Finding philosophy in science fiction - Meetup

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Finding philosophy in science fiction


The science fiction genre is rich with stories that explore classical philosophical questions and exploit timeless philosophical puzzles and paradoxes – the possibility and limits of human knowledge, Pyrrhonism, the nature of time, paradoxes of time travel, the possibility of free human action, questions of life and sentience, identity, morphing (changelings), etc.


Minds, bodies, machines, & selves

Selves and transporters; minds, robots, machines, inventions, travel devices

The real and the virtual

Memories, real and artificial; virtual realities and knowledge; illusions and delusions

Time travel and paradox

Paradox, inconsistency and time travel and freedom; physical laws; origins and endings; eternity; mortality and immortality

Freedom, determinism, and choice

Actions as caused & predictable or random; freedom and enslavement; independence and hives; chance; responsibility and necessity; expectation, anticipation and disappointment

Moral choices

The greatest good for the greatest number; intervention and relativism; conflict; war and peace; heroes and villains; predator and prey; fairness and judgment; crime and punishment; love and hate; will and desire; duty, conquest and victory

Human flourishing

Drugs, Virtual Reality, pain and pleasure; artificial enhancement; romance; life and death

Gods and other beings

Meeting gods or demons; what does it take to be a god or demon?

Contingency, chaos, and meaning

Fate, purpose, and (no) reasons for things; harmony; communication and symbols

Art and aesthetics

Beauty and repulsive

The Philosopher at the End of the Universe demonstrates how anyone can grasp the basic concepts of philosophy while still holding a bucket of popcorn. Mark Rowlands makes philosophy utterly relevant to our everyday lives and reveals its most potent messages using nothing more than a little humor and the plotlines of some of the most spectacular, expensive, high-octane films on the planet.

Learn about: The Nature of Reality from The Matrix, Good and Evil from Star Wars, Morality from Aliens, Personal Identity from Total Recall, The Mind-Body dilemma from Terminator, Free Will from Minority Report, Death and the Meaning of Life from Blade Runner, and much more. A search for knowledge about ourselves and the world around us with a star-studded cast that includes: Tom Cruise, Plato, Harrison Ford, Immanuel Kant, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigourney Weaver, Rene? Descartes, and Keanu Reeves.

Rowlands anchors his discussions in easily understood everyday terms and relates them in a manner easy to identify with. Interspersed with a ready joke or two, he wonderfully explains why those SciFi movies we love so much are much deeper than they appear to be on the surface. Mark Rowlands's entertaining and stimulating guide is perfect for anyone searching for knowledge of the world around us.

If Keanu can understand Descartes surely everyone can.

More details

The Philosopher at the End of the Universe: Philosophy Explained Through Science Fiction Films

By Mark Rowlands Published by Macmillan, 2004 288 pages


How to Live Forever

By Stephen R. L. Clark

Immortality has long preoccupied everyone from alchemists to science fiction writers. In this intriguing investigation, Stephen Clark contends that the genre of science fiction writing enables the investigation of philosophical questions about immortality without the constraints of academic philosophy. He shows how fantasy accounts of phenomena such as resurrection, outer body experience, reincarnation or life extending medicines can be related to philosophy in interesting ways. Reading Western myths such as that of vampire, he examines the ways fear and hopes of immortality are an intrinsic part of Western culture and philosophy. As one of the first works to suggest the use of science fiction in the study of philosophy, Clark creates a ground for intellectual, philosophical and experimental inquiry.

More details

How to Live Forever: Science Fiction and Philosophy

By Stephen R. L. Clark, Published by Routledge, 1995 223 pages

Favorite Sci-Fi lists (2008) - check for updates at:

Top 100 Sci-Fi Books

|Rank |Author/Editor |Title |Year |

|1 |Frank Herbert |Dune [S1] |1965 |

|2 |Orson Scott Card |Ender's Game [S1] |1985 |

|3 |Isaac Asimov |Foundation [S1-3] |1951 |

|4 |Douglas Adams |Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy [S1] |1979 |

|5 |George Orwell |1984 |1949 |

|6 |Robert A Heinlein |Stranger in a Strange Land |1961 |

|7 |Ray Bradbury |Fahrenheit 451 |1954 |

|8 |Arthur C Clarke |2001: A Space Odyssey |1968 |

|9 |Isaac Asimov |[C] I, Robot |1950 |

|10 |William Gibson |Neuromancer |1984 |

|11 |Robert A Heinlein |Starship Troopers |1959 |

|12 |Philip K Dick |Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? |1968 |

