May 31, 2012

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur, May 2012

Attention conservation notice: I have no taste. Also, two weeks late.

Karen E. Olson, The Missing Ink
Teresa Grant, Vienna Waltz
Assorted mystery-flavored mind candy. Enjoying the Grant book did involve shutting down the part of me which kept muttering "The Congress of Vienna was a gathering of tyrants, conspiring to crush every decent impulse of European civilization for their own temporary self-interest".
Paul McAuley, Gardens of the Sun
Sequel to The Quiet War. While you could probably enjoy it on its own, the two benefit greatly from being read together. It has the same virtues as its predecessor: a vividly realized future world, or rather worlds; immersion in beautiful and bizarre alien landscapes; characters with depth; a sensible and momentous plot; and (I realize this is a minority taste) mostly plausible science. (Dr. Hong-Owen is a bit too much of the omni-competent movie scientist, however.) Taken together, these two books are some of the best stuff McAuley has ever done, and that is saying really quite a lot of the man who wrote Pasquale's Angel and Confluence.
Spoiler-laden remarks: The one place where I feel like McAuley takes the easy way out, here, is with the people-power revolution at the end. This seems to me to come off entirely too easily and unambiguously --- the real things take many years of building organizations and networks, at least for the revolutionary core. But the novel does take place over a span of many years, and perhaps all this is happening off-screen.
There is also an interesting essay to be written (by someone else) about McAuley's relations to his inspirations in these books. One such inspiration is clearly Sterling's Schismatrix, and the rest of his "Shaper/Mechanist" stories. But another is Stu Kauffman's The Origins of Order, which is the source for a lot of the ideas about Avernus's gardens. The common thread is of course evolution wandering off through the space possibilities, but it's fascinating to see how that was woven together with an actual plot.
Francis Spufford, Red Plenty: Inside the Fifties' Soviet Dream
L. V. Kantorovich, The Best Use of Economic Resources
Not exactly a review: In Soviet Union, Optimization Problem Solves You.
Kantorovich's book is long out of print (at least in translation); it's the sort of thing which ought to be online, as a historical document if nothing else, but who knows who owns the rights to the text at this point.
(I have vague memories of reading or at least browsing my father's copy of Kantorovich when I was an undergraduate, but that was 20 years ago and I remembered basically nothing. The CMU library copy is itself now something of a historical artifact, with a check-out list of hand-written names [mostly illegible] inside the back cover, and a punch-card left between the pages.)
Jack Campbell, Invincible
M. C. A. Hogarth, Spots the Space Marine
Joel Shepherd, Crossover
Assorted science-fiction-flavored mind candies. I'm not sure why this month's assortment was so uniformly militaristic (reaction to grading?). — Hogarth's self-published novel on a par with the professional ones, if one is willing to trade inhabiting the consciousness of a character for narrative speed, which I am.
(Previously in the Campbell series.)
Lise Getoor and Ben Taskar (eds.), Introduction to Statistical Relational Learning [book website]
Still, I think, the best thing you can read to begin learning the subject, which is only going to get more important. For me the highlights were the papers on the different formalisms and their strengths and weaknesses*, but the applications, and the computational papers about how to make inference actually work were also interesting, and mileage will vary.
I actually began this in 2008, but only just finished the last few chapters...
Disclaimer: I got my copy of this as a gift when I gave a talk at Prof. Getoor's group.
*: Sutton and McCallum on conditional random fields; Getoor et al. on probabilistic relational models; Tasker et al. on relational Markov networks; Heckerman et al. on probabilistic entity-relationship models and plate models; Domingos and Richardson on Markov logic networks; Neville and Jensen on relational dependency networks.
<peeving="petty">The editors should've forced the authors to update their references; it feels like half the citations to "unpublished manuscripts" or "preprint" are to other chapters!</peeving>

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur; Scientifiction and Fantastica; Automata and Calculating Machines; Pleasures of Detection, Portraits of Crime; Enigmas of Chance; The Dismal Science; The Progressive Forces;

Posted at May 31, 2012 23:59 | permanent link

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