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Thursday, September 02, 2010

Haul of Books 2010: Stuff For Me v.20

The University of Florida bookstore had a clearance sale a few weeks ago.  I discovered it via my superpower, which is kind of a Sixth Sense meets Spiderman meets Wolverine's nostrils.  The selection was somewhat limited--a lot of old textbooks and politics books--but there were a few books that were more to my liking.  All but one of the following books (Harmony is not one of them) is from that sale.  Hopefully they'll be of interest to you all.

So, here goes:

Here are the descriptions, from left to right, top to bottom (from Amazon):

1. The Chronicles of Narnia and Philosophy: The Lion, the Witch, and the Worldview edited by Gregory Bassham and Jerry L. Walls
The Chronicles of Narnia series has entertained millions of readers, both children and adults, since the appearance of the first book in 1950. Here, scholars turn the lens of philosophy on these timeless tales. Engagingly written for a lay audience, these essays consider a wealth of topics centered on the ethical, spiritual, mythic, and moral resonances in the adventures of Aslan, the Pevensie children, and the rest of the colorful cast. Do the spectacular events in Narnia give readers a simplistic view of human choice and decision making? Does Aslan offer a solution to the problem of evil? What does the character of Susan tell readers about Lewis’s view of gender? How does Lewis address the Nietzschean "master morality" embraced by most of the villains of the Chronicles? With these and a wide range of other questions, this provocative book takes a fresh view of the world of Narnia and expands readers’ experience of it.
2. Digital People: From Bionic Humans to Androids by Sidney Perkowitz
Robots, androids, and bionic people pervade popular culture, from classics like Frankenstein and R.U.R. to modern tales such as The Six Million Dollar Man, The Terminator, and A.I. Our fascination is obvious and the technology is quickly moving from books and films to real life. In a lab at MIT, scientists and technicians have created an artificial being named COG. To watch COG interact with the environment to recognize that this machine has actual body language is to experience a hair-raising, gut-level reaction. Because just as we connect to artificial people in fiction, the merest hint of human-like action or appearance invariably engages us. Digital People examines the ways in which technology is inexorably driving us to a new and different level of humanity. As scientists draw on nanotechnology, molecular biology, artificial intelligence, and materials science, they are learning how to create beings that move, think, and look like people. Others are routinely using sophisticated surgical techniques to implant computer chips and drug-dispensing devices into our bodies, designing fully functional man-made body parts, and linking human brains with computers to make people healthier, smarter, and stronger. In short, we are going beyond what was once only science fiction to create bionic people with fully integrated artificial components and it will not be long before we reach the ultimate goal of constructing a completely synthetic human-like being. It seems quintessentially human to look beyond our natural limitations. Science has long been the lens through which we squint to discern our future. Although we are rightfully fearful about manipulating the boundaries between animate and inanimate, the benefits are too great to ignore. This thoughtful and provocative book shows us just where technology is taking us, in directions both wonderful and terrible, to ponder what it means to be human.
3. Harmony by Project Itoh
In a perfect world, there is no escape
In the future, Utopia has finally been achieved thanks to medical nanotechnology and a powerful ethic of social welfare and mutual consideration. This perfect world isn't that perfect though, and three young girls stand up to totalitarian kindness and super-medicine by attempting suicide via starvation. It doesn't work, but one of the girls--Tuan Kirie--grows up to be a member of the World Health Organization. As a crisis threatens the harmony of the new world, Tuan rediscovers another member of her suicide pact, and together they must help save the planet...from itself.
4. Conversations with Isaac Asimov edited by Carl Freedman
Isaac Asimov (1920–1992), one of the most popular and influential American authors of the twentieth century, sparked the imagination of generations of writers. His "Foundation" trilogy paved the way for science fiction that was more speculative and philosophical than had been previously seen in the genre, and his book "I, Robot" and his story "The Bicentennial Man" have been made into popular movies. First published as a teenager in John W. Campbell’s groundbreaking science-fiction magazine "Astounding, Asimov published over two hundred books during his lifetime.
While most prolific writers tend to concentrate almost exclusively on a single genre, Asimov was a polymath who wrote widely on a variety of subjects. He authored mysteries, autobiographies, histories, satires, companions to Shakespeare, children’s books on science, and collections of bawdy limericks. A lifelong atheist, he neverthe-less wrote more than a half dozen books on the Bible.

Asimov’s varied interests establish him as a premier public intellectual, one who was frequently called upon to clarify debates in science, in history, and on the effects of technology on the modern age. "Conversations with Isaac Asimov" collects interviews with a man considered to be -- along with Robert Heinlein, A. E. van Vogt, and Arthur C. Clarke -- a founder of modern science fiction. Despite this, Asimov is perhaps best known for his many books of popular science writing. Carl Sagan once described Asimov as the greatest explainer of his age, and this talent made Asimov a natural for the interview form. His manner is always crisp and lucid, his tone always engaging, and his comments always enlightening.
5. Conversations with Carl Sagan edited by Tom Head
Though a well-regarded physicist Carl Sagan (1934-1996) is best-known as a writer of popular nonfiction and science fiction and as the host of the PBS series Cosmos. Through his writings and spoken commentary, he worked to popularize interests in astronomy, the universe, and the possibility of extraterrestrial life. From the beginning of his public career, when he co-wrote Intelligent Life in the Universe to the very end as he worked on the 1997 film adaptation of his novel Contact, these subjects absorbed him.

This interest in space was rooted in his understanding of the smallness and vulnerability of humanity measured against the immense size and power of the universe. This profound philosophical humility, mixed with personal exuberance, comes through in Conversations with Carl Sagan. In interviews and profiles, Sagan discusses with verve a wide variety of topics--the environment, nuclear disarmament, religion, politics, extraterrestrial life, astronomy, physics, robotics. Whether he is discussing his science fiction or his well-researched nonfiction works, his voice embraces reason and skepticism.

This volume shows how Sagan, a lifelong skeptic, refined his views and expressed amazement that Earth, for all his belief in extraterrestrial life, encompasses everything about which he cared.

Tom Head of Jackson, Mississippi, is a writer and poet whose work includes Women and Families (Voices from the Civil War), Possessions and Exorcisms (Fact or Fiction?), and 1966 (The Turbulent 60s).
And there you go. Some very different books for once, wouldn't you agree? Any of these sound interesting to you?

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  1. I'm really interested in the Asimov and Sagan books. Those are two of my favorite science people!

  2. I read the first few pages of the Sagan (mostly in the introduction). It's very interesting. I didn't know much about Sagan in terms of his personal life, but the book gives a little bit of that in the beginning. The beginning of the first interview is also interesting.

    By the way, the publisher of the Asimov and Sagan books has done similar books for dozens of SF/F authors (Octavia Butler, Ursula K. LeGuin, and Samuel R. Delany are already in my collection). It's an incredibly useful series for any science fiction fan or academic (or both).