Spies Catching Spies: "A Legacy of Spies" by John Le Carré


A Legacy of Spies - John le Carré


The most impressive aspect is the self-examination, described late in the story. Was all the effort poured into Cold War intelligence work worth it? Did it stop wars? Did we do it because they did? Or was it a case of politicians wanting to thin they are “one up” on the other fellow? And his European outlook is so refreshing. Reminds me of the heyday of Robert Maxwell’s newspaper, The European”. Maxwell’s story is somehow akin to the world of Mr. Smiley, but will probably never be told.


What’s all this guff about him not being an ‘artist’ and ‘at its best, operates at a high literary level?’ 


When is the poor man to be rid of snarky comments? Possibly the best policy is to have a journalist review him, rather than the rat pack of other, less successful, writers. Le Carré has earned the right to be gloriously appreciated without the endlessly snide bollocks debate about genre writing.


Is there any clue as the year in which this book is set? Because if it is set in 2017 (or thereabouts) George Smiley would be well over 100.


It is clear from Le Carré’s earliest novels that Smiley had left “his unimpressive school” in the 1920s and been recruited, while at his “unimpressive Oxford College” by the “Overseas Committee for Academic Research” on “a sweet July morning in 1928.” As such I’d be expecting George to be celebrating his 110th birthday about now. Perhaps Peter Guillam, who must be well into his 80s, merely imagined his old colleague – the way old people have conversations with the dearly departed dead, because they seem more real than those who are left alive. Le Carré employs two layers of flashback to get us into the appropriate time period.



If you’re into Spy Fiction. read on.

Original post:


RIP Brian Aldiss, 1925 – 1917: "The Brightfount Diaries" by Brian Aldiss


The Brightfount Diaries. Brian Aldiss - Brian W. Aldiss

It has been a while since I read his “Trillion Year Spree”, but I would respectfully submit that Aldiss may very well have made his case for the essential nature of science fiction in making and moving on the modern world.


It is difficult to think of another genre so relevant, and at the same time (in its various forms) so popular and influential. I think he did much to point out the debt we owe the revolutionary authors like Mary Shelley (Frankenstein), and the hot-housing role of science-fiction short stories in incubating new (or reheated) ideas.


Brian Aldiss championed SF to the world outside, and occasionally gave those of us who were a little bit . . . insular . . . the ticking-off we deserved. He was part of the community in a good way, attending sf conventions, always approachable, and being the life and soul of the party but always producing books and criticism which challenged us. You could never quite predict what the next Aldiss novel would be, but you always knew there would be something to think about. He was a remarkable man. Even though he received an OBE and an honorary doctorate for “services to literature”, I suspect he would have been much more successful in “critical” terms if he had jettisoned science fiction, and he would have been more successful in the sf world if he had buckled down to churn out identikit trilogies. “His work is still [in a sense] to be discovered.” Yes, that’s correct. It was wide, various, and deep. But those of us who discovered even a part of it are grateful to have done so. 


Thank you, Brian.



If you’re into SF, read on.

Original post:

Incompleteness: “Build Deeper – Deep Learning Beginner’s Guide by Thimira Amaratunga


Build Deeper: Deep Learning Beginners' Guide - Thimira Amaratunga


“epsilon”: 1e-07,

“float”: “float32”,


“backend”: “tensorflow”



In “Build Deeper – Deep Learning Beginner’s Guide by Thimira Amaratunga


This book confirms other predictive system results that I have seen, where it has often been found that we human as a species who fancy ourselves as psychics or using other la-di-da methodologies can at best achieve around an 80% accuracy rate, even with good regular practice and tuning. The more accustomed you are toward reaching ever higher accuracy & precision percentile targets the more the distance to the next little increase in goal horizon. Still it does bring into question the abilities of Science and machine systems designing new machine systems, often through excluding what are regarded as unrepeatable subjective methods in favour of repeatable objectiveness. Outliers and other non-obvious patterns & so on are pushing back the boundaries at the edge of our cultural belief systems.


I don’t think that any computer scientist would dispute the point that modern AI or machine learning is nowhere near the threshold of ‘consciousness’ or even ‘general intelligence’. But it’s not uncommon for words to have a different meaning within a technical field compared to how they are used in everyday communication. In regular English ‘chaos’ means unpredictable, whereas in mathematics it refers to the tendency of sensitive nonlinear systems to exhibit emergent attraction basins that can potentially be extremely predictable. Those are arguably even antonyms. Another example would be terms ‘deterministic/nondeterministic’ in Computer Science, which also differ strongly from their meanings in regular English. The point is that if you feel the need to grandstand on these trivialities, you clearly don’t understand the fundamentals of the subject matter under discussion.



If you’re into Computer Science and Machine Learning in particular, read on.

