Friday, December 30, 2016

Weird Connections: The Race by Nina Allan

Nina Allan's The Race is an unexpectedly weird book.  If you were to pick it up and read a randomly selected page, you might think it's near-future dystopian science fiction about genetically modified greyhounds, standard literary fiction about the pain and promise of family and romantic relationships, or a fantasy-tinged science fictional tale in the style of Ursula Le Guin.

This book is all of those things; it's not so much a novel as a series of tenuously connected novellas and (at least in the edition I stumbled upon at a local bookstore) an appendix.  The first and last sections as well as most of the appendix are set in the future and/or an alternate universe.  The second and third sections are basically literary fiction set in our world, in particular Britain in recent decades, although these are connected to the other sections in ways I won't say both because I don't want to spoil anything and because I'm not entirely sure I understood all the connections.

I may change my mind as I think about it more, but for now I'm giving it high marks for the quality of the writing, somewhat lower marks for being audacious but not ground breaking, and middling marks for the feeling that everything might only come together for me on a second or third reading -- if at all.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

History of the Future: Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer

Despite the fact that a lot of science fiction takes place in the future, few science fiction writers have much of a historical consciousness, a sense of how historical eras are both continuous with and disjointed from the eras before and after them.  Frank Herbert's Dune series has historical consciousness in an especially vast sense, but a lot of science fiction seems to basically transplant the people and ideas of the 20th and 21st centuries into some other century (this was, for instance, one of my criticisms of Peter F. Hamilton's Pandora's Star).

Ada Palmer's Too Like the Lightning isn't quite working on Herbert's scale, but her historical consciousness is something unique.  The fact that she's a history professor probably doesn't hurt either (and gives hope to this SF-loving philosophy professor!).

Monday, December 19, 2016

Two Years, 184 Posts, and Many Thoughts: My Second Blog-iversary

I made my first post on this blog, "Philosophy as Science Fiction; Science Fiction as Philosophy," on December 23, 2014.  About two years, 184 posts, and many, many thoughts later, I'm somehow still doing this and celebrating my second blog-iversary!  This calls for a celebration.  In blog post form, of course.

(I will be traveling to visit family on the hallowed day of my second blog-iversary itself, so I'm jumping the gun a bit in assuming this blog will still exist in four days.)

Here are a few reflections to celebrate this auspicious occasion...

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Non-Spoilery Reactions to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Image credit:

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is gritty, action-packed, and surprisingly funny.  It's probably the most unique Star Wars film to date.  It's kind of like Star Wars fan fiction, but actually good.

At least these are some of my initial reactions.  I just saw it tonight.  I don't want to unleash any spoilers, at least not yet.  I'll probably write a proper spoilery review later, but for now here are a few of my non-spoilery reactions like the ones I gave last year for The Force Awakens...

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Melancholic Meditations, December 2016


2016 has been widely reviled a dumpster fire of a year, and for good reason.  From the deaths of beloved celebrities and a terrible summer movie season to a soul draining, mind numbing, bigotry stuffed shit sundae of an election topped with the demon piss soaked maraschino cherry of Donald Trump’s victory, it’s hard to see much good coming out of the past year.  As John Oliver and friends so eloquently put it, “Fuck you, 2016!”

As depressing as this year has been, I have to admit it hasn’t been all bad for me personally.  I have a new nephew and a new first cousin once removed.  I got to go to a conference in Hawaii in May, a family road trip to South Carolina in July, and then my first WorldCon in August.  My spouse got a job, thus solving what academics so tactfully call “the two body problem.”  I had a few academic publications and signed a contract to work on a book on skepticism in Indian philosophy.  I got on Twitter for reasons I still don’t entirely understand.  I continue to have a lot of fun with this blog, which will celebrate its second anniversary on December 23rd.

Of course, this is also the year I turned 40, which in itself isn’t so bad (and beats the alternative in any case).  Still, 2016 has not given me the greatest world in which to start my new decade of life.

As we come to the end of this difficult year, it’s hard not to feel melancholic.  And defeated.  And despondent.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Tectonic Fantasy, Part Two: The Obelisk Gate by N. K. Jemisin

The Obelisk Gate is a sequel as complex and interesting as its predecessor, the Hugo-winning The Fifth Season.

First, the relatively minor issues.  There's a bit of second-book-in-a-trilogy syndrome here.  That new universe smell has worn off to some extent.  The pace is a bit slow for much of the first half of the book.  As with the first book, occasionally all that complexity and subtlety made it difficult to follow.

Despite these issues, there's a lot to love about this book on account of the world building, characters, and all-too-timely expansion of the social themes of the first book.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Mixed Galaxies: Altered Starscape by Ian Douglas

I have mixed feelings about Altered Starscape by Ian Douglas.  While there are a lot of cool ideas, none of them came together in a satisfactory way for me.

