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willburcher

William Burcher — "This is serious business"

Author. Traveler. Contemplative. Colorado raised. Seeker of beauty, of truth, and a great beer.

"Vain and Shifty-Eyed" …

Island - Aldous Huxley

Ok. 2.5 stars. Nothing more. Nothing less. I confess, I didn't finish it. I had high hopes for this book (out of respect for his previous—Brave New World is still in my thoughts regularly). But after getting through the ridiculously cliché characterization of the "Rani," I had to put it down. This came immediately after a scene in which the villain of the story, the future "Raja," is introduced—as a stereotypical, slight, pretty, vain and shifty-eyed homosexual. In a book clearly making an attempt at enlightenment, this seemed almost a child's joke.

 

Admittedly, the story has scenes and elements that are nothing short of brilliant. There are clever talking birds on the island, trained to repeat spiritual mantras, perpetually calling the human inhabitants to "Attention!" Another, in which a little girl helps the main character, Will Farnaby, to "release" and lessen the trauma of a physical fall, is compelling, beautiful and completely original. The rest of the story, however, is a cliché—though I will be generous enough to say that perhaps the book (published in 1962) was a progenitor of such paradigms: There exists a perfect island paradise. This island paradise is threatened by the exploitative designs of a greedy militarist and his effeminate, homosexual puppet-monarch who want to (wait for it) tap the island's extensive OIL reserves for their own gains.

 

Huxley endeavored to bring Eastern philosophy to a Western audience at a time when few authors were doing so, but the hidden jewels, buried in a heap of a story that just isn't very good, can't quite make this book worthy of the effort required to read it.

Big SciFi

Ringworld - Larry Niven

The image is as powerful as anything in science fiction: an artificial, constructed world—a spinning ring orbiting a star at an incredible speed, its dimensions measured not in the thousands of miles (as Earth and its sister planets are) but in the millions and billions of miles. The inner surface of the ring looks similar to the surface of any other earth-like world. Deserts and grasslands give way to forests and jungle. Mountains rise above the plains. Oceans, magnitudes greater than the surface area of the Earth, lap against complex, sculpted coastlines. The world seems familiar, though the sizes of each landform, of each feature, defy human comprehension.

A breathable atmosphere is held in place by rims on both of its edges, 1000 miles high. The immensity of Niven's creation represents a paradigm that every science fiction author would be wise to honor. THIS is what an author's mind can envision, when freed from all arbitrary restraint—save the nearly limitless possibilities defined by physical laws themselves. Niven's respect for the physics of his creation bear notice as well. From the rate of rotation of the ring (he gave this a precise though immense value, to ensure that the surface of the ring would exhibit a gravity similar to the Earth's), to the proposed builders' obsession with avoiding impacts with other planetary bodies—he demonstrates that someone somewhere sometime with enough energy and technology and creative will could build such a wondrous thing.

As in many other works of classic science fiction, the premise is given more attention than the development of characters in the story. The writing is somewhat emotionless and the author, at times, does not give the necessary emotional attention to the creations of his own imagination. Characters are equally devoid of real expression and exhibit only fleeting discomforts as they are faced with death or the loss of their "loved" ones.

Another critical fact (though I won't mention it here, to avoid the spoiler), having to do with the relationship of humanity to the ring, is seemingly glossed over, never explained and even dismissed. (There's even a passage of dialog between two characters that seems to have been inserted after the main story was written, probably at the behest of an editor, attempting to justify the dismissal.)

These criticisms, however, can be overlooked when compared to the shear majesty of the imagery of the Ringworld itself. This book made me nostalgic, for the SciFi of Clarke, Asimov, Le Guin, Dick and others—men and women who dared to dream big, and inspire others to do the same.

