MixedThe Wall Street JournalWith habitual insouciance, the writer blurs the distinction between individual and species ... The author’s enthusiasm for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’s predictive scale model of San Francisco Bay is infectious, but the very act of scaling the entire bay down to the size of a football field implies some complexity is lost—despite any claim to the contrary. And they leave to one side the reasons why the Bay Model was demoted to a tourist attraction, the calculations passing instead to a supercomputer based in Vicksburg, Miss ... The author scorns captains of digital industry such as Elon Musk, Bill Gates and Shane Legg, who warn that AI presents humanity’s \'biggest existential threat.\' But the book’s answer to adversarial AI appears to be the hope that the intelligences we construct will join the envisioned planetary web of more-than-human solidarity. Given the difficulty of forging lasting solidarity among humans alone, it’s difficult to see how this proposal could be achieved before AI surpasses human intelligence—a prospect most experts predict within a century or so. Readers who agree with the author that the climate crisis is \'the central question of our age,\' and who share their concern at the inequality, injustice and environmental destruction of the Anthropocene, will find Ways of Being inspiring. But it’s hard to see how it will persuade those with their hands on the levers of power to set course for the \'infinitely entangled\' world, \'singing, full-throated, the song of its own becoming\' that the artist would prefer.
Olga Ravn, Tr. Martin Aitkin
PositiveThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)A story of rising tensions ... The voices of humans and humanoids are almost indistinguishable as they describe the disturbing dreams, imaginary smells, skin complaints and wild thoughts that seem to be provoked by these mysterious things, which hum, or ooze resin, or lay eggs ... Ravn’s technology is an uncanny mixture of \'biomaterial\' and machine, and her characters, locations and statements are all numbered. The novel’s sense of dislocation is only enhanced by the fact that some statements are missing; the ones that remain appear not quite in order ... There may still be division in Ravn’s twenty-second century, but humans and humanoids alike answer to a distant, faceless corporation. If that’s a fate worth avoiding, there is still plenty of work for us all to do.
MixedThe Wall Street JournalMr. Davies struggles not only with the difficulties of explaining demanding concepts to a nontechnical audience but also with the constraints of his book’s chosen format ... These challenges become only more acute when Mr. Davies explores how cosmology is determined by the physics of the very small ... A reader meeting the idea of charge conjugation, parity and time-reversal symmetry for the first time might be tempted merely to shrug ... Mr. Davies a keen insight into the realities of research ... He also offers perspective on the changing fashions of scientific opinion on subjects such as Einstein’s cosmological constant or the likelihood of extraterrestrial life ... sometimes the author’s straightforward prose can tip over into bathos.
Gabriela Ybarra, Trans. by Natasha Wimmer
PositiveThe Guardian... a bold examination of silence and mortality ... The short, declarative sentences of Natasha Wimmer’s translation reflect the direct, minimalist prose of the Spanish original, a style Ybarra chose partly to allow her some distance.