Monday, November 02, 2015

The Journal of Unlikely Academia

A month ago, Unlikely Story published my story "The Dauphin's Metaphysics" in their themed issue The Journal of Unlikely Academia.

Some updates:

Lois Tilton -- perhaps the best-known speculative fiction reviewer in the English language -- gave the story one of her "recommended" ratings, and also what is probably one of her longest write-ups in recent years. She concludes:

Speculative fiction and philosophy have more in common than many people might suppose, largely because contemporary philosophy isn't widely known. Issues of mind, identity and memory [the notion of the brain in the vat, for example] have long been shared by both disciplines [if we can consider SF to be disciplined]. I'm quite happy to have found this story here.

I've now had a chance to read the other stories in the themed issue. They are also well written and philosophically interesting.

"Follow Me Down" by Nicolette Barischoff. The story of a midwife of monstrous babies and the incubus who is one of her rebellious favorites. Monsters deserve affection no less than the rest of us, don't they? (interview with Barischoff)

"Minotaur: An Analysis of the Species" by Sean Robinson. Based on interviews with actual minotaurs! E.g. the Stack Beast (Respondent 7): "Look. It’s finals week. Is it my fault that some thesis-fried post-grad takes a wrong turn and finds themselves somewhere that shouldn’t exist? They think they’re looking for reference materials for botany, and the stacks start twisting around them." (interview with Robinson; Appendix C: questionnaires)

"The Librarian's Dilemma" by E. Saxey. There are radical librarians, secretly fighting the system, setting free even books that... well, no spoilers here! (interview with Saxey; other reflections by Saxey)

Soteriology and Stephen Greenwood by Julia August. A mysterious woman approaches an Oxford medievalist with a fragment of a lost Latin prophecy -- academic listservs, snarky politics, suspicions of museum theft, and maybe something darker.... (Stop the Apocalypse; Who's Saving the World?; tumblrweed across the end of the universe)

"And Other Definitions of Family" by Abra Staffin-Wiebe. A prostitute servicing aliens takes xeno-anthropology participant observation to new levels of risk and intimacy. (reflections from Staffin-Wiebe)

"Candidate 45, Pensri Suesat" by Pear Nuallak. A transgender art student in alternative Thailand struggling to fit in with, or maybe escape, the art-school system.

"The Shapes of Us, Translucent to Your Eye" by Rose Lemberg. How corrupt is the academic system at Middlestate U.? So corrupt that Warda's students are becoming translucent. (I'm unsure how common this effect is, since translucent students are systematically undercounted in the administrative rolls.)

My Unlikely Interview came out today. August, Staffin-Wiebe, Nuallak, and Lemberg will presumably have interviews rolled out in coming weeks.

From my interview:

Q.: The Dauphin’s Metaphysics explores a classic and very interesting question -- if you replicate a person’s experiences exactly, can you replicate the person? What makes a person who they are, nature or nurture? It’s a story about characters reinventing themselves in multiple ways. What drew you to this particular question, and to taking the approach to it that you did in this story?

A.: I’d been thinking about “singularity upload” stories, like Greg Egan’s Diaspora, where characters destroy their biological bodies to have their mental patterns instantiated in a computational device. These stories raise fascinating questions about personal identity, but they have an air of unreality about them because they aren’t currently technologically possible, and who knows if they ever will be. (One of the best known skeptics about computer consciousness is John Searle, who was one of my PhD supervisors at Berkeley.)

So I wanted to write an upload story that didn’t require magic or future technology. My father was (among many other things) a licensed hypnotist, and there’s a large psychological literature on how easy it is to implant false childhood memories into people even without hypnosis, so that seemed a natural direction to develop the idea.

The center of the story is the Dauphin’s upload – but I thought it would be interesting to contrast the case of the Dauphin’s putatively being one person across two bodies with another case arguably interpretable as two different identities in a single body. Hence the story of Fu Hao’s radical break from her childhood self. Chemistry Professor Zeng, though not as fully explored, presents a more ordinary case of slow character change over time.

[continued here]

1 comment:

Arnold said...

... from the interview: '...If we want to reflect philosophically while using the human mind in several of its areas of strength – imagination, emotion, social thinking, concrete thinking – there is no better resource than fiction...'

Can this story from the 'feeling someone understands me' become nonfiction for fiction and food for philosophers in ontology...