Sunday, January 29, 2012

Foundation and Empire Group Read, Part 1

Find more details and discussion on this group read at Stainless Steel Droppings.

So how about this cover, huh?  If I lived during Foundation times I would put it in some slot to be atomized.
Yesterday was my birthday (the last acceptable one), and along with doing Zumba, going out to lunch, seeing Wicked, going out to dinner, and opening presents, I finished reading the first half of Foundation and Empire.  A perfect day!

Here are this weeks questions, with Spoilers. 
1. In the opening chapters of Foundation and Empire we get to see things from the Imperial side. What are your thoughts on this part of the book? Were you surprised to find parts of the Galactic Empire that still seemed to be thriving? 

In the last book I didn't spend much time thinking about the Empire at all.  These first chapters were more eye-opening than surprising.  So much to think about in such a large galaxy!  I'm enjoying "zooming in" a bit.  
In the case of the Roman Empire, the east outlasted the west for many years, so I guess what's left of the Empire is like that.  It was also interesting to see how unaware Riose is of the Foundation and Hari Seldon and all of that, since we have been so engrossed in it.

2. The examination of psychohistory continues in this book. What are your thoughts about the statement that was made: "Seldon's laws help those who help themselves" in light of our previous discussions about Seldon, his predictions, and the interaction of the individuals that we are exposed to in the story?

I feel like Asimov is pretty repetitive in going over the aspects and predictions of psycho-history, and yet I still feel like it needs to sink in a little bit more for me.  This idea of individuals helping themselves is a good one to counter the feeling of being merely a pawn in the whole scheme of things.  But is it true, or just a comforting saying?  I think I would have more insight if I could pin down where this comes up in conversations, and apply it to some of the characters.  My brain is not up for such investigations today.

3. How do you feel about Devers, Barr and Bel Riose? Did you like this section of the book and/or these characters? Was there anything about their stories that stood out to you, entertained you, annoyed you?

I liked them all as rebels in their own realms.  I sometimes feel as though we're getting the same type of character repeated quite a bit between the books, but maybe that's by design.  Part of the pattern of psycho-history.  I have loved this part of the book, but the end of Part 1 was so abrupt.  All of a sudden the war was over in the blink of an eye.

4. Perhaps continuing from Question 2, do you agree or disagree, and what are your thoughts on, Barr's devotion to Seldon and his belief that the "dead hand of Seldon" was guiding the events that led up to Riose's undoing.

Well, my main thought on this was the the idea of the dead hand idea was creepy!  If I revered a guy, I would pick a more positive mental image.  I felt or sort of satisfaction for Barr that his faith was well-founded.

5. Did you think I was lying to you when I said in previous conversations that there are more female characters in books 2 and 3, LOL, since we didn't get to Bayta until near the end of this portion of the read?

Ha, ha!  I had faith.  I liked her portrayal overall, but since we've put this issue under a microscope, I will say that I was a little weirded out when her husband put his hand over her mouth to get her to stop talking.  I can see why he did it, but if someone did that to me I would surely bite them!

6. We haven't spent much time with them yet, but talk about your initial impressions of Toran and Bayta.

So far I like them, and I like seeing the events unfolding from the perspective of a married couple, especially as they have settled in a place where it doesn't sound like marriage is that common.  I'm jealous of their honeymoon!  At least until the clown shows up.  I like that we get to see some of Toran's insecurities, and how hard the confrontation was for him.

So nothing profound going on in this head, but I am enjoying this book even more than the first. 

Friday, January 27, 2012

Moby-Dick Group Read: Discussion 3 (Chapters 56-93)

I am soooo ready for a Whale category on Jeopardy. Bring it on, Alex!  Step aside Ken Jennings!

Thanks to Melville, I never knew so much about whales, nor did I know there was so much to know about whales.  Alas, we are still primarily in non-fiction mode, and things have taken a turn for the technical and anatomical. A couple of things helped me get through this section.

