Most people with even a passing interest in science fiction will have heard of Isaac Asimov, a writer responsible for hundreds of books and who created a compellingly intricate fictional universe in which he explores complex cultural issues and delves into the mystery of what it means to be human. He accomplishes the latter primarily through his treatment of robots and artificial intelligence, using synthetic life forms as an effective foil for organic ones. An effective example of this dynamic is The Positronic Man, a 1992 novel co-written by Asimov and Robert Silverberg and based on a 1976 novella by Asimov titled The Bicentennial Man. The 1999 film Bicentennial Man, starring Robin Williams, is based on both of these works, and all three deal heavily with the theme of emergent humanity.
The Positronic Man is Andrew Martin, who begins his existence as a standard model of household robot, designed to perform various service tasks for the family to which he is assigned. However, it quickly becomes apparent to Andrew’s owners that he is something more than a robot of the sort that exists in Asimov’s universe. He displays a spark of creativity and potential for distinctly non-robotic thinking, traits which excite some of the humans around him and deeply trouble others. As the novel progresses, Andrew himself gains an understanding of his unique nature—and along with it a motivation to forge his own destiny free of the restrictions, both social and technological, which govern his fellow machines. His adoption of the name Andrew (derived from his serial number, NDR-113) ends up having been the first of many increasingly significant steps he takes along the continuum linking robot and human.
The novel presents Andrew’s situation, with all of its paradoxes and intricacies, in a precise and almost technical manner. As a result, it reads almost like an essay on the definition of humanity, with various characters arguing whether or not a machine can truly be said to be alive. Every stumbling block Andrew encounters, from attempting to gain legal recognition of his freedom to wearing clothes for the first time, addresses a small piece of the puzzle that is sentience. Many readers have felt that this leaves the novel feeling coldly clinical in its approach, lacking an emotional punch that one would think would be central to a work dealing with our shared humanity.
Enter Robin Williams, who plays Andrew in Bicentennial Man. The movie addresses the same issues as the book, but the approach is substantially different. While many of the climactic conflicts in the book take place in courtrooms, those in the movie are at weddings and in deathbed conversations. The emotional elements are pushed to the foreground, arguably at the expense of some of the more complex philosophical issues. The performances of the film’s actors, particularly Sam Neill and Oliver Platt, give a somewhat different answer to the question of what makes us human than was found in the book. Unfortunately, many moviegoers found that the film went too far in this direction; Bicentennial Man had a somewhat cool reception, and is generally regarded as having failed to meet the potential of its source material. Nonetheless, it is a heartwarming story in its own right, and worth viewing if for no other reason than to contrast it with Asimov’s version.
The Positronic Man is available to borrow at E.P. Foster Library, as is Bicentennial Man. Please note that both of the previous links will connect you to our new catalog, which has many exciting new search features that can help you find whatever materials you are looking for. If you would like assistance with navigating the new catalog, feel free to call or stop by the library, and remember that you can still access the classic catalog and use it to search the Ventura County Library’s holdings.
Carefully assembled by Ronald Martin.
Americans spend over sixty billion dollars annually on their pets. The average household spends about $500 a year on pets that range from cats, dogs, and rabbits to exotic birds and reptiles.
With all the time, money, and love we lavish on our pets, it’s important to know how to care for them. Foster Library has many books on cats, dogs, and pets in general to assist you in choosing the best pets for your family and to help you learn how to care for them after you bring them into your home.
Resident Photographer Aleta A. Rodriguez
Ventura County Library joins the Library of Congress and many others in paying tribute to the generations of African Americans who struggled with adversity to achieve full citizenship in American society.
For starters, in our eLibrary under "Biography":
* Explore Chelsea House Biographies - their featured collection this month highlights Black History Month.
* Browse Gale Virtual Reference Library's "Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History"
Enjoy exploring - it's all free with your library card!
We have launched a beta version of our new Catalog! We are quite excited about it as it has new and more efficient search capabilities than our Classic Catalog.
Once in our classic catalog, find the new catalog by clicking on the tab in the upper right (see <== image).
After your initial search, see the left sidebar of the search results for filters (include or exclude): authors, other titles, publication year, languages, library, series, etc.
As always, you can request an item and log into your account.
It is a work in progress and we encourage your feedback and participation. Try it out and let us know what you think!
Send your comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org
For our patrons who wish to download books: By searching with the default setting ("Everything"), you can then limit results to ebook and eaudiobook content by selecting/checking the eBook, eAudiobook, Electronic Resources, etc. filter under "Format" in the left sidebar.
