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Galatea 2.2


Galatea 2.2

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    Available in PDF Format | Galatea 2.2.pdf | English
    Richard Powers(Author)
After many years of living abroad, a young writer returns to the UnitedStates to take up the position of Humanist-in-Residence at the Centre for the Study of Advanced Sciences. There he encounters Philip Lentz, an outspoken cognitive neurologist intent on using computers to model the human brain. Lentz involves the writer in an outlandish and irresistible project: to train a neural net by reading a canonical list of Great Books. Through repeated tutorials, the machine grows gradually more worldly, until it demands to know its own age, sex, race, and reason for existing...

"'An extraordinary and brilliant novel of ideas.' Time Out 'Nothing less than brilliant' John Updike 'If Powers were an American writer of the nineteenth century...he'd probably be the Herman Melville of Moby Dick. His picture is that big.' Margaret Atwood, New York Review of Books 'Sharply written and extremely clever.' D. J. Taylor, Mail on Sunday"

2.2 (10204)
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Book details

  • PDF | 352 pages
  • Richard Powers(Author)
  • Atlantic Books; Main edition (1 April 2010)
  • English
  • 10
  • Crime, Thrillers & Mystery
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Review Text

  • By D. Cottam on 26 November 2007

    This year I discovered Richard Powers' writing. His books are extraordinary and ambitious in their scope and diversity. Galatea 2.2 is an exploration of the way thought and language construct a multi layered reality.It examines the way the brain talks to itself by trying to make a powerful computer imitate the uniquely human act of reading literature. Surprisingly, it is deeply engaging on an emotional level. He even made me empathise with the sufferings of an artificial intelligence!The cover image is wonderfully apt. From the opening poem by Emily Dickinson to the final paragraphs I was satisfied at every level by his marvellous linguistic gifts and his ability to construct a tightly woven and constantly surprising tale. It was also interesting to encounter the fictionalised author as a character in his own text, not least because he reflects on what lay behind some of his earlier writings. This is an important book by a writer of exceptional gifts. Few novelists can match his erudition and originality. Best of all, his intellect does not detract from the humanity and emotional life of his characters.

  • By S. Parkin on 17 May 2007

    I discovered Richard Powers by accident. I found a copy of 'Gain' in a remaindered bookshop. It didn't look promising, with a picture of a tap and a bar of soap on the cover and a book description promising a corporate history of a soap-making company, but I vaguely remembered a faourable Updike reiew of 'Galatea 2.2' and thought it worth a shot. Later, I bought 'The Time of our singing', similarly reduced in price. Another rather lame title. Another over-literal cover design--black-and-white halves, with a black singer (too dark, in fact, for the character in the novel). The author's name also, on a subconscious level, put me off, with the dick-power associations of a pseudonymous author of macho thrillers. Both books languished on my shelves for months. I now own all 9 Powers novels, and he has displaced Pynchon and Foster Wallace in my pantheon. His erudition is balanced by a powerful emotional punch that Pynchon never allows hiself, and the prose, though overwrought at times, constantly arrests, grabbing ones attention with startling similes, layered imagery and sudden changes of tone. Dialogue is contrived, mostly, but I'd rather read something that makes me think and wonder than something naturalistic. The themes are profound, I want to reread almost as soon as I've finished a Powers novel---quite simply, he's the greatest novelist I've read---and I've read a great many novels! Any yet, when I mention his name to anyone, I just get a blank stare. What's the problem? I've alluded to some possibilities---his titles are often clunky and over-cute. 'Operation Wandering Soul', for example. 'Operation' because the protagonist (Richard Kraft---Power in German!) is a surgeon. 'The Gold Bug Variations'--punning, mildly embarrassing. The Time of our singing'---it's about singing, and it's about time! 'Gain', which sounds like the title of a boardroom blockbuster. Etcetera. When combined with the author's name (interestingly, in 'Galatea' he writes that he was advised to adopt a pseudonym--ironic, since his name already sounds like one) one feels disposed to misjudge the book by it's cover. The American covers I've seen, by the way, are far more tastefully designed than the British ones. Finally, all attempts to describe the plots (which, like the characters, are mostly vehicles for the ideas, and the virtuoso artistry of the prose) make the books sound awkward and contrived. 'Galatea 2.2' is a stunning book. I can't describe it. Just read it!

