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    1. Ursula K. Le Guin was my favourite SciFi & Fantasy writer. Her passing earlier in the year was a great loss. I'm reading her scifi-fantasy book Always Coming Home (1985), a compilation of...

      Ursula K. Le Guin was my favourite SciFi & Fantasy writer. Her passing earlier in the year was a great loss.

      I'm reading her scifi-fantasy book Always Coming Home (1985), a compilation of "in-universe" codices and oral traditions as seen by an anthropologist. Her works were usually put in the "soft scifi" bin, as opposed to the "harder" genre. What caught my attention was a passage from the book, as appeared in an oral narrative (p. 161):

      There are records of the red brick people in the Memory of the Exchange, of course, but I don't think many people have ever looked at them. They would be hard to make sense of. The City mind [a vast autonomous network of computers] thinks that sense has been made if a writing is read, if a message is transmitted, but we don't think that way.

      Here we're called to notice the information vs. meaning distinction, for which a lot has been said and will be said. It was striking to me how the definition of "sense" according to the "City mind" closely paralleled the concept of information in Claude E. Shannon's seminal paper, A Mathematical Theory of Communication (PDF link). There, "information" simply meant what was transmitted between a sender and a receiver. It gave rise to a consistent definition of the amount of information based on the Shannon entropy.

      However, we implicitly feel that this concept of information isn't encompassing enough to include meaning -- a vague term, but one we feel to be important. It seems that meaning enters information only as we (or someone) interpret it. In the words of computer scientist Melanie A. Mitchell, "meaning" seems to have an evolutionary value (Complexity: a Guided Tour, 2009). I feel that we could as well say, meaning may be bonded to the bodily and messy reality where flesh and blood living is at stake.

      Returning to the passage in the novel, for me it was read as a rare spark of "hard" science in Le Guin's scifi works. Was it possible that she actually read into the information theory for inspiration? I don't know. But it appears to have captured the tension in the "ever-thorny issue" of meaning vs. information. For the computers, "sense" follows the information-theory concept of information; but for the human people in the story, it "would be hard to make sense of" the information in that way.

      Do you have similar "aha" moments, where you find a insightful moment of grasping an important "hard-science" idea while immersed in a "soft" scifi/fantasy work?

      Or, we can talk about anything vaguely connected to this post :) Let me know.

      10 votes
    2. Just finished The Wise Man's Fear, and I'm blown away by the massive amounts of world building interspersed by hella awkward sex scenes. Anyone else eagerly awaiting the next Kingkiller Chronicle...

      Just finished The Wise Man's Fear, and I'm blown away by the massive amounts of world building interspersed by hella awkward sex scenes. Anyone else eagerly awaiting the next Kingkiller Chronicle addition?

      9 votes
    3. Not the release date (last intel: not in 2018, that's all we know), but the content. What's going to happen? Who's going to die? Here are my brief guesses for some of the main characters: Jon:...

      Not the release date (last intel: not in 2018, that's all we know), but the content. What's going to happen? Who's going to die? Here are my brief guesses for some of the main characters:

      Jon: Inhabits Ghost for a while after his human body's death (like Varamyr in the ADWD prologue), then gets resurrected by Melisandre. GRRM has said he always found it cheap that Gandalf returned hardly the worse for wear in LOTR, so I'm interested to see how Jon's different. In the show he seems slightly more carpe-diem, but it also seems like the show has mostly forgotten about it.

      Stannis: Takes Winterfell (look up the Night Lamp theory if you're not familiar with it) from the Freys and Boltons, and holds onto it against an eventual siege by the Others.

      Bran: The show has probably disproven this, but I still think he becomes a prisoner of the Others next to his uncle Benjen, because the Others can't kill a Stark for some reason.

      Sansa: I think Harry the Heir turns out to be a nightmare, but Sansa learns to deal with him and use the power of the Vale to help the Starks in their fight to retake Winterfell.

      Arya: I think she comes back to Winterfell and gives the gift of mercy to her mother, after seeing what she's become.

      Daenerys: I think she'll have a longer experience taking over the Dothraki than in the show, and she'll fly west across Essos, laying waste to the free cities and setting the slaves free. In Westeros it will be completely unclear to everyone whether she's mad or not.

      Tyrion: I think he will continue to fall into moral decay and after becoming a close advisor to Dany will encourage her "fire and blood" side. (Especially since she's his aunt!)

      Theon: Something about "what is dead may never die, but rises again harder and stronger" makes me think he's coming back as a wight.

      Victarion: Blows the horn and dies from it.

      Cersei: I think Jaime will kill her, and fairly early on. I think Aegon will have the role she had in the most recent seasons of the show.

      Jaime: I think he survives the confrontation with Lady Stoneheart and, disillusioned with both her and Cersei, leaves high society to lead the Brotherhood Without Banners.

      Brienne: Someone has to die with Lady Stoneheart, right?

      Aegon: I think he successfully conquers King's Landing. He'll eventually die by foolhardiness, but probably not for a while.

      What do you all think? Anyone I'm forgetting?

      9 votes