Friday, October 24, 2014

Philosophical SF: Eighth Batch of Lists (Sullivan, Clarke, Oppenheimer, Bernstein)

Here is the eighth set of science fiction / speculative fiction recommendations from professional philosophers, out of a projected nine sets. If all goes according to plan, I should have the final list up next Monday, and then I'll start merging them into a mega-list and doing some analysis.

A general description of the project, plus the first four lists, from Dever, Powell, Kind, and Horst.

Second set: Mandik, E. Kaplan, Evnine, De Cruz.

Third set: De Smedt, Bakker, J. Kaplan, Weinberg.

Fourth set: Frankish, Blumson, Cash, Keeley.

Fifth set: Jollimore, Chalmers, Palma, Schneider.

Sixth set: Campbell, Cameron, Easwaran, Briggs.

Seventh set: Roy-Faderman, Clark, Schwitzgebel, Killoren & Brophy.

As always, readers should feel free to contribute their own recommendations to the comments section of this post or the earlier posts.


List from Meghan Sullivan (Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Notre Dame):

Mary Doria Russell, The Sparrow (novel, 1996). Jesuits in space! The main theme of the book concerns the protagonist's crisis of faith, but I much preferred the supporting characters, each of whom had a fascinating backstory which revealed quite a bit about the Earth culture in the novel.

Cormac McCarthy, The Road (novel, 2006). Deeply moving story about the lengths a father will go to in order to preserve a sense of hope in his young son, even as the world around them crumbles. The greatest apocalyptic novel ever written.

Ted Chiang, Stories of Your Life and Others (short stories, collected 2002). A collection of scifi short stories exploring diverse philosophical themes -- the problem of evil, the relationship between language and time, the ethics of beauty. Most of the stories offer an original and highly creative take on the issue at hand.

George Saunders, Tenth of December (short stories, collected 2013). Like Chiang, Saunders offers highly original takes on philosophical problems---the best stories in this volume deal with the nature of conscious experience and subjugation.

Orson Scott Card, Ender's Game (novel, 1985). I've re-read this book easily a dozen times. Kids in military school in space, learning to fight the war to end all alien wars. Totalitarian governments. Xenophobia. Military tactics. Blogging... What more could you want?

David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas (novel, 2004). There is a distinctive Mitchell-style---complex worlds where everything is secretly interconnected and paranoia is completely justified. Cloud Atlas is his best, especially in the middle chapters when he essentially invests a new dialect to describe life in a catastrophic time.

Karen Russell, Vampires in the Lemon Grove (short stories, collected 2013). A collection of beautiful short stories, with elements of fantasy and horror used to draw out insights about very real emotions. The first two stories are fascinating. The last one, devastating.

Stephen King, The Stand (novel, 1978) The world has been ravaged by a disastrous plague called Captain Trips. The novel charts the path of various survivors who must choose sides in an apocalyptic battle. But the description doesn't do justice to King's richly imagined characters and twisty plot.

Justin Cronin, The Passage (novel, 2010). OK, I just never get sick of apocalyptic science fiction. The main character, Amy, is probably my all-time favorite protagonist in fiction. Is it a virus book? A monster book? A book about dystopian communities? A book about immortality? There are several great plot twists that it would be a shame to spoil, so I will rest the description there.

Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (novel, 1968). I read this for the first time in middle school, never having heard of Blade Runner. The android vs detective plot is great, and of course the book is an excellent meditation on human nature. But the best part of the story, I think, is the dark, dystopian society Dick portrays in the background of the novel.


List from Ellen Clarke (Postdoctoral Fellow of Philosophy, Oxford):

Octavia Butler, Blood Child (short story, 1995). Men are forced to bear the progeny of aliens in a gory and powerfully emotional analogy of motherhood, portrayed as a paradoxically enjoyable form of abuse.

John Wyndham, The Day of the Triffids (novel, 1951). Giant deadly shrubs ambulate around a London riven by a plague of blindness. Moody, scary, tense, dark. An early pioneer of biological scifi, Wyndham reminds us that plants can be evil too.

Larry Niven, A Hole in Space (short stories, collected 1974). The master of 'soft' (sociological) sci fi, Niven was visionary at thinking through the human consequences of new technologies. Teleportation here acts as social lighter fluid, enabling the formation of dangerously volatile 'flash mobs', as well as adding new depths a to murder mystery challenge.

Philip K Dick, Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said (novel, 1974). If Dick doesn't make you paranoid you're probably not real. Here he explores celebrity and identity via a drug which snatches the targets of a users thoughts into a parallel reality.

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (novel, 1932). Noble savage meets techno-enhanced scientific rational future and comes off badly.

George Orwell, 1984 (novel, 1949). A vivid polemic on the human cost of political authoritarianism, whose original ideas and phrases - Big Brother, Room 101 - are now firmly in the mainstream.

Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 (novel, 1953). State-administered book burning, anaesthetised life, an eloquent hymn to the power of the written idea.

Kurt Vonnegut, The Sirens of Titan (novel, 1959). A starkly beautiful spiral through loneliness, omniscience and the meaning of life.

J G Ballard, The Disaster Area (short stories, collected 1967). A masterpiece of unsettling darkness. What happens if we switch off sleep? How does it feel to live in a towerblock of infinite height and breadth? What would life look like in reverse?

Raccoona Shelton, "The Screw Fly Solution" (short story, 1977). We succumb to aliens as screw flies succumb to our biological controls.....a pitchblack feminist nightmare.


List from Paul Oppenheimer (Assistant Editor, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy):

Edwin Abbott Abbott (writing pseudonymously as “A Square”), Flatland (novel, 1884). Conceptualization and visualization; imaginability, conceivability, and possibility; social class and gender structure.

Star Trek: The Next Generation (Peter S. Beagle, screenplay), “Sarek” (TV episode, 1990). Dementia, social role, telepathy, telempathy, Stoicism, pietas, duty, honor.

Peter S. Beagle, The Innkeeper’s Song (novel, 1993). Gender, gender swap, revenants, romantic love, nature of true love, laws of magic and costs of performing magic; do things and people have essential natures? Loyalty and power.

Stanisław Lem, Solaris (novel, 1961). Communication with aliens. What, if anything, is real? Politics of science and exploration. (Andrei Tarkovsky. 1972. film.)

Ursula K. LeGuin, The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia (novel, 1974). Anarcho-syndicalism vs capitalism; scarcity and abundance; co-operation and competition; sclerosis of a revolution.

Doris Lessing, The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four and Five (novel, 1980). Gender: are gender characteristics inherent?; gender essentialism; communication among genders. (Philip Glass. 1997. Opera.)

Paul M.A. Linebarger (writing as Cordwainer Smith), “The Ballad of Lost C’Mell” (short story, 1962). Sex work, multiple grades of citizenship, civil rights, animal-human spectrum.

China Miéville, Embassytown (novel, 2011). Philosophy of language! semiotics! impossibility of falsehood! simile vs metaphor!

Charles Stross, Accelerando (novel, 2005). Uploaded minds; post-humanism; the singularity. What is a person, anyway?

A.E. van Vogt, Slan (novel, 1940). Transhumanity/superhumanity, telepathy, genocide. Meta: fandom: “Fans are slans.” The other. Mutual contempt and fear.


List from Sara Bernstein (Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Duke University):

Fred Hoyle, The Black Cloud (novel, 1957). Begins as an impending-disaster-for-earth story, but introduces a twist: the giant cloud approaching earth is conscious and is surprised to find other conscious beings in the universe. Consciousness, multiple realizability, the works.

Catherynne Valente, Palimpsest (novel, 1959). A city is transmitted through physical touch and is only able to be visited by those who have been infected. Physicalism.

Ursula K. LeGuin, Changing Planes (short stories, collected 2003). Airports are not just places for transportation between spatial locations; they also host people who want to change dimensions in between changing flights. Traveler stops over in several other exotic dimensions, including one in which everything unnecessary for human life has been removed ("The Nna Mmoy Language"). Possible worlds with foreign-yet-familiar features.

K.W. Jeter, Noir (novel, 1998). The dead can be brought back to life if they don't meet their financial obligations, and must work to pay them off. Capitalism, ethics.

Italo Calvino, "All at One Point" from Cosmicomics (1968). Everything exists at one spacetime point. Extended simples, conceivability, possibility.

Joanna Russ, The Female Man (novel, 1975). Four women living in different times and places cross over to each other's worlds and are startled by gender roles and assumptions of worlds that at not their own. Feminist philosophy, philosophy of gender.

Haruki Murakami, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (novel, 1985). Narrator wanders around in his mind. Consciousness, physicalism.

The Walking Dead (TV series, 2010-). Survivors of zombie apocalypse live out central questions of political philosophy in a Hobbesian state of nature: from whence does authority originate? Is it better to band together for protection and subject ourselves to a ruling power? Is remaining on one's own a fundamental right?

Jac Schaeffer, Timer (movie, 2009). Almost every person is outfitted with a device that counts down to the minute the wearer will meet his or her soulmate. (Not as cheesy as it sounds.) Some choose not to have timers, where others rebel and have relationships with people known to contradict their timers. Fatalism, free will, utilitarianism.

Andrew Niccol, Gattaca (movie, 1997). Future society infused with pre-birth genetic engineering stratifies into genetically unlucky and genetically. Genetically unlucky rebel trades places with genetically lucky man to live out his dream of going to space. Bioethics, free will.


Ninth batch of lists here.


Ina said...

Love that Ted Chiang has shown up on several lists...

Ross Cameron said...

Since The Walking Dead TV show was mentioned, I just want to mention that it was a comic first, and you should check that out if you like the show: