The Library of Babel

My work on interlibrary loan and remote database querying is finally starting to pay off. I’m happy to announce that you can now retrieve a page from the Library of Babel at Working with such a large data set is a challenge, and there are a few bugs. I can specify the wall, the shelf, the book, even the exact page number, but I can’t figure how to specify the exact hexagonal room. Indeed, there seems to be no indexing scheme at all for the hexagons. If anybody figures this out, please let me know. There’s a particular book I’m looking for somewhat desperately.


Here’s some things that happened over the last few days:

Got drenched to the skin on the way to work Friday morning. It rained real hard and it rained for a real long time. They cancelled Jazz Fest for the first time in thirteen years! I brought a change of clothes with me but I was still somewhat uncomfortable, so I left work a little early and ate a lot of sushi.

Friday nite Xy and I went to see Ghost Mice (Chris and Heather from Bloomington) at the End of Banks warehouse. They were awesome. I can’t adequately describe how good they were. You must see them. I talked to Chris before the show and gave him a VHS copy of “Fat,” which uses “Paper Dolls” by his previous band, Operation: Cliff Clavin.

I finished reading Islands In The Net by Bruce Sterling. The first three-quarters of the book was pretty slow going, but I slogged through and was rewarded by an interesting conclusion. I think that’s odd, because most books work the other way round.

Xy and I went to see Mean Girls. It sucked. OK, maybe I shouldn’t say it sucked; maybe I should just say it was mediocre. I understand it was the number one box office smash this weekend. This is probably because there was no competition.

I videotaped PJ & Gina’s band, Rabbit Hatch, at Gina’s art opening at the Marguerite Oestreicher gallery. It’s a tiny, ancient two-story building on Julia Street that I last remember as an abandoned ruin. Nice to see it fixed up. Unfortunately I was hungry and the weather was ugly and consequently I was just in a bad mood and unable to fully enjoy the event.

The Uplift War

Title: The Uplift War
Author: David Brin
Published: 1987

I would never recommend The Uplift War to my friends who are skeptical about science fiction. It has too many conventions peculiar to the genre. There are aliens of many races, psychic powers, galactic empires, robots, ray guns and spaceships that travel faster than light. It’s all a bit much in a single book if you’ve never read science fiction before.

Furthermore, this is not an easy read. The pages are peppered with made-up alien words like lurrunanu and tu’fluk. There’s also a sprinkling of obscure English words, such as covinous and antelucan, which revealed the inadequacy of my dictionary. As much as I enjoyed expanding my vocabulary, these terms seem awkward and gratuitous here.

In fact, I found Brin’s prose style to be quite difficult, but not particularly beautiful or rewarding. Some passages are absolutely painful, such as when the author describes a wall as “the barrier that undulated complacently over the countryside like a net settled firmly over their lives.”

If that doesn’t bother you, and if you’re already a fan of the science fiction genre, then you might enjoy this book. The tone is light and at times humorous. The alien psychologies are compelling and are probably the best thing here. And of course there’s the concept of Uplift itself — the idea that one species can raise another to sentience. This is a huge idea, and I can readily understand how Brin has milked so many novels out of it.

Brin is a scientist, and there are a number of thought-provoking speculations here. Unfortunately they are spread a bit thin over 600+ pages. The emphasis is definitely on action and fun.

A note of warning to would-be readers: The Uplift War stands on its own, but early on you will encounter some intriguing references to a spaceship piloted by dolphins that has made a mysterious discovery of galactic significance. Don’t expect to find this mystery revealed in The Uplift War. You’ll have to read Startide Rising if you really want to know.

[Crossposted to Amazon]