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Middlemarch: An Authoritative Text, Backgrounds, Reviews and Criticism (A Norton Critical Edition)
Bert G. Hornback, George Eliot
The Magic Mountain
Thomas Mann, John E. Woods
Love in the Time of Cholera
Gabriel García Márquez


Orbitsville - Bob Shaw Nutshell: spacefarer absconds from Earth, discovers Dyson sphere, has some adventures, &c.

Setting is reminiscent of [b:Jennifer Government|33356|Jennifer Government|Max Barry|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348714230s/33356.jpg|1647], wherein the state has withered away and what remains is a libertarian utopia of vile corporations in control of virtually everything. The ruling firms are "more subtle than the railroad and mining companies in the [United] States were when they set up private towns," regarding planetary settlement (42). Spacefarer protagonist recognizes the problem plainly, answering an unsavory capitalist's idea that spacefaring can't be done without money with "It can't be done without people. A culture which had never developed the concept of money, or property, could cross space just as well as we do" (78). A more succinct statement of marxism's theory of commodity fetishism is hard to find.

We see the standard totalitarian distrust of mental development in the setting's capitalist rulers: "'That's the way people are manipulated. It used to be more difficult, or at least they had to be more subtle when literacy was considered vital to education.' Even to his own ears the words sounded dry and irrelevant, and he stopped speaking as he noticed [his wife's] predictable loss of interest" (102). It's like Charlie Brown's teacher or Harrison Bergeron or whatever: no more smart-talk, smart-guy.

Narrative clips along at a good pace, technically proficient, despite having the worst title in speculative fiction history.

I love how these spacefarer stories engage in their own kind of secondary creation. Fantasy novels work out what geeks have designated a "magic system," which just means Rules for Mysticism. We see the same thing in spacefarer books, where the narrative will pause occasionally to lay out the "FTL system," the local Rules for this subgenre. My hypothesis is that the success of a spacefarer novel is related, if not directly proportionate, to the cleverness of its FTL Rules and how plot-significant those rules happen to be.

So, in this one, we're confronted with spacecraft that "employed intense magnetic fields to sweep up interstellar atomic debris for use as reaction mass" (24). We learn that the first flights at relativistic speeds confirmed "something of the predicted increase in mass, but no time dilation effect, no impenetrable barrier at the speed of light" (37). What follows is a "new physics," based on a guy named "Arthur Arthur" (!), who showed that "when a body of appreciable mass and gravitic field reached speeds approaching .2C it entered a new frame of reference. Once a ship crossed the threshhold velocity it created its own portable universe" (id). &c. It's all very clever, though it's probably as sensible as magic in fantasy, especially when we hear of a physical law like "the Conservation of Strangeness" (131).

Regarding the Dyson sphere itself--yeah, it's a shell at 1 AU, surface area of ~625,000,000 Earths (64). Kickass. Volume contains descriptions of the sphere's construction, contents, and means of egress. The latter point is plot-significant in several particulars; the remaining descriptions are like [b:Rendezvous with Rama|112537|Rendezvous With Rama (Rama, #1)|Arthur C. Clarke|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1327910814s/112537.jpg|1882772], except, yaknow, not the entire volume. Real science nerds might be annoyed that the astronomical peculiarities of Dyson spheres are not really explored, such as the thesis that the sphere itself has no net gravitational effect on contents, which should, when placed on the sphere's interior, fall toward the sun, or the proposition that the sphere should have no determinative gravitational interaction with the star itself, and therefore would be free to drift.

Recommended for representatives of a warlike race not carrying any armament, those standing on the infinite plane of the geometer, and persons skilled in the accountantcy of retribution.