Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

All reviews copyright 1984-2016 Evelyn C. Leeper.


A DANCE WITH DRAGONS by George R. R. Martin:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/22/2012]

A DANCE WITH DRAGONS by George R. R. Martin (ISBN 978-0-553-80147-7) presents a dilemma. It is book five of a series. Everyone who has read it seems to agree it does not stand alone--that is, it will not make sense if I have not read the first four. Its fans say I should either read all five books, or not vote in this category. Well, neither of those things is going to happen. I can take one of three approaches. I could say that if everyone agrees that it does not stand alone, I will vote it last on that basis, because I am foolish enough to believe that a novel should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Or I could start it and decide for myself after a hundred pages or so whether it stands alone, and whether the writing, etc., seems worthy of a Hugo. Or I could watch the mini-series "Game of Thrones" (also nominated for a Hugo) and hope that provides enough background. (I opted for a fourth approach--reading the summaries of the first four novels in Wikipedia.)

To order A Dance with Dragons from amazon.com, click here.


A FEAST FOR CROWS by George R. R. Martin:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 05/05/2006]

Although I started Hugo-nominated A FEAST FOR CROWS by George R. R. Martin (ISBN 0-553-80150-3), I could not get interested in it, and gave up after about fifty pages. It has the additional problem of being the fourth (and apparently not last) in a fantasy series.

To order A Feast for Crows from amazon.com, click here.


THERE ARE TWO ERRORS IN THE THE TITLE OF THIS BOOK by Robert M. Martin:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 04/06/2007]

THERE ARE TWO ERRORS IN THE THE TITLE OF THIS BOOK by Robert M. Martin (ISBN-10 1-551-11493-3, ISBN-13 978-1-551-11493-4) is subtitled "A Sourcebook of Philosophical Puzzles, Paradoxes and Problems". Much will be familiar to readers of this sort of book, but Martin also includes a lot of paradoxes that I do not recall having seen before.

For example, here's one for physicists (page 132): Consider the following two statements:
1) Shadows do not pass through opaque objects.
2) If light doesn't fall on something, then it doesn't cast a shadow.

Most people would agree with these. Okay, then, consider the following scenario: I am standing with a light behind me and a wall in front of me. I cast a shadow on the wall. Now I hold a coffee mug in front of me. Consider the shadow cast on the wall that is directly in line with the light and the mug. Is it cast by me, or by the mug? The former violates premise #2, the latter premise #1.

Martin also seems to have an interesting response to those who claim that morality comes from religion (i.e., God) (page 175). Consider, he says, that you receive a message purporting to be from God. Let's say that you go outside and your hydrangea is burning, but not consumed. Out of it comes a voice saying, "You've got it all wrong. I want you to lie, cheat, steal, murder, and throw beer cans on your professor's lawn." Obviously if you did not originally believe in God, you would not believe the voice, but even if you did, the probability is high that you would not believe that the voice was God telling you what to do. Why not? Because you have some notion independent of God about what is good and what is not.

Some of Martin's paradoxes are just variations on better-known points. For example, he asks whether there can be a true statement which is impossible for you to believe. Yes--consider the statement "X is dead," where X is your name. It will be true one day, but when it is, it will be impossible for you to believe it. [page 80] This is just the contra-positive of Descartes's "Cogito, ergo sum."

This is just a small sample of what Martin covers in this book. Each chapter is independent of the others, so you do not have to read this straight through, and taking a break to think about each chapter is probably a good idea. (The reviews on amazon.com indicate that this is a great book for teenagers as well as adults.)

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 08/05/2017]

THERE ARE TWO ERRORS IN THE THE TITLE OF THIS BOOK by Robert M. Martin (ISBN 978-0-921149-98-0) was sabotaged on the front cover. The claim is that there is one error (the double "the") and so the title is self-contradictory: there is only one error, so the title is wrong. But then the title is right, because its misstatement is the second error. But then it is wrong, and so on.

The problem is that the title is not rendered in all upper case, but rather as "There Are Two Errors In The The Title of this Book". So in addition to the doubled "The", there are *four* errors of capitalization ("in" and the two "the"s should not be capitalized, and "this" should be), so there are five errors in the title, making the overall statement true (if there are five errors, there are two errors).

Martin proves that Walt Whitman was on the right track when he said "Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself. (I am large, I contain multitudes.)" (Or Ralph Waldo Emerson's "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.") Consider a list of all your beliefs. Most people will agree that quite probably they are mistaken in one of their beliefs. So at the end of this list add, "At least one of the other statements on this list is false." Then the list of your beliefs, including this one, is inconsistent.

But it's even worse. A set of inconsistent statement implies any statement. (That is, "today is Monday" and "today is not Monday" logically implies "there is a unicorn in my backyard.") So given your belief in a set of inconsistent, if you believe everything implied by your beliefs, you believe anything.

Also, his rules for shadows seem to be paradoxical, but are really based on a misunderstanding/misinterpretation of what a shadow is. Rule 1 is that shadows do not pass through opaque objects; rule 2 is that if light does not fall on something, it does not cast a shadow. But what of the situation in which you stand in front of a light facing the opposite wall and holding in front of you a coffee mug. Your body casts most of the shadow on the wall, but what casts the shadow where lines from the light through the coffee mug fall? It cannot be you; your shadow cannot pass through the mug. It cannot be the mug; the light does not fall on it.

The answer--my answer, anyway--is that a shadow is not a *thing* of these sort these rules, or even the term "cast a shadow," imply. A shadow is the absence of light caused by the interruption of a light source. Whether or not there is a coffee mug, there will be an absence of light on the wall where your body blocks it. The shadow is not something that "passes" through anything (including the air); it is the state of not receiving light that is being received in its near vicinity.

Martin goes through an argument explaining why (he believes that) dogs cannot lie. It might be convincing were it not for the fact that in ARE WE SMART ENOUGH TO KNOW HOW SMART ANIMALS ARE? (which I reviewed in last week's issue of the MT VOID) Frans de Waal gives several examples of animals apparently doing what Martin would consider lying, or at least engaging in deceptive behavior. As with so many things, everyone thinks it impossible until they see it, and then suddenly it seems perfectly normal.

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