Monday, November 03, 2014

Philosophical SF: Thirty-Six Philosophers' Recommendations

... here!

This mega-list of about 360 recommendations is compiled from the lists I've been rolling out over the past several weeks. Thirty-four professional philosophers and two prominent science fiction / speculative fiction (SF) authors with graduate training in philosophy each contributed a list of ten personal favorite "philosophically interesting" SF works, with brief "pitches" for each recommended work.

I have compiled two mega-lists, organized differently. One mega-list is organized by contributor, so that you can see all of Scott Bakker's recommendations, then all of Sara Bernstein's recommendations, etc. It might be useful to skim through to see whose tastes you seem to share and then look at what other works that person recommends.

The other mega-list is organized by author (or director or TV series), to highlight authors (directors / TV shows) who were most often recommended by the list contributors.

The most recommended authors were:

Recommended by 11 contributors:

  • Ursula K. Le Guin
Recommended by 8:
  • Philip K. Dick
Recommended by 7:
  • Ted Chiang
  • Greg Egan
Recommended by 5:
  • Isaac Asimov
  • Robert A. Heinlein
  • China Miéville
  • Charles Stross
Recommended by 4:
  • Jorge Luis Borges
  • Ray Bradbury
  • P. D. James
  • Neal Stephenson
Recommended by 3:
  • Edwin Abbott
  • Douglas Adams
  • Margaret Atwood
  • R. Scott Bakker
  • Iain M. Banks
  • Octavia Butler
  • William Gibson
  • Stanisław Lem
  • George R. R. Martin
  • Larry Niven
  • George Orwell (Eric A. Blair)
  • Kurt Vonnegut
The most recommended directors / TV shows were:

Recommended by 7:

  • Star Trek: The Next Generation
Recommended by 5:
  • Christopher Nolan (Memento, The Prestige, Batman: The Dark Knight, Inception)
Recommended by 4:
  • Ridley Scott (Blade Runner)
Recommended by 3:
  • Futurama
  • Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code)
  • Andrew Niccol (Gattaca)
  • Paul Verhoeven (Total Recall, Starship Troopers)
  • Andy & Lana Wachowski (The Matrix and sequels)
Reactions, corrections, and futher suggestions welcome (as always) in the comments section.

[image source]


Unknown said...


I want to turn this into a network! If you sent me an appropriately formatted graph file (or, .xlsx, .txt, or .csv) then I could easily develop a visual representation of the results.

Appropriate graph file = 2 columns (in excel), with column A = contributor (or just an identifying number), and column B = the recommended author/director.

With this data, we could create an image that would simultaneously show the most frequently chosen authors/directors and which ones tend to be liked together.

- Andrew

Dave Baker said...

Thanks so much for putting these together! I have a lot of reading to do.

Dave Baker said...

A list of my own:

Dan Simmons, Hyperion -- The best science fiction novel I've ever read, a treasure of the genre. It isn't philosophical throughout, but the chapter titled "The Scholar's Tale" contains a lot of interesting philosophy of religion.

C.J. Cherryh, Cyteen -- Nature/nurture and personal identity questions are central to an absorbing plot.

Gene Wolfe, The Fifth Head of Cerberus -- Revolves around a fascinating question at the border between philosophy and psychology. Revealing the question would spoil the plot.

John C. Wright, The Golden Age (and sequels The Phoenix Exultant and The Golden Transcendence) -- A well-thought-out posthuman libertarian utopia. (Also a deeply sexist novel, I'm afraid.)

Stephen Baxter, Manifold Time -- The plot of this book revolves around the doomsday argument! Also features some interesting detail about time and quantum physics, although much of it is distorted for fictional effect.

John Varley, The Ophiuchi Hotline -- Hinges on some wonderful thought experiments about personal identity, free will and the nature of intelligence.

John Kessel, "Stories for Men" -- Fascinating piece about gender. Examines a civilization in which women are privileged in something like the way our civilization privileges men.

Ted Chiang, "The Truth of Fact, The Truth of Feeling" -- One of Chiang's most philosophical stories, which is saying a lot. Examines the unreliability of memory. If I had more room for a longer list, at least half of Chiang's stories would be on it.

