Book Briefs 6

Halting State, Charles Stross — Despite the level of his output, Charles Stross is about as far as one can get from SF formula. His works range from exploring the concept of the Singularity to an award-winning alternate history series to a spy agency dealing with Lovecraftian opponents. Halting State, his latest novel, is a near future tale that doesn’t really fall into any of these categories. Told alternatively from three viewpoints (police officer, forensic accountant and gaming programmer), corporate shenanigans meet gamers meet national security and digital infrastructure. While perhaps not Stross’s best, he still intrigues the reader using both intellect and readability.

The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court, Jeffrey Toobin — Between the retirement of Sandra Day O’Connor and the appointment of John Roberts and Samuel Alito, this is already a book about a Supreme Court that was, not a Supreme Court that is. Although focusing largely on the last several years of the Rehnquist era on the Supreme Court, Toobin catches the Supreme Court in its most massive and significant transition in decades. Yet this also allows Toobin a unique opportunity to compare the Rehnquist era with the early days of the Roberts Court. In so doing, the book shows just what a dramatic and revolutionary change is occurring there, one that has serious and dire ramifications for the nation.

The Varieties of Scientific Experience, Carl Sagan — It might be unfair to classify Carl Sagan with the so-called “new atheists.” Although they rely on reason and logic, they tend to roundly condemn religion itself. In contrast, while Sagan relied on his strong belief in scientific method and knowledge, he tried to remain a somewhat more objective observer. That approach is demonstrated in lectures he gave in 1985 for the Gifford Lectures on natural theology, lectures edited and published here by his widow, Ann Druyan, last year on the 10th anniversary of Sagan’s death. Sagan’s approach, in fact, is such that it’s probably not fair to call him an atheist. Although it looks like he leans toward atheism (“The alleged natural theological arguments for the existence of God simply are not very compelling”), Sagan is, more accurately, an agnostic. “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” is a long-standing mantra Sagan reiterates during a question-and-answer session at the lectures. Given Sagan’s almost inimitable style, this is a very readable scientist’s eye view of the core theological issue — the existence of God and his role in the universe.

“Science” is only a Latin word for “knowledge.” And it’s hard for me to believe that anyone is opposed to knowledge.


Carl Sagan, The Varieties of Scientific Experience

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