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Galatea 2.2: A Novel Paperback – January 1, 2004


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; Second Edition edition (January 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312423136
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312423131
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.4 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (64 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #78,507 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Cognitive neurologist and well-known writer team up to produce a machine that can pass a comprehensive exam in English literature, with predictably unpredictable results. Like The Gold Bug Variations, this is another of Powers' wild, unforgettable novels encompassing science, philosophy, and the frailty of mankind. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Powers, in his mid-30s and with four well-received books under his belt (Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance; The Gold Bug Variations; etc.), is among our most prodigious young novelists, and without a doubt our most cerebral. He seems bent on proving the novel to be a form capable of housing all manner of human thought and expression: art, music, genetic theory, linguistics and philosophy. In Galatea 2.2, Powers, known as an extremely private person, is writing about himself?Richard Powers, the cerebral author of four novels?in a most intimate fashion, detailing his loves, passions and failings. His objective, however, is nothing so mundane as self-portraiture. Typically, he has a bigger idea: in exploring the nature of consciousness, he is trying to build a conscious novel in much the same way that the novel's fictional Powers is trying to spark consciousness in a university computer. The result is a kind of double simulation of intelligence that is breathtakingly elegant. Powers the character, returns to a Midwestern university with a huge computer science department, after several years in Holland, where he has left behind the love of his life, who saw him through the first four books. As a visiting writer, his job is to bombard a computer network, which he comes to call Helen, with literature, music and conversation so that it will recognize beauty in some neuronal simulation, and therefore become conscious of it. Meanwhile, Powers reveals his life, including his career as a novelist (down to the mentioning of a rare picture of him in a PW interview four years ago). It's as if both Helen and the novel itself can be programmed into self-consciousness. In the course of tutoring Helen to be able to successfully interpret a piece of text in a manner indistinguishable from a human, Powers and Helen form an enchanting though eerie bond: she has "read" all his books; he knows her circuitry. Still, there remain mysteries that can't be accounted for by electron paths, in Helen's case, or by a theory of the self, in Powers's case. In the end, Powers is left with the conviction he started with: that intelligence is irreducible; it cannot be known. Although parts of the book seem hastily done or weakly felt (the university folk are rather two-dimensional, and Powers's crush on a rail-thin, obnoxious grad student is simply unaccountable), these are minor flaws in an otherwise ingenious performance.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Powers' is capable of a very fine, clear writing style.
Virgil
This book is dullsville; read it and feel absolutely nothing during the story's climax.
Asta
Characters are not fully fleshed out and the story arc self-terminates in many places.
Addison Dewitt

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Glen Engel Cox on July 18, 2002
Format: Paperback
Last year I added Powers' The Gold Bug Variations to my favorites list (a set of roughly 100 novels and stories that I consider the best things to have passed my way) and stated then that I would have to find out if his other novels had the same appeal for me. When scouring the used bookstore shelves, his name is often the one I start with, hoping to find a copy of his rare first novel, Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance. Instead, I often saw copies of his fourth--Operation Wandering Soul--which I have decided to pass for the moment. Then I discovered this one. Powers again on science, this time artificial consciousness. Sounded like a winner to me.
I knew it wouldn't be the same as The Gold Bug Variations. That novel had a *sine qua none* aspect of perfection that I doubted could be matched even by its author. What I had not expected was a meditation on that book--a reflection or introspection of his career as a novelist to date. The main character in Galatea 2.2 is a man named Richard Powers, a man who has written three novels and is just finishing his fourth as the book opens. The novels have the same titles and subjects as those of the author of this book, but can we assume that the protagonist and the author are the same? (One branch of literary theory says that no author is the same between books. That as soon as any single work is finished, that author is unattainable--dead, so to speak, to the world. I was surreptitiously referring to this above.) Why is it an issue? Because the Powers displayed herein is so flawed that you don't want to believe it is the same person. Yes, I still have that silly illusion that authors can somehow be better than the rest of us, to be above spite and greed and depression. But one has only to look at oneself to see the problem with that belief.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Rob Shimmin on May 10, 2002
Format: Paperback
While I was reading Galatea, I was entranced. The book tells two stories side by side. In one, the protagonist (not coincidentally also named Richard Powers) is a washed-up author enlisted by a computational neuroscientist to train a artifical neural net to parse, understand, and comment on English literature. The others is Powers' fictionalized autobiography, describing his ultimately failed 10-year relationship with the unnamed woman C.
Both stories are beautiful. They warn you in advance they are going to break your heart, but they proceed to do so with such an honest approach to human inadequacy and regret that although the end is filled with sentiment, it has earned the right to that sentiment. There was not a character in the book I did not love.
In the science fiction storyline, Powers uses a highly novel approach to the genre: actually writing about science and scientists. The story of discovery proceeds incrementally through several tweaks and re-implementations of the developing artificial intelligence. It is one of the few novels I have read that adequately captures the feeling of doing research in a highly speculative field, but does so without becoming tedious. Similarly, the scientists Powers works with have fully developed lives outside their research. One gets the feeling that these are real people that you would like to know yourself, people with lives that the book only scratches the surface of.
The autobiography is also well-conducted, being about himself without being self-indulgent. From the beginning of his relationship with C., Powers simply expresses regret over his inability to be the person C. needed him to be at any given time until the assymetry of their relationship hollows it out and kills it.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By taking a rest HALL OF FAME on August 30, 2000
Format: Paperback
Richard Powers is a gifted writer, a rather unusual measure of that are the reviews that people write about his work. With the usual exception, those that read his work take what he has written, and integrate it in to their own ideas. His books are not just entertainment. Another reviewer suggested the Author allows for this ambiguity in his writing, he allows the reader the freedom of opinion on outcome, the ability to make a choice. The primary subject he presents in this work is one that will continue to grow from theory, until it forces fundamental beliefs to be questioned, and bring out the most Fundamentalist of Luddites, and with them debate that will carry the potential for disruption, or worse, violence.
Mr. Powers has a talent for writing about arcana and making the subjects accessible. Unlike many reviewers, my knowledge of the pursuit of Artificial Intelligence is strictly that of an amateur. I found that Mr. Powers brought credibility to a theme that has been little more than bad Science Fiction in the hands of other Authors. He included all the tech-talk, but he used language in its most basic forms to first make the project appear possible, to bringing the true enormity of what will be required before anything akin to sentience can be achieved/created.
The written words, when he collected them into novel form, also became the deciding factor in his initial carbon-based personal relationship. When silicon took the place of carbon the importance of language was increased exponentially. Neither relationship was fruitful.
One reviewer queried that when we finished the book did the experience stop or is it continuing even now. If you have never read this Author, what I write might suggest I have a form of dementia.
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