The Good Bits 

I picked this up because the basic premise sounded cool: due to traveling near a super massive black hole, a group of humans are thrown four billion years into the future, a time when the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies are merging.  There are galactic civilizations, vast megastructures (aka "Big Dumb Objects"), god-like artificial intelligences, post-humans adapted for life in space, and much more that I don't want to spoil.  All of that is pretty cool.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Giving Thanks for Philosophy, Science Fiction, Good People

Today is Thanksgiving here in the United States.  Last year I discussed the weirdness of Macy's commandment: "Believe."  I also said that I was thankful for my regrets.  I'm not sure I have anything quite so clever to say this year, but I've been reflecting on being thankful for three things: philosophy, science fiction, and the people in my life.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Interrogating Ideas: Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang

Ted Chiang's Stories of Your Life and Others includes several excellent stories/novelettes/novellas (including "Story of Your Life," which is the basis for the film Arrival).  In addition to the good ones, a few more are okay, and there's one I didn't care for.

Ted Chiang is the opposite of prolific, having only published about a dozen works of short fiction in the last 25 years, but he's one of the best when it comes to using science fiction and fantasy to interrogate ideas.  There are nice little notes on each story in the back of the book in which Chiang tells you which ideas inspired the stories (sometimes it's surprising).  It's no wonder his work is a top pick for Eric Schwitzgebel's list of philosophers' favorite science fiction.

Here's a bit on each work in this collection...

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Disgust and Hope: Thoughts on the 2016 US Presidential Election

Last week Donald Trump won the US Presidential election.  Here are some of my thoughts on the election.
  1. It seems that this election is at least partly about race and gender.  There are a lot of angry white people in America.  The channeling of racial resentment in the Tea Party and Birthers was just the start.  Note that neither I nor anybody else is saying that all Trump supporters are openly racist, card-carrying members of the KKK.  It should be noted that the KKK does support Trump and racists of all stripes from old school anti-semites to the Alt-Right heard his dog-whistles loud and clear whether Trump meant it that way or not.  But for most people I think it’s subtler than that, ranging from a kind of vague resentment to a passive acceptance of what Trump says because it doesn’t affect you.  And I see no wisdom in denying the role that misogyny played in forming the decades-old suspicion-mongering narrative about Hillary Clinton and in giving a bloviating man with no experience so much leeway against a candidate who, for all the issues with her candidacy, was one of the most qualified candidates in history.  It’s not just about race and gender, but to outright deny that these were factors is silly.  Perhaps all of this is a reaction to the changing social landscape of America.  As the slogan says: “When you’re accustomed to privilege equality feels like oppression.” 
  2. This election is also about many people’s loss of faith in American institutions and establishment politics as well as a rejection of elitism.  Many people perceive that their government, economy, and cultural institutions no longer serve people like them.  I suspect this perception is partly reasonable given the extent of income inequality and deep cultural issues.  I grew up in the Midwest and live in the South; snobby coastal elitism pisses me off, too. However, I think parts of this perception are worth criticizing.  For instance, it’s strange that some white people blame those who had absolutely nothing to do with creating our political and economic structures: your average rich white guy like Donald Trump has personally caused more working people to suffer than the average Muslim immigrant or working class African American. It’s also odd to believe that anyone with expertise is automatically a self-serving elitist or that those with no expertise have any desire or ability to help you. I’m not sure I entirely understand this perception that America no longer works for some people or how it fits into the larger Culture Wars. I’m even less sure that I have any idea what to do about it, and I doubt that anyone else does, either.  I wish people would listen to each other and think through these issues in a respectful yet critical way.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

About Time: A Review of Arrival

I’ve been looking forward to this movie for months as the antidote to 2016’s largely disappointing summer movie season. Up until a few days ago I was also looking forward to seeing Arrival as a way to relax after having narrowly avoiding a Trump administration.  Looking backwards I’m happy to report that the first of these aspirations has been fully realized. The second … not so much.

I’ll have more to say about the election in another post, but for now let’s focus on a movie that I suspect might come to occupy a place on my list of all time favorite philosophical science fiction films.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Voting as Grading/Politics Round Up

Me, voting early!

With the seemingly-interminable 2016 US Presidential election (hopefully) terminating in just a few days on Tuesday, November 8, I thought I’d get in one more political post that includes one last point and some meta-blogging in the form of a round up of some of the political posts that have appeared on this blog in the last year and a half.

Voting as Grading Papers: An Analogy

Let’s say you're a teacher, and you get two papers.  

Donald’s paper is written in red 14-point triple spaced comic sans, follows none of the directions of the assignment, consists almost entirely of bigoted rants, incorrectly cites mainly conspiracy theory or white supremacist websites, includes a footnote in which he brags about sexual assault, and contains numerous spelling and grammatical errors.  

Hillary’s paper follows all the directions of the assignment, consists mostly of rational arguments – some of which you agree with, some of which you do not, contains a few strained metaphors and lame jokes to make it seem more relatable, cites all sources although it puts a few important things in the footnotes, and contains a few minor spelling and grammatical errors.  

Which paper do you grade more highly?  That’s who you should vote for.

Examined Worlds Politics Round-Up

The annoying thing about politics is that everyone thinks they’re right.  Including me.  Still, I try to be less annoying by not insisting that you agree that I’m right.  I honestly think the world would be a better place if we were more aware of our fallibility.  But of course I could be wrong.

