GBC Reader Vol.2, Issue 5: Fights and Flights

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SFGiants (25-37), 4th in NL West

14 games back of Colorado, 3-7 in last ten games, road trip ended in Milwaukee with an extra innings win last night and home stand starts today against the surprising Minnesota Twins.

Since we last left you dear reader, Hunter Strickland decided to unilaterally employ the unwritten rules – on a two and a half year old personal grudge – and hit Bryce Harper square in the hip with a 98mph fastball in a two-run game we could have won.

A lot was written and said about it, but this piece by Jamal Collier at MLB is pretty succinct and without bias.

I was disappointed in Hunter, but since it happened I’ve cooled off. Maybe it was done at the exact right time – a ‘meaningless’ game in June with exacting precision to the hip – even Harper called the right way to do it.

I find the unwritten rules cool only when the whole team seems into it. I was with Buster on this one and I cannot believe the people who suggested he should have intervened. The guy just came back from a heater to the head!

But then last night, in a game that really felt like a turnaround game, Strickland came in for the first time since the incident and was scary and dominant. Made me wonder if maybe we need a guy like that.

There are a few pieces on how Samardzija is having an epic year but getting Cained hard. It’s a bummer.

 

 

Love ya fam

 

 

 

MTK

 

Book Review: Remembrance of Earth's Past by Cixin Liu (Trilogy)

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How many have read all of Remembrance of Earth’s Past by Cixin Liu in the 11 years since The Three-Body Problem was first serialized in the Chinese magazine Science Fiction World?

How many have read it only in English?

Wie viele Leute haben Gesamtheit dieser Trilogie nur auf Deutsch gelesen?
有多少人用中文读完整本三部曲 ?

I ask because having just finished the trilogy in English as published by Tor in New York – The Three-Body Problem (2014), The Dark Forest (2015) and Death’s End (2016), translated by Ken Liu and Joel Martinsen – I wonder if many people stuck with it all the way through. I’m eager to converse with those who have. In any language:

For full disclosure, I worked very briefly as a freelancer at TOR in 2001, but I have no relationship with them. I ordered each volume to my local branch of the public library, received hardbacks in an orderly fashion and read the three this May.

These were released in English in 2014, ’15 and ’16 but I binge-read it all as one novel. I get the feeling many people who finished the first book, didn’t read the second because it wasn’t released until a year later.

My reviews of Book One and Book Two were written as introductions – spoilers are at a minimum and I give readers suggestions to assist translation.

If you have not read any of the Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy, I recommend you read those two reviews before continuing here.

Remembrance of Earth’s Past by Cixin Liu

I’m not a scientist. I’m not formally educated in computing or astrophysics or chemistry or astronomy or biology or nano-science or any of the disciplines Cixin Liu uses to sustain his startlingly creative projection of humanity hundreds of years and eventually hundreds of million of years into the future.

The consumption of this work is about the STEM level of people in China, India, Europe, and the United States of America – where STEM stands for Science Technology Engineering and Math. You have to have proper education in these disciplines to comprehend and indeed to enjoy this work.

Computer geeks, science nerds, rootless intellectuals, unite.

I struggled to put together the science, but I was continually amazed by the thought Liu put into his fantastic inventions and conceits.

In Death’s End, humanity uses hibernation and near-light-speed travel to extend human consciousness millions of light-years across space and hundreds of millions of years into the future. This extends the philosophical reach of the first two volumes exponentially.

This trilogy is intellectually complex work that starts with the highest current levels of technology, imagines liberally and then sustains a creative and technical specificity that pushes wide the willing suspension of disbelief. The technical creativity got so immense I stopped doubting the science.

It was exhausting.

During Book One I started taking one Extra-Strength Tylenol™ roughly every 150 pages to deal with headaches. This continued until I finished the trilogy this morning.

It was educational.

