Friday, October 16, 2020

Best Philosophical Science Fiction in the History of All Earth

I'm putting together a new anthology for MIT Press, with the working title Philosophy and Sci-Fi, with co-editors Rich Horton and Helen De Cruz. Our original title idea was Best Philosophical Science Fiction in the History of All Earth, and that title, though a mouthful, captures our ambitions.

We would love suggestions of your favorite philosophically themed science fiction stories.

We hope that the anthology will be attractive both to SF fans who love idea-based stories like Ursula K. Le Guin's "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" and Daniel Keyes "Flowers for Algernon".

We also hope that people who teach classes with titles like Philosophy and Science Fiction will want to use it in their teaching. Send us your syllabae! We're curious what stories philosophers have been successfully using in their teaching, for possible inclusion.

We want the anthology to contain great classics by authors like Le Guin, Asimov, and Chiang -- but we also hope to reach deeper into history and reach outside the English-language tradition to an extent that other anthologies typically do not. So if you know of relevant older science fiction and science fiction from outside the dominant US-UK tradition, we'd especially love to hear your suggestions.

We'll also of course write a cool intro on the relationship of science fiction and philosophy, and we'll introduce every story with a brief discussion of its place in the history of SF and a little relevant philosophical background.

I'm really looking forward to putting this antho together. Yay!

[image source]

34 comments:

Jan said...

That's great news! I've wanted such a book for a long time.

The best writer of philosophical SF is of course Lem. His "Non serviam" was already included way back in Dennett's and Hofstadter's "The Mind's I", and there are half a dozen more worthy stories. (I'm preparing a Lem anthology in German at the moment, can point you at the most relevant works if you like.)

Best anglophone writer is Greg Egan, check out especially his collection "Axiomatic".
Some stories on the web sites of Scott Alexander (https://slatestarcodex.com/archives/) and Peter Watts (https://rifters.com/real/shorts.htm) are recommended.
The best story of all is Yudkowsk's "Three Worlds Collide" tho. (https://robinhanson.typepad.com/files/three-worlds-collide.pdf)

Anonymous said...

Dennett's "Where Am I?"

praymont said...

Many sci-fi stories play with Ovid's Pygmalion myth. Apparently, Rousseau's drama (called Pygmalion) is the first version in which Pygmalion's sculpture, Galatea, comes to life without divine intervention.
In German Romanticism, the Pygmalion tale gets closer to sci-fi in E. T. A. Hoffmann's "The Sandman" (1816), in which a guy falls for an automaton named Olimpia, but her makers quarrel, and one of them runs off with her eyes (leaving her lifeless). Offenbach's opera, Tales of Hoffmann, includes this sequence, which is also in Powell and Pressburger's 1951 movie that is based on the opera. In the movie version, Olimpia loses her head, literally -- she just blows up. I think the relevant sequence in the movie is about 20 min long. It raises some of the issues you find in later sci-fi riffs on Pygmalion (e.g., the Stepford Wives). There's relevant background material in the 2015 collection My Fair Ladies: Female Robots, Androids, and Other Artificial Eves, ed. Julie Wosk. See also Ian Roberts' article "Olympia's Daughters: E.T.A. Hoffmann and Philip K. Dick" in Science Fiction Studies 37(1) (2010): 150-53. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40649606

Sticking with 19th-century German lit, there are the stories of the neo-Kantian Kurd Lasswitz, who called his short stories 'modern fairy-tales'. His "The Universal Library" (1901) inspired Borges' "Library of Babel" and was translated into English by Erik Born at https://mithilareview.com/lasswitz_09_17/.

Konrad Talmont-Kaminski said...

Two authors to think about are Stanislaw Lem and Jorge Luis Borges. There are many options will both of them that it is hard to name a particular story.

Konrad Talmont-Kaminski said...

I just saw that Lem is already mentioned. So let me just second that.

Anonymous said...

Jordan Chase-Young has an excellent, relatively realistic story on Ems: https://www.mccoysmonthly.com/post/where-be-his-quiddities-jordan-chase-young

Holger said...

I recommend the short story 'Reason' by Isaac Asimov.

mtraven said...

There's really too much to choose from; almost all good SF has a philosophical element.

Here are some suggestions just on the topic of distributed (splintered) minds:
Swarm, Bruce Sterling
Baby is Three, Theodore Sturgeon
Hacker and the Ants, Rudy Rucker

jlredford said...

H. G. Wells was the original master of this, where he systematically varied norms of human life. What if you could do anything you wanted without retribution? "The Invisible Man". What if you really had a superpower? "In the Country of the Blind". What if someone did to the West what it did to everyone else? "War of the Worlds".

The next great practitioner was Olaf Stapledon, who wondered about the ultimate fate of sentience in "Star Maker", and about what followed humanity in "Odd John" and "Last and First Men".

Borges, Lem, Egan and Sterling have already been mentioned, and should all be included. For Le Guin, I would add "The Author of the Acacia Seeds". How do we translate these messages written by worker ants in an anthill, and can there be even geolinguistics?

