Sunday, November 16, 2008

Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus (1992)

This was a classic book, published in 1992. The book is supposed to cover the relationship between men and women, and it does do that to a large extent. However, as the book grew more successful, the criticism also grew. There was a lot of analysis of the antecedents of the author, John Gray, trying to prove that his credentials were incorrect (that his degree was false, that he was an associate of the cult leader Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and that association was his background). The book was also criticized for presenting generalities, for not having enough depth, that the book was sexist, that the book did not reference too many details and research.

Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus - by John Gray (1992)

The book title says it all - the book says that men and women are wired differently, so different in fact that it would seem that both of them are from separate planets and are on Earth together. The way they think, the way they deal with tension and stress situations, and the way that they communicate with each other, a lot of that is described in generic terms. Does this describe all males and females, does this have the required depth ? No. However, you could describe this book as the Idiot's Guide to the man - woman relationship, and it is a good starting point that will help in the understanding.
If you take 1 situation and how it is explained in the book, it illuminates the techniques used in the book. Suppose the man is worried over something, he expects that he will be left alone (sort of retreating into his cave) while he thinks it over, and maybe doing something else so that he can then approach the problem with a fresh mind. He is not looking for help to solve the issue, and expects that this will be understood by the woman. However, since they are wired up differently, she is unable to understand this entire thinking, and thinks that he is withdrawing from her. A similar situation would happen where a woman is not feeling good, and he will give her space so that she can work things out, while she expects that he will comfort her, and show that he is involved.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Foundation and Earth by Isaac Asimov (Published in 1986)

Foundation and Earth did not satisfy avid readers of Asimov (and fans of the Foundation series). After all, it was still only covering a period midway during the 1000 year period that was required to establish the second Galactic Empire, and neither covered the period after that, nor did it cover the period required for the establishment of Galaxia. Asimov's widow Janet revealed after his death that Asimov was unexpectedly somewhat of a loss after Foundation and Earth to write about what happened post that period. He ran out of ideas, and hence went back to detail the Foundation periods in more detail, with Prelude to Foundation, and Forward the Foundation. Further, Foundation and Earth did not have a very gripping continuous story line, almost with individual stories tending to a final end (that was supposed to establish the robotic theme that combined the Robot Series, the Foundation Series, and the Empire Series).

Foundation and Earth by Isaac Asimov (Published in 1986)

Foundation and Earth covers the time period immediately after the decision by Trevize in Foundation's Edge to use the basis of Gaia for building up a true Galaxia. However, he continues to have doubts, and is not sure whether he has made the right decision. He decides to continue searching for Earth, sure that the fact that Earth has tried to remove all traces of itself means that once he found Earth, there must be something there that would help him confirm his decision. So he sets out on an expedition along with Golan Trevize and and Bliss (a representative of Gaia) and travel to a number of planets, trying to get traces of the location of Earth.
They reach Comporellon, where they are imprisoned since the local inhabitants want to get control of the advanced gravity ship. In this case, Trevize literally manages to sleep his way out of this problem, and manage to get out of the planet. From Comporellon, they get the location of Spacer worlds (the first time Spacer worlds are mentioned in the Foundation series).
Next they reach Aurora, the most powerful Spacer world in its time, now a planet without humans and Spacers. They have an adventure here when wild dogs almost manage to pin Trevize down and only Bliss manages to save Trevize by using the power of Gaia.
They next land in Solaria, a world which was the most isolated of the Spacer worlds; with the inhabitants of that time even then refusing to meet each in person, instead meeting only through videographic depiction. The inhabitants have developed a great power called transducer lobes which allows them to channelize natural energy into great use, and live in big estates alone (and are now hermaphrodites, capable of handling reproduction alone). The 3 travelers land in the estate of one of them called Bander, who explains their history and eventually wants to kill them. They only manage to escape when Bliss reluctantly kills Bander (she blocks his energy use and that fries his brain since energy is still coming in but is blocked from going out). They also encounter the young child of Bander, Fallom, who will be killed since she is immature and cannot handle the estate. They manage to escape the robots sent to investigate the death of Bander and take Fallom with them.
They still have a Spacer world to go to, and reach Melpomenia, where they need to wear suits since the atmosphere has long vanished. They find a building with the coordinates of all the spacer world, and also encounter a moss that seems to grow on their suits and manage to kill it by using their blasters and then escape the planet without carrying the moss with them. These coordinates give them a way to find the likely location of Earth since they are able to possibly find the position of Earth at the center of these coordinates.
They next go to a Binary sun system from the above process, and reach a watery planet revolving around a star called Alpha Centauri. The inhabitants are friendly, but they soon discover (through a lady who has had sex with Trevize) that they are being poisoned. They also learn that there was an attempt to restore Earth's soil (as mentioned in Pebble in the Sky), but it was abandoned. There was also an attempt to terraform the planet of Alpha, but that was also left half way. They also escape from Alpha, but are pretty sure that they are close to Earth now.
And finally they reach the Solar System of Earth, first seeing huge gas giants including one that has large rings around it (just like the legend), and the third planet has a very large satellite. They have found Earth, but Earth is radioactive and does not support any life. They find themselves getting pulled to the Moon, where they eventually find R Daneel Olivaw, who explains that he called them here. He explains the whole history of how he has been guiding the human race for 20,000 years now, including the settling of Alpha Centauri, the creation of psychohistory, the setting up of Gaia. But he is out of time, his brain does not last long and creating a new one does not help. He wants to combine with Fallom, with her long life as a Spacer, it is enough to ensure that Galaxia is setup; Galaxia is the only way to safeguard the Galaxy against aliens from other Galaxies.

