# Thursday, 25 October 2018
Thursday, 25 October 2018 09:37:00 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Monday, 22 October 2018
# Sunday, 21 October 2018

MartianChroniclesThe Martian Chronicles - Bradbury's first science fiction novel - is less a novel than a collection of short stories. Each story has a different tone and very few characters appear in more than one story; but, they are tied together by presenting a chronological history of man's attempted colonization and terraforming of Mars in the near future.

Bradbury's stories have endured because he humanizes the astronauts and the Martians - showing us their hopes and their flaws. Early explorers discover that Mars is populated by a race not dissimilar to their own: They are humanoid in shape and they live in cities and houses and they marry and have children. They even possess some of the flaws of their Terran counterparts. The first astronauts are killed by jealous husbands or by those who think them delusional for claiming to come from another planet; or by those looking to protect their home world.

But the Martians are not like the Earth men. They are telepathic, and they are far less excited about contact with their sister world.

Earth people came to Mars for adventure, for love, for land, for freedom. One came to exact revenge on those who had burned books on Earth - a precursor to Bradbury's second novel - Fahrenheit 451.

Eventually, rockets from Earth swarm toward Mars, and the invaders try to re-shape the red planet into the world they left behind. The Martians are all but wiped out by the diseases brought by the intruders.

But, just as the encroachers begin to take hold of Mars, a worldwide nuclear war erupts on Earth, halting the immigration, and drawing most of the settlers back home.

It's not hard to see the parallels between earth's colonization of Mars and European colonization or America conquering the western frontier.  The Martian civilization lasted for thousands of years before it was wiped out by us. Earth's replacement civilization lasted about a quarter century. Bradbury has a talent for building into his stories allegories about race and imperialism and the Cold War and Nuclear War and Family values and cultural clashes and the dangers of rapid technological advancement.

Despite an optimistic final story, The Martian Chronicles is a warning of man's callous, careless, reckless, and self-destructive nature.

As one disillusioned astronaut puts it:

"We Earth Men have a talent for ruining big, beautiful things. The only reason we didn't set up hot-dog stands in the midst of the Egyptian temple of Karnak is because it was out of the way and served no large commercial purpose."

Sunday, 21 October 2018 09:24:00 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Saturday, 20 October 2018

FoundationAndEmpireFoundation and Empire is the second book in Isaac Asimov's classic Foundation Trilogy, advancing the story of The Foundation - the civilization founded by Psychohistorian Hari Seldon in order to mitigate the collapse of the galactic empire and shorten the thousands of years of anarchy he foresaw following.

The book is divided into 2 stories: "The General" and "The Mule". Story 1 is interesting but unremarkable.

"The General" details a power struggle between the galactic emperor and Bel Riose - one of his generals. It is hundreds of years after Seldon's death and the  empire has all but collapsed, as he predicted. Riose believes he can thwart Seldon's plan by attacking the Foundation. But he is only one man and Seldon's plan relies on the collective actions of the quintillions of people in the galaxy being more influential than anything that one man can accomplish. In the context of history, it does not matter what individuals do. The universe will move forward regardless. This is a basic assumption of psychohistory.

However, the that assumption falls apart in the second half of the book.

In the second story, we are introduced to The Mule, a powerful mutant born with the ability to control minds. His powers are so strong that he can affect galactic history by himself. This disrupts Seldon's master plan and allows The Mule to begin conquering the galaxy for himself.

The Foundation falls to The Mule; but, when the Mule learns that Seldon established a Second Foundation at the other end of the galaxy, he sets out to find and destroy it. Meanwhile, Foundation loyalists also seek the location of the Second Foundation, so they can warn it about the Mule.

I like how the two stories conflicted with one another. On the surface, they are only slightly related and separated by hundreds of years, but they show both the strength and weakness of math, science, and statistics. The first demonstrates how meaningless a single person, no matter how powerful or how ambitious, can affect a galaxy with quadrillions of people. The second shows exactly the opposite. The Mule's power is strong enough that he disrupts Seldon's entire plan. Further, The Mule's plans are thwarted by a single person.

It is this contradiction that makes Asimov's story so compelling. He takes us in one direction and makes us feel comfortable; then destroys all our assumptions.