  • By Herman Norford on 7 December 2010

    This is the sixth novel by Richard Powers that I have read and he has never failed to amaze me. In reviewing Galatea 2.2, I was torn between using one of two captions. The one that I settled on using suggests Powers in reflexive mood and is meant to capture the autobiographical drift of the novel but I could have equally used a more abstract caption, namely: "Language, Knowledge and Meaning" to reflect the fact that this is also a novel of ideas. This is just an indication of the complexity and richness of Galatea 2.2.This is perhaps Richard Powers most autobiographical novel. In it Powers casts himself as the main character and first person narrator. The character, Powers, has broken from a relationship with someone he calls "C" and has returned to live in a place he calls "U". He obtains a post in an academic institution known as the Centre for the Study of Advance Sciences where he meets Philip Lentz, a computer and cognitive neurologist scientist, who is working on a project. Lentz aims to build a computer based neural network that will be able to read and comment on any text. To this aim Lentz recruits Powers to teach the computer network how to read, understand and interpret great literary texts. The development of the network takes various stages finally ending with it being called Helen. To intensify matters a bet is made with another academic that the project is unachievable. Meanwhile, whilst working on the project at the centre, Powers falls for a literary theorist, know as "A".That mixture of issues would suggest that the novel is not an easy read - and so it is not. However, I found it a delight to read. The prose is lively and energetic; it bristles with metaphor, puns and allusions to other texts. In this novel Powers takes time to pay homage to great writers both past and present. Rather confusingly and cheekily the Powers character has a number of nicknames and in a nod to Marcel Proust he has the character Philip Lentz call him Marcel.More important than aesthetic pleasures is the subject matter or themes pursued in the novel. One theme that emerges is that Powers addresses the issue about what it means to be a conscious human being from an interesting angle - namely what does it take to construct an artificial intelligent device. By flagging up the difficulties of teaching the computer network to think Powers highlight our unique special condition as human beings. Another example is that Galatea 2.2 is also an exploration of modern life in an age of high technology and rapid scientific development. Here is Powers take on one aspect of the impact of the world wide web: "The web was a neighborhood more efficiently lonely than the one it replaced. Its solitude was bigger and faster. When relentless intelligence completed it program, when the terminal drop box brought the last barefoot, abused child online and everyone could at last say anything instantly to anyone else in existence, it seemed to me we'd still have nothing to say to each other and many more ways not to say it."Galatea 2.2 has weaknesses. One that stands out is that character development is sacrificed to Powers ambitions of getting across his ideas. The story is also over burdened with the language of computer science and this might have made it a mediocre novel were it not for the fact that there are passages that have profound emotional impact. One such passage is just after the middle of the novel where Lentz takes Powers to visit his wife who is in a nursing home for people suffering from dementia. The discussion about the home and the intellectual decline of once bright and active people is quite moving and provides an ironic contrast with the aim of developing a computer neural network that is conscious. The penny suddenly drops for Powers as he comes to realise that probably what lies behind Lentz's project is to find a cure for degenerative illness. The narrator sums up the whole project thus: "We could eliminate death. That was the long term idea. We might freeze the temperament of our choice. Suspend it painlessly above experience. Hold it forever at twenty two."As in the Pygmalion myth at which the title and story alludes, Powers realises his Galatea through the computer network and in some of the conversations between Powers and the network the questions raised by the network is at once thought provoking and touching. Of the six novels I have read this is not my favourite nonetheless for the dazzling use of language in the novel that alone commands a 5 star rating.

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