Original post:

Legitimate Form of Writing: "Little Misunderstandings of No Importance" by Antonio Tabucchi, Frances Frenaye (translator)


Little Misunderstandings of No Importance: Stories - Antonio Tabucchi

“Tell me, dear heart, dear chilled heart, what would you say to going to live in Lisbon? It’s surely warm there and you’d revive like a lizard under the sun. The city’s at the water’s edge and they say it’s built of marble. You see it is a country after my own heart; a landscape made up of light and stone, and water to reflect them! And so you walk slowly through this marble city, between 18th-century buildings and arcades that witnessed the days of colonial trade, sailing ships, the bustle and the foggy dawns of anchors being weighted.”
In the short-story “Time is very strange” from the collection “Little Misunderstandings of No Importance” by Antonio Tabucchi, Frances Frenaye (translator) 
I am glad authors are challenging the homogenisation that is so demanded by many readers. Too much fiction does not reflect real dialogue; I know it can be harder to follow, but it is good that some writing is articulated in that way. Perhaps short-stories are best for this as readers might be able to tolerate for a shorter time than throughout a novel. However, online reviewing is effectively channelling so much writing into narrow parameters which squeeze out interesting and/or innovative approaches. I have also been pleased in recent years to see more short-story collections being physically published, even from obscure writers like Tabucchi (does anyone still read him in this and age?). Ironically short stories and episodic novels are ideal for reading the way most people use e-readers. Yet, the sense that they are an illegitimate form of writing with people saying they are waiting for the ‘full’ novel of the story or feeling that, as if by accident, the author has only published a ‘fragment’ of the ‘proper’ story, is too common. When you read a Tabucchi short-story we don’t have this feeling of incompleteness.
If you’re into Lisbon, my city, read on.

Original post:

The Society of Cousins: “The Moon and the Other” by John Kessel


The Moon and the Other - John Kessel

“[…]’The One and the Other’. But who is the One, and who is the Other, eh? Male or female?”

In “The Moon and the Other” by John Kessel

I feel that there is a big dividing line between good authors and great authors in science fiction and fantasy; I always find that there are loads of books where I enjoyed the characterisation and romped along in the story and had a good time, but very few where you feel that you need two days after finishing it, just to complete appreciating it. Recently, John Kessel is one writer who has reached those moments for me, the same with Dexter Palmer and, in his lovelier works K. J. Parker. Having said that, I would reserve judgment on whether being literary in style means you are actually good. I think there are plenty of writers of what most would consider ‘pulp’ style genre fiction, who are infinitely more engaging and thought provoking than those involved in intricate lyrical stylings and homages. It’s not exclusively one way or the other though; I’ve enjoyed Murakami just as much as I’ve enjoyed Stephenson. I grew up with SF, but read less and less of it now. Perhaps ironically, my feelings for the genre are fairly well summed up by Master Ultan’s words to the apprentice Severian:
“I began, as most young people do, by reading the books I enjoyed. But I found that narrowed my pleasure, in time, until I spent most of my hours searching for such books”.
I gradually stopped reading much SF in my mid-20s, after spending too many hours scouring the SF sections of Bertrand Bookstore and finding far too many re-hashings of the same few ideas, themes and characters.
Well, quit
If you’re into SF, read on.

Original post:

Deep Learning Architectures: “Life 3.0 – Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence” by Max Tegmark


Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence - Max Tegmark

“Life 3.0, which can design not only its software but also its hardware. In other words, Life 3.0 is the master of its own destiny, finally fully free from its evolutionary shackles.”


In “Life 3.0 – Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence” by Max Tegmark


See how good your PC is as it ages or you want to install a better graphics card, does the driver play nice with everything? Are you competent enough to sort it out or are you the sort of person who offloads that to IT? The guys in IT are like ducks or swans, all seems serene on the surface but underneath they are paddling hard to stay afloat. They are one badly written security update away from disaster. Do they install the latest security patch or wait for others to see what happens? Also, the more complex a system becomes the more subject it is to critical failures from minor changes, the more they become like having 100 spinning plates on the go at once. If your bank’s computer goes belly up just as the proceeds from your house sale are sailing through the system from one solicitor to another is there enough of a data trail to prove it existed? Do you feel lucky? In this day and age, when the state-of-affairs is like the one I’m describing above, can we still talk about AI?




If you’re into Computer Science, read on.

Original post:

Drastic Irrelevancy Synergism: “Variable Star” by Robert A. Heinlein, Spider Robinson


Variable Star - Robert A. Heinlein, Spider Robinson

“What is marriage for?”

The car told her she was heading the wrong way; she reversed direction and came back past me toward its voice and pulsing beacon. “Babies, obviously.”

I followed her. “Bingo. Marriage is for making jolly babies, raising them up into successful predators, and then admiring them until they’re old enough to reward you with grandchildren to spoil.”


In “Variable Star” by Robert A. Heinlein, Spider Robinson


Ghastly, isn’t it?


There is an urban myth about a police sergeant who is assigned to scouring confiscated hard drives for pornographic content. After frequent exposure to lewd acts that are best left unsaid he becomes an addict, and descends into the grubby world of vice he is supposed to be policing. It is a slippery slope downwards to SF addiction. I have never taken heroin, thank God, because I am sure I am an addictive personality and would never get off it, but “Variable Star” is like the Harry Harrison Rat books. It is shit. But just because it is shit, doesn’t mean I don’t love it. It’s like that scene from Stalker by the Strugatsky brothers where the tortured and religious guide takes a cynical journalist and an academic into “the zone” to find a fabled room where all wishes come true. They are scared to enter, because Tarkovsky, like Poe, knows that if we got what we really wanted we might not like what that said about us.



If you’re into SF, read on.

Original post: