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on August 28, 2003
"Taking the Red Pill" is, as its title implies, a collection of essays that explore the scientific, philosophical, and religious content of the groundbreaking science fiction film "The Matrix". There are fourteen essays, each by a different author, and a glossary of Matrix terms as well as short bios of the contributing authors in the back of the book. The essays address a wide range of topics as they relate directly to the film: the nature of reality, the evolution of artificial intelligence, postmodern theory, Judeo-Christian symbolism, Buddhist metaphors, and the science behind the Matrix' technology. The last three essays don't discuss the film itself, but express ideas about emerging technologies which may make a Matrix-like world of human-machine interdependence a reality in our future. Editor Glenn Yeffeth has given us contributors with opposing views in many cases, so many of the essays are grouped in pairs so that we can read them in a point-counterpoint style. The very fact that "The Matrix" can be interpreted as representing both Socialist and Capitalist, Monotheist and Pantheist, Postmodernist and Crass Commercial ideals may provide the greatest insight into the film's genius and staying power. My only criticism of the book is that, among its many interesting essays, there are none that analyze the film's meaning in and of itself, as opposed to discussing its relationship to various external religious and philosophical doctrines. "The Matrix" borrows from and alludes to numerous esteemed schools of thought, but it is the film's own fascinating, complex, and thought-provoking conditions that make "The Matrix" resonate so powerfully with its audience. "The Matrix" has a philosophical identity of its own. That said, the essays that are included in this collection are thoughtful and enlightening. I recommend "Taking the Red Pill" to fans of "The Matrix " who would like to delve further into the film's iconography and implications.
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on November 25, 2003
Every essay in this book will shed new light on the way you view this world. It is so well researched, written, and edited that I'm hard pressed to find another book that I would rate so highly. There are theories presented here that will have you talking to anyone who will listen about the almost unreal possibilities these authors present. They are the top people in their respective fields and were not chosen because they just had cool ideas. They were chosen because they know what they're talking about. I can say this with some authority as one of my good friends is basically 2nd in command at the publishing company. So, do not hesitate to pick up this book and gain unbelievable new insights.
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on April 1, 2003
THE MATRIX is arguably one of the best done, most profound movies of our time, conveying concepts of depth and wisdom in a format that appeals to a broad range of fans, and entertains as well. Only a few films manage to do this, STAR WARS, CHARIOTS OF FIRE, and LORD OF THE RINGS are among the scant examples. There is so much packed into this movie that many viewers might miss what is really there, only having fun and enjoying the spectacular FX work.
While that is not a bad thing, it would be a shame to miss all the depths hidden behind the fun, so the authors in this book have analyzed it on several levels. On a scientific front, the hows of THE MATRIX are examined, explaining the mind boggling concepts that when probed can be seen as frightening possibilities, even probabilities. However, the book's real impact is when it gets into the philosophy and religious aspects of the whole thing. It is shown to be parabolic to not only the Christian religion, but to Jews and Buddists as well. Allegories are explained and critiqued in depth.
***** If you have never seen the movie, like me, you will be prompted automatically to go out and rent it. Much of the book, despite the helpful glossary in the back, will make little sense without having seen MATRIX. After seeing it, and reading the book, learning how plausible it might be, then you will wonder about what is real. Isn't that a question that has tormented the greatest thinkers of time? This is a book not to be missed if you have a critical, yet open mind. *****
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on October 4, 2003
There are good essays, and there are bad essays.
The book also lacks focus. It seems to be just a bunch of essays that are by people who are famous and who slightly modified another essay that they had already written in order to make them apply to The Matrix as well. Only three or so of the essays directly applied, and one of them didn't mention the movie at all (although that essay was noted as having been written before the movie and was included as a prophetic statement). Of these essays, one focused entirely on whether the technology in The Matrix was possible, which wasn't entirely interesting to me.
Other essays, notably the religious ones, were quite amusing, as religion was never really intended to be a main theme of the movie, although philosophy was. The author (can't remember his name off hand, but I am sure you can look at the table of contents) who said that The Matrix was a Christian movie was quite entertaining, although a bit...inaccurate. He compared Neo to Jesus (of course) and cited Biblical scripture about the Messiah coming and being a military and spiritual leader, which is funny, since that isn't what Jesus did at all.