I learned more hard science from a work of fiction than I have in decades. I ended up re-learning the basics of astronomy and physics, of chemistry and biology that I had let fall aside. Liu’s scientific and technological detail is great for re-firing dusty synapses concerning cosmology and for grasping a view of our universe with rich scientific ideas and creative philosophies.

It was exhilarating.

Liu’s seemingly inexhaustible imagination kept providing new ways of thinking about us as human beings or about various disciplines. He takes on huge issues of science and then drills down on the tech. He takes on philosophy with a handful of characters and large masses and manages to capture so many human qualities and conundra. He then pushes these as far as he can, exploring an immense range of human responses to conditions I’ve never – and perhaps nobody’s – ever considered.

From the standpoint of strategic and military thinking these books have a freshness that seems composed not from any one culture’s way of thinking about conflict – not Chanakya’s nor Sun-Tzu’s nor that of Von Clausewitz nor Machiavelli – but rather from gathering ways all humans have acted and reacted to this point, pulling it together, and then shoving forward en masse to address how we would struggle among ourselves to deal with his imagined future contexts: extra-terrestrial invasion, mundicide, global annihilation, solar annihilation, the annihilation of the universe itself.

This is a huge reach and there are problems with it.

I noticed often that I’d think of a strategy from human history that could be applied or a way we approach a problem that Liu doesn’t include in the discourse. It made me feel like he hadn’t really covered all the bases before launching into a new direction.

The result is a feeling that Liu is continually guiding us through the narrative by what his characters thought of and how they reacted not necessarily the totality of human possibility.

This bothered me, but then it made a deeper sense. History is composed of how people act and react in a moment and what flows from their decisions. This work does read like human history told from the very distant future.

Creatively that’s astonishing. Cixin Liu is bold and dares to imagine how we’d think and act and then tries honestly to faithfully represent us in his wild future.

It’s important to note I could rationalize the many different approaches that characters took in the works and decisions they made. Liu is exceptional at projecting a wide range of human flaws and brilliance into the way the characters move this thing along.

It lead me to realize how compartmentalized my own thinking of humanity is. My biases about the Chinese were revealed many times as I read Remembrance of Earth’s Past.

I want to be clear and honest about this as a means of discussing translation of the work. I’ve read that the German translation has been considered more faithful to the original. I wonder if that’s about differences between English and German and/or Chinese.

I’m eager to write more and to discuss with anyone who has read the complete trilogy. As usual I’ll update this post here over the next day or two, so look for a final version in a couple of days, but I must stop now.

Remembrance of Earth’s Past, the trilogy, by Cixin Liu

4/5 stars

MTK

May 31, 2017

Washing My Brain

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nothing it’s never nothing how long ago’d that start?

I love you and the way we dared

nobody I mean nobody wanted us to

and when the baby came

about then

since then

it’s never nothing

but maybe earlier than that even

when I came to you that December and said it

straight eyes open to your face

let’s have the baby now

by then for sure

that summer when you loaded up the Ryder

with S. and left

it wasn’t nothing

so at least that long ago to me

it wasn’t til recently

like ten years ago

I accepted it was

for you

 

for me it hasn’t been nothing

in a long time

maybe it will never be nothing again

 

everyone should have nothing

at least for a little while

 

before we die

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The Dark Forest, Book Two of Remembrance of Earth's Past, by Cixin Liu

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My mind has been expanded significantly by the first two books of Cixin Liu’s Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy. The scale and scope of the undertaking is truly on par with the greatest science fiction I’ve ever read. Hard science and theoretical ideas run deep, but remain very human and rational.

It’s a syncretic hyper-extension of the way we think and behave pushed into a highly orchestrated future that requires deep conceptualization to imagine.

Comparisons to Asimov are apt.

Cixin Liu boldly describes human culture and philosophy facing impending first contact with an alien race that has advanced technology with a richness of supposition and detail that captures a wide range of human emotion and response. He does this with very few characters and an elaborate, all-encompassing style. The details are exceptionally well thought-out.

