Tractatus de lumine, by René Descartes — illustration from a posthumous publication of Descartes’ scientific works in Amsterdam, 1701.

Tractatus de lumine, by René Descartes — illustration from a posthumous publication of Descartes’ scientific works in Amsterdam, 1701.

Newton for ladies

Newton for ladies

The Fractal Prince

Books are magic: the only kind of magic that we know of in this universe. By “magic”, I mean, literally: the ability to act on reality by manipulating symbols that describe this reality. Cervantes, Borges, Terry Pratchett knew that books were magic; all those who wrote about stories, about reading and inventing stories, knew it. The Fractal Prince demonstrates that Hannu Rajaniemi knows it too.

The Fractal Prince is the brilliant sequel to the Quantum Thief, second novel in a planned trilogy. The plot revolves around the master thief and conman Jean le Flambeur – flambeur being a French name for the ones who live the high-life, spending lots of money, fast, in exciting and dangerous gambles. It is set in a distant future, where mind uploading is a common technology that has dramatically reshaped the solar system. Most of Earth and of the inner planets are under the control of the Founders, a gang of replicated personæ whose goal is to get rid of the matter boundaries and to build an information paradise for themselves. Their immense computational and technological power has made them, literally, gods – the gods of the virtual realities (the virs) that they have created. But they have antagonists: the Zoku, who have evolved from our contemporary gaming guilds, and the Oortians, who live in the outer boundaries of the system, trying to preserve their enhanced humanity in the cold depths of space.

In this world Jean le Flambeur is a mixture of Loki and Arsène Lupin. In the first novel Jean was in search of his past; in this one, the stakes are not so easily discovered. Let me just say that this is a novel about seductive lies, and pretty well aware that, as a novel, it’s a seductive lie itself. In that world where the frontiers between software and hardware have been disturbed, there are stories that come alive; when hardware and software melt, any sufficiently advanced form of meta-narration is indistinguishable from magic. There are, like in a lost and found manuscript, stories within stories, virs within virs, deceptions within deceptions, lies within lies. Read it and be abducted.

The Port-Royal Logic, a seminal work on logic, linguistics, philosophy, mathematics, and catholic theology. Bertrand Russell does not mention it in his essay Mathematics And The Metaphysicians; maybe this oversight is not deserved.

The Port-Royal Logic, a seminal work on logic, linguistics, philosophy, mathematics, and catholic theology. Bertrand Russell does not mention it in his essay Mathematics And The Metaphysicians; maybe this oversight is not deserved.

A monstrous pope-donkey, from a protestant pamphlet published in Geneva in 1557:

De deux monstres prodigieux, à savoir d’un asne-pape, qui fut trouvé à Rome en
la rivière du Tibre l’an 1496, et d’un veau-moine nay à Friberg en Misne l’an
1528, qui sont vrais présages de l’ire de Dieu: attestez et declarez, l’un par
P. Melancthon et l’autre par M. Luther, avec quelques exemples des jugemens de
Dieu en la mort espouvantable et désespoir de plusieurs, pour avoir abandonné
la vérité de l’Évangile.

A monstrous pope-donkey, from a protestant pamphlet published in Geneva in 1557:

De deux monstres prodigieux, à savoir d’un asne-pape, qui fut trouvé à Rome en la rivière du Tibre l’an 1496, et d’un veau-moine nay à Friberg en Misne l’an 1528, qui sont vrais présages de l’ire de Dieu: attestez et declarez, l’un par P. Melancthon et l’autre par M. Luther, avec quelques exemples des jugemens de Dieu en la mort espouvantable et désespoir de plusieurs, pour avoir abandonné la vérité de l’Évangile.

