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Reviews in General Publications

Salon March 31st
A long, thoughtful review by Charles Taylor of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Scholastic):

The hero of J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" is an outsider, one who, like many other outsiders in kids' literature, learns to value the things that have always made him feel separate from the people around him, and who also learns that the means of escape from his solitary existence has been within him all along. The book is a dream of belonging, and of discovering self-sufficiency and courage. What matters, though, is the flesh Rowling puts on those thematic bones. I don't think you can read 100 pages of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" before you start feeling that unmistakable shiver that tells you you're reading a classic.
The book is first in a projected cycle of seven. Plus: an interview with Rowling by Margaret Weir, who mentions that Scholastic has moved up US publication of the second book in the series, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, from September to June. (More about the books in Aether Vibrations.)
(Wed 31 Mar 99)

New York Times Book Review, March 28, 1999
Gerald Jonas's is pleased, in his science fiction column, that John Barnes's Finity (Tor) is something different from his last book (Kaleidoscope Century); it ''starts from a premise as edgy as anything conjured up by Philip K. Dick'' -- the many worlds hypothesis of quantum theory; then the author ''goes far beyond such conjectures to question the nature of reality itself''. Also covered: Barnes's collection Apostrophes and Apocalypses (Tor).

Scattered among the stories, which play agreeable and stimulating variations on many of the genre's longest-standing themes, are little essays that give Barnes the opportunity to vent his strongly held opinions on almost everything. A self-proclaimed atheist who constructs imaginary futures with the aid of computer spreadsheets believes that science fiction, having lost its onetime central metaphor of space travel to the bean counters at NASA, is now in danger of losing its franchise as an ''escape hatch'' for teen-agers. While some might applaud this as a sign of progress, Barnes argues that a genre can do a lot worse than function as a dream machine for adolescents; he likens their efforts to figure out the adult world to the work that readers must do to comprehend any fiction set in a possible future.
Finally, Jonas finds Vernor Vinge's A Deepness in the Sky (Tor) too much of a good thing. Also in this week's NYTBR: a short mostly positive review of Jerry Jay Carroll's Dog Eat Dog (Ace), and a short mostly negative review of Anne Rice's Vittorio, the Vampire (Knopf).

Denver Post, March 28, 1999
Science fiction columnist Fred Cleaver reviews the two John Barnes books above, as well as Vernor Vinge's novel, plus Guy Gavriel Kay's Sailing to Sarantium (HarperPrism).

Washington Post, March 28, 1999
Elizabeth Hand reviews Melvin Jules Bukiet's Signs and Wonders (Picador), which she calls ''the Real Thing -- a daringly original millennial novel, horrific and hilarious by turns, brilliant, black, bitterly funny.''

CNN, March 25, 1999
L.D. Meagher reviews Gregory Benford's nonfiction Deep Time (Avon).

New York Review of Books, March 25, 1999
A long essay/review by John R. Searle (a distinguished philosopher and computer scientist) considers Ray Kurzweil's The Age of Spiritual Machines (Viking). Searle summarizes Kurzweil's arguments that increasing capacity of computers will lead to conscious, or 'spiritual', machines and that humans will download their minds to 'hardware' supported by nanotechnology.

It is important to emphasize that all of this is seriously intended. Kurzweil does not think he is writing a work of science fiction, or a parody or satire. He is making serious claims that he thinks are based on solid scientific results. He is himself a distinguished computer scientist and inventor and so can speak with some authority about current technology.
But Searle is not convinced:
Suppose you took seriously the project of building a conscious machine. How would you go about it? The brain is a machine, a biological machine to be sure, but a machine all the same. So the first step is to figure out how the brain does it and then build an artificial machine that has an equally effective mechanism for causing consciousness. These are the sorts of steps by which we built an artificial heart. The problem is that we have very little idea of how the brain does it. Until we do, we are most unlikely to produce consciousness artificially in nonbiological materials. When it comes to understanding consciousness, ours is not the age of spiritual machines. It is more like the age of neurobiological infancy, and in our struggles to get a mature science of the brain, Moore's Law provides no answers.
(Tue 30 Mar 99)

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