Off the Bookshelf: Jupiter, Deep Fires, The Matrix and Philosophy

After a reading lull brought about by way too much painting in September, I’ve returned to my books with a vengeance.

Science fiction dominates my reading list this time around as I return to Ben Bova’s “Grand Tour” of the Solar System with the hard science fiction novel Jupiter then have some fun with Vernor Vinge’s high-minded space opera A Fire upon the Deep.

Jupiter by Ben Bova

Though less than thrilled by Saturn, I decided to give Ben Bova’s Jupiter (Amazon) a listen. The audio book’s accompanied me on my walks to and from work, as well as at the gym, and so far I’m liking it more than Saturn. Set in the same universe as Saturn (and written before it) it features an Earth dominated by various fundamentalist, conservative religious factions who are at odds with the atheistic scientists in their midst (as well as anyone else who doesn’t subscribe to their group think) yet needs those self-same scientists to keep the planet’s technology functioning.

The book follows young astrophysics student Grant Archer as he’s sent to Jupiter by America’s religious leaders to determine exactly what the scientists there are up to. It seems that they are keeping secrets from Earth, and that makes its leaders exceedingly nervous. Like Saturn, the most appealing part of the book is the science, in this case an investigation of an immense world-ocean lurking deep beneath Jupiter’s cloud cover … and the possibility of life forms living there.

A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge

Vernor Vinge has been on my reading list ever since I saw his name listed on the Prometheus Awards List. My recent interest in space operatic fiction drew me to him again, as his novel’s A Fire Upon the Deep and A Deepness in the Sky have garnered some impressive reviews from hard science and space opera fans alike.

In the universe of A Fire Upon the Deep (Amazon), the galaxy is divided into different zones, each of which supports a different level of technology based on its innate physical characteristics. In the Slowness near the center of the galaxy and its inner arms, where humanity originated, computers can never become sentient and faster-than-light travel is impossible. In the Beyond, varying types of high technology become possible, including FTL, vast interstellar communication networks, and antigravity.

In the Transcend, which lies at the very outskirts of the galaxy, mere humans can become gods. The story follows what happens when humans in the “High Beyond” accidentally unleash a horror from the Transcend. Wars and chaos follow as a single ship escapes the destruction … any may just contain the solution to the problem it created.

Philosophy and the Matrix, Edited by William Irwin

Remember the days when people debated the deeper philosophical meaning of The Matrix, rather than just slamming the crappy sequels? Philosophy and the Matrix (Amazon) harkens back to that time with a collection of essays that attempt to explain the origins of the film’s sometimes conflicting philosophical viewpoints and reconcile them with thinkers such as Kant, Socrates and Buddha. It’s been my daily audio fix at the gym, and there’s something decidedly surreal about listening to academics extrapolate various scenes from The Matrix while everyone works and sweats through their various routines.