Six Degrees from artificial intelligence to destiny fulfilled
This month’s Six Degrees of Separation (hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best) begins with Murmur by Will Eaves; a book I haven’t read. Some quick research revealed that this novel delves into the consciousness of the mathematician and and cryptologist Alan Turing during the period when he was undergoing chemical castration as punishment for gross indecency.
Turing’s pioneering work on artificial intelligence enabled the German naval code (Enigma) to be broken during World War 2, shortening the war by as much as two years and saving countless lives.
Artificial intelligence, its promises and dangers, were explored in 2001: A SpaceOdyssey by the British science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke. On a mission to Saturn the on-board computer HAL 9000 is meant to maintain the space craft and protect the astronauts but it begins to develop a will of its own. Clarke’s novel highlights problems that can crop up when man builds machines, the inner workings of which he does not fully comprehend and therefore cannot fully control.
The word odyssey has come to mean any epic journey. In Swahili such a journey is known as a safari. And that links me nicely to Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux. It’s an account of a journey taken when he was pushing 60, from Egypt to South Africa, taking in Uganda and Malawi, countries where he had lived and worked in his youth. What he finds are countries that are falling apart through war, famine, Aids, political chaos. He seems most incensed by the convoys of aid workers he encounters. In his eyes they’re ineffective because they’re foreigners who don’t engage with local people who actually know the country and the cultures they are seeking to help.
Paul Theroux had a famous falling out with his friend, the Nobel Laureate V S Naipaul, who also drew upon his experience of Africa in his own writing. A Bend in the River published in 1979 tells the story of Salim, a small shopkeeper who buys a business in a town at “a bend in the river” in an unnamed African country. Though highly praised and shortlisted for the Booker Prize, it was also criticised for a perceived defence of European colonialism in Africa.
It’s to a river in one of those colony-ruling countries that our journey now heads.
Diane Setterfield’s Once Upon a River is set at an ancient inn on the Thames. On a dark midwinter’s night the regulars are engaged in their favourite entertainment, telling stories. The door bursts open on an injured stranger. In his arms is the drowned corpse of a little child. Hours later the dead girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life. Is it a miracle? Or are there magical forces at work?
This is a novel that straddles the line between realism and the supernatural. Magical realism isn’t a genre I enjoy much which is why I struggled through Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children.
In essence the novel is the life story of Saleem Sinai, a child born on the stroke of midnight, at the exact moment that the newly independent state of India comes into being. He and the 500 plus other children born at the same time, enter the world with unusual powers — in his case psychic and olfactory powers — that create a mystical bond between them.
The mention of children with remarkable powers takes me to the final novel in my chain.
In Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights, Lyra Belacqua is a young girl who inhabits a universe parallel to our own. Raised in the cloistered world of Jordan College, Oxford, she has an uncanny ability to see past, present, and future and the truth by using a golden compass or an alethiometer. The skill enables her to fulfil an ancient prophecy that she is “destined to bring about the end of destiny” and ensure the stability of the universes.
Maybe my imagination is working overtime but maybe there is a parallel between Turing and Lyra; two people destined to be saviours of mankind.
And there I think it’s time to bring this chain to an end otherwise the connections might become even more ridiculous.
13 thoughts on “Six Degrees from artificial intelligence to destiny fulfilled”
Interesting way to look at this one! I followed, many years later, Paul Theroux in Peace Corps in Malawi. His National Geographic article on his return to Malawi came out while I was there. I have a mixed record with his books. Most I’ve loved. I have not read the one you mention.
Great links – not at all ridiculous! 🙂
Thanks for the boost to my confidence Sandra
Not ridiculous at all! That’s a great link from Murmur to 2001, Karen. I’m not sure anyone else’s 6 Degrees that I’ve read picked up that baton.
Really, and I was thinking it was so obvious. Oh well….
As always, I love seeing the different directions everyone goes off in with these chains. The only one of these I’ve read is 2001 which I did as a joint thing, watching the film at the same time, and became a huge fan of them both. I’d like to read VS Naipaul someday… another author I’ve managed to miss…
I’m not a great fan of Naipaul – my husband is far more into him
This is always a fun little activity linking books like this. I’ve only read the Diane Setterfield, but I’m curious about the Rushdie novel-is this the one that got that fatwa put on him for awhile?
That was imposed after he published Satanic Voices
right! That’s the one
Paul Theroux did enormous damage to aid efforts around the world. By popularising the myth that foreign aid is ineffective, he gave people a justification for not only not donating (“charity begins at home”) he also fostered the cutting of aid budgets by wealthy nations because governments know they can do this and there will be no outcry.
There was an element of truth in what he saw about the way agencies work (it’s been echoed in other quarters) but he went over the top.