The setup incorporates the vast distances in space and a nuanced portrayal of human society dealing with an enemy about whom little is known and who will not arrive to attack for hundreds of years.

I am continually taken aback at the breadth of this work. Liu’s narrative is centuries long. It’s on the scale of James Blish (Cities in Flight) or, as has been noted, Frank Herbert (Dune).

While humans invent cryogenic hibernation and a space armada and other standard responses of sci-fi to deal with this situation, there are unique circumstances.

The sophons, a pan-dimensional use of protons that travel across space, arriving at Earth to unfold and manipulate our reality, was a mind-blowing central concept of The Three-Body Problem. In Book Two, Liu posits Wallfacers and their companion Wallbreakers as a complex reaction to this tactic of the Trisolarans.

Since the Trisolarans can see, read and influence human behavior, the only safe space to shield anything from them is within the human mind. The Wallfacers are created and tasked with never writing anything down, never explaining what they do or why they do it to anyone. They embark on their plans to resist the Trisolarans independent of social and military planners. Wallfacers become the central pre-occupation of The Dark Forest. It is conceptually impressive and flourishes into a great plot.

The Trisolarans do not make any significant appearance until the climactic battle at the end of this volume and are peripheral players throughout. This allows Liu to explore humanity through the behavior – and responses to the behavior – of the Wallfacers in a way that is totally original.

So now Liu has to describe humanity’s initial response – filled with variety: those who give up, those who would fight, those who would defect to the enemy – and to posit the extension of all these reactions 200 years into the future.

It’s galactic in scale and all just a little hard to swallow by the time you get to the division of this book between Earth of the late-20th/early 21st century and human culture of the year 2200. But to Liu’s credit The Dark Forest is more human and relationships are deeper, more sensitive and believable.

Cixin Liu grew significantly as a writer between the two works. He takes on the psychology of humanity faced with the cosmic situation he has created and works through abstract philosophical responses to create a range of believable, if summarized, cultural changes in us.

I liked The Dark Forest better than The Three-Body Problem because Liu goes further to extrapolate his visions of how humanity behaves in the face of the complex circumstance he has created. He includes and fills-out more intimate reactions and attempts to create a broad image of us and how we react – intelligently but oh, so human.

The Wallfacer Project is the primary mechanism for this. That the story advances 200 years in a leap of human culture is the second. Without giving too much away, allow me to say that many of the characters manage to  hibernate and emerge hundreds of years later which results in a fascinating conceit:

Liu convincingly describes near-future humans who have survived post-Trisolaran contact. They’ve endured The Great Ravine – an epic depression of global scale that reduced human population by billions – and an era that forced most cities underground. Their tech is smart.

But this future human society is confronted daily by waking up hibernators, characters we know and appreciate from our time, awakened on schedule to proceed with the ultimate plan of Earth’s defense. It creates a truly original relationship between us and our future selves.

In some ways Liu’s future human relationships are a near-perfect emulation of contemporary generational relationships between the Digital Generation and anybody over 40. The clunky 21st-century hibernators call them “kids” though they’re a highly advanced civilization.

The Dark Forest is considerably more about philosophy, politics and social and military strategy than The Three-Body Problem, which was more computing and science. But it’s pretty heady stuff.

All of it is headed toward first contact and when the 2000-spacecraft-strong armada of Earth finally meets the first craft from Trisolaris, the story doesn’t disappoint. So many previous steps have led to this moment in our narrative, they unfold like the petals of a blooming flower as the action explodes. The battle is a brilliant sequence.

We come now to a principle failing of this work. The conclusion of volume two is meant to bring a suspension at last to first contact, but the solution that achieves this was, to me, a disappointment. When it finally happens, I wondered why it hadn’t come sooner to us to approach the problem this way.

I’m obviously trying to critique here without giving anything away, so I’ll conclude with a metaphor from another saga.

I used to love trolling fans of The Lord of the Rings by saying, “Put the ring in a box. Give it to the Eagles. Tell them to drop it in the fires of Mordor. End of story in 20 minutes.” After all, the Eagles easily defeat the winged Fellbeasts of the Nazgul in the great war of Middle Earth, they’d have no problem getting by them to rid the world of the ring.

Sometimes a simple plot hole can take away the power of a saga, so you have to avoid it to go on, and to enjoy the ride.

I hate to say it, but when the final philosophical and cosmological play is made in the battle between Earth and Trisolaris – elaborate and complex as it is – I saw it coming.

I really, really want to elaborate with anyone who has read these two.

Off to read Book Three, Death’s End!

mtk

GBC Reader Vol. 2, Issue 4 – Slowly Improving Giants with Six Game Win Streak in May

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The last ten days have been promising for the G-men. We took 3 of 4 from the Nemesis at the Yard! It was great. Kershaw beat us and Cueto got a little hot under the collar, resulting in a bench-clearing kerfuffle, but it was great to #BeatLA again.

We had a 17-inning game that ended on a Buster Posey walkoff HR! Around the Foghorn’s Vince Cestone ruminates it could be the game that turns things around.

Stat Man Doug Bruzzone has two pieces on our pitchers and our hitting that are interesting.

Barry Bonds is Finally Getting a Plaque on the Giants Wall of Fame

Brisbee’s take has a complete list of those honored and this gem: “If you’re agitated by the Belt Wars, you have no idea what it was like to live through the Great Snow Conflicts.”

While Haft has some nice, clean history and stats of the greatest power hitter to ever play the game (the GPHOAT) up on the Giants site.

Pence went on the DL and the Giants called Mac Williamson up. But he hasn’t done much yet. Christian Arroyo has been the star of May thus far. The rookie was called up and immediately brought fireworks and a clutch bat that seemed to juice the team. He needs a nickname and I prefer Spanky, case he looks like Spanky from Our Gang, but I am old, so it looks like the memory-less Millennials are gonna settle on The Kid or Boss Baby.

Book Review: The Three-Body Problem, by Liu Cixin

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I embarked on The Three-Body Problem because a colleague considered it a cultural touchstone that occupies the moment between China and the Western world. I traveled in Chinese-speaking countries for many years, and know a little of the Chinese having studied there, but this is the first Chinese novel – sci-fi or otherwise – I’ve ever read, so I was curious how it would be.

The Three-Body Problem is Book One of Remembrance of Earth’s Past, a trilogy being marketed as a global phenomenon: the first major sci-fi novel out of China by “China’s most beloved science fiction author, Liu Cixin.” It received the Chinese Science Fiction Galaxy Award in 2006 and Three-Body Problem has been immensely popular among hundreds of millions of Chinese and a comparatively small, committed group of sci-fi readers internationally. It was originally published serially.

The English translation by Ken Liu (Tor, 2014) was nominated for a Nebula and Hugo Award for best novel – becoming the first translated novel to be nominated for a major SF award since Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities in 1976. Three-Body Problem won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2015.

Translations of Books Two and Three were released in 2015 and ’16 and the Three-Body Problem movie is expected later this year.

The novel takes the late-1960’s, early-70’s as a launching point for a fictional narrative that bounces forward 40 years to look back upon it as history. The context for beginning requires some understanding of the temperament of China, then. I took footnotes seriously and in real-time. I kept my cell-phone or computer handy and spent a few minutes googling and reading about historical events and figures as I went along to aid the translation. It helps.

The main characters are mostly scientists – theoretical physicists, astrophysicists, a nanomaterials guy – or military strategists. This is highly intellectual hard science and military thinking. You have to know a thing or two about the state of contemporary knowledge in many disciplines or be willing to learn as you go. I think this would have been more enjoyable in the serial form. I got regular headaches trying to read and follow all this in massive novel form.

