>Science Fiction – "Space Merchants"

>”Space Merchants” is a novel by Fredrik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth about marketing in the future. The main character of the book, Mitch Courtenay, is an executive at an advertising agency and he is given the project to market colonization of Venus. At this point in time, only one person has gone to Venus (a rather short astronaut – since weight was a consideration) and he found that the environment on Venus is not particularly hospitable to human life. Still, good marketing can overcome such problems, especially in the hands of a talented executive.

In the “Space Merchants” universe the world is controlled by large corporations, which fight among themselves like gangsters. There is also a large working underclass, who are also the consumers. The consumers are not smart enough to understand the subtleties of marketing.

In any case the Venus campain does not go as expected. Our hero winds up in strange places (still on Earth), is forced to live and work as part of the consumer class and has to fight his way back to his rightful executive position.

The book was fun to read, as the plot twisted and turned in unexpected ways. I also like the slight fun poking at marketers. On the other hand, the technology was all wrong. Everyone travelled via rockets, but there were no computers or computer networks.

There is a sequel to this novel, I think it is called “The Merchant’s War” – but I am not planning to read that.


>Non-fiction "The Big Con"

>This is a political book written by Jonthan Chait, a writer for the New Republic. In the book he tries to explain how certain economical theories became to dominate the public policies (especially of the Republic party), even though they are considered wrong.

The principal idea he criticizes is “supply-side” economics and the now famous Laffer Curve. The premise is that reducing taxes will actually result in more revenues for the goverment. Since supply side economics was first
applied under President Regan, historically the principal appears to be incorrect. Deficits rose during the Regan era, and went down during the Clintor ear when taxes were raised.

Supply side economics benefits mostly very rich people, especially those who get most of their money as investment income. The puzzle then is why do regular working class people keep voting for Republicans (or were until 2006), even though this is not in their economic interest.

The author’s main theses that the people in power simply con the voters, by obfuscating the actual issues (eg. “death tax”) and distracting them with social issues that have no economic impact.

This was an interesting book to read – sort of a companion to “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” (although I haven’t read that book).

>Science Fiction – "The Gods Themselves"

>This particular novel written by Asimov started as challenge issued to Asimov by a fellow SF writer Rober Silverberg. He dared him to write a story about Plutonium 186 (which does not exist in our Universe). Asimov started writing and instead of a story wrote an entire novel.

The book has three distinct parts, and the three items motif repeats though the whole book.

The first part speaks of discovery of the Electron Pump. An Elecron Pump is a device build around plutonium 186. Plutonium 186 is unstable in our Universe and transforms into another element, giving off energy at the same time. It turns out that this element is “pushed” into our Universe from a parallel Universe with slighthly different laws of physics – there Plutonium 186 is possible.

The man who accidently discovers the bit of Plutonium 93 uses it to create essentialy free source of energy the world. Naturally, he becomes quite famous and admired as the Father of the Electron Pump. Everyone accepts the Pump, except few malcontents who look for a problem with the Electron Pump, in order to discredit the discoverer.

They conclude that the exchange of matter between the two Universes will result in a change of the physical laws of both Universes – this comes from the general principle of conservation of energy. Plus their calculations imply that the Sun will explode as a result of this change and relatively soon. As you can imagine no one believes them, after all this would shut down free supply of energy for the entire Earth.

At this point part one ends. Part two takes place in the parallel universe. There we meet a trio of beings (“the soft ones”) who form a family. They are a Rational named Odeen, Emotional named Dua and a Parental named Triit. In Asimov words Dua is the onle “she”. It appears that the three are in process of rearing children – they have two already and must create a third one to complete the cycle.

To make children the three must meld together into one entity and stay that way for a while. However, Dua seems to be having some emotional issues, and does not want to meld. In fact, unlike most other Emotionals, she is very interested in what Odin and the “hard ones” are working. The “hard ones” seem to be scientists working on the Positron Pump – but this is not entirely clear.

This part of the book is a bit weird, as Asimov describes how the “soft ones” interact – they can go through rock for example. In the end Dua discovers more about what the hard ones are doing. Plus they all find out what happens after they produce the final child and “move on”. But I don’t want to give away the details.

Finally, the third section is back in our Universe. Once of the characters from the first part migrates to the Lunar colony and there he finds a way and a device that will allow humans to keep the Electron Pump and not blow up the Sun. This is a good thing.

This book of Asimov was somewhat different than others that I read – the Robot stories or Foundation. It was OK to read, but I don’t believe I will read it again.

Oh, the names of the three sections are: “Against stupidity…”, “..the Gods Themselves…”, “..content in vain”.