|13 |Larry Niven |Ringworld |1970 |

|14 |Aldous Huxley |Brave New World |1932 |

|15 |Arthur C Clarke |Rendezvous With Rama |1973 |

|16 |H G Wells |The Time Machine |1895 |

|17 |H G Wells |The War of the Worlds |1898 |

|18 |Robert A Heinlein |The Moon is a Harsh Mistress |1966 |

|19 |Dan Simmons |Hyperion [S1] |1989 |

|20 |Arthur C Clarke |Childhood's End |1954 |

|21 |Ray Bradbury |[C] The Martian Chronicles |1950 |

|22 |Joe Haldeman |The Forever War |1974 |

|23 |Kurt Vonnegut |Slaughterhouse Five |1969 |

|24 |Neal Stephenson |Snow Crash |1992 |

|25 |Niven & Pournelle |The Mote in God's Eye |1975 |

|26 |Ursula K Le Guin |The Left Hand of Darkness |1969 |

|27 |Orson Scott Card |Speaker for the Dead [S2] |1986 |

|28 |Philip K Dick |The Man in the High Castle |1962 |

|29 |Isaac Asimov |The Caves of Steel |1954 |

|30 |Frederik Pohl |Gateway |1977 |

|31 |Michael Crichton |Jurassic Park |1990 |

|32 |Madeleine L'Engle |A Wrinkle In Time |1962 |

|33 |Jules Verne |20,000 Leagues Under the Sea |1870 |

|34 |Roger Zelazny |Lord of Light |1967 |

|35 |Alfred Bester |The Stars My Destination |1956 |

|36 |Stanislaw Lem |Solaris |1961 |

|37 |Kurt Vonnegut |Cat's Cradle |1963 |

|38 |Carl Sagan |Contact |1985 |

|39 |Robert A Heinlein |Time Enough For Love |1973 |

|40 |John Wyndham |The Day of the Triffids |1951 |

|41 |Neal Stephenson |Cryptonomicon |1999 |

|42 |Isaac Asimov |The Gods Themselves |1972 |

|43 |Anthony Burgess |A Clockwork Orange |1962 |

|44 |Michael Crichton |The Andromeda Strain |1969 |

|45 |Daniel Keyes |Flowers for Algernon |1966 |

|46 |Philip K Dick |UBIK |1969 |

|47 |Vernor Vinge |A Fire Upon the Deep |1991 |

|48 |Kim Stanley Robinson |Red Mars [S1] |1992 |

|49 |Mary Shelley |Frankenstein |1818 |

|50 |Isaac Asimov |The End Of Eternity |1955 |

|51 |Walter M Miller |A Canticle for Leibowitz |1959 |

|52 |Kurt Vonnegut |The Sirens of Titan |1959 |

|53 |Neal Stephenson |The Diamond Age |1995 |

|54 |Iain M Banks |Player Of Games [S2] |1988 |

|55 |Jules Verne |Journey to the Center of the Earth |1864 |

|56 |L Ron Hubbard |Battlefield Earth |1982 |

|57 |Ursula K Le Guin |The Dispossessed |1974 |

|58 |Orson Scott Card |Ender's Shadow [S1] |1999 |

|59 |Niven & Pournelle |Lucifer's Hammer |1977 |

|60 |Greg Bear |Eon |1985 |

|61 |David Brin |Startide Rising [S2] |1983 |

|62 |Peter F Hamilton |The Reality Dysfunction [S1] |1996 |

|63 |Philip Jose Farmer |To Your Scattered Bodies Go |1971 |

|64 |Alfred Bester |The Demolished Man |1953 |

|65 |Margaret Atwood |The Handmaid's Tale |1985 |

|66 |Harry Harrison |The Stainless Steel Rat [S1] |1961 |

|67 |Gene Wolfe |The Shadow of the Torturer [S1] |1980 |

|68 |Arthur C Clarke |The City and the Stars |1956 |

|69 |Philip K Dick |The Three Stigmata Of Palmer Eldritch |1964 |

|70 |Philip K Dick |A Scanner Darkly |1977 |

|71 |Robert A Heinlein |The Door Into Summer |1956 |

|72 |Robert A Heinlein |Citizen Of the Galaxy |1957 |

|73 |Connie Willis |Doomsday Book |1992 |

|74 |C S Lewis |Out of the Silent Planet [S1] |1938 |

|75 |Robert A Heinlein |The Puppet Masters |1951 |

|76 |Robert A Heinlein |Have Space-Suit - Will Travel |1958 |

|77 |H G Wells |The Invisible Man |1897 |

|78 |Clifford Simak |Way Station |1963 |

|79 |Dan Simmons |Ilium |2003 |

|80 |John Wyndham |The Chrysalids |1955 |

|81 |Edgar Rice Burroughs |A Princess of Mars [S1] |1912 |

|82 |Ursula K Le Guin |The Lathe of Heaven |1971 |

|83 |Iain M Banks |Use of Weapons [S3] |1990 |

|84 |Julian May |The Many-Colored Land [S1] |1981 |

|85 |Michael Crichton |Sphere |1987 |

|86 |Alastair Reynolds |Revelation Space [S1] |2000 |

|87 |William Gibson |[C] Burning Chrome |1986 |

|88 |E E 'Doc' Smith |Grey Lensman [S4] |1951 |

|89 |Mark Twain |A Connecticut Yankee in KA's Court |1889 |

|90 |John Brunner |Stand on Zanzibar |1969 |

|91 |Arthur C Clarke |The Fountains of Paradise |1979 |

|92 |Edwin A Abbott |Flatland |1884 |

|93 |Philip K Dick |VALIS |1981 |

|94 |Audrey Niffenegger |The Time Traveler's Wife |2003 |

|95 |Stanislaw Lem |[C] The Cyberiad |1974 |

|96 |David Brin |The Postman |1985 |

|97 |Arkady & Boris Strugatsky |Roadside Picnic |1972 |

|98 |James Blish |[C] Cities in Flight |1955 |

|99 |Clifford Simak |[C] City |1952 |

|100 |Theodore Sturgeon |More Than Human |1953 |

Top 100 Sci-Fi Films

|Rank |Title |Director |Year |Min. |

|1 |Blade Runner |Ridley Scott |1982 |118 |

|2 |Star Wars Trilogy IV-VI (1977-83) |George Lucas, et al |1977 |125* |

|3 |The Matrix |L & A Wachowski |1999 |136 |

|4 |Alien |Ridley Scott |1979 |117 |

|5 |2001: A Space Odyssey |Stanley Kubrick |1968 |139 |

|6 |Aliens |James Cameron |1986 |137 |

|7 |The Terminator |James Cameron |1984 |108 |

|8 |The Fifth Element |Luc Besson |1997 |127 |

|9 |Terminator 2 - Judgement Day |James Cameron |1991 |135 |

|10 |Twelve Monkeys |Terry Gilliam |1995 |131 |

|11 |The Day the Earth Stood Still |Robert Wise |1951 |92 |

|12 |Planet of the Apes |Franklin J Schaffner |1968 |112 |

|13 |Forbidden Planet |Fred M Wilcox |1956 |98 |

|14 |A Clockwork Orange |Stanley Kubrick |1971 |137 |

|15 |Back to the Future |Robert Zemeckis |1985 |116 |

|16 |Star Trek II - The Wrath of Khan |Nicholas Meyer |1982 |113 |

|17 |Close Encounters of the Third Kind |Steven Spielberg |1977 |135 |

|18 |Jurassic Park |Steven Spielberg |1993 |127 |

|19 |Brazil |Terry Gilliam |1985 |142 |