Anyway, here's some of what I think about this election and politics more generally.  Agree or disagree as you will.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Buddhas and Presidential Candidates: Conventional and Ultimate Truth in Politics

The Dalai Lama and US President Barack Obama

One of the odder things in the last year of American politics has been the relative popularity of ideas long considered to lurk on the fringes.  One of the main candidates in the Democratic Presidential primary openly called himself a socialist and advocated for single-payer universal healthcare.  The Republican nominee has accepted outré conspiracy theories, is supported by the KKK, attacked the family of an American soldier killed in combat, failed to release his tax returns, and is on record bragging about committing sexual assault (this is a condensed list of his political oddities).  The Libertarian candidate has, until recently, been polling higher than third party candidates usually do.  Even the most mainstream candidate, Democrat Hillary Clinton, has been facing unprecedented legal scrutiny as well as general suspicion and hostility based on little to no evidence of wrongdoing.

In US Presidential elections in recent memory, any of this would have flown in the face of conventional political wisdom.  To be clear, it still does, which is why it's so strange (and, in the case of Trump, a deeply troubling emboldening of bigotry).  But still, something weird is going on.  To understand it, I think it might help to take a philosophical detour to the Buddhist conception of the two truths.

Monday, October 31, 2016

The Horror of Ourselves, the Horror of the Unknown: Carrie by Stephen King and The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Happy Halloween!

Last year I celebrated Halloween with a post on H. P. Lovecraft as science fiction and philosophy and one on horror movie reviews (including Crimson Peak and a bunch of Hellraiser movies).  This year I decided to read two classic horror novels to review here: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson and Carrie by Stephen King.  The two novels are quite different, but they both touch on two kinds of horror: fear of the unknown and fear of ourselves.

Carrie by Stephen King

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Attack of the (Philosophical) Zombies! -- Quantum Night by Robert J. Sawyer

I briefly met Sawyer at Worldcon in Kansas City in August 2016 and told him I was a fan (especially of his Neanderthal Parallax and Mindscan, one of the first books I reviewed on this blog!).  When I mentioned that I'm a philosophy professor, he said I needed to read his latest book.  Now that I've read it, I can see why, because Quantum Night is an intriguing philosophical thriller on the nature of consciousness and morality.

As is usually the case with Robert J. Sawyer's work, this novel mostly takes place in Canada, involves a middle-aged scientist falling in love, and it's impossible to fully separate the scientific and philosophical material from the plot.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Sci-Fi Stoic Week 2016: Star Trek, Relationships, and the View from Above

For the past few years I've been participating in an event called Stoic Week.  This year's Stoic Week is a bit earlier than usual: Oct. 17-23, 2016.

The idea is to try living like a Stoic for a week by doing things such as contemplating interesting quotes from ancient Stoic philosophers and engaging in mental exercises.  You can find out more about Stoic Week, register, and download the handbook at the Modern Stoicism blog.  You can do the exercises any time (you might say they're timeless!), but it's fun to share your experiences with others on the Facebook group and the Google+ group.

Last year I wrote four posts for what I called Sci-Fi Stoic Week 2015 (see here, here, here, and here).  This year I'm not quite so ambitious, so I've decided to condense my Stoic Week blogging into one post (you're reading it!).

Stoicism, Star Trek, and Galactic Cosmpolitanism

Since we recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of Star Trek and a lot of people (including me) have noted Stoic themes in Star Trek, I thought it would be nice to concentrate on Star Trek for Sci-Fi Stoic Week 2016.

The crew of the Enterprise

Friday, October 21, 2016

Does Relativism Make Us Dumber and Nastier?

The main virtue of relativism is that it is supposed to make us more tolerant and open-minded as an antidote to judgmental closed-mindedness.  Perhaps because of this, relativism has become the default position of many college students, science fiction/fantasy fans, and other intelligent, educated people in our society.   It's supposed to be the crowning achievement of tolerant, sophisticated people, a victory over the dim-witted dogmatism of absolutists who seek to impose their views on everyone else.

But is this picture accurate?  I think it may not be.  In fact, I suspect that the type of relativism pervasive today may, contrary to its self-professed ideals, be making us dumber and nastier.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

I Like Hillary Clinton

I don’t care how unpopular it is.  I’m just going to say it: I like Hillary Clinton.  I don’t think she’s merely the “lesser evil.”  I’m not voting for her just because I can’t stomach Donald Trump (although I can’t).  I think she is, despite her flaws and perhaps in some cases because of them, an admirable human being and a capable public servant.  The fact that so few Americans agree with me says more about our national discourse than it does about her.

Clinton’s Endearing Awkwardness

Her biggest sin, according to many polls, is being unlikeable.  First of all, I don’t understand why we need our politicians to be likeable, rather than, you know, being good at their jobs.  Still, I honestly don’t understand this idea that Hillary Clinton is unlikeable.  Is she sometimes awkward?  Sure, but you know what?  So am I.  So are you probably.  That makes her more endearingly human in my book.  We can’t all have an 18 charisma, or, for non-D&D nerds, we can’t all be James Dean or Jay-Z.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Double Review! The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul by Douglas Adams/ Raft by Stephen Baxter

It's my first ever double book review post!  I'm reviewing two books by English science fiction authors with wild imaginations: The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul by Douglas Adams and Raft by Stephen Baxter.

The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul by Douglas Adams

This is Adams's second book about Dirk Gently, a "holistic detective" who solves mysteries based on his belief that everything is connected to everything else.  Despite this theme of holistic connection, there's little explicit connection between The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul and the first Dirk Gently book, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency.  You could easily read the second without having read the first.  You might want to read them soon, since BBC America debuts a Dirk Gently series starring Elijah Wood on October 22 (See a weird trailer here.  There was apparently an earlier adaptation several years ago on regular BBC, er, I guess, BBC Britain, which I have not seen).

Saturday, October 8, 2016

American Voters and the Fate of Us All: Eight Reasons to Vote with Objections and Replies

Image credit:

The US Presidential election is exactly one month away.  This means that our seemingly interminable and utterly bizarre campaign season is finally coming to an end.  What that end will look like will be determined by American voters, at least those who bother to show up. 

I love voting.  I’ve voted in every Presidential and midterm election since I turned 18.  I have missed a couple odd-year local elections, and I feel terrible about it.  I intend to keep voting until I’m legally prevented from doing so.  I’ve never needed convincing, but apparently this is not the case for the roughly 40-60% of Americans who haven’t bothered to vote in recent elections.

I think everyone with the right to vote in this election should do so.  Why?  Here are eight reasons with objections and replies.  This is obviously addressed directly to my fellow Americans, but I’d love to hear from international readers, especially since our elections affect you, too.

1. Make your voice heard.

Voting isn’t the only way to make your voice heard.  You could, for instance, start a blog!  I don’t even think making your voice heard is the primary reason to vote, but it is one good reason that might appeal to those with more deontological sensibilities.  Voting is one of the only places in society where everyone has anything approaching an equal say.  You don’t have that in your economic activity (where the wealthy reign supreme) or in most social or political organizations (where those with connections to the avenues of power have greatest influence), but you do have something like an equal voice in voting.  You owe it to yourself and your dignity to use it.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Which Midlife Crisis is Right for Me?: Reflections on Turning 40

Today is my 40th birthday.

Last year I wrote about the importance of birthdays and noted that, statistically speaking, I was entering middle age. 

I’ve never been one to lament growing older.  This is for several reasons:  1. There’s nothing you can do about it, so, to paraphrase Buddhist and Stoic philosophers, whining about it is irrational and unhealthy.  2. Barring some horrifically painful and permanently debilitating illness, getting older is almost certainly better than the alternative.  3. Getting older isn’t all bad – those new experience points mean you can level up!

One great thing about getting older is that you start figuring some things out: things like relationships, career, family, who you are as a person, and how to get dental insurance (something I just figured out two years ago).  Figuring out everything would be boring, though.  You’ve got to keep some mystery in your life!  Luckily there are still plenty of enigmas in this universe, like the nature of consciousness, how there can be old news, and skinny people who go on diets.

I’ve been joking that my biggest decision upon turning 40 is that I need to start deciding what kind of midlife crisis to have.  

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Sci-Fi Plato, Part Three: Necessity by Jo Walton

As a science fiction fan and philosophy professor who teaches Plato's Republic every year, Jo Walton's Thessaly series is right up my alley (see my reviews of The Just City and The Philosopher Kings here and here ...).  The Just City made my list of Philosophical SF Recommendations.  I was lucky enough to meet Walton at a book signing recently when I attended the 74th Worldcon.  I told her that as a philosopher I approve of a series that involves a time-travelling goddess setting up Plato's Republic with some help from Socrates ... and robots!  She was amused.

I continued to love the philosophical aspects of this third book in the series (especially with Crocus the robot!).  While I really liked the ending, I found a lot of the plot of this one to be a bit meandering and sometimes difficult to follow.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Eurocentrism as Political Correctness: A Response to Nicholas Tampio

Eurocentrism has been in the news lately.  In July US Congressperson Steve King made comments downplaying the cultural contributions of non-white, non-Western "subgroups." (Thus demonstrating that he's scarier than that other Stephen King.)

Last week there was a call from political science professor Nicholas Tampio to narrowly define philosophy as a discipline responding either directly to Plato's Republic or at least part of a self-consciously Socratic-Platonic tradition of inquiry (I recommend reading his essay, "Not All Things Wise and Good Are Philosophy," for yourself here).  Tampio was responding in large part to a piece from Jay Garfield and Bryan Van Norden called "If Philosophy Won't Diversify, Let's Call It What It Really Is."

I find much of Tampio's essay to be either plain wrong or downright odd.  Before I explain why, however, let me begin by trying to define some key terms (something philosophers around the world have been doing for thousands of years).

