My future potential will be forever blemished by my lack of completion in Coursera’s Fantasy and Science Fiction class. So, it’s a good thing it’s not on any permanent records 😉 The class was well-organized and by-far one of the best English-literature classes I’ve taken. The professor’s video lectures alone are worth signing up just to see. In fact, his lecture on interpretation is a great explanation of why readers have different views of a book and why some are wrong.
Honestly, the timing of this class was not very convenient. It came smack in the middle of my Database final, leaving the military (for good this time), and moving back home. But, I still found time to go to the Philadelphia’s Linux User Group (PLUG) and hear some anecdotes by Eric Raymond.
There was about 20 Penguin-heads in attendance and after an hour of lively discussion from Virtual Machine hosting to the Carrington event, ESR took the podium. He told of several anecdotes, some which I intend to post about in the near future, but the one that fits well with my Coursera experience was his tale of Culture Hacking.
On his blog, ESR advocates the creation of a “ground truth” document by software engineers, who find themselves working on hardware, or a system, with less than adequate documentation. Simply put, it is the process of document assumptions about how the system works prior to writing any code. Some enlightened commenters expressed thanks to ESR for naming a practice for which they’ve routinely performed. Culture. Hacked. This practice now has a name to which others can refer and spread. While it may not be the catchiest name, the fact that the idea is now named gives it weight. In fact, this is one of the few things that stuck with me from Gravity’s Rainbow (that and I want a banana greenhouse on my rooftop):
“Names by themselves may be empty, but the act of naming…”
So, in the spirit of a new J.J. Abramsshow, I officially bestow this name: Drop Sideways: The act of no longer attending a MOOC. I would call it pulling a “datko” but something tells me that thousands of others are doing the same thing. Besides, at my last job, I’ve heard some shout “datko!” when there was just enough coffee in the pot, for a half cup :p
The following is a recipe for disaster; don’t read the following books. Not in the order I did anyway. For the past two months, I’ve been on a literary titanic and fortunately, I slipped away on a lifeboat just in time. Whatever you do, do not re-create this perfect storm!
Ok, now that I’ve got your attention and obviously you aren’t heeding my warnings, here we go 😉
It all starts with Gravity’s Rainbow. This is an innocence-taking novel. Readers that hang on get the high without inhaling, so to speak. If you find yourself constantly asking, “what is going on,” apparently you are on the right track. Out of all the literature I’ve read, this one made me physically gag over four, image-scarring pages.
With the prologue now complete and the zen-like beginner’s mind prepared, one is now ready to accept the next few novels in rapid succession. Enter Life of Pi, stage right. This New York Times-bestseller should be a feel-good softball, right down the middle. Not after GR, no. An island of carnivorous algae full of meerkats? This is Slothrop’s dreams in the White Visitation all over again. It builds the question: choose religion or choose science, they both require a leap of faith.
Chase Life of Pi with Homo Faber for a downer. A middle age agnostic technologist experiences a depressing, Elektra-complex filled journey. If you feel your life is going great, this book will bring you down. A series of tragic events, on the level of the great Greek tragedies, has this technology-can-fix-all-problems guy question whether or not there is a greater purpose.
Smear with Luminarium, by Alax Shakar. A twin-brother and tech startup co-founder is strung along on life support. Meanwhile, his dopplegänger (true to the word in this case) finds that his twin is infecting the company’s virtual world, slowing bringing it to its knees while appearing as a Hindu-avatar. By the way, the non-comatose brother is volunteering for scientific experiments design, through electrotherapy, to simulate the emotions of faith, through a “faith without ignorance” approach…
Finally, top off with Gothic High-Tech, a collection of short stories by Bruce Sterling. On a normal day, I would have enjoyed this collection. It’s the cyberpunk of the new millennium, where Europe and America have crashed and high-tech meets urban-grit. But after this journey, Sterling’s creative stories that subsequently make one question the reality around them, it was all just too much…
Then I saw the next book on my queue, Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf and I realized I had to get off this sinking ship. Somehow, subconsciously I’ve been attracted to these faith-shaking novels. Despite my most recent vacation, it’s been 15 months since I’ve been home. I’ve passed the time well enough I think. I’m on my 5th graduate class, I’ve read 15 books in 2012 and I’ve kept this blog going since then. But I’ll be very relieved to bring my pre-war life back into order. Maybe then my book selections will reflect a content temperament.
I think I’m going to take a breather from fiction for a while and go back and finish the nice, peaceful, non-fiction books that are lying around. Liars and Outliers should be an easy ride, but I’ll continue to mix in the rest of Gödel, Escher and Bach just so I don’t get too comfortable…