Sunday Salon: Two books
The Doomsday Men I started reading some time ago, but then got diverted by my research, so I am pleased to have the chance to get back to it now. It is basically a search for the real Dr Strangelove - the scientist of mass destruction as conjured up by the media in the twentieth century and earlier.
It combines a history of atomic, chemical and (I suspect, though I haven't got to this yet) biological warfare with the history of how these were portrayed in books and film. I am learning about Goethe's Dr Faust, Shelley's Frankenstein, as well as various works by H G Wells. At the same time I am acquiring an excellent overview of this branch of scientific history. The two are married together surprisingly well by the motif of Strangelove. He comes in fleetingly like a Hitchcockian extra, or like a subtle symbol in a poem or piece of literature. It is foreboding.
The Turing Test was the surprising winner of the Edgehill short story competition. It was published by the now defunct Elastic Press, and it is really very good. Chris Beckett, apparently, is a quiet author who doesn't tend to shout or promote himself, but has been successfully writing science fiction for decades.
The eponymous first story is about a woman who becomes fixated with a virtual personal assistant who arrives in her computer in a viral way when another virtual PA of a (real) friend decides the woman could benefit from a PA's services. The first PA therefore reproduces herself and sends this version to the woman's computer. The PAs talk to each other and from the information they generate evolve - in order, they say, to improve what they do. But of course this could also hide a more sinister motive.