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Review of Reviews: They Live, Weaveworld, and Interstellar (Novelization)

It's time for another review of reviews!  (My last review of reviews was in July).  This time I have three items on the agenda: John Carpenter's film They Live, Clive Barker's novel Weaveworld, and the novelization of Interstellar by Greg Keyes.

Rowdy Roddy Piper all out of bubblegum in They Live

They Live

Owing mainly to my recent outbreak of 80's nostalgia (partially fueled by Stranger Things), I've been on a bit of a John Carpenter kick lately.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Star Trek as Regulative Ideal: Reflections on the 50th Anniversary

"Live long and prosper, Star Trek."

Fifty years ago today, the first regular episode of Star Trek aired and changed at least one world forever.  

Fans throughout the galaxy are celebrating.  Items from Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry are being released from the Roddenberry vault.  Of course there's 50th anniversary merchandise.  We're getting a new series next year.  iO9 is featuring Star Trek Week!  There are a lot of great articles there.  One of my favorite is Katherine Trendacosta’s “Star Trek is My Best Love.” 

What’s so Great about Star Trek, Anyway?

So a lot of people (including me) believe that Star Trek is worth celebrating.  But why?

Perhaps there are as many answers as there are Star Trek fans.

Some people love Star Trek as a show that emphasizes the science in science fiction (even if it sometimes uses meaningless techno-babble).  It has inspired people from all walks of life to go into STEM fields.  Star Trek is one of the few science fiction shows that actually features scientific exploration as one of its core themes.

Others enjoy the technological aspects of Star Trek.  From communicators to talking computers, some parts of the world of Star Trek have already become reality.  I recently acquired an iPad, and every time I use it I can’t stop thinking about the PADD from Star Trek: The Next Generation. 

These are perfectly good reasons to love Star Trek, but I don’t think either entirely explains the enduring love people have for this show.  The main reason people love Star Trek is a bit deeper.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Dragoncon Impressions

Dragoncon Cosplay Parade:
 Barf from Spaceballs, Cornelius and Zira from Planet of the Apes, and a Dune procession in the back

Just a few weeks after Worldcon in Kansas City (see my reports here and here), my friend Dominik invited me to join him last Saturday for a day trip from Chattanooga to Atlanta to attend Dragoncon.  How lucky can one nerd be?

While I only attended one day and didn't get the full Dragoncon experience, here are some of my impressions.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Non-Superhero Summer Movie Roundup: Warcraft, Independence Day, Ghostbusters, Star Trek, The Secret Life of Pets, Kubo and the Two Strings

This year's summer movies largely seemed to follow the pattern of this terrible year: they ranged from mildly mediocre to grotesquely terrible.  I'm not sure about why that is, although this article from The Guardian's Benjamin Lee takes a good stab at it.  The awfulness of 2016 summer movies is especially odd compared to 2015, which gave us the masterpiece of Mad Max: Fury Road.  I even liked Terminator Genisys.

I'm not a big superhero fan, which probably saved me from some disappointment this summer.  I did have the misfortune of seeing Suicide Squad, but the silver lining for me is that as much of an offense to cinema as Suicide Squad was, it may signal that we are finally nearing the end of the mind-numbing domination of superhero movies.  Another benefit of Suicide Squad is that it inspired this hilarious video from Jenny Nicholson: "Suicide Squad Sales Pitch."

So without further ado ... my non-superhero summer science fiction and fantasy movie round up!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Worldcon Report 2: Fun Times, Hugo Results, and the Incoherence of the Puppies

The 74h Worldcon (MidAmeriCon II) has ended.  After a brief impromptu bonus vacation in Charlotte, North Carolina (due to missing a connecting flight), I'm back home in Chattanooga.  So here's Worldcon Report 2! (See Worldcon Report 1, which includes my first George R. R. Martin sighting of the con).

Luckily I had a shirt to wear for
my bonus vacation
Here are some of the highlights from Saturday and Sunday.

  • I saw George R. R. Martin around several more times.  He was even dressed up sans Greek fisherman's hat for the Hugo Award Ceremony.  More on the Hugos below.
  • I went to a lot of great panels.  Some of my favorites were Alienation in Science Fiction (which included Robert J. Sawyer, who I met later), The Art of Worldbuilding (which included Greg Bear and Carrie Patel), Alienbuilding (which included Larry Niven, Sheila Finch, and Caroline Yoachim), and a panel on Sense8 (which included Mark Oshiro, Sunil Patel, and Kate Elliott).
  • I bought several books, thus fueling my bibliophilia.  I made sure to buy a few books from smaller presses like Rosarium and Apex.
  • I met a lot of interesting people, some of whose names I unfortunately can't remember!  A few people whose names I do remember are Shiv Ramdas (whose work I hope to check out soon), Mike Substelny, and Chester Hoster.
  • Jo Walton signed a book for me, and I told her that as a SF fan and philosopher who regularly teaches Plato's Republic, I thoroughly approve of her Thessaly series, which is about the time traveling goddess Athena setting up Plato's Republic in the distant past (with robots and Socrates!).  She signed Necessity, the third book in the series, which I hope to review soon (see my reviews of the first two books here and here).
  • Before the Hugo Awards Ceremony, some friends and I ate at the Flying Saucer restaurant, which seemed like the most appropriate place to eat (the food was good and the beer selection was amazing; check it out if you're in downtown Kansas City).

