Friday, June 04, 2004

Books I Read on the Mexico Trip

OK, I started the first one while getting my oil changed, and finished the second one last night, but I read the bulk of them on the plane or bus or whatever in Mexico.

Count Down

Count Down : Six Kids Vie for Glory at the World's Toughest Math Competition is a book following a bunch of students competing for the US team in the International Mathematics Olympiad. You probably weren't aware there was such a thing. I was -- mainly because when I was growing up, and going to math camps, I knew some of the kids who competed, or aspired to compete, in them.

I was never part of that crowd -- for whatever reason, I'm not a "math contest" sort of guy. As I went on in mathematics, I discovered that there were some very good mathematicians who weren't, either, which made me feel better. Some of the math contest people seemed to look down their nose at the rest of us.

Anyway, since I was never part of that world, but knew a little bit about it, I thought it would be interesting to learn more. Turns out, well, I guess if it had been more interesting, the author would have had a lot less filler. There are mildly interesting, but extensive, digressions into things like the nature of intelligence.

Oh, well. Not too bad, and it did allow me to check for people I've met who are mentioned in the book. For the record: Alex Kasman, Julian Stanley and Jordan Ellenberg.

Rendevous with Rama

Rendevous with Rama won both the Hugo and Nebula awards when it was released in 1973. Of course, it is an excellent won these prizes, and it is written by Arthur C. Clarke, one of science fiction's great writers. So I make just a few observations.

First of all, Clarke's pacing is always very slow. But it is slow in a good way -- as a reader, I feel that Clarke is moving at the pace of the universe, and that the truth of the story will be revealed in due time. This slow pacing only really bothered me when watching the movie version of 2001, and then it didn't really bother me; it just induced a nap.

Secondly, I hadn't realized how often Clarke's work has to do with "First Contact" -- initial human contact with alien civilizations. Of course, this book and 2001 fall into that category. Childhood's End and, if I remember correctly, part of Songs of Distant Earth also do. Songs of Distant Earth is also a novel I remember as part of Clarke's slow pacing.

Thirdly, the book ends with a huge cliffhanger. And he didn't write the sequel for 16 years. Well, that would have been annoying if I had read the book, in say, high school.

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