First of all, I cast Ishmael aside for a bit, and Mike Rowe from Dirty Jobs took his place in grossing me out with the details of whale hunting and whale anatomy.

Yes, I know how to spice my classics up a bit.  But it's not that far-fetched, right?  Ishmael and Rowe take on similar tasks in giving us glimpse into icky jobs that we don't think about much, and yet we usually reap the benefits from.  In my mind, the Pequod had a few extra passengers--a camera crew and a hunky host showing me all of the blood and guts of whaling.  (Rest assured, in my little "mind movie", Rowe IS wearing pants, unlike Queequeg who seems to prefer the shirt-and-socks-only option.  What is up with that?!?!)

Also, when doing image searches last week, I discovered a children's book about whaling in the 19th-Century:

ISBN 0-531-12356-1

I was in luck--my library actually had it.  I highly recommend this book to anyone reading Moby Dick.  In just 30 illustrated pages (hint, hint, Melville...), I learned about the different whales, the tools used to catch them, how they are cut up and the wreck of the whaling ship Essex, which inspired the writing of Moby Dick.  (One thing I learned that I didn't want to know was how Moby Dick ends.  Ooops!  Watch out for that if you read this.  It's on page 28.)  I actually read this book before reading this section, so it was very easy for me to picture what was happening.  And with Mike Rowe explaining it as well, all was good.

But don't think that I'm saying one should skip or skim Melville's detailed descriptions.  He somehow makes it all worthwhile by tacking on to the end of a chapter something philosophical/metaphorical about life.  It reminds me of a Shakespearean couplet, only it often sounds biblical.  And like Shakespeare, sometimes I know what he's saying, and sometimes I don't. Many times I'm not sure if he's being earnest or sarcastic.  I'm still loving the occasional injections of ticklish humor.  I'll have to make a collection of them when I'm done reading.

But for now I must confess that I haven't finished this section.  I have about 15 more pages.  I've hit some legal stuff, and my mind is blocking it.  I've got no survival mechanism for this.  I don't watch any law shows with hot lawyers.  HELP!!!!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Moby-Dick Group Read: Discussion 2 (Chapters 27-55)

I'm behind schedule already on my posting and reading, which is actually not that unusual for me.  This time my excuse is that I had limited time to read, and when I had a couple of hours here and there, I had to choose between working out and reading Moby Dick.  As enticing as Moby Dick is (and I'm not being sarcastic for once), I chose to exercise.  I just kept telling myself, "My health is more important than Moby Dick.  My health is more important then Moby Dick.  My health is more important than Moby Dick," and off to the gym I went.  

Likewise, I needed to employ a mantra to get through this section of the reading: "Pretend it's non-fiction.  Pretend it's non-fiction.  Pretend it's non-fiction."  Because, really, that's what a good portion of this section is.  I had to switch from a high level of fun quirkiness in the first part to textbook mode in this second part.  The good things is, I rather like reading textbooks, so my feelings are still rather positive towards Melville's "draught of a draught" that is Moby Dick.  But the cetology chapter signaled that it was time to shift into learning mode.

Aside from learning about different members of the whale family, the hierarchy of power on a whale boat, and historical accounts of whale hunting within the novel, I did a little outside research to be able to find my way around a boat.  Quarter deck, mast-head, starboard, poop, etc. were all vague in my mind, so I found a couple of diagrams that were helpful:

I also found myself wishing I had some sort of illustrated version of the book.  I know that Ishmael tells us the only way to really know what a sperm whale looks like is to see it for ourselves, and risk death in doing so, but I don't foresee whale-hunting in my future, so instead I searched the sea of Google images:

How bad can he be?  He kind of looks like he's smiling.  Maybe this is what Moby Dick looked like after he munched on Radney.