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Worldcon Report 1

I've been having a fabulous time here at MidAmeriCon II (the 74th Worldcon).    Here are a few highlights so far.

George R. R. Martin in his native habitat

  • I went to a bunch of really interesting panels on topics ranging from Afrofuturism, the history of the book, teaching science fiction, Ursula LeGuin's The Dispossessed, and more!
  • I caught a few minutes of George R. R. Martin's reading.  And then I had a GRRM sighting in the hallway in his native habitat: a science fiction convention!  (See photographic evidence above).
  • I've been hanging out with friends I haven't seen in awhile and I've met new people as well.
  • I voted for the site section for future the future Worldcon and future NASFic.
  • I had some excellent barbecue.
  • Above all, I've been enjoying being part of the fannish community. I've written about in the past, but Worldcon is bigger than the smaller local cons.  No matter how nerdy you are in the "normal" or "real" world, you are a valued and accepted member of this community.  This makes me think the whole Puppy fiasco is terribly at odds with the core idea of fandom: a beautiful acceptance of people who are often maligned and stigmatized elsewhere.  More to think about soon.

Next up: more panels today and then the Hugo Awards ceremony.  Tomorrow: my talk at 11!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Upcoming Talk at Worldcon!

Kansas City, Missouri

In a few days I'm heading to Kansas City to attend MidAmeriCon II, the 74th World Science Fiction Convention (aka, Worldcon).  I'm looking forward to seeing old friends, meeting new ones, enjoying some panels, seeing some fantastic authors, attending the Hugo Awards Ceremony, eating some of that famous barbecue, and having an all around nerdy good time.

I will also be giving a talk on the academic track called “The Meaning of Life Among the Stars: Nolan’s Interstellar, Robinson’s Aurora, and Butler’s Earthseed."  

My panel takes place on Sunday, Aug. 21 from 11am-12pm.  See the full schedule here.   Maybe I'll see you there!

Saturday, August 13, 2016

More 80’s Than the 80’s: Stranger Things and My Totally 80’s Nostalgia-thon

Maybe it’s because 2016 has been pretty depressing so far – even our summer movies have been underwhelming.  Maybe it’s because I’m only several weeks shy of my 40th birthday.  Maybe it’s because I just watched Stranger Things.  For whatever reason, I’ve been feeling a lot of 80’s nostalgia lately.

The Sublime Bodaciousness of Being an 80's Kid

I’m a genuine 80’s kid.  I never stopped loving Arnold Schwarzenegger’s one-liners from “I’ll be back” to “Consider that a divorce” (see a comprehensive list here).   Growing up with sci-fi and fantasy movies like ET, The Dark Crystal, The Neverending Story, Gremlins, The Goonies, Ghostbusters, Labyrinth, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and Back to the Future made my childhood a magical time.  I still learn lessons from GI Joe and He-Man

Monday, August 8, 2016

Philosophical SF Recommendations

Books!  Check 'em out!  (Includes a few from my list)

Eric Schwitzgebel has published new entries in his series of recommendations of philosophical speculative fiction from professional philosophers and SF writers with philosophical backgrounds.  The latest entries come from philosophers Paul Prescott, Helen Daly, John Holbo, and ... me!

CLICK HERE to read the recent entries.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Reading The Clan of the Cave Bear in Memory of Mom

After a two-year battle with breast cancer, my mom died 16 years ago today.  Last year I wrote about my typical Dairy Queen remembrance (“Commemorating the Anniversary of my Mom’s Death”).  This year I thought I’d try something new, but don’t worry, what my mom jokingly referred to as a “recommended daily dose of Dairy Queen” is still on order.

When I was a kid I remember that my mom was a fan of Jean M. Auel’s Earth’s Children series.  The Clan of the Cave Bear and its sequels were always around the house.  Sadly my mom didn’t live long enough to read the last two novels in the series. 

I’ve always meant to read some of those books, both as a way to connect with my mom and out of my amateur interests in paleoanthropology (I’m particularly fascinated by Neanderthals).  Recently I decided to finally start the first book.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Hugo Voting (Part Two)

Today is the day!  The deadline for Hugo voting is 11:59pm PDT.

I began discussing my choices in "Hugo Voting (Part One)."  I'm super excited about attending MidAmeriCon II in a few weeks, where the winners will be announced!

This is my first time voting for the Hugos and the most important thing I've learned is that Hugo voting is pretty much a part time job!  I didn't give the attention to all the works that most of them deserved, and I missed a few categories just because I didn't have time to get to them.  Time management lessons for next year, I guess.

I'll give my full list of choices below, but first a few notes on my voting strategies (see here and here for my voting strategies when it comes to actual politics).

Voting for the Best! (Along with Strategic De-puppification)

Since I oppose both the strategy and motivation of most of the Sad and Rabid Puppies, I wanted to do what I can to minimize their impact on the whole process.  I've been meaning to vote for the Hugos for years, but it was partly the Puppy controversy that motivated me to vote for the first time this year.

