Sunday, July 12, 2009

Sunday Salon: Two books

At the moment I am reading two books: The Doomsday Men by P.D. Smith and The Turing Test by Chris Beckett. The first is non-fiction, the second fiction, and I am finding that they complement each other very well.

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.


Blogger Paul Halpern said...

Glad to see that you are reading Doomsday Men. It is truly a thought-provoking book, particularly in its analysis of the different paths chosen by nuclear scientists (Szilard, Teller and so forth).

Wed Jul 15, 01:47:00 am  
Blogger Liz said...

This is off topic, but your blog entry reminds me that, though I love words, I have NEVER been able to keep the meaning of "eponymous" straight...

I'm reading a couple different things: the latest Nora Roberts, which is very Nora Roberts-like, plus Shooting an Albatross, which is completely different. So that's fun. (I'm also listening to a Tess Monaghan mystery by Laura Lippmann). The "albatross" book is set in 1943 and deals with the US Army occupation (who knew such a thing could happen?) of a golf course in Hollywood. It's quick-paced and has a very literary style. And don't be thinking it's just golf! Romance, suspense, psychological thiller -- it's all there.

Wed Jul 15, 06:24:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

I agree completely, Paul. There's so many aspects I'm finding fascinating. I'm really glad I'm reading it. I think it's the sort everyone should read.

Yes, Liz - I find eponymous a little perplexing. I hope I've got it right here.

It's interesting to hear what you're reading - particularly since I don't know these authors. That Lippmann one does sound good! I like literary-style books. Thanks for letting me know, I shall look out for it.

Wed Jul 15, 08:43:00 pm  

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