It wouldn't be quite accurate if I only focused on the inundation of information in these chapters.  Melville does thrown in some peculiarly dramatic stuff here.  Much of it reminded me of Shakespeare, which in turn reminded me a bit of Ulysses.  I had earlier been thinking that Melville's writing seemed to me an unlikely combination of Dickens and Joyce, but I wanted to wait and see how the rest of the book played out.  That Joyce vibe is coming in pretty strong now, albeit without the stream-of-consciousness mumbo-jumbo.  But when it comes to the number of allusions and purges of random knowledge, I see similarities.  But I'm not ready to write a paper on it or anything.  I wonder if Joyce read Moby Dick?  It's the wit in the writing that reminds me of Dickens.  And some of the humor.

I loved Ahab's little pep talk to get the sailors all pumped about finding The Whale.  I did not realize he was capable of saying so much at once, so it was a little shocking.  The chapter about the whiteness of the whale was interesting and beautifully written.  I for one have always been afraid of white--the stains show!

I keep looking for some deeper meaning in Ahab's hunt for the whale that ate his leg off.  But Ishmael says specifically that this tale is NOT a fable or an allegory.  Shucks!  But I don't entirely believe him yet.  I'm still looking.  I have a monomania of my own.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Foundation Group Read: Part 2

Yikes!  I'm a whole day late.  This was due to the three day weekend in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. day.  No school for the kids and my husband took the day off of work, and so we celebrated by doing . . . yard work.  I'm sure I've missed the prime discussion period, but I throw my thoughts into the ring nonetheless.

Last week it seems I won the award for picking the ugliest of Foundation covers to display:

It's pretty bad, but then most of them are.  Thank goodness you can't judge a book by it's cover.  Although, I do love a good one. (Michael Whelan actually accomplishes this, thank goodness.) I guess the next best thing is a weird one.  This one interested me because I wondered what the "KSP" stamped on the hand meant.  Now I know, and I don't think it was a big enough of a deal to make the cover art.  But on with the questions from host Carl:

Spoilers follow.

Salvor Hardin was the first character in the book that we got to spend any significant time with.  What are your thoughts on the grande finale of his plotting, scheming and maneuvering to get the Foundation through to the next Seldon crisis?

I continue to be impressed by his shrewdness, but at the same time disturbed by manipulation of the people through the religion.  But that conflict is one of the things that makes the book so interesting to me.  I'm continually questioning which is the greater "evil" in my mind, violence or manipulation and never really come to an answer.  And pondering the possibility that I am a pawn in someone's big scheme for power. All in all, the overriding issue in this situation is expediency--doing whatever it takes to reduce the fallout from the breakdown of civilization by trusting in Seldon's predictions.  Hardin certainly has the brains and the resolve to make that happen.

What are your thoughts on the way in which control/manipulation to achieve Foundation ends began to shift with The Traders?

I anxious to hear other thoughts on this one.  It just reminded me of similarities to history where society shifted from a religion-based society to one dominated by trade.  In the book, The Foundation initially uses trade to sneak in the religion in order to gain power over the masses.  In the end, it ends up being the goods that have the most influence over the people.  Will the next change be the trade of information and services?

One of the interesting things about Seldon's psychohistory is how much one man can actually affect it.  In Foundation we see characters like Hardin and Mallow as key figures for positioning things just right to work towards Seldon's later predictions.   Do you see this as a contradiction to what Seldon said about psychohistory at the beginning of our story or part of an overall plan? Discuss.

I did see this as a contradiction.  The only thing I can think to explain it is that Seldon could predict that certain individuals would inevitably rise to the task and be a necessary agent for producing the desired outcome, although he wouldn't know exactly who those persons would be.  That somehow as a crisis develops, someone with the right abilities will move to the forefront and pull the right strings.  Or recognize the need to stand back and let things happen.

Did you see similarities or differences between the way in which Salvor Hardin and Hober Mallow operated and what are your thoughts about this final section of Foundation?  Would you have been content as a reader back then with how everything played out?  

