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Wolfgang Wopperer

Joined 1 year, 7 months ago

Philosopher by training, facilitator by trade. Late-coming social activist and experienced stacker of books.

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Wolfgang Wopperer's books

To Read (View all 9)

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Adrian Nathan West, Benjamín Labatut: When We Cease to Understand the World (Paperback, 2021, New York Review Books) 4 stars

A fast-paced, mind-expanding literary work about scientific discovery, ethics and the unsettled distinction between genius …

When sensemaking breaks down

4 stars

Fast-paced, fun and terrifying stories about ideas, people and complex systems at the edge of understanding, half fact, half fantasy. Stories of the breakdown of sensemaking, the ensuing madness, and about a darkness at the heart of things.

Ursula K. Le Guin: The Word for World Is Forest (Paperback, 1976, Berkley) 4 stars

Centuries in the future, Terrans have established a logging colony & military base named “New …

(Anti-)Colonialism in Space

4 stars

A novella about colonialism and fighting it, but also about ecology, indigenous knowledges, dreaming and waking, perception and reality, and hope in the face of seemingly overwhelming power.

LeGuin is scarily good at making colonialism tangible from both the perspective of the colonised and the coloniser, and she's doing so in her usual unpretentious and precise way.

After reading lots of white male apolitical hard sci-fi, this was a breath of fresh air – or, as the Athsheans would put it, sanity.

Highly recommended.

@gregorgross That's certainly true. I think I'm also reacting so strongly (and negatively) to Diaspora because I see its contribution as art, in and to its own era as negative: It's an expression of and inspiration for the superficially apolitical, but at its heart reactionary "nerds take over the world", transhumanist-rational, techno-utopian culture that brought us SBF, Elon Musk and Mencius Moldbug. I can easily imagine them drooling over the description of uploads and femtomachines, getting off on their grasp of physics and panicking over gamma ray bursts (instead of climate breakdown).

In a lot of ways, it's the complete opposite of the political sci-fi of, e.g., Ursula LeGuin, Margaret Atwood or Marge Piercy, and I'm realising I am very partisan in this opposition… 😬

reviewed Diaspora by Greg Egan

Greg Egan: Diaspora (2008, Gollancz) 4 stars

It is the end of the thirtieth century and humanity has divided into three. The …

A hard sci-fi milestone – for better or worse

3 stars

If I had read this book 10 years ago (or even 5), it might have felt like a revelation. Reading it today feels like entering a cul-de-sac.

Looking around it helps me understand a couple of things, though: How hard sci-fi works (or why it doesn’t), for one; what makes transhumanism so repulsive (and profoundly boring), for another.

Hard sci-fi is more science than fiction – or at least it tries to be. Equipped with enough knowledge about math, physics or whatever science of choice to go above the reader’s head, but not enough to enter scientific discourse itself, hard sci-fi is, I think, best understood as playing with potential scientific theories without ever having to spell them out. As such it’s not so much an exploration of a few wild ideas but the exploitation of some narrow ones.

This can be very interesting (in Egan’s case, the idea of …

Peter Watts: Blindsight (Firefall, #1) (2006) 4 stars

It's been two months since a myriad of alien objects clenched about the Earth, screaming …

An exploration of consciousness

5 stars

From sociopaths to truly alien aliens, from simulating empathy to seeing without perception, from unfeeling predators to semi-sentient AI, from multiple personalities living in one brain to brains replaced and enhanced by machinery, Blindsight explores how and why experience is conscious – or not.

And it turns our most important assumption about consciousness on its head – that it's the epitome of evolutionary progress. This is ultimately the question the book poses: What if it's not? To explore it, it resurrects vampires, narrates unreliably, poses alternately as a space opera and as hard sci-fi, and is at the end completely of its own kind.

If you're into mind-expanding science fiction, this is a must read – even if it is ultimately mind-deflating. (Which I won't explain further to not spoiler anything, so please, find out yourself!)

Vernor Vinge: Marooned in Real Time (Paperback, 1987, Pan Books) 4 stars

What if you missed the Singularity?

