Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke

Previously, I read Childhood’s End in 1999. I vaguely remembered some sort of mystical transformation of humankind at the end. In fact, I remember a book cover (which maybe doesn’t exist) that was black and asymmetrical with a looming red/orange/yellow embryo symbolizing humanity’s next phase of existence. I think I was confusing it with a bluish cover for Clarke’s 2010: Odyssey Two.

I saw a cheap used paperback with a spaceship on the cover on my trip to the US in December and decided to buy it and read it again. I had the vague idea that maybe the book would have some relevant things to say about the transformation of society that some are predicting will occur as a result of the development of artificial intelligence.

I was disappointed.

See below to find out why.

Continue reading Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke

When and Why I Read Childhood's End

Read it once before. Got a cheap copy in Atlanta December 2023. Wanted to read it because it's about the future of humanity, and the AI people keep talking about the future of humanity. This had nothing relevant to say though.

Genre: science-fiction
Date started / date finished: 30-Mar-24 to 31-Mar-24
Length: 218 pages
ISBN: 0345347951
Originally published in: 1953/1974
Amazon link: Childhood's End

Poster Girl by Veronica Roth

A 27-year-old woman who as a teenager posed for a propaganda poster under the previous government is released from imprisonment on condition that she locate a missing girl who was snatched from her family a decade earlier. Her luminescent ocular device, no longer connected to the system that conditioned every citizen via instant monetary rewards and punishments, can nevertheless still be used to spy on her.

The story, told in present tense, explores themes of community and making the best of what you have, like City of Ember. But the world of Roth’s Poster Girl is not a world where anyone emerges triumphant. Mostly, it’s about loss and evil and culpability; not just looking evil in the face, but casting aside self-deception and admitting you carry it inside yourself.

In addition, we’re warned that technology can be misused; specifically that we’re infinitely better off if our data is siloed on scattered devices than if it’s in the cloud, because someday the government will likely get it all, and whoever controls the government will use it however they see fit… and so will the next government.

I read in a review of Childhood’s End that it’s dull because its only plot device is “the slow reveal.” While that’s not the only plot device of Poster Girl, it might partly explain the deflated feeling I had, sunshiny epilogue notwithstanding, when I finished reading it. The 288-page novel hinges on the dark secret at its heart. About which, no more.

When and Why I Read Poster Girl

Got an email alert that a Veronica Roth ebook was on sale and bought it. Apparently she wrote it during the pandemic.

Genre: science-fiction/fantasy
Date started / date finished: 29-Mar-24 to 30-Mar-24
Length: 279 pages
Originally published in: 2022
Amazon link: Poster Girl

Passionate Persistence by Eve Sprunt

Two things stood out when I read Passionate PersistenceThe Life of My Mother, Ruth Chew by Eve Sprunt.

One is that all the dollar amounts mentioned for individual purchases, cars, salaries, etc. were really low compared to now, many decades later. I mean, of course I know about inflation, but appreciating these amounts, even with present-day equivalents given in the narration, is like having to think in another currency entirely. The past really is a foreign country, and reading a biography of anyone born in a previous generation is like traveling in time.

The other is that children’s authors aren’t necessarily good with their own kids. I would have assumed someone apparently full of entertaining stories for children would have been fully engaged with her own. It seems the truth is that Ruth’s offspring were expected to be as emotionally self-sufficient as the characters in her stories, who wander around having adventures with little if any interference from their parents.

The second-oldest of five, Eve has written a detailed account of her mother’s personal, professional, and family life, based on Ruth’s diaries and her own memories. She acknowledges Ruth’s challenges and successes, but also points out behavior that was negligent, self-indulgent, or biased and reminds us that we ought to pay attention to our impact on those around us.

When and Why I Read Passionate Persistence

This is a biography of children's author Ruth Chew, written by her daughter.

Genre: biography
Date started / date finished: 21-Mar-24 to 29-Mar-24
Length: 375 pages
Originally published in: 2024
Amazon link: Passionate Persistence

What’s the best translation of In Search of Lost Time (Remembrance of Things Past)?

You might think there are only two translations to choose from. Well. That’s what *I* thought.

But after many, many hours of collecting and organizing information on Marcel Proust’s masterwork, I can tell you, the situation is much more complicated…

Head over to the first of my Lost Time pages on We Love Translations to learn how many versions of the Scott Moncrieff translation the Anglophone world has produced (and is still producing!), plus details (on the second page) about the Penguin Prendergast project and the rather nebulous new Nelson and Watt project.

Intimidated by the scope and scale of the complete Search? If you want, you can read just a fraction of it. Visit my Swann’s Way page on We Love Translations for information on just Volume 1, and on the novella Swann in Love (which is contained within Volume 1).

