Science-Fiction Archives



February 21, 2021

Reflections on the Science Fiction of Poul Anderson

Poul Anderson's science fiction is, in my opinion, not so uniformly excellent as Theodore Sturgeon or Ursula Le Guin. However, he produced some real masterpieces (the 1972 novelette "Goat Song"—a futuristic retelling of the myth of Orpheus, with a computer in the role of the god—being my favorite) and he pioneered several major tropes of the 'space opera' sub-genre, as well as the "Time Police" trope. The majority of his stories are simply fun adventures. One of the most striking and interesting things about Anderson's work for me is the way his image of the future differs from many other...
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April 27, 2020

Space Aliens and Skeptical Theism

Early modern philosophers, like 21st century theistic philosophers, often employ a strategy known as 'skeptical theism'. The basic idea is that we can't make empirical arguments against the existence of God because we don't know enough to make any judgment about whether our observations are consistent with the kind of universe God would or would not create. Here's one kind of consideration a skeptical theist can appeal to: there's probably intelligent life on other planets (otherwise, as Carl Sagan famously observed, it'd be an awful lot of wasted space). We have no idea what conditions are like for these beings,...
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April 12, 2015

What Science-Fiction is About

The Hugo Award is one of the longest-running and most prestigious awards in Science-Fiction. As some readers may by now be aware there is a major controversy regarding this year's award process: a right-wing group organized a campaign against 'social justice' inspired nominees and was mostly successful in getting their own slate nominated. Some people have called for "No Award" votes in all categories. It's always hard to say what (or whom) an award like this is supposed to be for, and that's part of what the so-called 'Sad Puppies' group says this controversy is about. However, given the group's...
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February 18, 2015

Machine Consciousness in "Supertoys Last All Summer Long"

I've gotten myself scheduled to teach an interdisciplinary honors college seminar on science-fiction and philosophy in the coming fall. I've started working on a syllabus, which means I have the enjoyable task of looking through a lot of science-fiction stories to think about which ones provide the most interesting explorations of philosophical questions. Along the way, I noticed something very interesting about Brian Aldiss's "Supertoys Last All Summer Long". This 1969 short story was the basis for the 2001 movie A. I. Artificial Intelligence, which was begun by Kubrick and finished by Spielberg after Kubrick's death. According to Aldiss's introduction...
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June 29, 2011

A Short Story About Berkeley's Theory of Vision

On the plane back from Zurich last week I read a very interesting story, "He Who Shapes," by Roger Zelazny. This work won the Nebula for best novella in 1965. The story centers around essentially the same piece of technology depicted in the recent movie Inception: a device that allows two people to share a dream, with one of them, the 'shaper', in control of the dream world. However, unlike Inception, in which the technology is used primarily for corporate espionage, in "He Who Shapes" the device is used for psychotherapy. This would be interesting enough, but it gets better:...
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April 18, 2011

The History of Swampman

It's been a while since I posted anything here, so I thought I'd take Jeremy's recent discussion of Davidson's 'Swampman' case (and modifications thereof) as an occasion to post a historical tidbit about swampman-like scenarios. Davidson's story - of a duplicate of himself being created by a lightning strike in a swamp - has obvious resemblances to the DC Comics character Swamp Thing. What is less obvious, less well known, and not mentioned on Swamp Thing's Wikipedia page, is that the swampman scenario was actually originated by Theodore Sturgeon in his short story "It", originally published in Unknown in August of 1940. Sturgeon himself, who was not a follower of comic books, did not know about his influence on that genre until he was invited to receive an award at the San Diego Comic Convention in 1975. Sturgeon's own description of the event can be found in the introduction to his 1984 collection, Alien Cargo, and is quoted in the story notes to "It" in the first volume of Sturgeon's Complete Stories.
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April 29, 2010

Meta-ethics on the Brain

Last night I had what might actually be the strangest dream ever. It was much weirder than hilzoy's now-famous (among philosophy bloggers, at least) synthetic a priori dream. In my dream, some space aliens discovered that platonism was false. They were very disturbed by this because, they thought, without platonic objects, there was nothing to serve as the ontological ground for moral facts. So the aliens convened a galactic council, and held a sort of lottery. Earth lost the lottery, so the aliens were rounding up all the humans and putting them into a simulation. In the simulation, the humans...
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November 21, 2009

Quote of the Day: A Science Fiction Thought Experiment in Aristotle

Therefore, however many things appear to come about in different types of material, for instance, a circle in bronze and stone and wood, it seems clear that neither bronze nor stone is part of the substance of a circle, since they can be separated. But even for things that are not observed to be separated, there is no reason why the same results should not follow, just as even if all circles that were seen were bronze, nonetheless bronze would be no part of the form, but it would be difficult to separate them in thought. For instance, the form human is always observed in flesh and bones and these sorts of parts. Are these parts therefore part of the form and the definition [of human]? ...
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September 22, 2009

Philosophical Science-Fiction Stories: A Preliminary List

One of the main ways I was turned on to philosophy was via science-fiction, and I continue to be a big science-fiction enthusiast. I am most interested in the classic (c. 1935-1960) short stories, especially those of Theodore Sturgeon. I have been reading through the new Wiley-Blackwell Science Fiction and Philosophy volume, ed. Susan Schneider. This is a good collection of philosophical writing - both from the professional literature and from more popular writers - on topics that have a direct and obvious relation to popular works of science-fiction, with some great short fiction (including Bradbury's "A Sound of Thunder"...
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