Foundation's Edge by Isaac Asimov (1982)

Imagine being in a position where you are begged by fans and forced by your publisher to write another book. This book is the sequel to a series that was voted as the Best All-Time Series (a one time award that was never repeated). And the book that you write becomes a bestseller for the first time in your career and wins awards from the industry. This is what happened to Isaac Asimov and the book - Foundation's Edge. The book was published in 1982 (and since the Second Foundation was published in 1953, this one was a long time in coming). It was much thicker than the first 3 books of the Foundation series and was also a bestseller on the New York times best-seller list (and given that Asimov was a prolific writer, it took a long time for him to reach the best-seller list).

Foundation's Edge by Isaac Asimov (1982)

Foundation's Edge takes the timeline of 500 years after the birth of the Foundation, half-way into the 1000 year period predicted by Hari Seldon for the formation of the next Galactic Empire. The Mule has long been gone, and the distortion introduced in the Seldon Plan by the emergence of the Mule has gone away (due to the careful attention of the Second Foundation). So too has the thought of the Second Foundation, ever since the First Foundation believed it destroyed the agents of the Second Foundation on Terminus.
However, not everyone believes this. The all powerful Mayor of Terminus (and consequently the ruler of the Foundation), Harla Branno, is not sure whether the Second Foundation is truly gone. Similarly, there is a young and impetuous Councilman, Golan Trevize also believes that the Second Foundation exists and is willing to ask this in open Council even though the Mayor is not willing. He has already confided his feelings to another young Councilman Munn Li Compor, who has however disclosed all this to the Mayor. The Mayor is all powerful right now, since there was a opening of the vault and an appearance by Hari Seldon that strengthened her position immensely; she is able to arrest Trevize and send him to exile. She wants him to search for the Second Foundation, while apparently searching for the obscure hidden planet Earth with a older researcher Janov Pelorat. He is given the most advanced ship that the Foundation has, a gravity ship that takes its energy from the gravity forces in space.
Simultaneously, there are more political battles happening in Trantor, the home of the Second Foundation, where 2 upstarts are competing to be the next one to take over as First Speaker, with Stor Gendibal trying to warn about the belief that there is some power stronger than the Second Foundation. In this he is opposed by an opponent Delora Delarmi, who wants to diminish him since that would leave the path clear for her to be the next First Speaker.
In the midst of all this, the entire sequence is actually being guided by the planet of Gaia (Wikipedia), an extraordinary planet where everything is conscious, and part of one. Everything on the planet has one thought, one consciousness, and together the planet wields immense power, even stronger than the Second Foundation. The Gaia concept is also non-threatening in the sense that there is no ambition, but there is a touch of vanity since Gaia believes that the entire Galaxy should be like Gaia, with all elements of the Galaxy being part of one. The reason why Gaia is manipulating everyone is that it wants to bring the situation to a head, and make Trevize decide the future of the Galaxy (he apparently has a very strong intuition, and Gaia wants to him decide whether the future of the Galaxy should be based on the physical power of the First Foundation, or the mental control of the Second Foundation, or the wholeness of Gaia). Whatever decision he makes will be implemented by Gaia.