The current master is Ted Chiang, where every single story in his latest collection, "Exhalation", is mind-blowing. The shortest and most heart-breaking is "The Great Silence", where parrots chastise us for looking for aliens up in the stars, while we're killing them right here. His earlier "Understand" is the best representation of super-intelligence I've ever read, after "Flowers for Algernon".

Kyle Thompson said...

Terry Bisson's "They're Made Out of Meat" is excellent for conveying themes of mind-body dualism, anthropocentrism/speciesism, etc. Also, it's short, funny, and strikes at the challenges of the human condition. I wish I could achieve as much in just a few pages!

Allen said...

Maybe you could excerpt something from one of R. Scott Bakker's books. Neuropath or the Prince of Nothing Series.

"The Hunter Captain" by David John Baker is good and thought provoking.

"The Amnesiac's Lament" and "Shout Kill Revel Repeat" by Scott R. Jones.

"Wang's Carpets", "Dust", and "Exhalation" by Greg Egan.

"The Island" by Peter Watts.

cathalcom said...

apparently an ancestor of mine (or maybe just someone with the same last name), Samuel Madden, wrote "Memoirs of the 20th century" in 1733. It's sometimes regarded as the first sci-fi novel. An excerpt from that might work well in a history of sci fi in all earth.

Erl said...

I'm using a bit of an expansive definition of philosophy; here's what comes to mind. Sometimes I've mentioned a novel, but there may be an excerpt or a related short story available.

Tiptree
- Houston, Do You Read?
Delaney
- Empire Star
Butler
- Bloodchild
- The Parable series
McIntyre
- Little Faces
Le Guin
- The Day Before the Revolution
Sarah Pinsker
- And Then There Were (N-One)
Shirley Jackson
- The Lottery
CJ Cherryh
- Cassandra
Jo Walton
- The Just City
Adam Roberts
- The Thing Itself
Vonnegut
- 2 B R 0 2 B
Damon Knight
- In the Country of the Kind
Olaf Stapledon
- Star Makers
Strugatsky Brothers
- Noon Universe
Kij Johnson
- 26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss

David Duffy said...

It's unfortunate that you are limited to short stories - there are a number of novels which might allow an extract, but for your purposes, a plot summary might be as good. Someone has already mentioned Peter Watts, but _Blindsight_ is chock full of ideas. Jack Vance (_The Languages of Pao_, _To Live Forever_), Gene Wolfe (anything by, eg his ideas of free will in the gaps between near total mind control in Long Sun or _Home Fires_, where the narrators can be extremely unreliable), Adam Roberts (_The Thing Itself_ with its "A/K", _Bete_ with its sneaky animal rights activists, _Land of the Headless_ etc), Karl Schroeder's suggestions of how to immanently ground AI via thalience (_Ventus_, _Stealing Worlds_ - the latter mentions OOO a couple of times).

Matman said...

Gene Wolfe is, by far, the most philosophically sophisticated science fiction writer of the past 50 years.

Anonymous said...

Sum by David Eagleman

Jamie Dreier said...

Nobody's mentioned "All You Zombies", Robert Heinlein! That and ‘By His Bootstraps’ (and other Heinlein stories) are excellent on the metaphysics of time travel.

Timothy said...

in addition to those mentioned:
The Blazing-World by Margaret Cavendish
Micromegas by Voltaire
Remnant Population by Elizabeth Moon
Long Division by Kiese Laymon

Michel said...

I would add Peter Watts's "The Things," a fanfic rewrite of John Carpenter's "The Thing" inspired by Thomas Metzinger's "Being No One: the Self-Model Theory of Subjectivity". (It echoes the philosophy of mind stuff which crystallizes in "Blindsight".) There's a lot of interesting stuff to mine there, even beyond the philosophy of mind: lots of questions about fanfic and auctorial say-so, truth in fiction, etc.

Arnold said...

The image on the screen in front of me, verses, the image of myself in front of me...
...which is philosophical science fiction today...

Sam Duncan said...

I'm surprised that no one has mentioned more of Philip K. Dick. His "Beyond Lies the Wub"is quite good at raising questions of personhood and identity. It's pretty funny to boot. "A Little Something for Us Tempunauts" is nice on the immortality question and time travel (I somewhat doubt Dick's version of time travel is consistent but teasing out why would itself be a worthwhile way to think about the issue). I'd add the first part of Gene Wolfe's "The Fifth Head of Cerberus" too, which is a self-standing novella or short story. It's very good on personal identity as well and some questions about other minds. (I love that Wolfe makes it clear that the mental state of thinking machines in the book is in some deep sense unknowable). Cordwainer Smith's Instrumentality stories raise interesting questions about the meaning of life, personhood, culture, and identity as well. I'm especially fond of "Alpha Ralpa Boulevard." And they're just wonderfully weird and alien in a way that a lot of science fiction doesn't manage at all.

Unknown said...

how can I get notified once this is released?

Anonymous said...

"The Ones Who Stay and Fight" by N.K. Jemisin is an interesting short story that riffs off of Le Guin's "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas". It offers an alternative utopia that thrives by suppressing knowledge of an unjust past.