Jhumpa Lahiri’s first novel, The Namesake, tells the story of an Indian couple who, joined in an arranged marriage, begin their lives together as new immigrants in America. Their journey begins steeped in the alienation and culture shock that the two encounter as they settle in and begin building a home and family. The novel is ultimately a multigenerational saga, devoting itself first to the young couple, then to their experiences as young parents, their relationship with their American-born children who become teenagers immersed in contemporary culture, and finally the lives of those children as they grow into adulthood themselves.
Lahiri manages to create an engaging narrative which explores the nature of identity both in terms of the ways our cultures shape us and the impact of our names themselves on who we will eventually become. She also captures the ever-present sense of separateness felt by many immigrants with respect to their new countries and children with respect to parents who seem to be from another world—because, in many ways, they are. Her second-generational protagonist, Gogol (arguably the novel’s main character—Lahiri is herself the child of immigrant parents), struggles to build an identity that distances himself from his parents’ world despite having no guarantees of acceptance from the one he is growing up in.
The Namesake, originally published in 2003, was made into a film that was released in 2006. On the one hand, it seemed like a given that Lahiri’s follow-up to her Pulitzer Prize-winning Interpreter of Maladies would receive this treatment, although, as one reviewer pointed out, the book has a pace to it which seems too meandering for the screen (in his words, “Not enough happens. Hardly anything happens”). Additionally, the breadth and complexity of both the themes and characters make a conversion to film a risky proposition. Nonetheless, the film, starring Kal Penn as Gogol and Irrfan Khan and Tabu as his parents, was a critical and commercial success, keeping close to the events of the book and bringing many of its most poignant scenes to life faithfully and with striking, even heart-wrenching emotionality. It must be said, however, that there is a sense of brevity about the film that, particularly when compared with the novel, might leave one feeling it ought to have been several hours longer.
The book The Namesake is available to borrow at E.P. Foster Library, as is Interpreter of Maladies, a collection of short stories. The film is also available through the Ventura County Library system; if it is not at your local branch, you can use the “Request Item” option to have it sent to the branch of your choice. The book review mentioned above, originally published in The Kenyon Review, is available through Literature Resource Center, which can be accessed remotely by Ventura County library card holders through our eLibrary.
Thoughtfully prepared by Ronald Martin.
The OverDrive Digital Bookmobile National Tour will make two stops
at Ventura County Library locations in February 2014:
At these free events, readers learn how to download eBooks from the library through interactive demonstrations and instructional videos.
A gadget gallery — featuring a variety of smartphones, tablets and ereaders will help visitors discover portable devices compatible with Ventura County Library’s OverDrive download service.
Ventura County Library cardholders can also check out and download digital titles anytime, anywhere, by visiting http://vencolibrary.lib.overdrive.com/.
Freegal is our music database. You can download 3 free songs a week and you get to keep them! Do I need to repeat that? 3 free songs a week. And they are good songs! I use several apps to discover new music and I'm always pumped when I find something FREE on Freegal. I just wanted to share what I have been listening to lately courtesy of Ventura County Libraries.
1. Josh Ritter - I like his style. Simple, clear and to the point. I really like the song "Wait for love (You know you will)." He has such a nice voice and his lyrics, while sappy at times, are really sweet.
2. Passion Pit - "Sleepyhead" isn't my typical style, but I dig it. I listen to it while I workout and it just makes me feel like I can conquer the world. Ok, maybe that's extreme but it's a fun listen.
3. The Civil Wars - "Poison and Wine" is deep, beautiful and soothing. I just want to listen with a big glass of wine while reading a book in front of a fire. If you don't know The Civil Wars, you should. They aren't making music anymore, but what they did make is good!
Freegal does have a Droid app and an Apple app. It's so easy: download the app, find the library and type in your library card number. No passwords or log-ins! Let there be rejoicing in the streets of Ventura.
What about you? What have you found on Freegal?
The Governor of California has recently declared a state of drought emergency for the state. Locally, Lake Casitas shows sad evidence of the extended lack of rain.
The first image was taken in April of 2006. The second image was taken this past Saturday, January 19, 2014. You can see the stark difference between the two images. As residents of Ventura, we all need to do our part to conserve water while we are in this emergency. Foster Library can help with materials on water conservation as well as books about native plants.
Resident Photographer Aleta Rodriguez