|20 |Gattaca |Andrew Niccol |1997 |106 |

|21 |Star Wars I-III (1999-2005) |George Lucas |1999 |133 |

|22 |E.T. - The Extra-Terrestrial |Steven Spielberg |1982 |115 |

|23 |Dr Strangelove |Stanley Kubrick |1964 |94 |

|24 |Dark City |Alex Proyas |1998 |100 |

|25 |Dune |David Lynch |1984 |137 |

|26 |Predator |John McTiernan |1987 |106 |

|27 |Independence Day |Roland Emmerich |1996 |110 |

|28 |The Thing |John Carpenter |1982 |108 |

|29 |The Abyss |James Cameron |1989 |145 |

|30 |Contact |Robert Zemeckis |1996 |150 |

|31 |Stargate |Roland Emmerich |1994 |122 |

|32 |Metropolis |Fritz Lang |1926 |120 |

|33 |Total Recall |Paul Verhoeven |1990 |109 |

|34 |The War of the Worlds |Byron Haskin |1953 |85 |

|35 |Minority Report |Steven Spielberg |2002 |145 |

|36 |The Time Machine |George Pal |1960 |103 |

|37 |Mad Max |George Miller |1979 |93 |

|38 |Starship Troopers |Paul Verhoeven |1997 |129 |

|39 |Donnie Darko |Richard Kelly |2001 |122 |

|40 |Star Trek: First Contact |Jonathan Frakes |1996 |110 |

|41 |Invasion of the Body Snatchers |Don Siegel |1956 |80 |

|42 |Logan's Run |Michael Anderson |1976 |118 |

|43 |Men in Black |Barry Sonnenfeld |1997 |98 |

|44 |V for Vendetta |James McTeigue |2005 |132 |

|45 |The Andromeda Strain |Robert Wise |1970 |127 |

|46 |X-Men |Bryan Singer |2000 |104 |

|47 |Serenity |Joss Whedon |2005 |119 |

|48 |Star Trek IV - The Voyage Home |Leonard Nimoy |1986 |119 |

|49 |The Road Warrior (vt Mad Max 2) |George Miller |1981 |96 |

|50 |Galaxy Quest |Dean Parisot |1999 |104 |

|51 |Soylent Green |Richard Fleischer |1973 |100 |

|52 |Akira |Katsuhiro Otomo |1987 |124 |

|53 |Solaris |Andrei Tarkovsky |1972 |165 |

|54 |Tron |Steven Lisberger |1982 |96 |

|55 |RoboCop |Paul Verhoeven |1987 |102 |

|56 |Silent Running |Douglas Turnbull |1971 |89 |

|57 |Pitch Black |David Twohy |2000 |107 |

|58 |The Thing (From Another World) |Christian Nyby |1951 |89 |

|59 |A.I. - Artificial Intelligence |Steven Spielberg |2001 |145 |

|60 |Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind |Michel Gondry |2004 |108 |

|61 |THX-1138 |George Lucas |1970 |88 |

|62 |Spider-Man |Sam Raimi |2002 |121 |

|63 |Superman |Richard Donner |1978 |143 |

|64 |Them! |Gordon Douglas |1954 |94 |

|65 |Star Trek VI - Undiscovered Country |Nicholas Meyer |1991 |101 |

|66 |Fahrenheit 451 |Francois Truffaut |1966 |111 |

|67 |20,000 Leagues Under the Sea |Richard Fleischer |1954 |127 |

|68 |The Omega Man |Boris Sagal |1971 |98 |

|69 |Escape From New York |John Carpenter |1981 |99 |

|70 |Westworld |Michael Crichton |1973 |88 |

|71 |The Incredibles |Brad Bird |2004 |115 |

|72 |The Fly |David Cronenberg |1986 |100 |

|73 |Equilibrium |Kurt Wimmer |2002 |106 |

|74 |Night Of the Living Dead |George A Romero |1968 |96 |

|75 |Frankenstein |James Whale |1931 |71 |

|76 |I, Robot |Alex Proyas |2004 |115 |

|77 |Starman |John Carpenter |1984 |115 |

|78 |The Incredible Shrinking Man |Jack Arnold |1957 |81 |

|79 |Armageddon |Michael Bay |1998 |144 |

|80 |The X-Files |Rob Bowman |1998 |117 |

|81 |War of the Worlds |Steven Spielberg |2005 |116 |

|82 |When Worlds Collide |Rudolph Mate |1951 |83 |

|83 |Invasion of the Body Snatchers |Philip Kaufman |1978 |115 |

|84 |This Island Earth |Joseph Newman |1955 |86 |

|85 |Godzilla - King of the Monsters |Terry Morse |1954 |80 |

|86 |The Truman Show |Peter Weir |1998 |104 |

|87 |The Rocky Horror Picture Show |Jim Sharman |1975 |95 |

|88 |Rollerball |Norman Jewison |1975 |122 |

|89 |Quatermass & the Pit |Roy Ward Baker |1967 |98 |

|90 |Young Frankenstein |Mel Brooks |1974 |106 |

|91 |Stalker |Andrei Tarkovsky |1979 |161 |

|92 |Dark Star |John Carpenter |1974 |83 |

|93 |Pi |Darren Aronofsky |1998 |85 |

|94 |The Man Who Fell to Earth |Nicolas Roeg |1976 |140 |

|95 |The Bride of Frankenstein |James Whale |1935 |75 |

|96 |Things to Come |William C Menzies |1936 |92 |

|97 |The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy |Garth Jennings |2005 |109 |

|98 |Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai |W D Richter |1984 |103 |

|99 |Zardoz |John Boorman |1974 |105 |

|100 |Children of Men |Alfonso Cuaron |2006 |109 |

Top 100 Sci-Fi TV Shows

|Rank |Series |On-Air |# |Length |Source |

|1 |Star Trek - The Next Generation |1987-1994 |176 |60* |synd |

|2 |Battlestar Galactica (new) |2003-X |58+ |60 |SciFi/Sky |

|3 |Stargate SG-1 |1997-X |214+ |60 |Show/SF |

|4 |The X-Files |1993-2002 |202 |60 |Fox |

|5 |Star Trek (Original Series) |1966-1969 |79 |60 |NBC |

|6 |Babylon 5 |1993-1999 |115 |60* |syn/TNT |

|7 |Firefly |2002 |15 |60 |Fox |

|8 |The Twilight Zone |1959-1964 |156 |30/60 |CBS |

|9 |Farscape |1999-2003 |88 |60 |SciFi |

|10 |Star Trek - Deep Space Nine |1993-1999 |174 |60* |synd |

|11 |Star Trek - Voyager |1995-2001 |171 |60* |UPN |

|12 |Stargate - Atlantis |2004-X |60+ |60 |SciFi |

|13 |The Outer Limits |1963-1966 |49 |60 |ABC |

|14 |Futurama |1999-2003 |72 |30 |Fox |

|15 |Doctor Who |1963-1989 |694 |30* |BBC |

|16 |Doctor Who (2005) |2005-X |29+ |45 |BBC |

|17 |Lost |2004-X |58+ |60 |ABC |

|18 |Star Trek - Enterprise |2001-2005 |98 |60 |UPN |

|19 |The Avengers (with Emma Peel) |1965-1967 |50 |60 |ITV |

|20 |Red Dwarf |1988-1999 |52 |30 |BBC |

|21 |Quantum Leap |1989-1994 |95 |60* |NBC |

|22 |Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea |1964-1968 |110 |60 |ABC |