GreatLeapingCrab said...

Sheldon/Tiptree "Her smoke rose up forever" and "The man who walked home"

Griff said...

Does African alternative-history-steam-punk-fantasy count? Because I absolutely LOVE Nisi Shawl's 2016 novel "Everfair", and I think there's loads of philosophical tie-ins that could be explored. As an NPR reviewer wrote:

"Shawl is brilliant at showing where the various ideals, motivations and desires for Everfair as a utopian experiment bump up against each other. From wealthy white families whose free attitudes towards sexuality and plural marriage compromise their return to England, to light-skinned characters deciding not to pass, to queer characters struggling to understand each other across racial lines, to indigenous characters coming to terms with their new prosthetics, the depth and breadth of experience represented in a richly imagined setting is a huge achievement."

https://www.npr.org/2016/09/07/490101943/everfair-looks-into-steampunks-dark-heart

Ziv W said...

Some suggestions from recent years. Most of these are handily available online, but I'm not putting in links, because I'm a little worried about getting caught in a spam trap :P

"Please Undo This Hurt," by Seth Dickinson, for how we cope with the horrifying reality of human pain:

"Terra Nullius," by HanuΕ‘ Seiner, for an unsettling angle on how our upbringing sets our course.

"Marley and Marley," by J.R. Dawson, on predestination and being limited by our circumstances.

"Flower, Mercy, Needle, Chain," by Yoon Ha Lee, imagines some metaphysical reality-bending weapons, and uses them to wonder a bit about what the existence of such weapons does to reality.

"Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast," by Eugie Foster, imagines a world where everybody takes on a new role and identity every day.

A lot of Chiang would fit the bill very well indeed. Even the lightning-brief "The Great Silence" is stunning, asking what we even mean by looking for life outside humanity.

And I feel like Karen Joy Fowler should have something appropriate, but I'm not quite sure what. Maybe it's more general feel than any one thing specifically; her stories feel so introspective, and with such depth. Maybe "The Last Worders" ?

And two from F&SF which as far as I know aren't free online anywhere; links to ISFDB:
"Erase, Erase, Erase," by Elizabeth Bear, about, well, self-erasure.
"The Constant Narrowing," by Geoff Ryman, is a weird and chilling take on everyday bigotry, and what kind of world it creates.

Ziv W said...

And I've put the same thing, but with links on this page over here -- let's see if the link works.

Mstislav said...

Sorry for possibly stupid question, however, in the context, can’t apply disjunctive syllogism in eliminative disjunction that is of twofold understanding of Your message (however, in both cases the information anyway is superb..): either 1. Is there an already formed, well, lets say research team, that is to choose some of the ‘top-suggestions’ and then would proceed with sci-phi investigations, OR 2. Aside from suggesting the topics, putting together refers here to the possibility of submissions ‘from the third party’? Or mb I have mistaken with a form of disjunction and it is as well the case for both 1/2 be true at he same time / relation? πŸ™ƒπŸ™ƒπŸ™ƒπŸ€πŸ€­

Mstislav said...

Sorry for possibly stupid question, however, in the context, can’t apply disjunctive syllogism in eliminative disjunction that is of twofold understanding of Your message (however, in both cases the information anyway is superb..): either 1. Is there an already formed, well, lets say research team, that is to choose some of the ‘top-suggestions’ and then would proceed with sci-phi investigations, OR 2. Aside from suggesting the topics, putting together refers here to the possibility of submissions ‘from the third party’? Or mb I have mistaken with a form of disjunction and it is as well the case for both 1/2 be true at he same time / relation? πŸ™ƒπŸ™ƒπŸ™ƒπŸ€πŸ€­

Mstislav said...

Sorry for possibly stupid question, however, in the context, can’t apply disjunctive syllogism in eliminative disjunction that is of twofold understanding of Your message (however, in both cases the information anyway is superb..): either 1. Is there an already formed, well, lets say research team, that is to choose some of the ‘top-suggestions’ and then would proceed with sci-phi investigations, OR 2. Aside from suggesting the topics, putting together refers here to the possibility of submissions ‘from the third party’? Or mb I have mistaken with a form of disjunction and it is as well the case for both 1/2 be true at he same time / relation? πŸ™ƒπŸ™ƒπŸ™ƒπŸ€πŸ€­

tim quick said...

"Think Like a Dinosaur" by Jame Patrick Kelly. The best, most philosophical take on teleportation and its discontents. Funny subtle, riff on reason versus emotions. Sly comment on one of the most famous sci fi stories of the Golden Age, "The Cold Equation".

Landon Hedrick said...

"Kirinyaga" by Mike Resnick is a story I use when teaching about cultural relativism. It's not just a good story (actually, part of a longer story that makes up a book), but it's also the perfect way to get readers to think about an interesting philosophical topic.

Link to read it online: https://www.baen.com/Chapters/034541702X/034541702X___1.htm

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks for all of the interesting suggestions, folks!

Mstislav, we already have our editors set, but we welcome suggestions of terrific philosophical stories.

Unknown said...

Egan's been mentioned, but I want to recommend his "Learning to Be Me"