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Our Own Devices by Gilles Messier

Our Own Devices

by Gilles Messier

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I recieved this Ebook free through LibraryThing Early Reviewers in exchange for an honest review.

At the heart of Our Own Devices is the authors desire to focus on the impact of technology on our society in the twentieth century. The three sections of the book deal with WWII, nuclear energy and Space exploration, particularly how these advances have impacted our humanity, both for good and bad.

From the beginning, the stories are edgy, and drenched with irony; the first story is set during WWII, in a concentration camp, where medical experiments are taking place. It is a bold move to begin a book in this manner, yet, when the character is revisited in the future, his evil past is juxtaposed against his ability to help a person in need of medical help, based on the experiments he took part in during his work with the Nazi regime. Many reviewers have stated that they wish that more attention was paid to character development, but personally, I understand the author’s decision to pay more attention to the cold, impersonal nature of the technology which the human mind has given the world.

If I have any complaints about this book, it would be that the author tends to preach at times, putting forth his opinions, rather than utilizing facts; facts based on research would have added more to the stories, and while he utilized some scholarly articles and archival photos throughout the book, I would have liked to see more technical research utilized. ( )
  Archivist13 | Mar 19, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Nine thought-provoking stories in three powerful sections: WWII, Nuclear Power and Space exploration. Three parts of our species's history, that have shaped the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s as very few other events have ever shaped an era. All relatively short and quick reads but providing material that will keep you entertained and thinking far longer than it takes to read them. ( )
  Michael.Hoogkamer | Sep 11, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
The stories in 'Our Own Devices' are an interesting mix of facts and fiction; Messier tells us the stories of technological progress through the people involved, combining the facts of technology with fictional accounts of personal experience.
The book contains three different parts, one with stories of warfare, one with stories of nuclear discoveries, and one with stories about space travel. Each part is accompanied by a short introduction.
I very much enjoyed the stories; some are better than others, but all in all I thought the stories were interesting to read and quite well-written. By combining the technological facts with fictional accounts of people's involvement with technology, Messier adds a human aspect, giving us a view of how technology can impact lives, and how it can do great things - and bad things. Messier shows different aspects of technology and gives us insight into recent technological developments and their impacts. Though some of the introductory pieces focus very much on the author's personal opinion about technology (this is especially the case in the part 'A is for Atom'), the stories themselves are much more balanced in showing positive and negative aspects of technology.
I also very much liked the fact that the stories are followed by a short overview of what is fact in the stories and what is fiction; I really enjoyed reading which parts of the stories were actually 'true', since this very much helped to get a good sense of the historical relevance of the stories.
A great book for anyone who wants to know more about technological development, but doesn't feel like reading dry and boring textbooks. ( )
  Britt84 | Aug 27, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Excellent collection of stories. Difficult to understand the format initially, but found each topic offered a fascinating insight into previously unpublicised areas of the subject matter. Perhaps not to everyone's taste if one was unaware of the world changing events of that period. ( )
  bazzafr | May 9, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Messier seems to be an author who's grown up out of his time, fascinated as he appears to be with the technology of the mid-20th century (and the quirky back cover 'Best Before 31st Dec 1969 line). His fascinations seem more in line with a child of the generations spanning the 50s, 60s and 70s, when we could all imagine we'd have personal jetpacks by the year 2000 and there'd be little we couldn't do.

His approach is an interesting one, examining humanity via the technology it creates and basing the stories around them - as he points out in his introduction, archeologically what tends to remain after meat and bone has decayed are the objects we leave behind, so surely they're a fit topic for stories. Perhaps it's an apt time now that we've the distance to begin to judge consequences. I'm not entirely sure it's as radical a concept as he's trying to make out (particularly given the hard SF tradition) but I like the pretension and ambition of his stated aims.

Unfortunately that approach, the predominance of technology, leads to the first major flaw here - the characters are all rather flat and one dimensional, secondary to the objects and concepts Messier's really interested in. So when a Russian astronaut's dying alone on the surface of the moon, or a character's realising the consequences of wartime actions or even making a discovery there's no real emotion conveyed, instead we're more told how they're feeling than shown it. That's simply an aspect of the approach the author's taken, and if you generally find your way to the heart of stories through character this might be unengaging.

The other flaw here is an overtly didactic approach - while the three groups of three are effectively structured to approach the subjects from different angles the introductory essays to the subjects aren't really needed, setting out the author's personal views. The content of the stories should be strong enough to stand on their own for these to be unnecessary and generally are, often to the point of preaching, particularly in the sections regarding nuclear technology. 'A Is For Atom' is the worst offender in that sense, you can almost sense the author screaming at you. It's a shame when a far more subtle story like The Fisherman and the Genie has shown the contrasting hazards and excitement of the technology so well.

There are some fine moments here when the author comes out of the literary pulpit though, usually when asking questions about cost of progress - Hypothermia is uncomfortable, with the lead character's somewhat horrific wartime actions having beneficial consequences but, via his wife's reaction, being morally questioned. In The Ocean Of Storms, despite the unemotional lead character, is a genuinely terrifying concept and The Fisherman and the Genie is refreshingly subtle in the contrast between the wonder of discovery and the possible consequences of hazardous work.

Perhaps then this is a little clumsy at times, but there are certainly flashes of promise here and there. If the author could learn to trust the reader a little more rather than spelling things out carefully for him (a possible consequence of coming to literature from an apparent scientific background) and work a little more on characters being more than mouthpieces then he could develop in interesting directions. As it stands, this is a solid introduction to the story of mid-20th century technology and provides plenty of interesting directions for further exploration. ( )
  JonArnold | Mar 29, 2013 |
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Book description
The Second World War. Nuclear Power. Space Exploration. Three powerful forces that forever changed the course of history. In these nine new stories Gilles Messier explores our intimate and often fickle relationship with science and technology in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, and how it came to define our past, present and future.
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WWII. Nuclear Power. Space. Three powerful forces.

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