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Table of contents
But new enemies are sought, and new reasons found to continue the work that has legitimized the power of the Lab, its managers, and the politicians who fund them. Quine is thrust into the center of programs born at the intersection of paranoia, greed, and ambition, and torn by incommensurable demands. Deadlines slip and cost overruns mount. He is drawn into a maelstrom of policy meetings, classified documents, petty betrayals, interrupted conversations, missed meanings, unanswered voicemail, stolen data, and pornographic files.
Amid all the noise and static of the late twentieth century made manifest in weapons and anti-weapons, human beings have set in motion a malign and inhuman reality, which now is beyond their control. More than a critique of corrupt science and a permanent wartime economy, Radiance is a novel of lost ideals, broken aspirations, and human costs. Failure is just another word for opportunity.
Nature is a blur beyond the windshield, where lives are spent on the road, on the phone, on the make, in fierce competition for financial, political, and intellectual resources. It is a world which language is used to evade, manipulate, and expedite. Timmel Duchamp; about a novel I had never heard of by an author I had never heard of, but it sounded interesting and I read the review until towards the end, it quote a key passage in Radiance : A murmur of rain had started again. He lay there in the abyss of his thoughts as her breathing beside him steadied and deepened.
Almost a voice stirred in him. It starts before Hanford, it almost said. Who could imagine that this radiance at the heart of matter could be malign? That with its light came fire? Yet from the first the ashen bones were there to see within the flesh. It starts with Becquerel carrying the radium in his pocket that burned his skin, and darkened the unexposed film. It starts with Marie Curie poisoning herself in that pale uncanny glow. With Rutherford guessing at this new alchemy, guessing that matter, giving up its glow, transformed itself one element into another.
With Oppenheimer at Jornada del Muerte that morning of Trinity. With the scientists who had prised open the gates to that blazing realm past heaven or hell. What were they now at the Lab in all their thousands, but the colonial bureaucrats of that realm, the followers and functionaries, the clerks and commissars?
Mere gatekeepers of that power. Or in its keeping. It goes of its own momentum beyond Hanford, to Trinity, to Hiroshima, to the prisoners, the cancer patients, the retarded children, the pregnant women injected or fed this goblin matter to see would it bring health or sickness, the soldiers huddled in trenches against the flash, bones visible in their arms through closed eyes, staring up at the roiling cloudrise, the sheepherders, the farms, the homes, the gardens downwind. And in his sleep the voice long stilled spoke once more. It starts with Sforza; in case of need I will make bombards, mortars, and firethrowing engines of beautiful and practical design.
It starts where we start. It is mind, it is hunger, it is greed, it is defense, it is mischief, it is the devil, it is the god; it is life. The force of the incantation struck me and a few years later, a copy finally appeared in my local library system. Here I borrow a term from Kevin Kelly and refer to the Technium: science and technology regarded as its own entity with its own drives and selection effects, including the proliferation of all forms of technology. Section two turns to the unseated Highet: his ouster, and the epilogue of his story as he looks over the ruins of his life and seeks out a final resting place in a think-tank.
The Biblical and Wagnerian overtones are strong in this section. Section three completes the work. Just like Dune Messiah thoroughly subverted and undermined the simplistic narratives presented for the reader to swallow in Dune , part three shows the reader how Quine in his own turn is fully subverted by the environment, his sense of duty, and yes, his own belief in the desirability of progress.
The Technium strives toward openness and proliferation. Technology may be amoral but it has imperatives of its own. The book ends in Quine in despair and granted a moment of lucidity: seeing his entire life as a mixture of success and failure, as but a pawn of vast forces beyond his comprehension, beholding the presence of the ghostly Technium, far from exorcised.
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Shut up…! He was on the shoulder turned sideways. Through the passenger window he saw traffic rush toward him and pass behind him. Ahead of him, smoke rose from fields of stubble, and a flight of bird, scattered by some disturbance, wheeled, now black, now white, against the empty burning sky.
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In the heart of that light, lucid and inevitable, all that was scattered cohered. Superbright and all its progeny stood plain before him in conception and in detail and in its component part and its deepest strategies and in its awful and enticing radiance. He saw the design and the making of that device complete, and of further devices without end, and he stood apart from them as if it mattered not at all whether the deviser was himself or whether they came into being sooner or later.