|23 |Time Tunnel |1966-1967 |30 |60 |ABC |

|24 |Battlestar Galactica (original) |1978-1980 |34 |60* |ABC |

|25 |The Adventures of Superman |1953-1957 |104 |30 |ABC |

|26 |The Invaders |1967-1968 |43 |60 |ABC |

|27 |My Favorite Martian |1963-1966 |107 |30 |CBS |

|28 |Sliders |1995-2000 |88 |60 |Fox/SF |

|29 |Smallville |2001-X |132+ |60 |WB |

|30 |Heroes |2006 |23+ |60 |NBC |

|31 |Science Fiction Theatre |1955-1957 |78 |30 |synd |

|32 |V |1984-1985 |24 |60* |NBC |

|33 |Dark Angel |2000-2002 |43 |60 |Fox |

|34 |Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy |1981 |6 |35 |BBC |

|35 |Mystery Science Theater 3000 |1988-1999 |197 |90 |Com/SF |

|36 |The Prisoner |1967-1968 |17 |60 |ITV |

|37 |Blake's 7 |1978-1981 |52 |60 |BBC |

|38 |The 4400 |2004-2007 |45 |60 |USA |

|39 |Andromeda |2000-2005 |110 |60 |synd |

|40 |The Invisible Man (1950s) |1958-59 |26 |30 |ITV |

|41 |Space - Above and Beyond |1995 |22 |60 |Fox |

|42 |Lost in Space |1965-1968 |83 |60 |CBS |

|43 |Space 1999 |1975-1977 |48 |60 |ITV |

|44 |The Man From U.N.C.L.E. |1964-1968 |105 |60 |NBC |

|45 |Third Rock From the Sun |1996-2001 |139 |30 |NBC |

|46 |Buck Rogers in the 25th Century |1979-1981 |33 |60* |NBC |

|47 |Alien Nation |1989-1990 |21 |60* |Fox |

|48 |Lois & Clark (New Superman) |1993-1997 |88 |60 |ABC |

|49 |Alias |2001-06 |105 |60 |ABC |

|50 |Roswell |1999-2002 |61 |60 |WB/UPN |

|51 |The Outer Limits (new) |1995-2002 |154 |60 |Show/SF |

|52 |Max Headroom - The Series |1987-1988 |14 |60* |ABC |

|53 |seaQuest DSV (& 2032) |1993-1995 |53 |60 |NBC |

|54 |The Six Million Dollar Man |1973-1978 |100 |60* |ABC |

|55 |Thunderbirds |1965-1966 |32 |60 |ATV |

|56 |UFO |1970-1971 |26 |60 |ITV |

|57 |The Wild, Wild West |1965-1969 |104 |60 |CBS |

|58 |Eureka |2006-X |12+ |60 |SciFi |

|59 |Cowboy Bebop |1998 |26 |30 |TV Tokyo |

|60 |Lexx |1997-2002 |61 |90/60 |synd/SF |

|61 |Kolchak - The Night Stalker |1974-1975 |20 |60 |ABC |

|62 |Dune (2000) |2000 |3 |120 |SciFi |

|63 |ALF |1986-1990 |102 |30 |NBC |

|64 |Crusade |1999 |13 |60 |TNT |

|65 |Batman |1966-1968 |120 |30 |ABC |

|66 |The Jetsons |1962-1963 |24 |30 |ABC |

|67 |Millennium |1996-1999 |67 |60 |Fox |

|68 |Earth 2 |1994-1995 |22 |60/P |NBC |

|69 |The (New) Twilight Zone |1985-1987 |36 |60/30 |CBS/syn |

|70 |Logan's Run |1977-1978 |13 |60 |CBS |

|71 |Wonder Woman |1974-1979 |57 |60 |ABC/CBS |

|72 |Earth - Final Conflict |1997-2002 |110 |60 |synd |

|73 |Adventures of Brisco County Jr |1993-1994 |27 |60/P |Fox |

|74 |The Incredible Hulk |1977-1982 |79 |60 |CBS |

|75 |Planet of the Apes |1974 |14 |60 |CBS |

|76 |Get Smart |1965-1969 |138 |30 |NBC/CBS |

|77 |Mork and Mindy |1978-1982 |92 |30* |ABC |

|78 |Ghost in the Shell: SAC |2002-04 |52 |30 |Prod IG |

|79 |Taken |2002 |10 |120 |SciFi |

|80 |Amazing Stories |1985-1987 |43 |30* |NBC |

|81 |The Greatest American Hero |1981-1983 |44 |60 |ABC |

|82 |Sapphire and Steel |1979-1982 |34 |30 |ATV |

|83 |The Bionic Woman |1976-1978 |57 |60 |ABC/NBC |

|84 |Land of the Giants |1968-1970 |51 |60 |ABC |

|85 |Terminator (Sarah Connor) |2008-X |9+ |60 |Fox |

|86 |Torchwood |2006-X |11+ |50 |BBC |

|87 |Star Trek (Animated Series) |1973-1974 |22 |30 |NBC |

|88 |Neon Genesis Evangelion |1995-96 |26 |30 |Gainax |

|89 |Captain Scarlet & the Mysterons |1968 |32 |30 |ITV |

|90 |Invasion |2005-06 |22 |60 |ABC |

|91 |The Flash |1990-1991 |22 |60 |CBS |

|92 |Quatermass Serials |1953-1959 |18 |30/35 |BBC |

|93 |Æon Flux |1991-1995 |16 |30* |MTV |

|94 |VR.5 |1995 |13 |60/120 |Fox |

|95 |The Invisible Man |2000-2002 |46 |50 |SciFi |

|96 |Dark Skies |1996-1997 |19 |60 |NBC |

|97 |Surface |2005-2006 |15 |60 |NBC |

|98 |War of the Worlds |1988-90 |41 |60 |synd |

|99 |Threshold |2005 |14 |60 |CBS |

|100 |The Tomorrow People |1973-1979 |22 |30 |ITV |

A brief history of the Sci-Fi Lists website

From its humble beginnings as The Instant Science Fiction Book Collection, Sci-Fi Lists has grown into one of the most respected sites of its type on the net. A brief look at its history may help answer some of the more common questions posed by the ever-increasing numbers of site visitors turning to Sci-Fi Lists for good advice.

Some nebulous time in mid-2000 I launched an obscure site that hardly anybody ever visited called The Instant Science Fiction Book Collection. The site was borne of frustration for the simple reason that I couldn't get enough of sci-fi. I wanted to buy all the very best science fiction books ever published and needed a good list to work from.

My solution was to do some research and make the ultimate sci-fi book buying guide. I started by meticulously scouring the net for any relevant book list I could find… and there were plenty of them. Following the purchase of a few terrific basic reference books I thought I was ready to tell the world (or at least the five or six a day who were visiting) all about the state of sci-fi literature as we know it.

The first Top 100 published was basically a weighted survey of critical opinion, online polls and sci-fi book awards. While this might sound pretty scientific, like any list of its ilk it was largely reliant on the quality of the source data. Unfortunately, a huge amount of the info available was based on aging polls and lists that completely overlooked newer books, at times lacking in sci-fi credibility. As a result some ground rules were set. To qualify for listing, a book had to be generally regarded as science fiction by credible sources and/or recognised as having historical significance to the development of the genre. Older lists that had seen better days were simply tossed out.

