (rather uninteresting), the super-computer built on a unfolded proton refolded in the right number of dimension (ridiculous), etc.

Now this is not a bad book altogether. The characters are not so badly developed (the detective is fun, for instance, even if not a thoroughly original character in detective literature). The first contact study is interesting. But the dythirambic critics of the Guardian, or the enthusiastic comments of Tyler: really I do not know where they come from.

Should I read the second one, the Dark Forest?

I found the second one to be far superior to the first. Less silliness, epic scope, more interesting ideas.

Thanks, I think I will try then. From the review it seemed to me that indeed the second volume might be better than the first. (By the way, it was a review from the London Review of Book, not the Guardian, my mistake.)

It's good to hear the second one is better. I stopped after the first book and just assumed the laudation of the series was mostly political correctness.

The problem with the 2nd book being better than the 1st is that the first was so awful nearly anything would be better. I couldn't bear to finish the first (in English translation), I can only suspect that there may be some desensitization or perhaps 'sunk cost' considerations in those who soldiered on through. I've started "Invisible Planets" (anthology of Chin Sci-Fi) and haven't been impressed. If this is the best that 1.4 billion people can do, then there's something really wrong there.
LBR claims the 3-body problem is "esoteric" and the story (and the problem) involves the "intersection" of gravitational fields. I'd say that the 3BP is foundational and that Richardson meant (and should have written) "interaction" not "intersection" - but of course all objects have "gravitational fields" and they all interact with one-another (although for common terrestrial objects,gravitational interaction is negligible, generally). That is, he didn't say what he meant. FAIL.

Yes, the reviewer doesn't understand a peanut on the three-body problems, but this is not really what he is asked for.

More importantly I was also disappointed by the treatment of the 3-body problem in the book: I never understood what the algorithm found by the guy living in a buddhist monastery was supposed to do. I suspect the author had no idea either. There has been a lot of deep mathematics development on this problem (even if the general solution is unstable, there might be some few stable solution, and perhaps more relevantly some "partially stable" solution which in practice would allow *some* predictions to be safely made -- cf. Theorem KAM) but clearly the author stopped before them.

This is what I didn't like in this book. One can classify SF into Hard Science SF/Soft Science SF.
Hard Science SF is when scientific ideas are developed and plays a central role in the story, e.g. many books by Asimov. Clearly this book is Hard Science SF. But contrarily to Asimov, instead of focusing one one or a very small set of ideas and developing them cautiously, the author mixes a dozed of ill-developed ideas.

"Clearly this book is Hard Science SF."

It's marketed as Hard Sci-Fi, but then there's the parts like this:

"On the second attempt the proton is unfolded into three dimensions. Colossal geometric solids – spheres, tetrahedrons, cones, tori, solid crosses and Möbius strips – fill the sky, ‘as though a giant child had emptied a box of building blocks in the firmament’. Then they melt and turn into a single glaring eye, which transforms into a parabolic mirror that focuses a condensed beam of sunlight onto the Trisolaran capital city, setting it ablaze."

Joël February 1, 2018 at 1:47 pm

The Three Body (the first book, I have read only this one at this point) is not bad SF, but is not great either. It is a quite readable without a great deal of originality and insight, and without a great construction.

SF often reminds me of the University administrator joke - complaining that Physics is asking him for millions for new lab equipment, he says "Why can't you be more like the mathematicians? All they ask for is pens and a wastepaper basket. The Philosophers don't even need a wastepaper basket".

To do good SF you need what? Pens and a wastepaper basket. Maybe not even that. Everyone should be able to do it. But in fact it is mostly the people who are good at real science who are also good at SF. Jewish Americans for instance. Serbians not so much. The Third World pretty much not at all. Russia? - I would argue that Communism pretty much killed all Russian writing *except* for SF. Lem carries the flag for Poland all by himself and so on.

So just as Chinese science is just emerging from garbage, and even though SF of a sort of enormously popular in China, especially if it involves giant robots fighting in space, so to their SF is likely to be getting better from a very low base.

The author seems to know a lot about classical SF and put ideas or pieces of ideas taken from everywhere inside his novel, adding his own half-baked ideas, pell-mell.

Sounds like Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy. Was Liu also scientifically illiterate?

I do not think that Liu is scientifically illiterate, but probably too scientifically ambitious in his novel, both for his credibility and for the quality of his story. Honestly, the proton unfolded in 11 dimensions and then refolded with a computer in it doesn't pass the laugh test.

Hard science in science-fiction doesn't have to be scientifically correct or possible but need to be developed with some consistency and a touch of plausibility if to be interesting. In "The Gods themselves", Asimov imagines an other universe where the strong force is relatively more powerful w.r.t the electromagnetic force than in our universe. I do not know if a physician could consider this a possibility (especially now that these two forces have been "unified"), but that's Okay: Asimov does a very good job "deducing" things from his axiom, about how different elements which are stable in our universe becomes radioactive in the other ones, and conversely, how the stars behave differently, how and what kind of life is possible in the other universe, etc.