A Mystery of a Book—And a Reputation

Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus - Ludwig Wittgenstein

A mystery of a book—if you could even call it that. Throughout my reading of it I had the sneaking suspicion that much of Wittgenstein's hailed "genius" was effectively a social meme; the early 20th century academic equivalent of some strange internet video gone viral that "everyone" has seen and "everyone" proclaims is brilliant for the sole reason that "everyone else" has proclaimed it such. I thought this, until I began flipping through the book (to determine if I wanted to continue) and arrived at his proclamation: "Death is not an event in life: we do not live to experience death. If we take eternity to mean not infinite temporal duration but timelessness, then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present." — Wittgenstein, Tractatus, 6.431

This is not a book for a casual reader or even most philosophical adepts. The rare moments when I felt something profound was being said were far outweighed by those when I felt the "logic" was merely self-obsessed thought taken to an extreme; a child perpetually asking "why?" And upon researching the man behind the work, I discovered much to question.

His apparent dying declaration is misleading: "Tell them I have had a wonderful life …" For in reality, he appeared to be an exceedingly unhappy man prone to bouts of depression and even violence. The sources seem to be limited on the subject, but one incident in particular leads me to serious pause. Wittgenstein, when working as a school teacher in Austria, was known to physically abuse his pupils. At one point he allegedly struck an intellectually slow pupil forcefully in the head multiple times, hard enough to cause unconsciousness (or worse). If true, the man would not have had the opportunity to have been hailed a genius in our modern world—he would have been rightfully labeled an abuser of children and imprisoned.

Mission to Mars: My Vision for Space Exploration

Mission to Mars: My Vision for Space Exploration - Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., Leonard David Buzz Aldrin's "Mission to Mars: My Vision for Space Exploration" is a powerful explication of a specific near-future strategy for NASA's manned exploration activities, as well as a potent meditation on the importance of such a strategy for this country and indeed, for humanity.

Aldrin really doesn't need any introducing, as he is of course the second man to walk on another planetary body, the Moon in July, 1969. His qualifications to speak on such a topic are obviously legion. As such, I feel wholly unqualified to really "review" and pass judgment on any of the technical assertions he makes in the book. However, I am particularly attracted to his concept of "Aldrin cyclers"—spacecraft "cycling" in virtual perpetuity between astronomical bodies (the Earth and Mars, or the Earth and the Moon, for instance), negating the very expensive necessity to expend massive amounts of fuel for acceleration and deceleration for each leg of a trip. The beautiful efficiency of such a design is obvious. Also attractive is the cultural paradigm shift such a design represents—from thinking of manned space "missions" as singular things, to long-term commitments, long-term investments really, with the utility of such spacecraft lasting possibly for decades.

Beyond technical proposals, Mission to Mars makes larger, more general assertions that any (every) American should consider. Aldrin references, of course, his experiences in the 1960's at the birth of the space program and in Apollo—during an era defined both by rapid technological achievement and by simple, shining optimism. He states unequivocally, "Humanity is destined to explore, settle, and expand outward into the universe." Aldrin is reminding a modern, disillusioned world of a reality that no one in this country would have argued against 40 years ago. He is, in effect, offering it up as the medicine to our equally modern, American malaise.

Toward the beginning of the book he asks directly what human spaceflight does for the country. "It reminds the American public," he says, "that nothing is impossible if free people work together to accomplish great things." Aldrin also makes the assertion that, "(Spaceflight) captures the imagination of our youth and inspires them to study science, technology, mathematics and engineering. Furthermore, a vigorous human spaceflight program fuels the American workforce with high technology and cutting-edge aerospace jobs. And it fosters collaborative international relationships to ensure U.S. foreign policy leadership." Toward the first point, any economist could agree. The second point is equally convincing. As China, India, Japan and the other countries around the world take tentative first-steps into space, America's experience and technological prowess could be leveraged. The United States could once again exercise influence and real leadership, in a universally respected, inherently a-political endeavor—if it once again woke up to the "destiny" of human space exploration Aldrin speaks of, and gives it its due.

It is this general theme—the significance of manned spaceflight—repeated throughout the book and indeed, one repeated by Aldrin for decades, that gives true substance to his ideas and the overall plan and strategy for manned spaceflight he's presented. He does not cater to pessimists who would advocate significantly scaled-down long-term plans which lament "political and budgetary realities." Instead, he offers a practical, ambitious plan for the manned exploration of space suitable to its importance for us all. I can only hope that our leaders in Washington could hear his "clarion call" and fund NASA sufficiently.

