Date: 2015-02-05 04:36 am (UTC)
geekosaur: orange tabby with head canted 90 degrees, giving impression of "maybe it'll make more sense if I look at it this way?" (Default)
From: [personal profile] geekosaur
Your website is studiously refusing to save my comment even after authentication, so....

I'm still catching up on big pile o' reviews, but...

* I understood Duncan's realization that he had dark-colored skin not as a recognition of the physical fact, but as a recognition of a significant fact. It had zero significance on Titan. (I also, er, do this a lot myself. "Yet another autistic moment....")

* Likewise, it was clear to me that the bit about the doomed girl was a reflection of a society that was acutely aware that it was resource-starved and could not afford to support her. Think of it as a Clarke-ian nod to "The Cold Equations".

* And again, the last part with Duncan's decision was not only obvious to me but felt pretty well telegraphed by earlier events. most notably Qhapna'f erivrj bs Xney'f abgrcnq.

* There was at least one point where Duncan himself was considering the questions you raise about the triangle, from the viewpoint of adulthood and a sudden realization of what had really been going on.

(Also, as for backups, if you assume someone would set their PDA to effectively self-destruct if the wrong password is entered, how useful do you think the backups would be without at least a decryption key? Not to mention being able to find them, which it was clear that the owner was secretive enough to not make obvious? There are people who refuse to store offsite backups without strong encryption even now, and it's pretty clear that he was of a similar mindset.)

And I'm with another poster on why Titan: it's because Makenzie chose it, not because it was that clearly better, and dumped a lot of money and effort into making that choice reality.

Date: 2014-12-28 10:26 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] w. dow rieder (from
I didn't notice the utopian aspect of Earth when I read the novel as a teen--I just saw it as a future world that worked, which was rare enough. I was too busy trying to puzzle out the social interactions, most of which went over my head.

'Who the hell thinks “Yes, I definitely want to be able to look at my thousand terawatt power source because incinerated in an instant sounds fun”?'

Really, now. You, of all people, asking that question? And Duncan is an engineer; if it has already gone that long without blowing up, of course he'll want to take a look.
Edited Date: 2014-12-28 10:26 am (UTC)

Date: 2014-12-28 03:54 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Yes, this. It's completely in character for engineers, and typical of travelogue books anyway.

I've had this happen in real life. For example, an (engineer) friend once hauled out a functional black powder signal cannon at a party; naturally we all gathered around, discussed cannons, and heard how chemical ignition primers worked. It had everything but the words "as you know, Bob."

Date: 2014-12-29 05:06 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nathan helfinstine (from
Sounds like what that party was really missing was the words "Hold my beer and watch this!"

Date: 2014-12-30 03:42 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
We were perfectly responsible; we called the police beforehand and told them not to worry about the explosion noises.

one of the few books that influenced my behavior

Date: 2014-12-28 02:24 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I read this back in the mid70s. And my take away lesson was to use good descriptive file names and to keep a record of my coding schemes (with backup) when I started to save computer files a few years later.


Date: 2014-12-28 03:08 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]

As an engineering student visiting a coal-fired power generating station, we all eagerly peered through a sensor port at the glowing fireball inside the waterwall firebox.  My eyes were shielded by a filter, but my eyebrows crinkled to ash in an instant.

Date: 2014-12-28 06:43 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I'm informed that young people going into metallurgy are still taught to judge temperature by looking at the color of the molten metal. Very accurate sensors have been around for ages, but part of becoming a craftsman is learning to use the tools as aids rather than be shackled to them.

Date: 2014-12-28 07:02 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I like metallurgy writing. Richard Preston (author of "The Hot Zone" and "First Light") wrote an engaging book about the steel company Nucor, called "American Steel". It has all sorts of "hot metal man" swagger in it, including a hair raising account of a steel mill accident where ~100 tons of molten steel spills, some of it into a ditch with water at the bottom. This is why steel mills are built with metal siding that detaches and blows out at moderate overpressure.

Date: 2014-12-28 09:28 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
One of the "experiments" in my first-year university physics class involved determining the frequency of an AC source -- something about finding the points of resonance on a stretched wire, IIRC. Given the crude equipment, the overall uncertainty in the results was pretty bad, probably on the order of 20%. It occurred to me after the report was handed in that someone with a decent ear for musical tones could have inferred a much more precise and accurate value just by listening to the setup.

Date: 2014-12-29 09:12 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
There's a good reason for that: if for no other reason, it's very useful to be able to glance at something and immediately realize "Wait, that isn't right."

Date: 2014-12-30 03:43 am (UTC)

Date: 2014-12-28 03:44 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] andrew barton (from
This book was written in a different time and the general tone towards such people is, I think, best described as "genial contempt."