By the way I think SF reaches its best without hard science. To mentions books I discovered on this blog (or in the comments section), I loved "The moon is a harsh mistress" by Heinlein or the Vernon Vinge's "deepness" novels, and I consider them soft science (even though Vinge was certainly an excellent scientist).

Back to "the three-body problem" (which makes me very talkative), there are many things I like in it -- for instance the two versions of the messages sent to the space. It is quite possible that this book is much better that everything the Chinese did before in SF (I don't know) and marks a turn in Chinese's production of SF, which will someday becomes great -- but it is not great, and saying so may develop of sense of complacency among Chinese SF writers.

3. I wasn't born yesterday. I was born a long time ago, back when "theme park" meant something very different from today. I should know: my family owned one, the most popular in the South for decades. When I was born we lived in a house across the street, so I grew up in a theme park, a "natural" theme park with alligators and snakes, a Seminole Indian village, wild monkeys one would see on the "jungle cruise", a spring that pumped out hundreds of thousands of gallons of pure, clear water every day. I remember my first visit to Disney World, which opened after I became an adult and had moved away. It was all fake! A virtual experience not a real one. Today very little in our lives is real. It's gotten to the point that people can't distinguish the real for the fake. Even reality tv isn't. Indeed, our president is a reality tv star! I long for a time long ago, when theme parks were real, and you could trust your eyes to distinguish what's reality from what's fake. Our "natural" theme park closed long ago because it could not compete with the fake theme parks. Damn fake theme parks. They started us on the road that has led us to all things fake.

Very good points, what has baffled me since I heard about "Space Mountains" as a Norwegian youth, is why the carnival ride has to be enhanced by a theme. If you want a "theme", go to a museum, lecture, theater or the real thing if possible. If you want a carnival ride, go to a plain amusement park without long lines. Combining themes and the joy of acceleration seems questionable, merely a conspiracy to separate families from their hard earned money.

The one thing I mind in a plain amusement park, is that there seems to be a quality problem, typically the rides are shaky.

That's pretty obvious though. Disney has all the bells and whistles and themes so they can attract far more people, charge more, and make the rides of much higher quality. Your advice is basically, go cheap. Not always bad advice but pretty banal.

Every business is "a conspiracy to separate families from their hard earned money"

I understand that sometimes one wants the Cadillac ride instead of the Chevette and would be willing to pay for it. It is just that based on the descriptions of waiting an hour per ride, I envision the aggravation between rides at Disney land would would turn the whole ticket into negative value.

It’s relevant because the alien race the humans recklessly make contact with come from a planet that has three suns, which causes serious climate change issues. Brief ‘stable eras’, with regular nights and days, give way without warning to ‘chaotic eras’, during which the days can last years and a sun can be so close that it desiccates everything its rays fall on. The ‘three-body problem’ is the reason the Trisolarans are delighted to find a planet – ours – that has just one sun and a predictable climate. Naturally, they want to steal it from us. Unfortunately for them our planet is four light years away, which gives us four hundred years to prepare for their invasion.

There's an interesting parallel here to Chinese history -- stable dynastic periods punctuated by unstable interregnums. I assume this is a conscious metaphor, but the reviewer doesn't focus on it. Is Cixin putting China in the place of the aggressive aliens?

4. Russ Roberts. National Treasure.

it's insanely funny how everyone in the great lakes region got tricked into fighting over whose wet roast beef variant is better. myself included

I'm not going to be able to bring you on board as a valuable team member if you can't remember to use capitalization.

'Atlas Network covers Marginal Revolution University'

And when the Fraser Institute does the same thing, one can be confident that it will be highlighted too, right? Or will the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research be next? Or possibly the Pacific Research Institute - liberty has so many friends, after all.

Thiel and Hofmann discuss politics and tech

Was about to link this too. Great conversation.

The referenced article about Chinese science fiction was an excellent review of Liu Cixin's and Hao Jinfang's work.

Here's a shameless plug, for those of you wanting to know more about Chinese science fiction:

The MRU videos have high production quality and introduce some useful concepts, but I don't see what niche they fill. They don't really cover the material in even an introductory college-level course. (Indifference curves, Edgeworth boxes, budget constraints, elasticities, kinds of goods, income and substitution effects, Harberger triangles, etc.) I have a hard time imagining what problem sets or exam questions I could use to test mastery of the material in the videos. They seem about the level of popular press intros to economics (e.g. "Naked Economics"), which have the same problem: too obscure for popularity, not rigorous enough for study.

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