Keeping Google handy helps a lot with both the Chinese history and the science. Complex scientific theories and ideas are referenced liberally throughout. It’s apparent Cixin Liu, an engineer by trade, has an expansive and comprehensive understanding of many disciplines. His knowledge of computing, theoretical physics, astronomy and chemistry has bloomed into the books of Remembrance of Earth’s Past. I got headaches, but I learned a lot.

The Setup

During the Cultural Revolution in China, a young woman, Ye Winjie, sees her father, a prominent scientist, killed before her eyes. Ye Winjie is profoundly affected by this and the brutal ignorance of the state and its ferverous minions. She grows up to be a scientist, herself, and is assigned to a remote radar telescope facility for a top secret project. She discovers scientists have revealed an alien culture in the vicinity of Earth’s next-nearest star, Alpha Centauri. A warning from the alien culture not to reveal Earth’s location for fear of invasion is unequivocal.

Ye Wenjie decides life under humanity is worse than worthless, headed for self-destruction, and, skillfully masking her intentions to gain the access necessary, she uses a massive radar dish and the power of the sun as an amplifier, to send a message across space, unilaterally inviting the aliens to come to Earth and take over. And so begins the saga between Earth and Trisolaris that will last hundreds of years.

Now two groups of people exist on Earth who know about the aliens, those who want to prevent them from coming and those who would aid them. We are are led in the narrative of those who would prevent them by a naive but inquisitive scientist and his gruff but lovable foil, an earthy cop who balances out the eggheads and help them push on.

Ye Winjie is a confined leader of those who would aid the aliens – called Trisolarans because they live on a planet with three suns. Yet she manages to connect with a disgruntled hippie who believes imperialist capitalists are carelessly destroying the world. He in turn inherits billions from his industrialist father, and together they create a small, committed force to help the aliens come to Earth to take over.

Meanwhile, the chapters concerning the Trisolarans are fast and heady. The unique structure of their system – a planet with three suns – results in rapid-fire changes described expertly in socio-philosophical and biological terms. It’s smart, interesting theoretical evolution.

The Three-Body Problem is a huge story with bold strokes, and lots of technical and philosophical ideas emerge from high concepts and hard science. A solid understanding of computing, physics, astrophysics, chemistry and theory is brilliantly at play here as the Trisolarans develop and indeed outdevelop us.

There are fascinating conceits:

  • the idea of dozens of physicists and scientists going mad because the physical universe itself flickers and communicates with them directly is terrifying, an idea that shakes the core of belief in what is real.
  • an alien culture less than five light years away has warped their specific consciousness through an elaborate and abstract intervention only they can observe with highly sensitive devices. It’s fantastic and explained through complex multi-dimensional chemistry.
  • having no machines, the Trisolarans construct a giant computer out of single individuals with flags – a massive human motherboard, with files of soldiers running as BUSes through it. It’s just so Chinese. But brilliant in the details of the construction.

While science makes this novel complex, by the time it all gets unraveled, including the complicated rationale of the humans who choose to collude with the aliens in their effort to take over the Earth, we are left with a basic story and simple characters executing a complex, tumbling plan toward Human and Trisolaran interaction. It’s a contact story that spans hundreds of years.

I was reminded of the devices of other sci-fi novels – the aliens use a video game to communicate with humans like in Ender’s Game, the rapid evolution of the Trisolarans reminded me of a story I read in the 80’s about life that forms on a pulsar.

The science and technology elevate this work more than the philosophy. There are clunky philosophical problems I associate as typically sci-fi that are exposed by the science, but it feels inhuman.

It’s sad and simplistic to accept a sane, highly educated person could give up on humanity unilaterally and gain access to the means to execute their betrayal. Isn’t it? It may sound sexist, but I couldn’t imagine a woman being the one to do it.

Once she commits the greatest universal act of betrayal in human history, Ye Winjie finds a community of supporters from cultures all over the world. Have we given up on ourselves so completely? It’s depressing.