If you want a quick-and-dirty recommendation, why not read the new, complete, modern, multi-translator Penguin version? Or at least the first volume of it? Lydia Davis translated Penguin’s Swann’s Way. She has a lot of interesting things to say about her process, and others (mostly) say positive things about the result.

Buy the Davis translation of Swann’s Way on Amazon

For more on Davis’s translation, keep reading.

Continue reading What’s the best translation of In Search of Lost Time (Remembrance of Things Past)?

Shopping for Books in Albania

Wherever I go, I look at the books. Doesn’t matter if I can read them, although books in English have spread across the globe just like English itself has. I’m always interested to see what books look like, whether they are originals in the local language, world classics translated into the local language, or books in English imported from overseas.

See below for photos of two very different types of book shopping experience.

Continue reading Shopping for Books in Albania

Syntax of Scientific English by Lee Kok Cheong

I hereby declare: It is not necessary for me to finish reading every book I start.

In other words, next time a book bores me as much as this one did, I am going to stop reading it.

I admire what the author set out to do: analyze English-language textbooks to help university teachers guide non-native speakers of English in understanding science.

But this book-length research paper is basically just a bunch of lists. It’s about as dry a piece of writing as one could imagine. In fact, I never imagined it would be this dry, or I wouldn’t have bought the book in the first place.

Continue reading Syntax of Scientific English by Lee Kok Cheong

When and Why I Read Syntax of Scientific English

I bought this at the National University of Singapore "EResource Discovery Day" book sale. It was published by Singapore University Press. The topic is interesting and relevant to my work, but I'm not sure the analysis will be.

Genre: Linguistics/English
Date started / date finished: 02-Aug-23 to 27-Aug-23
Length: 290 pages
ISBN: na
Originally published in: 1978

Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en, translation by WJF Jenner

After spending over 2,000 pages with a trickster god, I find myself wondering what the appeal of the trickster god is. I don’t think I like tricksters.

Clever underdogs, yes. Arrogant tricksters? Not so much.

This post talks about my impressions after reading a complete translation (and a modern retelling) of the classic Chinese story of the Monkey King and his companions.

Visit We Love Translations: World Literature in English for a complete list of translations:

» What’s the best translation of Journey to the West?

Continue reading Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en, translation by WJF Jenner

The Brain Makers by HP Newquist

I work for a science journal on the campus of Zhejiang Lab, a research institute dedicated to developing a variety of kinds of “intelligent computing” (artificial intelligence). I have a bachelor’s in computer science, but I have little knowledge of the development of artificial intelligence (something something… subsumption architecture… Eliza…). This book promised to remedy that.

Continue reading The Brain Makers by HP Newquist

When and Why I Read The Brain Makers: The History of Artificial Intelligence

The author posted a link to the Kindle book (which was free) on Facebook in the AI group.

Genre: history of science
Date started / date finished: 31-May-23 to 28-Jul-23
Length: 696 pages
Originally published in: 2020
Amazon link: The Brain Makers: The History of Artificial Intelligence

Sisyphe Books

There are English quotes and signs throughout this shop in a mall in Hangzhou, but I’m not sure I saw any books in English. I saw bilingual editions of the Harry Potter books, and LOTS of recognizable books translated from English and other European languages. I enjoyed looking around and soaking up the quiet atmosphere of words in ink on paper.

So many books!

西西弗书店 (Xīxī fú shūdiàn)
Founded in 1993, this chain of over 360 shops in 80 cities across China is named after Sisyphus in the Greek myth. The website explains:

What Sisyphus is engaged in is a continuous movement, without purpose, without success or failure, good or evil. This action seems to be ineffective, but it contains awesome power. In the sense of stoicism, and with a touch of sacrifice, we hope to be the Sisyphus of the book and culture industry.

I suppose that’s inspiring. Selling physical books in physical shops in the 21st century does seem like a thankless task, though Barnes & Noble seems to have come back from the brink.

What’s the best translation of Demons (aka Devils aka The Possessed)?

There are five in-print translations of Demons, seven in total.

  1. 1914 – Constance Garnett (various publishers)
  2. 1953 – David Magarshack (Penguin)
  3. 1962 – Andrew R. MacAndrew (Signet)
  4. 1992 – Michael R. Katz (Oxford)
  5. 1994 – Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (Everyman’s Library, Vintage)
  6. 2008 – Robert A. Maguire (Penguin)
  7. 2017 – Roger Cockrell (Alma)

It took a while to figure out how many there were because they’re not all called Demons. Why not?

Continue reading What’s the best translation of Demons (aka Devils aka The Possessed)?