Beyond The Fall Of Night

Beyond The Fall Of Night - Arthur C. Clarke, Gregory Benford I just finished (for probably the fifth time) Clarke and Benford's "Beyond the Fall of Night." There are certain works of science fiction that transcend the limits of the genre—indeed, the limits of the MEDIUM—and leave an experiencer with a higher sense of what it means to be conscious and alive and living in the time we are now. As much as we don't like to talk about it, this is the end to which every writer aspires. Ultimately positive stories in science fiction are becoming harder to find, and I'm glad that there still exist a few, albeit classics by the masters of old, to root and ground those of us paying attention.

The GAIAD: A Novel (The LOGOS Series Book 1)

The GAIAD: A Novel (The LOGOS Series Book 1) - William Burcher The GAIAD—A Review (By the Author)

"Despite his unconventional writing style, including, perhaps, an unhealthy disdain for the traditional use of the English comma, the author makes his debut by telling an original story. The author is clearly no Clarke or Tolkien, but with some hard work, time, and practice he might one day be regarded as Shchegolyayev or even Mbadinuju. Certain readers of more conventional, modern, and less questionable tastes may be turned off by the inclusion of strange, macabre imagery—including, most notably and ridiculously, an old book bound in the skin of a long-dead woman's breasts. Globally, however, Mr. Burcher gives us a tale that we want to read, with a refreshing infusion of larger, more necessary and ultimately positive themes."

Yes. Seriously. It's hard to review your own stuff. Instead, I'll mention how this book came about.

In 2014 I was working as a cop just outside of Denver. I had a beautiful house in the suburbs, two great dogs, a brand new, fast little German car and a host of valuable, meaningful relationships. In my heart, though, I knew that the path I was walking wasn't really my own. In the back of my mind I knew that it was time to write—it was time to take all the ridiculous things that I've seen and experienced and thought over the course of my adult life and distill them, boil them down into a work of literature that someone else could read and experience and maybe even enjoy.

I remember the moment explicitly, when I decided to do it—to re-structure everything, to give it all up, to write full-time. It was a beautiful day in July. I'd taken the dogs hiking at a park outside of Conifer, Colorado. The sky was an amazing, mountain blue marred only sporadically by the turbulent grey-white of a building summer storm. I was sitting in a field, grass high and green-golden as the dogs ran around chasing locusts or sniffing piles of elk shit. I was looking up at the sky, at the movement of the clouds, at the strange gradients of atmospheric color and it just came, bubbling up like liquid from below. Within a week I'd put my house on the market, and began to divest myself of a job that although stressful and frustrating and hard and dangerous and under-appreciated, paid pretty well and offered unquestionably good benefits.

Three months later I was free. Free to create. Free to write. I was also traveling the country in a solar-equipped RV, but that's totally another blog entry. The point of this story is that this book of mine comes from a place inside me that I'd like to share. It was born of good intentions, and although we all know that the road to hell is paved with those, they're still a better thing than so much of what we're fed from day to day in this crazy world of ours. Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy The GAIAD.

WB

Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature

Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature - Janine M. Benyus I picked this one up today and read it again. There are some books that come around, not very often, that should not be judged by standard literary or traditional academic criteria. I think this is one of them. These books belong on pillars, themselves standing upright in Elysian Fields. They might not fully be appreciated in their time, but a century or two down the road they'll provide testament to our progeny that we weren't all complete idiots.

Look to nature. Ok. Look to elements of nature's design. Got it. Why? Because nature's been doing the same thing that you want to do for BILLIONS of years. Billions. With a "B." And everything extant is a product of evolution—that beautifully cold and efficient judge of ability, suitability and fitness. The author limits her exposition of this simple, but revolutionary idea to engineering and design, but the concept is a greater one. Apply it to your body. Apply it to your mind. Apply it to governance and economics. Thanks Janine Benyus.