Quite suddenly people started visiting. If I learned anything during this time it was that, with only a few exceptions, sci-fi junkies are incredibly nice people. I started getting all sorts of site feedback making diplomatic suggestions about what was right and wrong with my website. Figuring out the best of the older books and where they stood was the easy part. Nailing down which of the newer books (80s and beyond) were worthy of listing and exactly where they fitted in the overall scheme of things was the real challenge.

I had about four mid-life crises between 2002-04, but somewhere in there I introduced film and television lists. I had reached data overload mode. My life consisted of voraciously scouring every dark corner of the net for any minute skerrick of sci-fi info. Christmas 2004 was marked by the site earning a 'Site of the Week' listing from … and thousands of people visited. A couple hundred of them also sent me emails.

The site was terrific. It is difficult to explain what an amazing feeling it is to know that lots of people really enjoy something you have made. I stopped making excuses for the way the site was as opposed to the way visitors wanted it to be… and started pandering to the masses. None of the core data went to waste, but the introduction of online polls became the most critical element involved in keeping the site up-to-date and relevant.

The lists found at Sci-Fi Lists today are, quite simply, the best of their type found on the net. This is not a claim made lightly. For a hobby website to be receiving daily visitation numbering in the thousands, something must be going right. I like to think it is that I listen to what people have to say. I don't ignore the emails I get and I almost always answer back.

For the interested visitor, here are a few facts about the site:

- #1 of its type for several key Google search terms

- Recipient of over thirty respected website awards

- Currently averaging over 5000 hits a day

Site monitoring also reveals a few other interesting aspects of visitation patterns. The book list receives almost seven times the visitation as any other list on the site. Americans love their books, whereas the Brits are hooked on sci-fi TV. Television is very much a 'happening now' thing, as opposed to film which honours the classics. Sci-fi short fiction is in a state of decline, but its fans are extremely well-informed on all things science fiction.

People wanting to delve deeper into how the lists are constructed would do well to start with the links page. The 'Other Lists' section gives some clue as to the main sources of info used to construct the original lists. A word of caution though… most are based on the opinion of others and, from a statistical viewpoint, are not good representations of the true state of affairs. No list is perfect, but in general the ones heavy on source data are usually the best.

A quick word about the advertising on the site. For several years I proudly promoted the fact that Sci-Fi Lists was strictly "non-commercial". In 2006 I introduced a couple of advertising programs to the site… hopefully in a fairly non-obtrusive way. My fears that this would result in a drop in site visitation have proven unfounded. If anything, visitors are finding it convenient to be able to shop for books/DVDs and get current info about sci-fi through the site. In fact, visitation has more than doubled since 2006.

On the up side, the advertising helps me to keep the site going. It doesn't make much money, but when you are a grossly underpaid wildlife ranger in tropical North Queensland (Australia) it really helps. A big thanks to all of you who have gone through the site to purchase items through the Amazon associates program.

And that brings me to my final point. A lot of people think Sci-Fi Lists is a professional website. Nothing could be further from the truth. For a person who is much more comfortable with crocodiles than people, it is a fun way for me to cyber-meet those who share a common interest. I love getting site feedback and have made a few very real friends in the process.

I don't mind a casual chat and encourage all who feel so inclined to get in touch. Sci-Fi Lists has been built on the opinions of site visitors. You are the most important people to this website. With your help, this site can continue to be vibrant and relevant well into the future.

Peter Sykes

5 April 2008

Science Fiction and Philosophy:

The sci-filosphy text is in progress. Latest update is 12/22/2008. Please come back to visit and see what is happening.


The Intersection of Science Fiction and Philosophy: Critical Studies (Contributions to the Study of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

by Robert E. Myers (Editor)

List Price: $112.95


Science Fiction and Philosophy by Susan Schneider


Philosophy in Science Fiction college course

(see saved pdf doc)


Science Fiction and Philosophy

Life needs jumps in behavior - calling SF pulp is desperate defense


Philosophy Through Science Fiction - A Coursebook with Readings

By Ryan Nichols, Nicholas D. Smith, Fred Miller

Price: $34.95

Philosophy Through Science Fiction offers a fun, challenging, and accessible way into the issues of philosophy through the genre of science fiction. Tackling problems such as the possibility of time travel, or what makes someone the same person over time, the authors take a four-pronged approach to each issue, providing

· a clear and concise introduction to each subject

· a science fiction story that exemplifies a feature of the philosophical discussion

· historical and contemporary philosophical texts that investigate the issue with rigor, and

· glossary, plot profiles of pertinent science fiction stories and films, and questions for further reflection.

Philosophy Through Science Fiction includes stories from contemporary science fiction writers including Greg Egan and Mike Resnick, as well as from classic authors like Philip K. Dick and Robert Heinlein. Philosophy readings include historical pieces by René Descartes and David Hume, and contemporary pieces by John Searle and Mary Midgley.


The Journal of Science Fiction and Philosophy

Includes mp3 readings


Clive Thompson on Why Sci-Fi Is the Last Bastion of Philosophical Writing

Wired Online -


The Philosophy of Science Fiction in Film - Editor(s): Steven M. Sanders


The Philosopher at the End of the Universe By Mark

Online book


How to Live Forever By Stephen R. L. Clark

Online book


Philosophy Is Not Science Fiction


Philoscifi website


From Science Fiction to Poetry and Philosophy


Top Ten Best Philosophical Science Fiction Stories

This week, the SFSNNJ's feature events are Themes of the Fantastic, and the topic is Philosophy and Science Fiction. While I know that our wonderful moderators, Steve Spinosa and Bill Wagner, will do a bang-up job, I wanted to throw a few ideas around before the meeting anyway:

10) Iron Sunrise by Charles Stross - examines a culture completely devoted to Nietzche. A brilliantly written story with great characters (as only Charles Stross can do), Iron Sunrise explores a future where pseudo-Nazis are trying to take over the universe in secret in the hopes that the one true ubermensch, the Unborn God, will create the ultimate peace for them. Great concepts and a wonderful tale.

9) Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan - are you really you if you are wearing a different body? Morgan examines the concept of sleeved mentalities in this far future series. The initial story, Altered Carbon, shows us that in spite of everything else, Takeshi Kovacs is a UN Envoy, no matter whose sleeve (i.e. body) he is wearing. It is an interesting examination on the morality of killing when a cortical memory stack will still contain the base 'soul' of the sleeve.

8) Cyteen by C.J. Cherryh - Amazing philosophical debate about the idea of cloning. The great ethical debate in the story centers around a clone who is being made to undergo all of the same stresses and experiences as the original in the hopes of recreating the original completely. While some decry this as a far-future version of The Boys from Brazil, the truth is that this story actually argues the point instead of using it merely as a plot vehicle.