But on the other hand, I don't want to vote against deserving nominees just because they were nominated by Puppies.  While we can all be sure Vox Day and some other Puppies would take credit if say, Neal Stephenson, Stephen King, or Neil Gaiman win, we can also be sure that those authors can do just fine on their own.

So here's the strategy I came up with:  I voted straightforwardly for my favorite works at the first run through, but in the event that I couldn't decide between two or more works, only then did I consider whether those works appeared on a Puppy list as a tie breaker (especially the Rabids, who are far worse).  This list from File 770 was extremely helpful there.  A blog called Spacefaring Extradimensional Happy Kittens has another attempt to sort out Puppy influence.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Dreaming, Principles, and Cooperation: Science Fiction, Philosophy, and Politics (Part Two)

In Part One I described the contrast between what I called principled politics and cooperative politics as well as a general discussion of whether voting for the lesser evil is a good idea.  In Part Two, I'll start with a specific application.

Clinton and Trump (Credit:

Voting for Clinton for the Sake of Sanders’s Ideals

I vote strategically and encourage political cooperation because I care about my political ideals.  I probably didn’t say this enough during all the contentious, tiresome, but occasionally fruitful discussions with friends and random strangers about the 2016 Democratic primaries. 

The following may shock some principled Sanders supporters: I basically agree with most of Bernie Sanders’s ideals, especially on issues like healthcare and education.  But I never thought he articulated a realistic plan for getting from where we are to where we ought to be.  

Dreaming, Principles, and Cooperation: Science Fiction, Philosophy, and Politics (Part One)

The Enterprise crew before the Council of the United Federation of Planets

Principled Politics and Cooperative Politics

Would you rather hold on to your principles come what may, or engage in shrewd compromise for the greater good?

How you answer the previous question says a lot about your political instincts.  Here in the US, politicians as varied as Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders are more likely to lean toward the first option and to be concerned with ideological purity at the expense of compromise while politicians like Hillary Clinton and Marco Rubio are more likely to go for the second and to act cooperatively and strategically even if it means not achieving exactly what one’s ideals prescribe.  (Donald Trump, who seems to have neither real political principles nor a desire for compromise, is in a third category).

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Spock, Death, and Mediocre Villainy: A Review of Star Trek Beyond

Star Trek: The Motion Picture ... er, I mean, Beyond
Star Trek films have always ranged in quality.  Like many fans and this ranking, I'd count Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan as the best and Star Trek V: The Final Frontier and Star Trek: Nemesis as some of the worst.  I personally have a huge soft spot for Star Trek IV: The One with the Whales, a silly movie with a serious message directed by Leonard Nimoy.

Star Trek Beyond (2016) falls somewhere in the middle of the pack.  The good news: it's better than Into Darkness, which I'd put near the bottom (Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan?  "Cold fusion" freezes lava?  Ugh.).

Beyond has a lot of problems (more on those in a bit), but for the most part it's a fun movie that continues to capture the essence of the old characters while it introduces new ones.  It's bittersweet to watch Anton Yelchin's Chekhov after the actor's untimely death in a car accident in June.  Karl Urban's McCoy once again steals the show as my favorite part of the new Trek films.  Sofia Boutella's Jeylah, the white-and-black alien, portrays ass-kicking innocence (think: grown-up Arya Stark in space).  Scottie has a major role in this one, which is unsurprising as Simon Pegg co-wrote the script.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Tectonic Fantasy: The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin

N. K. Jemisin's The Fifth Season is a difficult, complex, and engrossing tale.  Let me focus on the plot structure, the worldbuilding, and the major theme of living within unjust social structures.

Weaving Plot Threads

The plot follows three threads of three characters: Essun, a woman in search of vengeance against her son's murderer, Damaya, a girl going to a school for a magic that allows people to control geological forces, and Syenite, a woman ordered to go on a mission with a man she detests.  The three threads seem unrelated at first, but they come together as the book goes on (to say how, exactly, would be an unforgivable spoiler).  This makes for a fascinating structure.

The Essun storyline is told in the second person, so that "you" do this and that.  I was a bit worried at first that this would seem gimmicky or artificial, but somehow it works and even makes for an interesting style.  You might worry that the whole book is in the present tense, but this also works surprisingly well.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Busting Misogyny: A Review of Ghostbusters (2016)

Like many of the nerdy persuasion born in the 70's and 80's, Ghostbusters (1984) was practically on a constant loop on cable and VHS during much of my childhood.  So, along with a general disdain for remakes and reboots, I understand the fear that the 2016 reboot might ruin one's childhood.  What I don't understand is the blatant misogyny of some of the preemptive backlash (pre-lash?), nor the racist Twitter campaign against Leslie Jones.  More on that later.

But first: Fear not, fellow nerds of a certain age!  Ghostbusters (2016) is actually pretty good!  A lot of the jokes are hilarious, and it's a fitting homage to the original.  The whole thing is a lot of fun, far more fun than anything else I've seen this summer (especially the joyless messes of Warcraft and Independence Day: Resurgence).

