>Fiction – "Labyrinths"

>Labyrinths is a collection of stories and essays by the argentinian write Jorge Luis Borges. I read this book for my local SF discussion group. Borges’ stories are not quite science fiction, but they are not quite straight fiction either.

I had read this book one before, years ago, and it was interesting to see which stories I remembered. The main two that impressed me last time were “The Library of Babel” and “Funes the Memorious”.

“The Library of Babel” is a description of a nearly infinite library that contains all possible books of 400 pages or less (this number has to be finite of course). The author talks about wondering through this library looking for the special book that describes one’s own life. I actually found the story available online here, together with a picture of what the actual library may look like.

The other story I remembered, “Funes the Memorious”, was about a man who remembered everything. And I mean everything. He could compare the shape of the clouds on Tuesday,, five years ago, with the shape of the clouds today. He could name every object, every instance with its own unique name.

I wonder if Borges was inspired by a neurological case study by A. Luria, which is described in the book called “The Mind of a Mnemonist”. The two stories are strikingly similar.

Reading the book this time, there were other stories that I liked. It appears that Borges like to play with some recursive ideas (i.e. a dream within a dream) or the mathematical ideas of the infinite or nearly so.

There was one essay that was a clear parody of literary criticism. In the essay he reviews a new version of sections of “Don Quixote”. These were written by a present day author, and although the text is exactly the same as the original, the meaning is clearly (!) quite different.

I didn’t finish all the essay. At times they were little tough to read – especially when I was tired in the evenings.


>Science Fiction – "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale"

>This is another story by Philip K. Dick that served as a basis for movie. The movie was called “Total Recall”. The story basically matches the first part of the movie. It starts with the main character, Douglas Quail, dreaming of a trip to Mars. Since he cannot afford it, he decides to get a false memory of such a trip implanted in his head.

To make the memory more exciting he asks that he remember the trip to Mars as a secret agent. Unfortunately during the memory implantation process he discovers that he in fact did go to Mars as a secret agent, and the life he is currently living is based on an implanted memory.

At this point the story diverges from the movie. There is no trip to Mars and big shootouts with the bad guys. Instead once the police (called the Interplan) discover that he remembered his trip they attempt to kill him.

However, he eludes them and negotiates a settlement, which is to have his most deepest desire implanted as a memory instead of the real memory of the trip to Mars.

You’d have to read the story to check the clever twist that this second attempt at memory insertions leads into..

>Fiction – "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince"

>Well, I’ve read all the Harry Potter books so far, mostly because my kids read them, so we can talk about the plots. My daugther finished the book in a week, it took me about seven days .

This book is the 6th of the series and it sets things up for the last 7th book, which is not yet written.

The only thing I can say that the book has a sad ending. At the end Harry is 16 and getting ready for the final confrontation with “You -Know-Who”. If you don’t know who “He-who-must-not-be-named” is, then you better go and read the book.

Otherwise you will forever remain a muggle….

>Technical – "The Best Software Writing"

>This book is a collection of essays about software development written by various authors, selected and introduced by Joel Spolsky. Joel write a web column Joel On Software and in this book is his reaction to having to read yet another boring book on software development.

The essays range from some musings on social software by Clay Shirky, to Paul Graham essay on great hackers (from the book “Hackers and Painters“), to a short introduction to the programming language Ruby.

There are couple of essays that short and whimsical, but deal with serious topics. Some of these are: “Starbucks Does Not Use Two Phase Commit” or “How Many Microsoft Employees Does It Take To Change a Lightbulb“.

The book ends with three essays by Eric Sink on some problems facing small software companies. Two of his articles are about marketing and one on hiring programmers.

I really liked this book and I’m making all my friends read it.