7) Maximum Light by Nancy Kress - This bleak look at a barren and sterile future shows us a new argument to look into. Is it morally justified to castrate a homosexual in order to harvest his sperm in order to ensure the propagation of the species? The despicable act is explored in all its torrid thoughtfulness, and eventually the characters must choose between exigence and morality.

6) Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner - Granted, this cautionary tale of overpopulation and belligerent, chest-thumping nationalism is a bit dated, but the core concept: is it justifiable to kill a man who will give your enemies an advantage, is still there. Brunner looks at the morality of the espionage and assassination culture of international politics, and presents a great moral and ethical problem for the character.

5) The Stone Canal by Ken MacLeod - When is revenge enough? When has it gone too far? This story revolves around that ethical debate, while providing us with a somewhat gritty utopia of a society built around communism and Maslow's hierarchy of needs. MacLeod gives us a great look into the pros and cons of his little universe, as well as a superlative story of vengeance and hatred spanned several centuries.

4) The Traveler by John Twelve Hawks - If might makes right, what does it mean when the villains don't use physical force to coerce their victims? Enter the world of Harlequins and Travelers and find out what the counter-culture is really fighting against, and watch as the debate over the concept of a super-panopticon rages across the text of the story.

3) The Golden Age by John C. Wright - Is it ethical to completely redact a man's memories and impose a death penalty upon him should he try to restore them? What if your redactions are so thorough that he does not know why he has missing memories, only that he has missing memories? Is that character justified in taking any and all steps to restore balance even when told that he might risk his life in doing so? Read it and find out.

2) Kingdom of Cages by Sarah Zettel - Like the Nancy Kress story Maximum Light, this story deals with the ethical conundrum of the rights of a few versus the survival of the species. The question is really more pointed here, though, as human colonies are being destroyed by plague and worse, all because humans were irresponsible in not trying to understand the environments of colony worlds before making colonies there. Brilliant story, well told, and ethically perplexing.

1) Dune by Frank Herbert - Granted, Dune is my favorite novel of all time, but the ethical implications of prescience are explored with quite a bit of depth here. Does Paul Atreides have a moral imperative to shape the future of the known universe, or is this merely hubris on his part?

Posted by Todd at 11/27/2007 05:38:00 AM


by Robert A. Heinlein

an opinion

"There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy."

Albert Camus

The Myth of Sisyphus

"Of arms and man I sing..."

Virgil's "The Aeneid"

I recently picked up a copy of Robert Heinlein's "Starship Troopers" with the highest of expectations. Already almost 40 years old, the book was supposedly a classic of hard science fiction, albeit a controversial one. Mixing philosophy with political ideas in a futurist society at war with humanity at war with an alien species... how unique! I bought the book and read the book slowly so as to capture the tone well. Drinking in Heinlein's concept of human nature and an idealized future society, it took me three days to finish his treatise-cum-novella.

And it was nothing like I expected. I have since heard the book and its message described as fascistic, provocative, irresponsible, unpalatable. This it may well be. Yet I found reading his book to be an amazingly sobering and dispiriting affair. One can really drink up the spirit of a man in reading his prose, and I fear Heinlein to be not someone with whom I want to share a beer or be friends. I read later that he was a career military officer who developed tuberculosis and was invalided out of the fleet to a literary career. There hangs about this book a severe and cynical air of wounded world-weariness, as if life is a dreary and dangerous affair requiring toughness and discipline to survive. He nearly models Sparta in his apotheosis of rigorous military training as necessary for the formation of good character in a person. His anger and disdain for modern liberal democracy is strong. The dispiriting part is that Heinlein is consistent and correct in his powerful arguments - it is impossible to dismiss him, even if he gores the sacred cows of our age.

Heinlein's 22nd century earth is at war with an arachnid "bug" race from another galaxy. "They are tough and we are tough and only one of us will win and the other gets wiped out," explains Heinlein's protagonist Johnny Rico of the rugged Mobil Infantry, illuminating well the state of mind of the war between Japan and the United States during World War II, as well as the barely restrained ferocity of the Cold War afterwards. Rico's old high school teacher plays the stand-in for Heinlein's philosophy of an "improved" future society which emerges after following the "decadence and collapse of the democracies of the 20th century" after which the surviving veterans take over. Heinlein pays unconvincing lip service to the idea of a free society where civic service is voluntary and civil liberties are respected, but the soul of his argument lies in the military and the service of the State. The formation of young men and women does not take place primarily in schools, families, churches, sporting teams, universities, or love affairs. In Heinlein's idealized future, this takes place in boot camp.

Fully half the book takes place during Rico's basic training into the Mobil Infantry where he and his fellow recruits are humiliated, broken-down, and re-made into selfless members of an elite military unit. Potential soldiers learn that life is about duty, serving the collective, sacrifice, and punishment; perhaps echoing his own days as a midshipman at the U.S Naval Academy and later as a junior officer serving aboard the aircraft carrier USS Lexington, happiness is simply getting enough sleep. He is the very embodiment of Aeschylus when he said that we must suffer, suffer into truth. To a point, who can argue with that? To become a man takes learning and growing and suffering; it does not happen overnight. Who can argue that ultimately in our mature incarnations we must live for other people? And who can argue with the assertion that in democracies citizens with little invested in the system often make unwise and poorly-informed decisions when voting? So many who live irresponsible lives? Look at the drug problem in the United States, for example. Everywhere we look we see chaos, lack of order - the "degeneracy" Heinlein vigorously disdains. Look at the poverty, ignorance, and violence seen in the major American cities! In contrast, the global society into which Rico is born only lets those who have "placed the welfare of the group ahead of personal advantage" become citizens and vote. In other words, it are only the soldiers and others who have put their lives on the line who can vote and be trusted to do so wisely. Consequently, society is better arranged while peace and prosperity rule the day. The military caste are the Brahmins of Heinlein's ideal society; there is an offhand contempt for everyone else.

In the story, there is not one love affair worth mentioning. Sexuality and the need of human beings for love never moves beyond the adolescent. There is a nascent love story presented, but it is callow and undeveloped - no more mature than the high school age of the individuals portrayed. Characters can have crushes on each other, but the dark primal sexual needs and pleasures of adult life are totally absent (making the Heinlein's world less believable); I bet even many real life teenagers have love lives more rich than anything seen in "Starship Troopers." We have no idea about the art, music, recreation, romance, food, or larger non-military society of earth in the 22nd century. We have only the most unconvincing portrayal of the future family with a reconciliation taking place between Rico and his father in combat of all places. The story is bare, the prose sparing, the universe permanently hostile, the tone as severe and harsh as the future war being described. Suffering and death are never far from mind, and outside of duty and service not much is important. When Rico's mother is killed in the destruction of Buenos Aires, he does not seem overly grieved (When my mother died, I was sunk for months! In real life, such losses shape a person forever and never stray far from their consciousness.). To those whose sense of humanity and humanism is radiant and vibrant, Heinlein's "Starship Troopers" is like a dive into a freezing lake. What about those whose imaginations open up for them the universe of love, art?