Saturday, July 9, 2016

America's Terrible Week: A Few Thoughts

It's been a terrible week here in the United States.  Alton Sterling was killed by police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  Philandro Castile was killed by police in Falcon Heights, Minnesota (a city I had previously associated with happy memories of the Minnesota State Fair).  Both appear to be part of a larger trend of disproportionate killing of black Americans by police officers.  And then five police officers were killed by a lone gunman in Dallas, Texas just a few blocks from where JFK was shot.

It's the kind of heart-numbing horror that makes me want to crawl into a hole and cry myself to sleep.

I don't have anything like a coherent statement about all of this, although I've written about similar issues before (see here and here).  This time I have a few random thoughts.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Review of Reviews: Welcome to Night Vale, Binti, Doctor Who: Kinda, and More

It's been awhile since I posted a review of reviews.  They're a good way to gather a few reviews that are too short for a full post.  So, here's some stuff I've encountered recently!

Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeremy Cranor

I finally got around to listening to some of this popular podcast on a recent road trip.  I loved it!  For the uninitiated, it's a quirky Lovecraftian take on A Prairie Home Companion (but in the desert with a healthy dose of The X-Files).

If you're worried about whether what works as a podcast would work as a novel, well... you probably should be.  This isn't to say I didn't enjoy it.  I did.  You could read this without having listened to the podcast, but it's really for fans of the podcast.

You also get some of the "serious" part of what I take away from the podcast: one way to bear the bewildering horror of our inconsequential lives in this ineffably vast universe is to step back and laugh at it once in awhile (as I also argued here with some help from the Doof Warrior).  The podcast does all this better, honestly, but the novel is a fun read.

Rating: 81/100.  See my Goodreads review.

New Publication in Comparative Philosophy

Image of Nāgārjuna (c. 150-200 CE)
My latest publication, "Nāgārjuna's Pañcakoṭi, Agrippa's Trilemma, and the Uses of Skepticism," is now available from the journal, Comparative Philosophy.  Comparative Philosophy is a peer-reviewed, online, open-access journal, which means that you can read it for free!

Friday, July 1, 2016

Hugo Voting (Part One)

It's July 1!  That means lots of things.  It's Canada Day.  Summer is in full swing in the northern hemisphere.

And Hugo voters have until the end of the month to submit their choices for awards ranging from Best Novel to Best Fanzine.  This is my first time voting for the Hugos.  I've been meaning to do so for years, but this year I finally got it together.

Click here if you're interested in purchasing an attending or supporting membership, either of which entitles you to vote for the Hugos and allows you to download a Hugo packet that includes digital versions of most of the nominated works.  Here's the list of this year's nominees (see also this helpful version on File 770, also a nominee for Best Fanzine!).

I'll also be attending MidAmeriCon II (Worldcon) in Kansas City in August.  I'll be giving a talk on the academic track (the title will be “The Meaning of Life Among the Stars: Nolan’s Interstellar, Robinson’s Aurora, and Butler’s Earthseed," part of which will be based on this post).  Maybe I'll see you there!

How should I discharge my awesome responsibility as a Hugo voter?  I still haven't completely decided.  Here's some of what I'm thinking right now.  I'll write more later as I get through more of the lists.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Philosophy Through (Science) Fiction Short Story Contest


There's an exciting announcement over at the Blog of the APA (American Philosophical Association):

Short Story Competition: Philosophy Through Fiction

The basic idea:

We are inviting submissions for the short story competition “Philosophy Through Fiction”, organized by Helen De Cruz (Oxford Brookes University), with editorial board members Eric Schwitzgebel (UC Riverside), Meghan Sullivan (University of Notre Dame), and Mark Silcox (University of Central Oklahoma). The winner of the competition will receive a cash prize of US$500 (funded by the Berry Fund of the APA) and their story will be published in Sci Phi Journal.

At War with Time: The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

"Relativity propped it up, at least gave it the illusion of being there... the way all reality becomes illusory and observer-oriented when you study general relativity.  Or Buddhism.  Or get drafted."  
- The Forever War (p. 37)

This is one of those classic science fiction books I somehow missed until now.  Many people think of it as an answer to Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers.  Despite the fact that Haldeman denies any such thing and Heinlein apparently loved the book, this characterization makes a lot of sense.  (Haldeman is also an obvious inspiration for contemporary military SF like John Scalzi's Old Man's War).

Both Starship Troopers and The Forever War have intricate battle scenes and detailed descriptions of military life.  (It's too much for my tastes, honestly, which is why I've never been a big military SF fan.)  Both depict a united Earth in an interstellar war with shadowy alien forces.  But while Starship Troopers seems to glorify a kind of fascist militarism (Or maybe not? ... see my review), The Forever War is usually read (for good reasons) as an anti-war novel deeply critical of the hyper-militarism that Starship Troopers glorifies.  It's also even more obviously an allegory for Haldeman's experiences in the Vietnam War (this was written in the early 70's a few years after he returned to America).