As monstrous as it is, it's also the sort of attitude that I can see digging its claws back in in these artificial worlds where nature provides nothing for you except the promise of a quick death if you screw up--though these days, I'd also expect an author to use someone from a more-habitable place to call it out for being monstrous.

Date: 2014-12-28 04:30 pm (UTC)
ext_6388: Avon from Blake's 7 fails to show an emotion (Exoticising the otter)
From: [identity profile]
Which would be a good explanation except that on earth mentally disabled women are also seen being used as unconsenting wombs by the cloning facility and this is portrayed as a good thing because what other use could they be? So it's not a backward titanian attitude at all, in-universe.

Cue the nelsonian "Ha! Ha!" of schadenfraud as Clarke spent his final days severely paralysed as a result of his childhood polio.

Date: 2014-12-29 04:17 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] bruce munro (from
Just how severely retarded are we talking about here? (Just trying to get a better handle on what the heck he was thinking).

Date: 2014-12-29 01:50 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
If I'm remembering correctly, pretty severely. The mothers weren't merely not very bright, but rather physically healthy bodies with nobody home inside, yet not so brain damaged as to be unresponsive vegetables. Unconsenting is not a useful term; they weren't able to grasp the concept of consent. This may not make it any better from some viewpoints.

Date: 2014-12-29 07:38 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I'LL SAY it's not any better. That is an almost homeopathic level of understatement.

Date: 2014-12-28 10:29 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
With easily accessible genetic testing, I wonder if there's any contempt for the parents of such children. After all, how would many people feel about a couple who knew they carried Tay-Sachs and went ahead and gave birth to an affected child?

The way things are going, soon a pregnant woman not taking folic acid supplements will be risking child endangerment charges.

Date: 2014-12-28 04:58 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Hm. Most Terrans are dark-skinned, yet the United States is still around! But French is a moribund language.

Obviously this is an OBAMA AKBAR world.

Date: 2014-12-28 06:48 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] bruce munro (from
Smite the infidels, Obama!

Date: 2014-12-28 07:01 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Funny you should say that. One of the background details I left out was the Muslim Renaissance.

Date: 2014-12-28 07:59 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
It's in The Fountains of Paradise as well, I think. This period of Clarke really shows how he's been hobnobbing with the jet-set class, and given his adopted home, that would have included a lot of rich Gulf staters.

An obvious comment

Date: 2014-12-29 06:35 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Great review!

But ... goddammit, WTF was that with the Mount Rockefeller and the tour of NYC, not to mention the cosplay?

I have to reread the novel now. Wasn't the giant pyramidal pile of rubble built over the parts of the city inhabited by black people circa 1976? And the cosplay ... no. Not buying it, not even 300 years from now when presidential candidates named Seretse and Septima and Denmark routinely win election.

Or am misremembering the icky subtext? I did last read it in 1992.

(I'm curious as to what he got right and what he missed about the smartphone.)


Re: An obvious comment

Date: 2014-12-29 06:54 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I will type in the slave cosplay tomorrow. As far as the smartphones go

"Duncan's Minisec: had been a parting gift from Colin, and he was not completely familiar with its controls. There had been nothing really
wrong with his old unit, and he had left it behind with some regret; but the casing had become stained and battle scarred and he had to agree
that it was not elegant enough for Earth.

The "Sec was the standard size of all such units, determined by what could fit comfortably in the normal human hand. At a quick glance, it did not differ greatly from one of the small electronic calculators that had started coming into general use in the late twentieth century. It was, however, infinitely more versatile, and Duncan could not imagine how life would be possible without it.

Because of the finite size of clumsy human fingers, it had no more controls than its ancestors of three centuries earlier. There were fifty neat little studs; each, however, had a virtually unlimited number of functions, according to the mode of operation-for the character visible on each stud changed according to the mode. Thus on ALPHANUMERIC, twenty-six of the studs bore the letters of the alphabet, while ten showed the digits zero to nine. On MATH, the letters disappeared from the alphabetical studs and were replaced by X, +, - , -, =, and all the standard mathematical functions.

Another mode was DICTIONARY. The "Sec stored over a hundred thousand words, whose three-line definitions could be displayed on the bright little screen, steadily rolling over page by page if desired. CLOCK and CALENDAR also used the screen for display, but for dealing with vast amounts of information it was desirable to link the "Sec to the much larger screen of a standard Comsole. This could be done through the unit's optical interface-a tiny Transmit Receive bull's-eye operating in the near ultraviolet As long as this lens was in visual range of the corresponding sensor on a Comsole, the two units could happily exchange information at the rate of megabits per second. Thus when the "Sec's own internal memory was saturated, its contents could be dumped into a larger store for permanent keeping; or, conversely, it could be loaded up through the optical link with any special data required for a particular job."