Military service can be an admirable and vitally important profession in which a person can serve their fellow man. What society can afford not to have its guardians and warriors? When has there not been some aggressor or criminal which needed to be fought? But what about the heroes of the mind and the spirit? What about those heroes who give inspiration to fallible persons prone to despair? What about the battle between good and evil which rages inside everyone of us everyday? The struggle to find meaning in a life worth living? I would argue they are at least as important to a society worth living in. Who among us in the dark of a long night has not contemplated suicide? Who will make the argument in Heinlein's world not to do so? In my opinion, Heinlein's world is one in which I daresay not many people would like to live - where suicide might even be understandable! Our world - for all its barbarity, "decadence," hatred, chaos - is also one with art, love, and, most importantly, hope. We might live in a "hard cold world" where "life sucks and then you die," as one hears cynically stated in the streets. But that is not all that it is! Not by a long shot! And I would argue that point until I am blue in the face! Of all the evils - disease, cruelty, poverty, death - which Zeus placed in Pandora's box, he did place one good thing lastly without which life is unbearable: hope.

I dare to hope my descendents will not be hopping around hostile planets in powered suits dropping thermonuclear weapons onto alien creatures; that homo sapiens will be as cruel and violent a species in the future as they are presently is a concept almost enough to kill hope. I would kill if I have to; but I will live for my fellow man and woman and the good I can find in them. If a person would teach us how to fight and die, let them also teach us how to live! Is belonging to a military unit enough to live for? Does a United States Marine not need a family, God, love? Not the two dimensional ones presented by Heinlein, but characters and emotions as complex and rich as those in real life! Police officers - who live surrounded by abnormally high levels of violence and death - have long had rates of suicide far in excess of that of the general population. Combat dehumanizes and demeans; it hardens our hearts to the suffering of others and brutalizes our natures. Few are the persons not profoundly affected by first-hand acquaintance with the red scourge of war... "see where the the Victor-victim bleeds."

The real life "warriors" I have known are all more multi-faceted than anyone we meet in "Starship Troopers." And the ones I know who have killed are much more ambivalent about having done so. Heinlein takes us through basic training in realistic detail like the professional soldier he once was. We should demand the same honesty when it comes to the killing of other living creatures. Heinlein makes it easy for himself in making his adversaries "bugs" which apparently do not have minds or souls of their own; killing them seems no different than stepping on ants. But we can at least identify with the "skinnies" that Rico terrorizes at the beginning of the book. He surprises a large number of them hiding in a building and throws a bomb into it to disperse them and destroy the building. What about the effect on the soul of a man after so much violence? The killing itself is one thing. How you process it and how afterward it changes you on the inside is quite another. About this, Heinlein is silent.

We can go watch "Star Wars" or "Robocop" if we want to watch nonsensical science fiction which entertains. Heinlein tells stories in a very different vein and uses fantastic foreign settings to tell a realistic story with implications for us today like Ray Bradbury, Gene Roddenbury, or Arthur Clarke in the very best tradition of science fiction. Consistent and sobering as is Heinlein's story of people and politics, I find it to be unacceptable and unrewarding. The book is dangerous not for what it says, in my opinion. It is dangerous for what it fails to say. Heinlein apotheosizes the Sgt. Zim who would carefully mold out of a collection of callow boys hardly out of adolescence an effective combat unit; yet not one officer comissioned or otherwise in the heat of war to exemplify the far more subtle leadership skill of inspiring courage and ferocity of spirit in combat soldiers without allowing it to degenerate into hardness, brutality, and finally, atrocity. An officer who would save his soldier's lives but lose their souls? This is an important question in an era when we hung the most heinous generals of the Third Reich. All history is military conflict. Romans. Something remains. "Starship Troopers" clearly should be read with special caution by the young at risk of being seduced by the sirens' song of Heinlein and his futuristic wars and rumors of war. It is not true that pain, punishment, and service are the cornerstones of the ideal civilization.

I say this to the young: Look deep inside yourself and tell me if you don't see more than what Heinlein offers as possibilities. I say it again: He (or she) who would teach you to fight and die should also teach you how to live! Where is the joy in the world of the Mobil Infantry of the Federal Service? Compare that with the complex and sympathetic world of the brotherhood of the United States Army during the Vietnam War in Nicholas Proffitt's "Gardens of Stone!" Which world would you rather live in? Which story smacks more of the truth of war and its effect on warriors? Which speaks more directly to your soul?

A modern day exponent of Sparta in an age where such an argument is not often heard, Heinlein's powerful ideology deserves more serious attention and respect than it scornfully receives today - let us not forget that in their long internecine struggle, it was Sparta which emerged victorious over the Athens we more naturally identify with today (I can almost hear Heinlein reminding me of this). Nevertheless, I will cast my lot, live my life, do my work, and employ my pen in the service of Athens and her humanistic vision of Truth and Beauty.

One might argue that life is a Darwinian struggle for survival where the strong survive and the weak are destroyed. In his day, Heinlein might well have pointed to the Soviet Marxist-Leninists or ChiComs poised to destroy the tottering and "degenerate" liberal democracies. Yet four decades later liberal democracy is stronger than ever, and the Soviet Union has been relegated to the dustbin of history and the Chinese are "communist" in name only. I would tell Heinstein the most potent weapons a liberal democracy has are its open way of life and vibrant and humanistic culture (ie. having a culture and way of life worth fighting and dying for). The United States, Japan, Great Britain, Germany, France, Canada... all the "decadent democracies of the 20th century" are hardly on the verge of collapse presently as they prepare to enter the 21st century - to borrow from Twain, reports of their deaths are exaggerated.

Richard Geib

November 5, 1997

Science fiction: A study of ethics and morals

(thoughts from “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” by Philip K. Dick.

1. If we create sentient beings (i.e. androids), then should they be afforded the same rights as humans?

I have a feeling that we will be dealing with this question within the next century, especially given the pace of technology and new breakthroughs in artificial intelligence (AI). Let’s pretend we do create a robot that is fully sentient, has a conscious and can "think" in every way humans can.

Would it be immoral to destroy that robot? If the robot is capable of feeling pain and having normal human emotions, then one can justify that some sort of protection must be in order for these beings. I’m not necessarily arguing this position, just throwing it out there as food for thought.