The first page of an Armenian / French phrasebook published in 1890. (Arjagang P̕arizi : Žoġovaçoy Gaġierēn Xōsic̕ or handipin i hasarakac̕ Keans by Anton Matatia Karakachian)

The first page of an Armenian / French phrasebook published in 1890. (Arjagang P̕arizi : Žoġovaçoy Gaġierēn Xōsic̕ or handipin i hasarakac̕ Keans by Anton Matatia Karakachian)

Devanagari characters, from China monumentis qua sacris qua profanis, nec non variis naturae et artis spectaculis, by Athanasius Kircher, Amsterdam, 1667.

Devanagari characters, from China monumentis qua sacris qua profanis, nec non variis naturae et artis spectaculis, by Athanasius Kircher, Amsterdam, 1667.

A transliteration page from a Georgian-Italian Dictionary published in 1629 in Rome; which was the first printed book using moveable type for Georgian script (mkhedruli).

A transliteration page from a Georgian-Italian Dictionary published in 1629 in Rome; which was the first printed book using moveable type for Georgian script (mkhedruli).

The Tree of Science, from a 1515 edition of Raymond Lull, who popularized an early form of symbolic logic and of paper computers in the XIIIth century.

The Tree of Science, from a 1515 edition of Raymond Lull, who popularized an early form of symbolic logic and of paper computers in the XIIIth century.

Whales, from the Description of the Northern Peoples, by Olaus Magnus. Page from a French translation published in 1561.

Du grand amour que portent les balenes à leurs petits. - Les balenes n’ont
point d’ouyes, comme autres poissons, mais prennent vent par des tuyaus ou
flutes qu’elles ont sus la tête. Elles portent leurs petits quand ils sont
foibles ou malades: & s’ils sont fort petits, les prennent en leur gueule.
Ce qu’elles font ordinairement quand elles sentent venir quelque orage ou
tempête: puis après les rejettent. Si par fortune ils sont demeurés sus terre,
la mere, étant en la mer, prent de l’eau en la gueule, qu’elle leur jette
en grand abondance, afin que par cela, ils ayent moyen de soi rejetter
en la mer. Or qu’ils soyent grandelets, la mere les acompagne. Ils croissent
aßés tôt, & sont en leur grandeur à dix ans.

The great love that whales have for their children. - Whales have no gills,
like other fishes, but take air from pipes or flutes that they have on the
top of their heads. They carry their children when they are weak or ill;
and if they are very young, they take them in their mouths. This is what
they ordinarily do when they see some storm or tempest coming: then
they free them back. If by accident they were left on the ground, the
mother, from the sea, takes water in her mouth, and spits it on them
in great abundance, so by this way they can be carried back into the sea.
When they are a bit larger, the mother accompanies them. They grow quite
early, and reach their size at ten years.
Whales, from the Description of the Northern Peoples, by Olaus Magnus. Page from a French translation published in 1561.

Du grand amour que portent les balenes à leurs petits. - Les balenes n’ont point d’ouyes, comme autres poissons, mais prennent vent par des tuyaus ou flutes qu’elles ont sus la tête. Elles portent leurs petits quand ils sont foibles ou malades: & s’ils sont fort petits, les prennent en leur gueule. Ce qu’elles font ordinairement quand elles sentent venir quelque orage ou tempête: puis après les rejettent. Si par fortune ils sont demeurés sus terre, la mere, étant en la mer, prent de l’eau en la gueule, qu’elle leur jette en grand abondance, afin que par cela, ils ayent moyen de soi rejetter en la mer. Or qu’ils soyent grandelets, la mere les acompagne. Ils croissent aßés tôt, & sont en leur grandeur à dix ans.

The great love that whales have for their children. - Whales have no gills, like other fishes, but take air from pipes or flutes that they have on the top of their heads. They carry their children when they are weak or ill; and if they are very young, they take them in their mouths. This is what they ordinarily do when they see some storm or tempest coming: then they free them back. If by accident they were left on the ground, the mother, from the sea, takes water in her mouth, and spits it on them in great abundance, so by this way they can be carried back into the sea. When they are a bit larger, the mother accompanies them. They grow quite early, and reach their size at ten years.