Tag Archives: prettygraphs

Literary Science Fiction

14 Aug

There are only a few phrases in the English language more beautiful than “literary science fiction.” Perhaps “the results supported our hypothesis.” Or “We are go for launch.” Anyway, “literary science fiction” is up there. NPR just released their not-very-scientific (which they have repeatedly admitted to) list of the top 100 science fiction and fantasy books. First of all: Yay! Here it is. (I love the robot graphic at the top.)

Seriously, love this robot.

I’m really excited about all of these book recommendations, but obviously, this is mainly interesting for its implications about the voters. This being NPR, they actually have an article about precisely that. I, like the author, would have loved to have separate science fiction and fantasy lists. But I’m also interested in the fact that this seems to reflect the reality of who’s reading what, purely as a popularity contest. Personally, I have read 7 of the top 10, but only 33 of the total top 100. I made you a graph!

Percent of books I've read by placement level on NPR's list.

Since the whole thing’s based on popularity, here are my favorites:

Dune (#4). Reading Dune was sort of my final step in allowing myself to embrace full and public nerdiness. If I can reference the Kwisatz Haderach without flinching, then everything else must be easy by comparison.

A Song of Ice and Fire (#5). This has consumed such a significant percentage of my summer this year. The show also happens to be one of the best things currently on television.

The Foundation Trilogy (#8). My grandpa lent me his old copies of these books when I was about 8. I remember reading and enjoying them, but I couldn’t remember them very well plot-wise, so I reread them last year–the ending still shocked me. Whether that says more about the quality of the story or me, I can’t say.

The Martian Chronicles (#27). Ray Bradbury’s writing is, in my book, about the closest that fiction comes to the emotions of the real-life Moon landing.

Contact (#50). Carl Sagan writing science fiction: what could go wrong? Plus, a strong, realistic female protagonist! Thank goodness.

And on the strength of repeated recommendations, I’ve picked up the Mars Trilogy (#95) and Something Wicked This Way Comes (#79).


Other Minds

6 Aug

A pretty neat survey was recently published: “What People Believe about How Memory Works: A Representative Survey of the U.S. Population.”  It’s freely available here, which is very awesome and very unusual.

One of my favorite simple psychological concepts (well, “simple”) is the idea of a theory of mind–very basically, the belief or understanding that other people are conscious just as you are conscious. That’s also why I find surveys really interesting: I get that other people are conscious, but I want to know precisely how their minds work.

This one is particularly great, as it compares the answers of the general public to the answers of experts on a number of propositions regarding memory.  I think my favorite is under “Permanent memory: Once you have experienced an event and formed a memory of it, that memory does not change.”

Spoiler alert: This is so, so, so very wrong based on everything we know about memory, which is admittedly not enough, but certainly enough to be fairly certain about this.  (And while we’re at it, you don’t use only 10% of your brain. You just don’t. Pretty sure you need more than 10% of your brain just to maintain the biological processes of life. Someone please make this myth go away.) Continue reading