Ariel Djanikian, The Office of Mercy -- Recent novel by a first-time author. A utilitarian civilization ruthlessly acts out its principles on a grand scale. Hard to say if this is a utopia or a dystopia.

Greg Bear, Queen of Angels (and sequel Slant) -- Another morally ambiguous utopia. A civilization which treats violent deviants with therapy rather than punishment.

Simon Fokt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Simon Fokt said...

Dan Simmons: Hyperion, Fall of Hyperion (novels, 1989-90)
The novels explore issues related to metaphysics of time, personal identity of androids who are fitted with the personalities of existing, though long dead humans (eg. John Keats), post-humanism, and the place of religion in the post-humanist world.

Dan Simmons: Ilium, Olympos (2003-2005)
A s-f reimagining of the Iliad and Odyssey, with a generous sprinkle of Shakespeare and a general abundance of intertextuality. Explores issues related to post-humanism on multiple levels, involving god-like humans, eloi-like humans, intelligent robots and virtually omniscient AI’s, issues related to technologies so advanced they surpass human ability to comprehend, and looks with a fresh eye at issues present in Homer, such as the value of human virtues, ethical choice and its relation to fate and predetermination.

Kim Stanley Robinson: Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars (novels, 1993-96)
The novels focus on social and scientific issues related to the colonisation of Mars, but also explore philosophical issues: the political philosophy bases for building a new society, and environmental ethics of terraforming.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Andrew, let's chat about it -- that sounds interesting. Next week.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Dave / Simon -- very cool suggestions!

Matthew Gore said...

Hows the livingB-) I posted a few on the reddit... Found some others in the doing, Yeah, andrew has the idea... And itd b better if i could get pocket and instapaper to do the same.infographics n multimedia r fun when fun eh. Link:

Matthew Gore said...
... And my ineptitude shows

Matthew Gore said...

It may also be good practice for me to play less late at night... as a good guide to cogent psychosemantics if AC Clark's HAL9000's inspiring logic may show, the bond is strategically empathetic. I think that's the main concern, not to deny the cognitive aspect of rationale in inductive reasoning. Lacking of deliminative organizatio...
Ok Eastern time is a lag. A special on BBC America now,
About this topic analyzing the howsoever these whom interpret it s genre convey

Unknown said...

Another cool thing to do with the network would be to rank contributing philosophers by the centrality of their preferences, or rank the scifi by its centrality.
- Andrew

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Matthew: Thanks for the Reddit link -- and good comments over there, too!

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Andrew -- and you're just the person to do it!

Anonymous said...

Has anyone already suggested "Mr. Nobody", directed by Jaco Van Dormael (2009)? Not a SF masterpiece perhaps, but it raises philosophically relevant questions about e.g. free will, knowledge of the future, mortality vs. immortality, personal identity, time experience. Visually beautiful. Giulia

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

I don't think that's on the list, Anon -- thanks for the suggestion!

Kat Hooper said...

Thank you for this excellent list! I've read many of these works (and all but 5 of the authors). I look forward to filling in the gaps.

Kat Hooper

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks, Kat -- and for the link to your cool site!

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Uzi Awret recommends Asimov's story "The Last Question":

Dave Rose said...

Some more additions to your list:

1) Joss Whedon’s ‘Objects in Space’ (ep 14 of Firefly, 2002) is an exposition of existentialism and the origins of meaning (“It’s just an object. It doesn’t mean what you think.”).

2) The whole BSG/Caprica cycle (2003-2010) is backgrounded by religious mythology, e.g. cosmic cycles (as in Hinduism) suggested to be a succession of transitions between reality and virtual reality.

3) Ursula LeGuin’s short story ‘Solitude’ (1994; in The Birthday of the World collection) contains a nice reductio of anarchy: the only was we can achieve complete freedom is to avoid other people entirely. This poses interesting problems when it comes to reproduction and childrearing. (It’s also a nice complement to Sartre’s Huis Clos.)

4) Stanislaw Lem : all those ruminations on the meaning of life by intelligent (conscious?) robots, e.g. in ‘The Cyberiad’. Several relevant extracts are in Hofstadter and Dennetts ‘The Mind’s I’.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Very cool suggestions, Dave -- thanks!