The author comparing it to Buddhism seemed similarly deluded, since The Matrix is an anthem of personal choice and individuality, which is not at all what Buddhism is all about. Granted, there are overtones of both in the movie, but they are both wrong that the movie instills their religious viewpoints. It is, however, interesting to note that such widely disparate religions could both think that the movie referred to their religion. Perhaps they are not as far apart as they think? Perhaps they simply fell into the trap of confirmation bias.
Either way, it is a fairly fun read, but not because it will give you any terribly new thoughts on the movie...rather, it will allow you to see why the movie was so popular. It meant many things to many people, and the creators did a great job of manufacturing a movie that allowed people to suspend disbelief, even if for only a moment.
The book is all right, but I would rent it from a library instead of purchasing it again. I will likely only read it once.
You may find it to be better. Good luck.
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on August 26, 2003
I found this book interesting at certain points...and terribly tedious at others. I am definitely not a science person, so some of the hard-core technology and scientific language went over my head a bit. However, it is easy to pick and choose with this book, as it is divided into essays and you can either read all the way through (as I chose to do) or read one, wait a week, read another, etc.
The essay I found most interesting in the book was "Finding God in the Matrix." As I was raised in a Christian family, I found many parallels in my own mind with the story of Jesus Christ and Neo, but this guy definitely did his research. I was a little disappointed by the misquotes and flawed citations to the Bible that I found, but it was nothing significant enough to make the entire essay moot.
This is definitely not leisure reading, so I wouldn't recommend that you take it along to the beach. If you're not a scientific person, I wouldn't recommend that you read all the science essays, either, but that's the great thing about this book--it allows you to pick and choose what you want to read without having to drag yourself through a lot of crap to get to the good stuff. Anyone who likes to delve into the deeper meaning of what appears to be popular culture would easily appreciate this book.
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on September 5, 2003
I am using "one star" not as a means for expressing my displeasure with the book overall, but as a tool to get your attention -- For I write this not so much as a review as a warning.
I have only read the first 62 pages of this (240+glossary+index page) book and look forward to reading the rest of it... just not right now. The problem is that the essays in the book talk about more, much more, than just "The Matrix" the movie. For example, in the forth (not counting the introduction) essay, "Artificial Intelligence, Science Fiction, and the Matrix", the essayist (Robert J. Sawyer) mentions 22 other works -- including three motion pictures and a television series. That the essay mentions "The Matrix" almost only tangentially is not what irks me. (If that were the only problem I could over look it as just a less than stellar essay and move on to the next essay in the book.) The problem is the spoilers. Among the spoilers (major, ruin-the-whole-surprise spoilers) are Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odessey", Jack Williamson's "With Folded Hands", Issac Asimov's "Robot Dreams", and "Star Trek: The Motion Picture". To old hands, this may be a non-sequitur, but to others, like myself, who have not read or viewed all of those works, the damage of reading the spoilers was many times greater than the enjoyment received from the essay.
Having read these spoilers upset me, but I decided that it was most likely just that particular essay and that I would read on. Unfortunately I began the next (fifth) essay by James Gunn "The Reality Paradox in The Matrix" and read the first four of that essay's ten pages and got more of the same. In fact, the first paragraph of that essay consists entirely of a spoiler (Stanislaw Lem's " The Futurologic Congress"). On the third page Robert A. Heinlein's "All You Zombies" is spoiled, only to be followed on the next paragraph that completely and utterly spoils Heinlein's "They". I know this to be true because the essayist begins the spoiling sentence with the words, "In a final passage, the reader learns that the patient is...". James Gunn in that paragraph has just told me in his own words that he has denied me the experience of enjoying what he himself claims to be an landmark work by Heinlein! Two paragraphs later he does it again. This time he begin the spoiler, "By the end of the novel..."
At that point I slammed the book shut in disgust. It was like buying a dozen Sherlock Holmes mystery novels and reading the last chapter to each of them in the car on the way home from the book store.
Now, I feel compelled to say that the first essay was e-x-c-e-l-l-e-n-t. The editor, Glenn Yeffeth, even introduces the essay with, "If you only have time for one essay on The Matrix, this is the one to read." Of the four and a half essays from the book I have read, this one is by far the best. It is 100% about The Matrix and packed full of insights. The second essay is also great and proposes a very interesting (and I think new and refreshing) way to view and analyze the movie. The third essay is a good survey of the various philosophical texts and thinkers who have been around many years before The Matrix who deal with the issue of reality and perception. The fourth essay (outside of the spoilers) was not so much about The Matrix as a laundry list of other works that have touched on similarly memes and didn't provide (at least for me) any insights in to the movie by itself.
