On the reification of science fiction

Originally posted to the Science Fiction community on Facebook One important factor to think about in the arguments around “what is science fiction?” is how SF was reified into concrete form in the 30s and 40s. The real creators of science fiction from Mary Wolstonecraft Shelley to H G Wells had no concept of scienceContinue reading “On the reification of science fiction”

Rebel Wisdom with Damien Walter – Dune and the deeper meaning of scifi

The excellent Rebel Wisdom invited me to discuss science fiction and the meaning crisis and the release of Denis Villeneuve’s Dune. We take a super deep dive into the mythos of science fiction and the wider role of stories in modern society.

John Vervaeke with Damien Walter – the cogsci of scifi

In October 2020 I was fortunate to get two hours of time with the cognitive scientist John Vervaeke for a full discussion of cogsci, scifi and the meaning crisis. We talk about how science fiction both helps, and sometimes gets in the way of, the complex task of finding meaning in our lives, the addictivenessContinue reading “John Vervaeke with Damien Walter – the cogsci of scifi”

A science fiction history of World War 3

Humankind had it within our grasp to become a K1 civilization, the first stage of the Kardashev scale. But we allowed K1 to slip through our fingers. As the scientist Carl Sagan argued, much of 20th century history can be understood as the effort, and failure, to achieve K1. Today that failure has returned us to the threat of World War 3, as Russia invades Ukraine. How did we miss our chance at K1? And how can we still become a K1 civilization?

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Severance – what does it mean?

Severance is sophisticated science fiction for grown up audiences in the style of J G Ballard, Philip K Dick or Haruki Murakami. But what does it mean?

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Ted Chiang’s devastating critique of artificial intelligence

AI research plays a sleight of hand trick. It states that human intelligence is emergent from matter. Then it claims that “artificial” intelligence can be treated as less than human because it is emergent from matter. It’s the trick that allows us to treat AI as machines, rather than as life.

Ted Chiang’s The Lifecycle of Software objects extrapolates the hard determinist understanding of intelligence to its inescapable, logical conclusion. That the intelligence which AI research brings into the world will be inextricable from life. And that we will be compelled not to enslave our AI creations, but to care for them.

The outcome is among the greatest science fiction stories ever written.

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We must save JRR Tolkien from Jeff Bezos

The scouring of the Shire is the most beloved part of The Lord of the Rings for many lovers of Tolkien. A coda to the novel’s main story, where the hobbits who defeated Sauron now have to take back the very thing they went to war to protect, their home, the Shire.

JRR Tolkien was a “High Tory”, who loved tradition and loved humanity, and hated the powers of industrialisation and commercialisation he saw overrunning the world. What a shame it is then that his great myth has been sold out to Amazon, and Jeff “Sharkey” Bezos.

Maybe it’s time for those who are his fans to scour JRR Tolkien of those turning his work into a corporate entertainment franchise.

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An interview with Adam Roberts

“It’s trying to thread that needle between the wonder and the splendour in this mythology without being beguiled into actual fascism.” ~Adam Roberts

Adam Roberts is a professor of nineteenth century literature, a prolific essayist and critic, and one of our best science fiction writers. Our interview traces a path between two powerful forces in science fiction – the mythic stories of transcendence and self fulfilment that animate much of today’s most popular sci-fi storytelling, and the mundane and ordinary lives that ground our reality.

We touch on the shifting perception of science fiction in academia, questions of worldbuilding and the endless argument to define science fiction, the new optimism of hopepunk and solarpunk, HG Wells long fascination with eugenics, the balance between stereotype and archetype in storytelling, and professor Roberts answer to the question of where science fiction began. It’s a great insight into the thinking of a great SF author.

00:00:00 A mistrust of myths
00:01:51 An interview with Adam Roberts
00:04:39 The professor’s productivity tips
00:08:11 The nineteenth century and science fiction
00:11:03 Has the academic perception of science fiction shifted?
00:14:29 The worldbuilding question
00:19:16 Why do we keep arguing about the definition of science fiction?
00:23:39 We spend more money on Star Wars than space travel
00:32:12 Melding the literary and the sci-fi
00:42:49 The process of writing science fiction
00:48:03 Translating Joyce and algorithmic writing
00:59:50 Hopepunk and Solarpunk
01:11:22 The Community vs. the Individual
01:18:03 The Heroic and the Quotidian
01:28:02 A segue to Wellsian scholarship
01:35:01 Emmanuel Kant and the Fermi paradox
01:44:24 Tolkien and the English mythos
01:49:47 Stereotype vs Archetype
01:57:14 When does science fiction begin?

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The Critical Drinker is not a critical thinker

The Critical Drinker blames the failure of new Star Wars movies on the “deconstruction” of traditional heroic storytelling. It’s a typically reactionary position that is ignorant of amazing storytellers who base their stories on deconstruction like Alan Moore, Iain M Banks and Terry Pratchett. It’s clear that the Critical Drinker is not a critical thinker. But the problems with reactionary reviewers go much deeper.

00:00 Culture is not your friend
04:45 The critic vs the reviewer
08:59 The Critical Drinker is not a critical thinker
10:15 Gamergate and video game addiction
13:08 Reactionary reviewers celebrate addictions
15:36 Star Wars is the Big Mac of culture
19:07 The Hero’s Journey is a tribal war story
21:24 The British deconstruction of scifi and fantasy
31:47 Only the critical thinker can escape the power of culture

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Why are atheists angry? Raised by Wolves

Raised by Wolves is a remarkable work of symbolic science fiction…for exactly 2 episodes. As soon as master storyteller Ridley Scott departs the show crashes harder a nosediving colony vessel into absurdity. Let’s hope season 2 can do better. But in those early episodes Raised by Wolves sets up a symbolic narrative exploring the conflict of Faith vs. Atheism. And asks the important question…is atheism just another system of belief?

00:00 The angel of Atheism
00:56 Intro to the Science Fiction podcast
06:42 Terms of discussion – steelman the argument
07:58 The Dialectic vs. the Didactic
11:21 Symbolic storytelling in science fiction
16:07 Ridley Scott’s Repli-verse
23:00 The symbolism of Raised by Wolves
31:28 So…why ARE atheists angry?

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