They both had a knack for anticipating events and being one step ahead of the other guy.  The also both significantly changed the societies of that area of the galaxy.  I'm curious to see if and what the next shift may be. 

Has your concept/thoughts of what Seldon was trying to do changed at all since the book began?

I don't know that it's changed, but at first it wasn't clear that certain "crises" would be the pivotal events. It's not clear to me how all of that is going to help, so maybe I've missed the big picture.  I do keep wondering about the other colony on the other side of the galaxy.  What's up with that?  

Any final thoughts on the story as a whole, its structure, what it did or did not accomplish, how it worked for you, etc?

I did not realize going into the book that it was structured as short stories, but it worked fine for me.  I'm definitely seeing the need to continue--I'm curious about a lot of things.

Looking forward the the next in the trilogy, and will again be participating in the group read:

An inviting cover, but I am curious about the choice of wardrobe there.  Some sort of a court jester uprising?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Moby-Dick Group Read: Discussion 1 (Chapters 1-28)

I never formally declared my intentions for this group read, so here you go:

Maybe it's because of the suggestive "conquering" in the readalong title, or maybe it's because I only made it through fifty pages when I picked it up in another lifetime, but I really expected reading Moby-Dick to be a TASK.  I thought the group read format would be perfect, because what is more fun than poking fun at a stuffy classic, especially one with a title just asking for it?  

But so far there will be no poking fun (and I'll shelve any immature jokes), because I am really and truly enjoying it.  So far it's weird, and funny, and a bit over-the-top but in a tantalizing way.  For instance, Melville's not subtle when it comes to his whale/ocean imagery.  It pops up everywhere:  the painting at the Spouter Inn, Queequeg shaving with his harpoon, the pulpit that's like the bow of a ship, the codfish vertebrae necklace, and much, much more.  You cannot get away from it!  If I were to take a stab as to why Melville does this, I would say that maybe he's trying to establish a connection between the upcoming face-off with a monster whale and how it applies to everyday, landlubber life.  Or maybe he's just trying to set the mood.  Or maybe he just really, really likes whale stuff.

Whatever the case, I'm ready to take the voyage, get to know and fear Ahab, and enjoy all that cheese and butter that Captain Bildad was so worried about:  "Be careful with the butter--twenty cents the pound it was..."  Hopefully it won't just fatten me up as a tasty whale treat.

Yojo (the idol) tells me I should stop here, even though there are diverse topics that can be discussed. I wouldn't want to outdo Melville in rambling and digressions.  For more discussion and links to other posts, visit here.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Foundation Group Read: Part 1 (of 2)

Another group read led by Carl of Stainless Steel Droppings is going on right now and it's probably not too late to join in if you're interested.  This is a short, interesting, and easy book to read.  What more could you ask for in January? (Especially if you've over-committed on readalongs this month as I have.)
Here are the questions posed for the first half of the book:

For the purpose of satisfying curiosity, is this your first time reading Foundation or have you read it before?
This is my first time reading.  I've checked it out from the library before without getting to it.

For those reading Foundation for the first time, what expectations did you have going in and has it met them or surprised you in any way?

I came into this with a pretty blank state.  I know that Asimov is a renowned sci-fi writer, so I do have high expectations because of that.

What are your thoughts about the structure of the novel thus far? (I am referring to the brief glimpses of different parts of the history of the Foundation with big time gaps between events in the novel)

For those who have read Dune, I'm just finding it refreshing that the excerpts from the Encyclopedia Galactica are much less ambiguous than Princess Irulan's work that begins each chapter.  I'm usually not a fan of books that cover huge spans of time--I prefer works where the author delves really deep into a shorter time period--but it's not bothering me in a major way.  I don't really feel like I know any of the characters, but then I don't think that's the purpose of the book, thus far anyway.  I feel like we're getting to know mankind as a whole in a broad sociological sense.