Trembling he stared across the burning fields and whispered, —Stop. But the traffic rushed on. The 3 sections form closed circle: a tight ball of historical forces, corruption, science, despair, progress, failure, and personal tragedies. The reader expecting further satire will not be pleased by this section. And what would a tragedy be without there being a great gap between what we hoped a character might accomplish and what actually happens?
THE COMMON LAW
The higher they can fly, the sadder a crash. Coyote, First Angry, enemy of all law, wanderer, desert mind, outlaw, spoiler, loser, clown, glutton, lecher, thief, cheat, pragmatist, survivor, bricoleur, silver-tongued Taliesin, latterday Leonardo, usurper Sforza, adulterer Lancelot, tell, wily one, by any means, of the man with two hearts, of knowledge and desire safely hidden from each other.
Did not Paracelsus command us to falsify and dissimulate so that ignorant men might not look upon our mysteries? Did not the noble da Vinci hide the meaning of his thought by the manner of his script? What man has not two masters, two minds, two hearts? Tell of the man so wounded in himself that he tore his second heart from him and cast it out, naming it the world, and swore to wound it as it had wounded him.
Progress is not inevitable. Athens declined. Florence declined. Countries fall. Knowledge can be lost look at scurvy. Science is not a formalized process, but a spirit of honesty and inquiry, which can be aped and the wordless teaching lost how can Japanese or Chinese researchers run hundred of experiments, apparently complying with all known standards, every single one of which concludes acupuncture works, when results elsewhere show dramatically lower success rates?
Anti-vaxxers to our left, Creationists to our right. Highet is not wrong - just one-sided.
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But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart? Transmutation has been realized as radioactive decay, while modern medicine would astound Bacon, and it does not seem absurd that in the next few centuries mankind will cure aging. The double aspect pops up again, of fraud and greatness: research as practical work but also as spiritual quest.
Indeed, as the man thought upon the Great Idea more and more, he realized that it was not just a great idea, but the most wonderful idea ever. The Great Idea would unravel the mysteries of the universe, supersede the authority of the corrupt and error-ridden Establishment, confer nigh-magical powers upon its wielders, feed the hungry, heal the sick, make the whole world a better place, etc. The man was Francis Bacon, his Great Idea was the scientific method, and he was the only crackpot in all history to claim that level of benefit to humanity and turn out to be completely right.
And the work goes on. Reminds me of Watchmen. Or to borrow from the official summary: An introverted teenage girl with an unconventional superpower, Taylor goes out in costume to find escape from a deeply unhappy and frustrated civilian life.
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As she risks life and limb, Taylor faces the dilemma of having to do the wrong things for the right reasons…Readers should be cautioned that Worm is fairly dark as fiction goes, and it gets far darker as the story progresses. Just the opposite on every count, really. The work is not perfect. The opening is perhaps too slow: the first fight with Lung, which hooked me, took a while to happen as it only really starts in ch4.
In the middle, I suspect there was perhaps too much material devoted to the Slaughterhouse Nine arc and not enough to later plot arcs like Taylor joining the heroes or dealing with later Endbringers. But the flaws are relatively small and hopefully will be addressed in the editing process. I read Worm after it was finished and I continued to see positive reviews of it, such as Eliezer Yudkowsky : …I commend to you…the just-completed story Worm , which is roughly 1.
Highly recommend if you want some action and suspense. Vaniver : Caveat: Worm is really dark. But, despite those positives, terrible things happen to everyone always. I also found the superhero fight sequences less engaging as time went on - but they can be skimmed with little loss. Every situation is desperate, every problem urgent. By the time a conflict reaches its resolution, another is at its peak, and two more are right around the corner. I read most of them online, so when I had the chance to read a hardcopy of the full collection, I seized it. The final ending feels like an appropriate conclusion.
If one had to criticize it, it would be that the Tower itself is completely unrealistic even in the Biblical cosmology of the story: as I said, the best Chiang stories unite literature and good ideas.
I would rank this 5 of the 8 stories. But the whole is still memorable.