Existence – David Brin

After ten years of absence, David Brin is finally back with a new novel. Reading Existence, it is not difficult to imagine how that monster of a book took so much time to write. It is huge, not merely in terms of word count, but also in terms of conceptual volume. Brin’s 1990 book Earth is a similar creature – teeming with predictions, explorations and interpretations of the near future, ultimately succeeding on most levels. Existence has inherited that DNA, but the author has raised his latest brainchild with even greater ambition. It is not just the near future that is in focus here but the whole timeline of existence, its image refracted through the lens of human civilization. That’s right, the novel’s title aptly summarizes all the numerous threads that make the book, because they all eventually point to that very concept. What is the purpose of life and intelligence? Is survival in the cold universe possible? How do we even define different modes of existence and how do we understand them better? These are the questions that run throughout the text and the curiosity, meticulousness and imagination with which Brin tackles them on every page make Existence a notable event on the SF horizon. Continue reading

The Writer as a Squad of Cognitive Designers

OK, I am going to stretch some analogies here. No pretense for comprehensive overview or scientific method, just plain hypothesizing about the nature of story writing. The reason – it’s fun. Also, I have found out for myself that relating writing as a process to cognitive theories helps me think more clearly about the former and more enthusiastically about the latter. The post is a bit technical, but I have tried to provide brief explanations and relevant links where needed.

Sitting in a series of lectures on cognitive robotics and spatial cognition this week, I have been bouncing around my brain various sporadic thoughts, only vaguely related to the courses in question. So, here follow, very sketchy and somewhat amorphous, a few ideas about writerly roles.

Writing as astral projection (in your own brain)

 What does it take to write good sensory descriptions, to help the reader walk in the shoes of a character, to wrest emotions of fear and disgust out of her, to pump some adrenaline in her bloodstream? Samuel Delany wrote in an essay (either in The Jewel-Hinged Jaw or in About Writing; too bad I don’t have the books to check and provide quotations) that the first step of the writing process is that of imagining a scene as fully as possible. Continue reading

Ready Player One – Ernest Cline

Ready Player One surprised me wonderfully. I started it after accidentally coming across its many high-starred reviews, not really knowing what to expect, and ended up spending every spare minute with it for a couple of days. This novel is such great entertainment in so many respects that, even though hardly more than guilty pleasure, it easily snatches a top place among my personal favorites for the year so far.

The year is 2044. The world has turned into a nasty place where resources are not enough for the feeding of the populace, citizen security is under constant threat and most people barely survive on state relief. Wade is an eighteen-year-old boy who lives with his addict aunt and about a dozen other tenants packed in a trailer that is just one of the hundreds stacked in giant columns outside of Oklahoma City. Wade is overweight, socially inept in the real world, his parents are long-gone, his future is a dead end. Continue reading