Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Review: Ready Player One

Ready Player One Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For a child of the eighties, this book is chock full of nostalgia. As fun as that is, the novel is much more than that. It's not necessarily particularly original, but the way Cline puts the parts together is creative and entertaining. He creates a believable dystopic future that doesn't feel that far off. There are some good twists in the plot that keep it from becoming too predictable or simplistic. The main characters are relatable and interesting, but not all that complex and don't grow or develop much. This is one of its weaknesses. Another weakness is that it ends up being a bit too heavy on the theme of OASIS as too escapist. That's part of the characters' stories, and that's fine. But there is a lot of value that is being created in this VR world too. The characters recognize this, but it gets a little undermined by the escapism theme at times. I would have also liked a little more world building in OASIS--if only to experience it more.

It's not a novel that likely will be a classic sci-fi; but it is great fun to read.

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Friday, August 25, 2017

Review: Play Matters

Play Matters Play Matters by Miguel Sicart
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The account of play in Play Matters is quite interesting, though too unsystematic and too rooted in postmodern ideas. The account also suffers somewhat from “Huizinga-Syndrome”— that is, finding “play under nearly every rock in the social landscape” (Suits, “Words on Play”). One of the central aspects of Sicart’s account is that play is appropriative: it takes over other parts of our lives and experiences. This tends to assimilate everything as play. Seeing play as carnivalesque, as Sicart presents it, also tends to bring too much under the concept: everything from vandalism to political activism gets swept into play.

I liked his conception of play as a way of experiencing and being in the world and that it is not mere frivolity or childish. Sicart discusses play as a way of expressing and experience ourselves in the world. It is a way of seeing the world and a way of relating to the things and people around us. In these ways, play can, importantly, be productive of certain kinds of values, experiences, and community.

Another really interesting part of the book is Sicart’s distinction between play and playfulness. Playfulness is the application of aspects of play to contexts that are not play. So one might be playful in a book review or wedding ceremony without subverting the actual ends of those activities and subsuming them into play itself. Play as such has a logic all its own and wouldn’t be appropriate for all contexts. But one could still be playful in those contexts. Some of my criticism of his Huizinga-Syndrome might be resolved if instead of seeing all the things he presents as play, these are just a certain kind of playfulness.

The first two chapters, where Sicart discusses his account of play and then playfulness, are the most philosophically worthwhile parts of the book. As Sicart extends his account into other areas, the postmodern roots show themselves more and the philosophical content dips. The discussion becomes overly broad, ambiguous, and sweeping as postmodern influenced writing characteristically gets. But, then, maybe Sicart is just being playful.

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Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Review: Lando

Lando Lando by Louis L'Amour
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Like the other Sacketts, this book combines beautiful, lovingly described landscapes with the grittiness of life on the trail and in the rugged west. Orlando himself is something of a different kind of Sackett: he carries on the traditional Sackett virtues, but largely comes to adulthood on his own. His father is not around and he has no brothers. There is a lot of action from gun battles to fisttocuffs to races. And the book ranges from the mountains of Tennessee to Texas and also to the Gulf in Mexico. It's great fun.

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Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Review: The Three Languages of Politics: Talking Across the Political Divides

The Three Languages of Politics: Talking Across the Political Divides The Three Languages of Politics: Talking Across the Political Divides by Arnold Kling
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In this short book (essay really), Kling presents a structure to help you understand the nature of political discussions. We are always talking past each other, misunderstanding and misconstruing each other. Kling shows us that this is because we are in many ways speaking different languages. Kling calls these axes: Conservatives tend to speak in a barbarian/civilization axis; Progressives in a oppressor/oppressed axis, and Libertarians in a coercion/liberty axis. These axis tend to frame the way members of these political tribes look at and describe the world.

So, for example, a libertarian tends to view political discussions and topics as existing on an axis from coercion (bad) to liberty (good). So when libertarians talk about politics, they frame it in those terms. Meanwhile, a progressive looks at thinks in terms of oppression (bad) and liberating/supporting the oppressed (good) and frame things in those terms. But since these categories are not picking out the same sets, we don't understand each other when one side says some policy is good. (e.g. "It's a good policy because it is meant to help poor workers." But "That can't be good its coercive".) And so the discussion goes nowhere; each side frustrated by the apparent obstinance or stupidity of the other side.

Kling discusses why we tend to fall into these tribes and axes as well as the pernicious affect these have on rational, truth seeking discussions. In part, due to this framing, we tend to see the other tribes as evil and irrational hellbent on destroying our deepest values. These other tribes are either stupid or conniving, manipulative conspirators. If they were smart or honest, they would, of course, recognize the truth and agree with one's own tribe. But, of course, the other tribes say the same about you and your tribe.

The ultimate take away, and Kling's hope, is that by being more aware of your own axis and language, as well as the other axes and languages, you can be less susceptible to your own biases and less likely to be dismissive of those with you disagree. You can better understand why they are wrong (and if they are wrong) when you don't just dismiss them as stupid or irrational. You will be better able and open to discover problems or weaknesses in your view as well. This might actually lead to more fruitful and reasonable political discussions.

It's a quick read, concisely and clearly written. It's nothing ground breaking, Kling is building on the work of many others (and he has a nice appendix that discusses the work he is building on.) But it is definitely worth reading for anyone frustrated by the seemingly lack of actual or reasonable discussion in politics.

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