Krakatoa: The Day The World Exploded by Simon Winchester, which is about, as you probably guessed from the title, the explosion of Krakatoa on August 27, 1883. Winchester is one of my favorite authors of general non-fiction, and I’d highly recommend his The Professor And The Madman, one of his accounts of the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary.
Anyway, I could say quite a bit about both of these books, but the book on Krakatoa just felt timely, what with the eruption in Iceland a few months ago. And Krakatoa was an explosion that significantly changed the world in quite a few ways, both lower the temperature of the planet much like Mt. Tambora and “the year without a summer,” but Krakatoa also affected the way we look at our world and us. For the first time, the “global village,” as Marshall McLuhan would say, was assembled through technology such as the telegraph and news traveled faster to and from more remote places, and in this particular case, that news was that the world wasn’t all that it seemed, and that our relationship with nature could be quite fragile in places.
The second book:
Love And Sex With Robots: The Evolution Of Human-Robot Relationships by David Levy. At first I thought this was going to just a silly little read, but it’s actually quite fun and interesting, dealing not just with human/robot couplings, but with mankind’s long history of emotional attachments to our technological creations, and our seemingly continuing return to synthetic love and how it can be as important to us as “the real thing.”
And, obviously, this is something we’ve talked about before here.
But it brought up things that I didn’t know before, which is embarrassing in a regard, but talking about the creation of the vibrator, the book brings up the word hysteria pretty much translates from the Greek as “womb sickness.” For a long time prior to the early 1900s, many woman would suffer from a “madness” due to “sexual dysfunction” and it would be the job of a doctor or a midwife to essentially bring them to paroxysm or orgasm to cure them.
And, of course, coincidentally, one of our favorite writers, Tracy Clark-Flory, would link to a similarly related article, “Turn Right, My Love” from The New York Times on her tumblr the other day:
Unlike my wife, my GPS voice is completely subservient. She gives me something I want and doesn’t ask anything in return. All I have to do is plug her in every now and then and she’s happy.
Our relationship is all about me.
And therein lies the boon to my marriage. Having someone around whose sole role is to serve me gives me what I want as a man (efficiency and attention) while not threatening what my wife wants as a woman (kindness and equality).
People are just so weird. It’s wonderful. Anyway, the book opens with a quote from this 2006 article from The Economist, talking about South Korea is pushing to have domestic helper robots in every home in it’s country by 2020 and then quoting Henrik Christensen, the chairman of the European Robotics Network…
Probably the area of robotics that is likely to prove most controversial is the development of robotic sex toys, says Dr Christensen. “People are going to be having sex with robots in the next five years,” he says. Initially these robots will be pretty basic, but that is unlikely to put people off, he says. “People are willing to have sex with inflatable dolls, so initially anything that moves will be an improvement.” To some this may all seem like harmless fun, but without any kind of regulation it seems only a matter of time before someone starts selling robotic sex dolls resembling children, says Dr Christensen. This is dangerous ground. Convicted paedophiles might argue that such robots could be used as a form of therapy, while others would object on the grounds that they would only serve to feed an extremely dangerous fantasy.
So, the question is: When do we start falling in love with our tools and how does that reflect our own personal reality and view of the world around us?
Oh, and the third book:
I haven’t actually started reading it yet, but it looks like I’m about to take the leap and join the rest of America in reading this. Who else has read this? What did you think?
I know Benjamin Light said he saw the Swedish film version of the first book in the trilogy – The Millennium trilogy, which is a name I like – and that he wasn’t crazy about it. I think they’ve already finished the third film over in Sweden, and any second now we should hear about casting for the American version of the films (which will still be set in Sweden), which will be interesting in a way similar to creation of an American version of Let The Right One In. I can’t wait to see K-Stew sneer her way through this one.