The ones who walk away from Omelas

This short story was, in 1974, the recipient of the Hugo and nominated for the Locus. I was intrigued by the title by a long time, but it was only after watching the documentary about Ursula K. Le Guin’s life and work that I learned that The dispossessed was how Ursula reacted to this question: where do the people who walk away from Omelas go? I was bound to read it.

It took me half an hour to finish it. I haven’t read yet any of the Earthsea stories but there is no magic or dragons in Omelas, so I’d guess this is more of a Hainish taste. Being already familiar with the plot, it lacked a climactic moment and the story didn’t spark any more thoughts than I had already given to the topic when I first learned about it. It’s probably wise to avoid related material about short-stories you want to read if you don’t want them to be spoiled, but the advice is particularly true for this one. I wish I hadn’t read anything about it.

I still liked how it’s built on simple language and a raw metaphor anyone can relate to. Reading it helped me to consolidate this idea of Ursula being not a novelist but an anthropologist who happens to be interested in fictional societies. Writing stories about non-existing societies was her way of researching a topic, live with the locals, and explaining to us what it was like living in that world.

The anthology I bought includes an intro commentary by the author about how she came up with the Omelas word which was also fun and humanizes the way I picture writers work.

The kite runner

Lately, I felt the urge to read fiction again, after a long time focused on tech and non-fiction. I was also looking to widen my perspectives and stay away from sci-fi for a bit. I found an English book club ran by the neighborhood public library, and The kite runner was the first reading since I joined. Actually, a friend of mine had lent me the book many years ago, but I had forgotten most of it. It seems unfair that I did because the second read has left me very moved.

The book’s central character is Amir, born from a rich Pashtun merchant in the Kabul of the 60s. The first third of the book pivots on the relationships with his father and his Hazara servant during his teenage years. After the Saur revolution, the family flies to America and we are introduced to how was life like for Afghani immigrants, but also how our beloved character transitions to become an adult. The book’s third act goes back to Afghanistan, but to a different one, as it is set up after the Ismalic Jihad that ended up with the Taliban ruling the country.

Because I had already read the book I didn’t expect it to be able to generate so many emotions as I went through it. I was so wrong. In the beginning, I had some trouble to like it, and Hosseini’s way of expressing Amir feelings felt a bit pretending, but every time he focused on a particular plot, I felt engaged again. Certain scenes were a lot more disturbing than I remembered, to the point that I had to stop a couple of times, take fresh air, and make myself aware that I was living in a totally different reality than the books – that’s something I don’t experience in many books. Having to deal with my father’s death last year struck all kind of emotions and relived conversations as well – in a way, I think that helped the book to have more impact on me this second time, and reminds me that there are books that hold healing power if read at the proper time. Finally, I couldn’t help but think that the Amir and Hassan friendship is a metaphor for Afghanistan as a failed state during the many wars that beat the country in the 1974-2001 period. It seems to me as if Hosseini was trying to say that the country cannot be at peace until the Pashtuns and Hazaras are equals.

I’d say The kite runner is a book about guilt and redemption, a father-son relationship, and perhaps the main window to Afghanistan culture for most westerns. I think the book fares well in each of those.

UKL passed away

I’ve just learned that Ursula K. Le Guin is no longer with us. She left multiple worlds for us to play with and learn from. Two of them –The Left Hand of Darkness, and The Dispossessed– are my goto guides when it comes to imagining societies that take into account the role of self-management, genre, language, and free commerce. We cannot bring her back, but we still have her words to read all that she wanted to tell us.

The pleasure of finding things out

This was the first book listening experience that I’ve actually finished. Sean Runnette‘s voice was adequate for setting the tone and rhythm – actually, sometimes I felt I was listening to Feinmann himself!

Having read Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!What Do You Care What Other People Think? and some other papers/videos, most of the stories in the book I already knew, but it had some new material that made it interesting nonetheless. This is more mathematical/physical intense than the others, probably because it’s mostly focused on the scientific and less in the human Feynman – but also because many chapters are directly transcribed from conferences he gave. It’s also worth noting that, unlike the other two, this book was published without Feynmann intervention: it’s published 10 years after his death.

