Bring on the Killer Robots: It’s Alive! Artificial Intelligence from the Logic Piano to Killer Robots (2017) by Toby Walsh

Its AliveAlthough I’m sure there’s a lot of people who are fascinated by the many nuances of the field of Artificial Intelligence – the myriad applications of this new technology, the ethical issues, the many ways in which AI has already begun infiltrating our lives in subtle ways – I think I’m not wrong when I say that most people will pick up this book with one simple question on their minds: viz., what is the likelihood that we will be wiped out by evil killer robots within the next ten to fifty years; and, if we are, will they at least be sexy killer robots à la Battlestar Galactica, or will they be more like Arnie in Terminator (i.e., terrifying)?

This book does discuss the possibility of killer robots, of course. Its conclusions on the topic will not leave the technologically paranoid quaking in their boots, but the more sensitive reader may nevertheless finish this book with a slight sense of diffuse dread, because Walsh makes clear that even though robots probably won’t want to kill us out of hatred or spite (yay), they might do it… well, accidentally (erm… yikes?). Continue reading

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‘An Infinite Multitude of Chickens’: Reading Thomas More’s Utopia (1516) in 2017

UtopiaThis book is #39 on my Classics Club list.

2017 has dawned with the words ‘dystopic future’ hovering on more than a few people’s lips. ‘Dystopia’ and ‘utopia’ are loaded terms, of course – one man’s ‘post-apocalyptic nuclear wasteland created by the greed of power-hungry and irresponsible capitalists and world leaders’ is another man’s ‘strategically-managed relocation solution with wonderful future prospects following the end of the nuclear winter’, although I’m not sure I’d really want to meet the person who thinks like that.

Amidst all this talk of a dystopic future, where greedy capitalists have succeeded in grinding down the poor and middle classes and filling the rising oceans with plastic and ring-pull cans, 2017 seems like a good time to revisit the origins of the terms Utopia, and consequently Dystopia. I’m sure I’m not the only person who feels like Thomas More’s 1516 work Utopia, which gave us the term and presented us with one of the earliest examples of a utopian text, is still remarkably relevant today. Continue reading

In Which I Have Nothing Original to Add to the Discussion on: Howards End (1910), by E.M. Forster

Howards EndThis book is #65 on my Classics Club list.

Right. I didn’t have a whole lot to say about Howards End, so I decided to go away and read some reviews to see what other people are saying about the book. And it seems like all the reviews, positive or negative, seem to more or less agree on a few main points:

1. The novel is about class. Some other stuff too, but people mostly seem to agree that it’s about class. Because there’s three families, and two of them are rich enough and marry one another, and one is not. This is all very sad and tragic and allows Forster to make some profound comments on the way that class works in the twentieth century. Don’t ask me what they are, I just know they’re profound. Continue reading

William Shakespeare’s STAR WARS: Verily, A New Hope (2013), by Ian Doescher

william-shakespeares-star-warsWilliam Shakespeare’s STAR WARS seems to be written with a very specific audience in mind: one that both loves and knows the Star Wars movies (sci-fi nerds, myself included), as well as the works of Shakespeare (history and lit nerds). Which would seem to be a weirdly specific demographic, but in actual fact just goes to show how both Star Wars and Shakespeare can cross boundaries of genre and appeal to readers/viewers with all kinds of different tastes. Let’s face it, a lot of time it just isn’t helpful to make assumptions about what preferences for certain genres say about a person, because it’s almost always a lot more complicated than we’d like to think.

A mashup of Shakespeare, traditionally seen as the epitome of olde-worlde England (despite how often his plays are re-imagined in various contexts), and Star Wars, a seemingly futuristic story nevertheless set “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away” (or, as Doescher has it, “In time so long ago […] / In star-crossed galaxy far, far away” [Prologue]) would seem to be a weird combination. Continue reading

All the Things I Remember About The Moonstone (1868), by Wilkie Collins

the-moonstoneMystery fans beware! SPOILERS ahead!

This book is #63 on my Classics Club list.

I’m not exactly known for being the most up-to-date when it comes to posting my book reviews. This is usually because I’ll finish a book, write a review, and then let it sit on my hard drive for months, until I finally remember to post it up, usually about two years after I wrote it (and that’s not even an exaggeration). In the case of The Moonstone, however, I made the crucial mistake of reading it in November last year and avoiding the writing of the review itself (and only about ninety-five per cent of the reason is because I didn’t have anything particularly interesting to say about it. The other five per cent is, predictably, that I’m just lazy).

So when I finally came to write this review, I couldn’t remember a darned thing about the plot, characters, or themes. Which is especially concerning considering I also watched the 2016 BBC adaptation of the novel, and still can’t remember anything beyond the fact that the guy who plays Godfrey Ablewhite has fantastic cheekbones, and that Sarah Hadland can still make me laugh. So if you’re hoping for an in-depth postcolonial reading of Collins’ novel, I’m afraid I’m going to disappoint. But if, like me, you are a newcomer to The Moonstone, you may find the following facts, dredged only by dint of great effort from the quagmire of my brain, to be quite useful. Continue reading

Hello, Fellow Hypocrites! Tartuffe (1664), by Molière

tartuffeThis book is #31 on my Classics Club list. There’s also some spoilers below.