So I have read five and a half of the books twelve essays (I read Bill Joy's essay previously) and am pleased overall to this point outside of the spoilers. At this point I would give the book three out of five stars. I will not be reading any further in this book until either 1) I can get confirmation that there are no further spoilers or 2) I find out what additional spoilers there are and read or view those works prior to their mention in this book.
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on September 18, 2003
I picked up this book and read it cover to cover; even the glossary in the end.
I did skim through one essay that seemed to drag on, but overall it was very interesting to hear other viewpoints from very intelligent people on the meaning of life and where we might be headed in the next 50 years.
I'm an engineer by trade, but this book is for anyone who is interested in asking the question:
"What are we doing here and what will happen to us?"
It explains things and speaks to people of all levels of experience in a way that will stimulate thinking.
For instance, it talks about nanotechnology and where it could take us if the probability (happens to be 30% currently) of us destroying ourselves is overcome. Nanotechnology (which I never heard of before reading this book) could be small engineered machines that are many times smaller than 1mm and could be inserted into the brain in the future by the billions. There they could take their place in the brain and transmit and receive information via a wireless network. This will allow us to learn about the brain and how it works in a much more detailed manner.
Also, it would allow us to finally communicate with the brain directly (bypassing all the sensories...smell, touch, taste, sight, sound) We might even be able to start downloading information, skills, even create Virtual Reality like the matrix.
This all lends itself to the real question..."If we can get the technology to recreate 'reality' as we know it and create simulations in the future, then what's to say we aren't a simulation already? Or a simulation of a simulation? and so on."
Some people might think that's implausible, but mathmaticians would disagree. All a brain is, is a very slow bio-computer that is wired in parallel to give a very powerful bio-computer that we have yet to duplicate in speed. Give it 50 years and we'll have a computer more powerful than all of the human brains put together. That said, you still need software to give it "intelligence" or "AI".
I believe that reverse engineering the brain from the replication of one brain cell, to the replication of the entire brain will be the path to AI, because it will allow the computer to teach itself. Thus "learning" will be limited by the speed of the computer...which could be very very very fast.
I would HIGHLY recommend this book to people who are "moved" by the Matrix series, as it brings up even deeper thoughts with more science to back it up.
Just my .02
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on July 11, 2003
Lets face it. If you're reading this review, The Matrix was more than just a movie to you. Something that you saw in it made you question, if even for a moment, the nature of reality as you have always understood it. And if you're willing to entertain that tantalizing 'splinter in your mind' awhile longer, you need to read this book.
All of the essays in this book are thought-provoking and well written, with authors ranging from prominent members of the science fiction community, to theologians, to computer scientists. All have been similarly affected by this truly remarkable movie, and all take you on their own personal tour of The Wachowski's mindbending dystopia.
Essay content ranges from comparisons of Neo with Christ and Buddha, to whether we are in fact living inside a simulated world. The two finest essays in this book (in my opinion) are by techologists themselves, one by Ray Kurzweil and another by Sun Microsystems' Bill Joy, each with a very in-depth examination of the technology behind The matrix, albeit with two very different visions of humanity's future once our technology catches up with that depicted in the movie.
If The Matrix made you question the nature of the world around you, even a little, you need to read this book. You may not like it when you discover just how far down the rabbit hole goes, but at least you might be on the right track to freeing your mind.
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on November 1, 2003
I'm an admitted Matrix junkie, and having just read this book, it's gotten even worse. If you're a newbie to philosophy, yet are a Matrix fan, get this book. It's mostly in essay form, from various writers/philosphers, and relates sci-fi literature, popular culture, and human perception to the story of The Matrix. Read it, it will open your eyes.
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on April 14, 2003
There was a reason that cyberpunk's quick-paced revival resonated with audiences, something more than Neo and Trinity's sexy androgyny, the cool effects and apocalyptic story. Audiences left the theater literally blown away; people heatedly discussed "The Matrix" in the car on their way home.
As I sat in the theater seat nearly four years ago, the screen flashing before me, I got the sense that I was on to something big. There's so much going on, so much packed into the film -- how can you even begin to address it, compartmentalize, etc?
Taking the Red Pill picks up all the threads woven into the film and gives them a good tug. The result? A vibrant plentitude of interpretation springs to view. The book is accessible. It's funny and riveting, and filled to the brim with a diversity of approaches. The intellectual vigorous debate renewed my excitement for "The Matrix."
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