If I had to choose only a Feynman book I’d choose Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynmann! It’s better edited and has more variety. Then, if you are hungry for more, What do you care what other people think? contains new stories. I liked this one, but I doubt it’s a good introduction to Feynmann lifestyle, work, values, and character.

Code simplicity

 

I’ve just finished the book Code Simplicity. It presents a framework for thinking about software development in the form of laws and rules. It’s short but comprehensive. From my experience, the laws and rules hold true. I think the book has value as an overall perspective of what’s important in software development, and there are some chapters that are really spot on: for example, the equation of software design – something that I’ve already included in my glossary and plan to expand.

Code Simplicity doesn’t intend to land the laws and rules to something actionable, though. I’m at a point in my career where I’m focused on consolidating and reflecting upon how to achieve simplicity in software design – that means that I crave for specifics so I can compare them with mine.

As a cross-recommendation, if you are interested in learning about the laws of software development in a manner that is actionable, I’d suggest reading the Beck’s trilogy: Extreme Programming Explained: Embrace Change, Test Driven Development: by example, and Implementation Patterns. Those three books make a great combination of macro-forces (at a project level) and micro-forces (at a coding level) in software design. They were fundamental in consolidating my experiences as a programmer, so I’m highly biased towards them.

Hat tip for the Code Simplicity recommendation: Nikolay.

Por no mencionar al perro

¿Puede un libro ser a la vez una comedia de enredos, una novela de detectives, una sátira ambientada en la época victoriana y una obra de ciencia ficción? Todo eso, y más, es “Por no mencionar al perro” de Connie Willis.

De esta autora había leído Oveja Mansa. Aunque son libros y temáticas distintas, hay ciertas reflexiones compartidas; por ejemplo, las que tienen que ver con los sistemas complejos y la teoría del caos, reflexiones sobre si el progreso y la Historia es causal o casual. Quizás se deba a que las dos novelas han sido escritas durante el mismo período y Connie Willis no es inmune a la obsesividad que conlleva el aprendizaje sobre un tema (Spielberg hizo varias películas muy seguidas sobre los extraterrestres o la segunda guerra mundial, Stephenson amortizó su tiempo de investigación sobre mitología sumeria y griega en varios libros, etc). Ambas comparten también cierta manera de tejer el argumento que definiría como característica de Willis: su interés por los usos/modas/costumbres en distintos momentos históricos, las aventuras basadas en situaciones cotidianas y una escritura ligera que saca lo mejor de las comedias románticas.

¿Qué se puede decir de esta novela sin destripar la gracia del argumento?

Para empezar, que está ambientada en el año 2.057, donde existe una máquina de viajes en el tiempo que usan sólo los historiadores de Oxford porque no es rentable para nada más. Luego, que los historiadores Ned Henry y Kindle necesitan deshacer una paradoja temporal, de ésas que a la que despistas modifican el curso de la Historia de tal manera que provocan que los nazis ganen la 2ª guerra mundial, por ejemplo. Las paradojas temporales tienen un papel principal en esta novela; sin embargo, con lo que he disfrutado de verdad es con la aparición estelar de la Luftwaffe y la RAF, con el proyecto de reconstrucción de la catedral de Coventry que habría sido vendida primero a una secta espiritista y luego sustituida por un centro comercial, con el viaje que supone leer sobre la sociedad victoriana del siglo XIX durante la segunda revolución industrial o con los paseos en barco por el Támesis que son en sí mismos una road-movie.

Aunque es una novela larga con varios tirabuzones en el argumento, se hace entretenida gracias a la fina ironía y sátira que impregna el estilo de Connie Willis, así como a su capacidad para sacar jugo a los tópicos del género detectivesco y romántico. Quizás no me arrancó tantas carcajadas como en Oveja Mansa, pero sí me puso de buen humor.

Si eres fan del Ministerio del Tiempo o te gustó la película About Time, es probable que también disfrutes de esta novela donde la Historia es un personaje más. Por no mencionar al perro.