What are your initial thoughts on the field of psychohistory?

I find it interesting as a form of prophecy based on mathematical science, inevitably coupled with questions that the people will have:  What if he was wrong or made a mistake in his calculations?  Did he have any hidden agenda in sharing this information?  Even if it is true, what do we care what happens to the empire after we're dead?

What, if anything, is holding your interest thus far, what are you enjoying about Foundation?

The story is interesting, and the ease of reading it is admittedly a bonus!

What, if anything, are you not enjoying about Foundation?

I had a hard time with the guy who didn't pronounce his "r"s.  It's not Asimov's fault that I'm reading this post Princess Bride, but I couldn't keep  myself from hearing the priest who performs the "mahwage" and talks about "twu wuv."

You may have covered this in answering the other questions, but if not, what are your thoughts/feelings about the Galactic Empire.  Is it a practical thing to have a galaxy spanning government? Can you imagine such a thing and do  you think it would work?

I just think it would be impossible.  It's mind-boggling to think of the size of the galaxy and how the government could keep tabs on everyone and prevent some sort of secession or rebellion. You just can't keep that many people happy.  Which of course is what is slated to occur and we are seeing the beginning of that unraveling. 

What are your thoughts on Hardin's creation of a religious system in which to house scientific ideas and technology while keeping the users of that science and technology in the dark?
I hate the idea of manipulating the people even though I see his purpose in doing so.  I'm also kind of disappointed in the people for not seeing through it, or for not being capable of accepting the scientific ideas disguised as mysticism.  There's got to be at least one freethinker among them!   Also, the whole concept kind of twists our modern way of thinking--these days you more often see religion being explained in scientific ways, like the science of prayer, or trying to prove ways that the Red Sea could have been parted, etc. in order for religion to be more accepted.  All very thought-provoking stuff.  I can't wait to see where he goes with it.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Daniel Defoe: Classics Challenge January Prompt

I'm nearing the end of Robinson Crusoe, and finally there's a bit of action.  But it involves the discovery of cannibals who are having a little European "feast."  This seems like a good place to stop, take control of my gag reflex, and respond to the first prompt for the Classics Challenge found over at November's Autumn.  The focus this month is on the author of the classic we are reading.

I don't know much about Daniel Defoe (ca. 1659-1661 to 1731), but if there's one thing I've learned about him by reading the book, it's his fondness for the term "viz.", a rather hoity-toity way of saying "that is to say" or "namely."   Luckily he mixes it up every now and again by actually saying "that is to say."  He also LOVES capital letters.  

So let's Find out Some Slightly more substantial Facts about Defoe.  First, Check him Out:

And I thought my hair was big in the 80's.  Perhaps when it came to wigs back then, size did matter.  As someone who changed his last name from Foe to Defoe to sound more aristocratic, I think he may be trying to compensate for something.

He wrote several books, (viz.) Robinson Crusoe, The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, Serious reflections during the life and surprising adventures of Robinson Crusoe: with his Vision of the angelick world, Captain Singleton, Journal of the Plague Year, Captain Jack, Moll Flanders, and Roxana.

In all he published over 370 (or 500 according to Wikipedia) works, including pamphlets and journals.  From hosiery businessman to government spy, he did just about everything and wrote on just about every topic imaginable.  He even spent some time in jail.  He lived through the Great Plague of London, the Great Fire of London, and later on, the Great Storm of 1703. I don't get the idea that he was very well liked or respected during much of his life.  Maybe that's a why a novel about being shipwrecked on an island alone for several years was appealing to him.  Or maybe he just thought it would be a good way to pay off all of his debts.

Whatever the case, I am enjoying Robinson Crusoe.  I feel like I'm learning how to survive on a deserted island and going to church all at the same time.  But more about that when (and if) I write up a review on it.  Defoe was much more prolific in his writings than I.  How he would have thrived in the blogging age!  And he could have ditched the wig.