4 stars

This is basically the starting question of the book (which thus forms one of Vinge's quite different explorations of the concept he coined in 1982), but that only becomes clear as the larger story comes together in the last third of the book. (Sorry if this a spoiler…)

On the way there, we follow a post-civilisational whodunnit through several centuries, compressed into short bursts of subjective time, slowly understand that the difference between the "low techs" and "high techs" that make up the small community of surviving humans populating the book is smaller than we thought, and get thrown a few plot-twist curveballs. Vintage Vinge, so to speak.

Which is also the book's drawback: The political agenda a little too clear, the dismissal of alternative world-views (e.g. an ecological one) a little too quick, the psychology a little too shallow.

But as always: a fun, inspired and at times inspiring …

Vernor Vinge: The Peace War (2003, Tom Doherty Associates) 4 stars

First in a quintessential hard-science fiction adventure, Hugo Award-winning author Vernor Vinge's The Peace War …

A love letter to libertarian hackerdom

4 stars

Vinge is a master craftsman. The first few chapters are among the best constructed I've ever read – how he manages to start three separate narrative threads and timelines, slowly weaves them together in just the right tempo and level of explicitness so that the reader has the first revelatory "aha" moment just before the timelines actually converge, switching imperceptibly between mystery and suspense to keep us hooked, how all of this is mirrored in the spatial setup of the plot, and how it makes us feel empowered as readers – this is truly great storytelling.

But Vinge is also a libertarian in love with hacker culture, and this suffuses the rest story of the story to a degree that makes it a little flat and boring. Good (individuals, hackers, small-time heroes) and evil (state authority, bureaucrats, big-time posers) are little to easy to discern, and apart from one or …

Dietmar Dath: Der Schnitt durch die Sonne (Hardcover, 2017, FISCHER, S.) 4 stars

A Novel about Category Theory

3 stars

Alien intelligences that are truly alien, perception as simulation, subjective vs objective time, category theory as a universal tool for traversing the layers of reality, progressive politics between party ruins and personal life, multiperspectival storytelling and a few plot twists – what could possibly go wrong in a book that has all this?

Basically that Dath puts all of this into it – and has to try too hard to make it fit. The voices don't seem authentic, category theory gets a mix of overly theoretical introductions and silly practical "applications", and the political perspective is kind of tacked on, while the plot isn't strong enough to hold it all together, especially as it kind of loses its thread two thirds through the book. I reads a little like an experiment: "What happens if I write a novel about category theory?" But Dath is neither daring nor focused enough to …

Pablo de Santis: La traducción (Spanish language, 1998, Planeta) 4 stars

"Language is a virus"

4 stars

… was one of the two twists that worked really well for me, making the short novel a fun, reasonably deep and unexpectedly surprising read.

What works less well are its (especially in the age of LLMs) outdated ideas of language as more or less mechanical devices whose understanding can be automated in very old-fashioned ways (why add this, when the language-as-meme model is already present and works so much better?), its portrayal of women as objects of desire, keepers of domestic order and bearers of emotional grievances – and again an unnecessarily dated-sounding German translation.

An entertaining read nonetheless.

Viktor Pelewin: Buddhas kleiner Finger. (Paperback, German language, 2000, Ullstein TB-Vlg) 4 stars

A "masterpiece of ontological queasiness"?

4 stars

(As a friend of mine called it.) Not quite, in my opinion:

The ontological queasiness the book generates is considerable. Its disorienting shifts between dreams and realities did in fact spill over into my own dreams, including the in-dream realisation of my dreams being dreams – and the anxiety that they might also be alternate realities that could in turn spill over into my "main" reality. So on one level, Pelevin's novel was quite effective.

On another, however, I kept stumbling: The language often falls into the slightly naïve, bucolic and dated sound that Russian literature tends to take on in more conventional German translations; the narrator's perspective is often quite reactionary (and the author's afterword suggests he shares this tendency); the use of Buddhist ideas sometimes borders on misuse; and one of the book's main jokes, the reversal of the protagonists' characterisation compared to Soviet-era lore about them, was …