Re: An obvious comment

Date: 2014-12-29 05:11 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nathan helfinstine (from
That is a pretty impressive prediction.

Re: An obvious comment

Date: 2014-12-29 07:32 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
There are dedicated and serious-minded Civil War reenactors who do this today. I could see it done as a lark... three hundred years from now. And if kink enters the equation, who knows.

I think this is the same Clarke with the "Daughters of the Revolutions", where the DAR types end up with the descendants of Castro? I know someone in the DAR today, and while I don't know this for a fact, I think she enjoys shaking up the ethnic preconceptions of the older rank and file.

Re: An obvious comment

Date: 2014-12-29 08:03 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I'm eligible for DAR membership myself, but I've never seen a reason to join (though I must say it might be fun to find a way to shake them up a bit). is interesting.

Re: An obvious comment

Date: 2014-12-29 08:46 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
One of our daughters is at med school, and was having a lunch conversation with some friends there (of various ethnic and national backgrounds) about who would qualify as the "whitest" person there.

When it was her turn, she mentioned she was in the DAR (an offshoot of a family interest in genealogy and a grandmother who had been in the DAR). It was immediately agreed she won the contest.

BTW, we've put some of that information into some of those online genealogical databases, and as a result we got a note from someone in Chile saying we were related (by marriage) to Pablo Neruda. I was impressed by this example of how small the world really is.
Edited Date: 2014-12-29 08:47 pm (UTC)

Re: An obvious comment

Date: 2014-12-29 09:30 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
When I was growing up, the main thing our family thought of with respect to the DAR (apart from their local building being a nice place for wedding receptions and such) was the fiasco with Marian Anderson not being allowed to sing at the Washington DC one, which caused Eleanor Roosevelt to resign her membership. My father pointed out once that my sisters (I wasn't yet born) would be eligible for the DAR should they care to join, and my mother was horrified at the thought.

"Daughters of the Revolutions" sounds like one of Clarke's better conceits.

Re: An obvious comment

Date: 2014-12-30 03:47 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Revolutions are always much more pleasant when safely over, and ideally with a decent covering of dust and history. Live revolutions are unstable, messy things.

Re: An obvious comment

Date: 2014-12-31 07:40 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Was it a lark in the book? Or, conversely, a serious historical re-enactment? My memory is that it was in the middle of those two ends and thus not believable.

Race-based chattel slavery is an episode that people are becoming less accepting of over time.

And there's that bulldozing of "uptown" into a giant pyramid. How do we explain that?


Date: 2014-12-28 06:57 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
No mention of pentominos in the entire review! That was one of my other takeaways from this book.

Date: 2014-12-28 07:00 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
That's right - this is the pentomino book...

Date: 2014-12-29 07:50 am (UTC)
ext_12246: (Default)
From: [identity profile]
As long as we're talking about engineering....
«the greatest delta vee rockets had ever achieved was 3,000 km/s/ Moreover, that acceleration...»
Maybe something got lost, like another "s" maybe? Δv is acceleration, so 3,000 km/sec², or km/s/s.
Also: terawatts (10¹²), not terrawatts (grounded? Or, as the English say and Sir Arthur might well have, earthed?)

Date: 2014-12-29 06:48 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
No, this is correct. Delta-V is velocity change: going from rest to 10 km/sec is 10 km/sec delta-V, whereas going from rest to 10 then slowing down to 5 is total 15 km/sec delta-V. If a rocket "has 3000 km/sec delta-V", it means it is capable of accelerating for total velocity change of 3000 km/sec before it runs out of fuel. In case of interstellar probe it probably means "accelerate until fuel tanks are empty and you are heading out at 3000 km/sec", but it can also mean "accelerate to 750 km/sec, come to a stop at the destination, then repeat for return trip."

Date: 2014-12-30 01:53 am (UTC)
ext_12246: (mazeoftwistylittleljentries)
From: [identity profile]
Oops! Sorry, and thank you!

Date: 2014-12-30 04:44 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
well, this brings me back...I think this was the first SF book I read at maybe 10 or 11 (that would have been about ten years after it was published) -- or maybe I, Robot was the first, and this one the second. The only thing I remember, apart from finding it dreadfully dull, was that my mother didn't wan't me to read it, but wouldn't say why; I'm disturbed to suspect it was the bisexuality that upset her, and not the awful forced pregnancies as mentioned above (though as a socially clueless child, both went way, way over my head)



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