||[Oct. 7th, 2010|11:50 am]
49. Belle de Jour: The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl
50-52. The Night Angel Trilogy by Brent Weeks
53. The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins
54-55. Turn Coat and Changes (Dresden Files 11 and 12) by Jim Butcher
56. The Selfish Gene
And now, some discussion and a little bit of soapboxing!
The Night Angel Trilogy pleasantly surprised me. I wasn't expecting it to be bad as such, but the series' depth astounded me - setting, characters and plot as well. The author has a gift for making the subtlest details of the early story become relevant in the climax, and making it look completely natural the whole time.
One of Richard Dawkins' explicit purposes in writing The God Delusion was raising the reader's consciousness of the degree to which religion - and specifically, organized, dogmatic religion - has ruined lives and crippled minds across the world and throughout history. I wasn't likely to be disagreeing with much of this book in the first place, but the well-reasoned arguments throughout the book have certainly clarified and solidified my thoughts and opinions on issues like the religious indoctrination of children. It's clear that even "moderate" organized religion, both in the way it weakens people's ability to think rationally and the way it makes more radical religion - and the terrorism and intolerance that invariably surrounds it - possible and even to some people acceptable1.
The Selfish Gene brings similar clarity to a less philosophical but no less contentious area: the theory of evolution. The thesis of the book is mind-bogglingly simple: successful genes are those that increase the likelihood of creating additional copies of themselves (within the context of their environment), and all of evolutionary theory (seriously: all of it arises from that principle. Note that this thesis says nothing about the survival or fitness of the species or even the individual holding those genes. The rest of the book is devoted to demonstrating this fact over and over again, using it to explain everything in evolutionary biology: sex differences, altruism of all stripes (including familial behaviors), parasitism and symbiosis, and so on. His masterful application of game theory - clearly explaining the salient points without diving into any mathematics more complicated than fractions - should be held up as an exemplar of popular science writing.
Towards the end of the book, he expands this selfish-gene concept to any replicator with the necessary qualities: the ability to copy itself with reasonably high fidelity, and to influence its own likelihood of being copied. As an example, he posits the existence of a cultural replicator - actually inventing the word "meme" - and convincingly makes a case for memes replicating and mutating in accordance with a Darwinian theory. This concept may seem old-hat to us now, but I was rather impressed regardless, given that this was written in 1976.
Finally, the Dresden Files books. The series keeps topping itself, book after book - and Changes is also very aptly named, even in a series with a reputation for shifting the status quo frequently. (It also ends with one hell of a cliffhanger, and of course volume 13 comes out in March.) If anyone else is fully caught up on the series and wants to chat and speculate, let me know and I'll set up a separate post for that; any discussion of the current state of things necessitates massive spoilers. Otherwise, I'll just say "holy shit" and leave it at that.
So, yeah. Current book is Jay Lake's The Trial of Flowers, on loan from aprivatefox and mufi. Not very far into it yet; it's slow reading, since the pages are so crunchy (though not quite in the Baroque Cycle way). But I'm enjoying what I've seen.
 If you're familiar with the political concept of the Overton Window, think of a spectrum of religious belief, ranging from skeptical atheism (on the left) to the kind of fanatic, unquestioning belief that makes people decide it's okay to murder innocents (on the right). Even moderate religious institutions tug that window to the right bit by bit by promoting and reinforcing the idea that people's beliefs are sacred and ought to be respected, regardless of how unreasonable they are or what their impact is on the rest of the world.