User Profile


Joined 1 year, 5 months ago

A mix of academic (philosophy, cognitive science, some science and technology studies) and science fiction or fantasy. A bit of pop science for giggles.

Academic tastes: Enactive approach, embodied cognitive science, ecological psychology, phenomenology Fiction: Iain M. Banks, Ursula le Guin, William Gibson, Nnedi Okorafor, China Miéville, N.K. Jemisin, Ann Leckie

Love space opera but mostly disappointed by what I read there. Somehow didn't read Pratchett until recently, and now methodically working my through in sequence (I know sequence is not necessary, but ...).

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Marek's books

2024 Reading Goal

35% complete! Marek has read 14 of 40 books.

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reviewed Hyperion by Dan Simmons

Dan Simmons: Hyperion (Paperback, 1991, Headline Book Publishing Ltd) 4 stars

Monumental space opera

5 stars

Since my teenage years this has been one of my favourite books. I haven't revisited it in a very long time, and since the author seemed to develop less than pleasant views in later years I had been uncertain as to how well it holds up.

Certainly, it could do better on representation of diversity and gender, though it's not entirely wretched on either. I could get caught up in the details of unpacking these issues, but I'll be honest that I think they are not fatal to the book, and that despite its limitations in this regard it remains a classic - a phenomenal read and one of the best examples of space opera, fullstop. To my mind, on a par with Dune, the Culture novels, and the Radch.

Seven pilgrims set out on a voyage to the outback world of Hyperion, with the intention of meeting the mysterious …

Lynn Margulis, Dorion Sagan: Microcosmos (Hardcover, 1987, HarperCollins Publishers Ltd) 4 stars

A compelling account of early microbial evolution and symbiosis, that gets let down by speculation in the second half.

4 stars

The first two thirds of this are a fascinating exploration of microbial evolution, including some fairly compelling descriptions of microbiology that supports the symbiotic account of major evolutionary leaps.

Evolutionary iconoclast and groundbreaker Lynn Margulis and her son Dorian Sagan explore the richness of microbiological life, which was all life for more than half the history of evolution, and which they argue really remains dominant to this day. Multicellular life, including the supposedly special human, is really an extension of microbial life - we emerge within the global medium of bacteria, protists, and archae, remain dependent upon it, and exist in a world that is largely maintained and regulated by the mass of the "microcosmos".

While they explore microbial evolution they present evidence and detail which is satisfying and persuasive (though as the book is pretty old at this point, some of this has been superseded). The chapters follow a …

Andrea Wulf: Magnificent Rebels 5 stars

Appropriately magnificent

5 stars

I found Wulf's biography of Alexander von Humboldt something of a revelation, and certainly inspirational.

Humboldt, as well as his brother Wilhelm, is a supporting character in this work, which is a biography of a group Wulf calls the "Jena Set" - philosophers, poets, writers, and scientists who lived and worked together in Jena in Saxe-Weimar in the late 1790s. During that brief but intense period their work gave rise to the Romantic movement that has contributed flavour to, if not wholly shaped almost every aspect of Western thinking and experience since.

Vibrant, unconventional, counter-cultural figures during revolutionary upheaval in Europe, the group are complex, fascinating, inspiring, sometimes frustrating and occasionally contemptible.

The philosophy of 'always becoming', unity with nature, but always arising and being shaped by individual experience and personal freedom, is expressed in every aspect of the writing and the group's life. The membership of the group is …

Kelly Weinersmith, Zach Weinersmith: A City on Mars (Hardcover, 2023, Penguin Press, Penguin Publishing Group) 4 stars

Earth is not well. The promise of starting life anew somewhere far, far away - …

Clear-eyed, humane, and deeply considered overview of space settlement science and fantasy, from Kelly and

5 stars

This is a careful, immensely well-informed, and persuasively comprehensive examination of the domain of settlements in space.

Kind of spoiler alert (but not really): They are not optimistic, certainly not in the short- or even medium-term. What the book does is share the reasons for their stance. And while there is a certain accuracy to the term 'disillusionment' here, in that they started the project optimistic and wanted to provide a popular introduction to how it will all be achieved, the end result is not a 'downer'.

What the authors get across - I think implicitly, but they also take time at various points to be very explicit about it - is that they love the science. They enjoy not the power fantasies of "Wild West in Spaaaaaaace!!" but the complexity, intricacies and crazy dynamics of life, and just as importantly living; being human in space, and on other …

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Ann Leckie: Translation State (EBook, 2023, Orbit) 5 stars

The mystery of a missing translator sets three lives on a collision course that will …

A Wild Psychological Ride

5 stars

Anne Leckie's world building and psychological insights into the different alien, AI and human races and factions are like no other. Sometimes it's hard to follow if you don't concentrate on the story, but it definitely never gets boring. If you liked the Ancillary books, this one is definitely for you.

reviewed Zen of R2-D2 by Matthew Bortolin

Matthew Bortolin: Zen of R2-D2 (2019, Wisdom Publications) 3 stars

Fun, kind, and brief introduction to some of the principles of zen buddhism through Star Wars

3 stars

This is a somewhat long-form (though still brief) essay in the spirit of the Philosophy and Popular Culture series.

Bortolin does a good job of introducing some of the basic tenets of zen buddhism though discussion of examples and quotations from Star Wars. It's lovingly done both to the zen source material and the Star Wars wrapper. Light, kind, and quick.

For chasers to this shot: If you'd a still-accessible, but richer exploration of the Asian philosophy, Ed Slingerland's "Trying Not to Try" is a nice one.

If it's the philosophy in Star Wars cosplay you're in it for, can recommend at least one particular chapter of "The Ultimate Star Wars and Philosophy: You Must Unlearn What You Have Learned."

Deb Chachra: How Infrastructure Works (2023, Penguin Publishing Group) 5 stars

A new way of seeing the essential systems hidden inside our walls, under our streets, …'s book will change your perspective on the world, connect you to roots, and implications, you weren't aware of.

5 stars

I guess at first blush it might sound a bit strange that a book about utilities, roads, and drainage can change your perspective on the world, but Deb Chachra's does just that.

I have both a personal and professional interest in this stuff, but not huge knowledge in the area. I expected lots of cool technical detail, hooks into the fascinating intricacies of water treatment, electricity generation and distribution, transport. All of that is there, but every sentence is embedded in a fabric of social and cultural awareness. The whole point of infrastructure is social, the technicalities are just...well.. the technicalities. It is the bigger picture that Chachra is interested in here. The result is a not so much a disorientation, as a reorientation. It's a recognition of the ways in which the infrastructure that we take for granted every day (that is designed to be taken for granted), gives …