Saturday, 20 October 2018 09:13:00 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Thursday, 18 October 2018
Thursday, 18 October 2018 21:54:00 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Monday, 15 October 2018
Monday, 15 October 2018 09:26:00 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Sunday, 14 October 2018

AnimalFarmMr.  Jones was a lazy drunk and exploited the animals at Manor Farm. So, the animals, inspired by an eloquent speech by the aging and respected pig Old Major, decide to drive out Jones and take over the farm for themselves. They establish a new government, based on seven commandments of "Animalism", written on the side of the barn, that purport to protect the rights of the animals. 

It isn't long before animals are vying for power and exploiting that power once they have obtained it. The pigs are the most clever, so they take control, and end up revising each commandment to their advantage, grabbing more authority for themselves and becoming more and more like Mr. Jones and other human farmers as time goes on.

The other animals eventually find themselves as oppressed by their new pig overlords as they were by their former human masters. After numerous lies, deceptions, and thievery, the pigs modify the final commandment from "All animals are equal" to "All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others". The citizens of animal farm realize too late that they have traded one master for another equally bad one.

Animal Farm is George Orwell's first great work of fiction and it endures over 70 years after its initial publication. Orwell originally wrote the story as an allegory about the Russian Revolution and how Stalin eventually twisted its goals to his own ends; but Animal Farm is ultimately about how absolute power corrupts absolutely and this lesson can be found in any part of the world or political spectrum.

Napoleon the dictator pig uses many strategies to maintain control - from repeating lies that draw his enemies in an unfavorable light to using violence to suppress any voices. It's frightening how much these tactics are still used successfully today.

Orwell followed up Animal Farm with his classic 1984, another dystopian novel with a similar theme about the corruption of power; but Animal Farm does so more subtly, without the need for a closing speech to explain the methods and motivations of the ruling class. Animal Farm is shorter, but more imaginative than the later work. Animal Farm is a simple fable with a simple plot packed with symbolism. The characters are based on real figures of Soviet Russia (Old Major = Karl Marx; Snowball = Leon Trotsky; Napoleon = Joseph Stalin; Mr. Jones = Tsar Nicholas II), but the story works even if the reader is unfamiliar with that history.

Sunday, 14 October 2018 09:59:00 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Saturday, 13 October 2018

TheHobbitBilbo the Hobbit was content with his life in the Shire when the wizard Gandalf showed up with 13 dwarves, who were told that Bilbo was an experienced burglar and would join them on a dangerous journey to steal back a treasure from evil dragon Smaug.

Bilbo had his reservations, but he also had a wanderlust that overcame his desire for comfort; so, he agreed to join the dwarves on their adventure. They set out across Middle Earth, battling man-eating trolls and man-eating dwarves and man-eating giant spiders before confronting the man-eating dragon surrounded by his mountain of treasure, stolen from the nearby towns he terrorized and destroyed.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien is a delightful fairy tale of an odyssey across a magical world filled with fascinating creatures. It is a charming story in its own right, but its greatest contribution is that it introduced us to the world of Middle Earth, a mythical land that later became the setting of Tolkien's classic Lord of the Rings trilogy.

The Hobbit is much lighter than the later trilogy and can be read to and by most children. Yes, there are life-threatening dangers, but many of these are a bit silly and the party often overcomes them in humorous ways.

The story and characters of The Hobbit have become so familiar to us, that one might expect this story would become tiresome. But Tolkien never allows this. He brings us on a remarkable journey with Bilbo, where our hero is transformed from an ordinary Hobbit to an extraordinary hero.

Bilbo is short and chubby and enjoys his breakfast and his pipe far more than adventure. Yet, time and again, it is Bilbo who saves his companions from certain death. Gandalf recognizes Bilbo's potential early and puts him in a position to fulfill his destiny. Ultimately, it is the story of self-discovery for the hobbit.

Count me among the many fans of The Hobbit. I enjoyed the story thirty years ago when I first encountered it. And I enjoyed it again this week. It is not a complex tale, but it has been a source of delight for readers of all ages for generations.

Saturday, 13 October 2018 11:50:00 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Thursday, 11 October 2018
Azure | Database | GCast | Screencast | Video
Thursday, 11 October 2018 15:20:41 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Monday, 08 October 2018
Monday, 08 October 2018 09:59:00 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)