Molière was a French actor and playwright who was popular with the French aristocracy. At the time he was considered a comedic genius, presumably because he had impeccable timing. You can tell because he died after collapsing onstage during a performance of a play entitled The Imaginary Invalid, in which he played a hypochondriac. You can’t make this kind of stuff up, people.

Tartuffe is one of Molière’s best-known plays. It’s basically about a brilliant and witty housemaid called Dorine who works for a family of absolute nitwits. Or at least it would be, if I had my way. In actual fact, Dorine, while being the only character in the play I didn’t actively fantasise about drowning, is not the main character in this particular story. Instead, that honour perhaps goes to Tartuffe, although the man doesn’t actually make all that many appearances onstage. Continue reading

The One With the Big Hooter: Cyrano de Bergerac (1897), by Edmond Rostand

cyrano-de-bergeracThis book is #18 on my Classics Club list.

‘Tis well known, a big nose is indicative
Of a soul affable, and kind, and courteous,
Liberal, brave, just like myself, and such
As you can never dare to dream yourself,
Rascal contemptible!*

(Scene I: Act 4)

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a French musketeer with an enormous nose.

And no, I’m not making this up. The hero of Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play, Cyrano de Bergerac, is a brilliant fighter, poet, and wit.

Oh – and he is also well-known for having an absolutely enormous nose. Continue reading

Victorian Superheroes (Minus the Tights): Dracula (1897), by Bram Stoker

DraculaI vant to suck your blood… and varn you about ze spoilers ahead! (And also tell you zis book is #56 on my Classics Club list, bleh bleh).

On a dark and stormy night, in a castle in Transylvania, an English clerk named Jonathan Harker discovers a terrible secret about his host. It leads to an epic chase across the whole of Europe, from East to West, and back again. It’s the plot of Dracula, one of the most recognisable literary villains in history. Decades of literary criticism have shown us just how much there is to uncover in a book like Dracula. There’s no way I can possibly cover everything there is to find in a book like this, so I thought I’d start with some of the things which really caught my attention while I was reading.

Men Writing About Women Writing About Men (And Why It Always Makes Me Laugh)

In Dracula, women are everywhere. The plot revolves around two women in particular: Lucy Westenra and Mina Harker, the wife of Jonathan. In his characterisation of them, Stoker articulates anxieties about a range of issues, from Victorian sexuality to the fear of foreign invasion.* Continue reading

Some Things I Thought About Emma (1815) by Jane Austen

Austen EmmaI am thoroughly ashamed of myself. Emma was supposed to be one of my Austen in August reads last year, given that it was published at the end of 1815. Sadly, thanks to university deadlines and the tiny inconvenience of moving halfway across the world, I wasn’t able to complete it. But after more time than I’m prepared to admit, I finally come to you with my thoughts on my re-read of Emma. If it seems incomplete, ill-informed, or just plain wrong, I’m going to go ahead and blame that on the fact that it took me about six months to finish. If I hadn’t caught the flu a few weeks ago – Austen being one of my go-to illness cures – I might still be ‘reading’ this book (by which I mean it would have been sitting by my bedside silently judging me, as only the best books can). I hope you find it interesting. I hope you don’t come away from this silently thinking I really should give up studying literature. I know I found myself wondering.

Some Things I Thought About Emma

All of Austen’s novels are about possession and belonging. It’s hardly surprising, considering the kind of world she was born into – a world where one’s worth was most often determined by how much one was worth. Continue reading

‘Owning’ the Past: Possession (1990), by A. S. Byatt

Possession ByattIf you wish to trace, dear reader,
The history recounted in prose,
By esteemed A. S. Byatt
From the start to the close,
Heed my warnings, which here I give:
Beware of SPOILERS, beware of those
That would seek to ruin a book
To lessen their own woes.

Beware of – currents – swirling swift –
And postmodernist – angst – that creates a rift
Beware of – bees – that sting –
But most of all, beware of bad poetry, of which I write far too much.

Having spent the better half of the last six years in and around universities, I can tell you that they are fascinating, absorbing places, filled with wild ideas and interesting people. But this doesn’t mean that the lives of literary scholars make for a good novel. I’ve spent a great deal of time in literature departments, libraries, and archives, but even I wouldn’t want to read a five-hundred-page novel about them. But then came A. S. Byatt’s Possession, bringing with it a great deal of acclaim and the promise of a really juicy (fake) literary mystery.

Hold on to your hats, people, because somehow the stakes in this novel seem incredibly high, despite the fact that they revolve around the lives of two fake Victorian poets. Continue reading