This strikes me as a cultural question. Maybe it’s a collision of my mindset with contemporary Chinese or SF. The Chinese and the Trisolarans are foreigners to me here and Sci-Fi is my means of comprehending each, only abstrusely.

Conveniently, the Trisolarans live only four and a half light years away, so communications require just eight years between planets. Presumably in the next volume … we meet.

I finish what I start so I’ll review The Dark Forest, Volume Two of Cixin Liu’s Remembrance of Earth’s Past, next.

GBC Reader Vol. 2, Issue 3: Thankful to Turn the Calendar Page

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The first month of the season was turbulent, chaotic and unpredictable.

MadBum ripped two home runs on Opening Day, the only pitcher in history to achieve such a feat, and we lost. We scored a bunch of runs in the next several games and lost, then we lost Skip for a coupla games and a buncha guys for more and we lost, and then we didn’t score many runs and lost.

That adds up to 17 losses and a 9-17 month of April good for dead last in the National League West. There was always some weird issue in addition to the ones we were expecting – namely LF and the bullpen – and it’s apparent nobody’s comfortable except Johnny Cueto.

BASG sighting! SB’s take on the off-field difficulties stacking up for the G-men is a good read and very relevant.

Here’s AlPav’s Slideshow of Takeaways from the Giants opening month.

Daniel Sperry at Around the Foghorn calls the Giants’ April “Bad, Really Bad” but he includes some positives.

While his colleague Justin Rodgers asks and tries to answer what it will take to turn the season around.

Christian Arroyo is the star of the week: here’s Kaila Cruz at AtF on the kid. Everybody’s looking for a nickname and I am cool with #BossBaby.

BASG also chimed in loudly in favor of the Arroyo call up and brought up how the Boss Baby and Michael Morse have brought back the fun, reminding us of some of our fun times in the recent past.

On cue, here’s Michael Morse talking to Giants baseball bats to get hits out of ’em.

Ty Blach had another great start, pointed out by Michael Wagaman.

This is a team in transition from the World Series Championship Era (2010-2014), an era that’s deceptively long because Madison Bumgarner was almost single-handedly responsible for the last Championship, winning the WC play-in game and game seven at Kaufmann Stadium for us. The Nemesis has won the division four straight years while the Giants have just managed to stay in the playoffs twice via wildcard and #MadBum.

Our attempts to stay in it while re-organizing have been a war of attrition. Since the last Championship team, we’ve lost: Pablo Sandoval and Matt Duffy at 3B; Affeldt, Casilla, Lopez, Romo and Petit from the ‘pen; Vogelsong, Zito, Lincecum, Hudson, Peavy from the starters (and Cain has been absent).

ESPN Sr. Writer David Schoenfeld expands on this thought very effectively in his piece from a couple of days ago, Spring Setbacks Thwart NL Contenders and thankfully he includes the woes of the nemesis for some pain relief.

The nemesis and the Rockies and D-Backs have been tooling to win and it’s unrealistic in the modern game to expect to just fall back into the lead. It’s almost impossible to repeat as a champion these days. (There hasn’t yet been a back-to-back WS Champ in the 21st Century).

That said, when they’re rolling we have a pretty great starting rotation. Matt Cain has looked considerably better lately and though Samardzija is struggling now, I feel it is sort of his m.o. to pick it up as the season goes on. Bum, Cueto and Moore are legit playoff starters.

Brandon Crawford, Joe Panik, Hunter Pence and Buster Posey are all playing well. Though the bats with RISP are still just so bad.

Eduardo Nuñez and Denard Span have good at-bats and the platoon of LF are trying to find an identity. The addition of Morse is a real shot-in-the-arm.

The bullpen is a hot mess, but Mark Melancon is an elite closer and he has the capacity to anchor this squad and hopefully they can pull it together.

I am just blathering because we just don’t look very good right now … I don’t know what else to say, so I will just say

 

Go Giants!

 

love,

MTK