2. Is Rick Deckard (a bounty hunter) morally right to "retire" (read: kill) suspected androids?

This question takes on even greater weight when one considers, that in the context of this novel, the line between human and android is pretty blurry. In fact, various tests are developed to determine who is an android and who is a human. Like most test of this variety, they are not 100% accurate. Confirmation only comes after an android’s bone marrow has been examined by a lab.

Given how close these androids resemble humans in just about every way, should they be protected under the banner of human rights? It should be noted, however, that the one thing the androids lack is empathy (the basis for the test that Rick employs while hunting androids).

3. Is it morally right to even create and build such androids to begin with, knowing full well that they are sentient and can live in the world as humans do, make their own decisions, etc.?

In the novel, they (the makers of these androids) even go so far as to implant them with false memories. This means that some androids don’t even know they are androids! For the reader, it means you are playing a constant guessing game on who is really human.

Basically, this means that the manufacturers of the androids are "tricking" them into thinking they’re human. An android may only find out it’s an android after being administered one of those empathy tests by Rick Deckard. By then, though, the android will be killed ("retired").

Final thoughts

The above questions are just some of the questions that have been running through my mind as I continue reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. The novel is a classic example of science fiction that poses large moral and ethical questions. And as the years go by, with technology advancing like it does, we might be facing those question not in science fiction, but in science reality.

Even if you haven’t read this novel, it is easy to think of the above questions as a thought experiment.

Finding philosophy in science fiction

Jan 26, 2008 1:25:24 PM

Why do you read? Do you read to be simply entertained? Or are you looking for deeper intellectual stimulation? Literature has always been a refuge for ideas. But over the years, something has happened, especially with literary fiction. It's no longer tackling profound ideas, instead, transforming into something very mundane.

An article I came across on Wired News discusses this very issue. Clive Thompson writes why Sci-Fi is becoming the last bastion of philosophical writing.

When I first started writing fiction (I don't even remember how old I was), it was science fiction that got me excited. In fact, sci-fi novels were all I read. But I only had some vague semi-understanding of the issues these books tackled. I think, at that age, I was turned on more by the gory violence of alien wars than anything else.

Fast forward to the present. My minor in college was philosophy, where I fell in love with the existentialists. A few years ago, while still a college student, I returned back to my roots in science fiction. This time I have a greater appreciation of the philosophical issues sci-fi attempts to reconcile within its pages.

So what does this have to do with literary fiction? Well, according to Thompson, literary fiction is not living up to the standards it once set:

I think it's because I was reading novel after novel about the real world. And there are, at the risk of sounding superweird, only so many ways to describe reality. After I'd read my 189th novel about someone living in a city, working in a basically realistic job and having a realistic relationship and a realistically fraught family, I was like, "OK. Cool. I see how today's world works." I also started to feel like I'd been reading the same book over and over again.

Don't get me wrong, I still love literary fiction. I love the "everydayness" much of the genre brings and I have sympathized with countless characters over the years. Many of the novels I find myself engrossed in the most are the ones that dive deep into the everyday lives of the characters.

But when I want intellectual stimulation on a deeper level, I turn to science fiction. Thompson explains why sci-fi can do what literary fiction is now failing at (maybe through no fault of its own):

Here's my overly reductive, incredibly nerdy way of thinking about the novel: Consider it a simulation, kind of like The Sims. If you run a realistic simulation enough times — writing tens of thousands of novels about contemporary life — eventually you're going to explore almost every outcome. So what do you do then?

As Thompson suggests, you change the very nature of reality itself:

You change the physics in the sim. Alter reality — and see what new results you get. Which is precisely what sci-fi does. Its authors rewrite one or two basic rules about society and then examine how humanity responds — so we can learn more about ourselves. How would love change if we lived to be 500? If you could travel back in time and revise decisions, would you? What if you could confront, talk to, or kill God?

Science fiction has always held up a metaphorical mirror to the world of the future. But I think sci-fi gets a lot of its "legitimacy" because what was science fiction yesterday is turning into reality today. Just think, how many people 50 years ago would have thought I could carry a small device in my pocket that would offer a wealth of information (the internet) at my fingertips, communicate with friends/family (email/text messaging), and stored a wealth of music? Of course, I'm talking about my iPhone.

Today, a lot of science fiction revolves around space travel and colonizing other planets. Also, humans in these imaginative worlds are usually living longer and have implants in their bodies to perform a host of cool functions - everything from instantly diagnosing an illness to talking to another person just by thinking about it. No, I'm not making this up. I'm actually taking ideas from a cool series of books I'm reading by Peter F. Hamilton, which begins with two books aptly named The Reality Dysfunction[pic](aff link).

The implications of future technology can be amazing, and at the same time, very tragic. Science fiction explores these implications and offers a scary glimpse at ourselves living in a technologically advanced world. I say "scary" because technology can be a great blessing, but also a curse if used wrong or if it falls into the wrong hands (which it always does).

I'm in no way bashing literary fiction. On the contrary, it still ranks up there as one of my favorites. But I think the function of literary fiction is much different than science fiction. I think the former is used to illuminate the human condition on an individual level, while the latter aggregates the human condition on the level of an entire society and mixing in technology, science and philosophy all rolled into one. In other words, science fiction takes the human population, throws in an alternate reality, and then tries to discover what the outcome will be.

In closing, all I can say is that if the future is anything like the sci-fi being written today, then it will indeed be a very scary, and at the same time, exciting place to live.

Also, don't forget to check out Clive Thompson's blog Collision Detection.


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No, Susan, the point of "Literary Fiction" is to provide a written soap opera for the depressed to disassociate from themselves with.

Posted by: Tick-tock Man on March 03, 2008 at 06:00 AM

Hi Susan, thank you for your comment!

You make an excellent point; one of the jobs of literature is to open our eyes to new experiences.

With that said, I think science fiction takes these "experiences" to a whole new level by creating an alternate reality that you just don't find in literary fiction.

Like I said in my post, I think the main function of literary fiction and science fiction are quite different. The former is much more "character-based", as you read in The Corrections with the father trying to cope with a terminal illness.

In most science fiction though, the focal point is more "plot-based" where the author changes reality in some way (ie. humans live forever) and then explores the social implications of such a new reality.

Whew! That was a mouthful. Maybe this is a subject that needs to be explored further. Thanks again for your comment!


Posted by: Brad on January 27, 2008 at 12:47 PM

I somewhat disagree. One of the reasons I read literary fiction is to give me a new perspective on something that exists in this world. For instance, in the book The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen, it gave me a very new view on what it means to have a terminal disease (Parkinson's). Isn't the point of literature to open your eyes to an experience that you might not otherwise see?

Posted by: Susan on January 27, 2008 at 09:16 AM


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