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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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 thematic genius of Iain M Banks

This episode of the Science Fiction podcast is re-published from an original video essay first published in September 2018.

I spent years searching, after I first read the Culture novels of Iain M Banks, for other space opera novels that equalled them. And this is what I discovered. Nothing else in the space opera genre even comes close to the Culture. Nothing. Zip. Nada. As Theodore Sturgeon said, 90% of everything is crap. But as a young reader I wondered why, with all these books marketed as space opera, did none read like the Culture? The answer is – theme.

Science fiction tends to obsess over concepts, but almost entirely ignore themes. Scifi is full of big ideas about the nature of reality or the physics of space travel. But scifi that deals with the basic themes of human life is a rare, rare thing. Banks was a genius at weaving high concept scifi stories together with great thematic depth.

In this episode I look at the opening chapter of what is, arguably, Banks’ most thematically complex novel – Excession.

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What is Solarpunk?

Solarpunk is the newest genre of science fiction, a joyous and optimistic vision of a future where humans and our technology live in balance with nature. Solarpunk is an artistic, cultural and political movement that encompasses the arts, architecture, fashion and technology.

But optimistic visions of the future are never all that they seem. From HG Wells’ The Shape of Things to Come, to Ursula Le Guin’s Always Coming Home, one science fiction author’s vision of a bright utopia is another’s grim dystopia. Can Solarpunk envision a utopia for all?

00:00 Two quotes from Brave New World
01:02 Welcome to the Science Fiction podcast
02:33 Am I trolling the scifi community?
03:49 The pre-history of ****punk
09:33 There is no such thing as Solarpunk
12:15 What is Solarpunk?
20:14 A Solarpunk Manifesto
23:17 Solarpunk is a genre without a story
25:12 Ursula Le Guin : patron saint of Solarpunk
33:13 The moral absolutism of Those Who Walk Away From Omelas
35:53 Science Fiction and the shadow of Utopianism
39:33 Can we ever achieve a utopia?

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The prophetic visions of Philip K Dick

We are living in strange times. Politics. Society. Culture wars. Things have gone weird. We’re looking for knowledge and wisdom to guide us in strange times.

I can think of no better guide to the year 2022 than Philip K Dick.

The author of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, the inspiration for Blade Runner, is best known as a science fiction writer. But after his infamous spiritual awakening and the events of 2-3-74, Philip K Dick became something more….a visionary prophet who saw our strange times coming.

00:00 Welcome to strange times
01:07 The prophetic Philip K Dick
03:45 A career of three parts
08:54 2-3-74
12:40 The films of Philip K Dick
15:24 The nine prophetic visions of Philip K Dick
15:47 NINE – The Exit Door Leads In
18:10 EIGHT – Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep
21:21 SEVEN – Chains of Air, Web of Aether
24:59 SIX – The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch
28:12 FIVE – V.A.L.I.S
31:52 FOUR – The Electric Ant
35:25 Interlude: what is reality?
36:45 THREE – Ubik
40:18 TWO – Exegesis
42:53 ONE – The Man In The High Castle
45:59 The Man Who Gazed Into The Mythos
51:49 Writing the 21st century myth

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The best Scifi & Fantasy of the 21st century (Part 1 of 2)

We are 21 years into the 21st century. What better time to look at the century we are living in…the century of science fiction.

A special double episode of the Science Fiction podcast. Part 1 of 2.

00:00 The science fiction century
03:07 Welcome to new listeners.
04:59 The best scifi and fantasy of the 21st century
06:46 Why science fiction and fantasy?
10:46 21 + 21 = 42
13:16 The first year of the Science Fiction podcast
15:04 Twenty-One : John Scalzi / Star Wars
23:46 A few outliers
26:55 Twenty : Beeple / Blade Runner 2049
32:29 Nineteen : Cixin Liu / Mass Effect
37:18 Eighteen : Jenova Chen / American Gods
42:00 Seventeen : Tamsyn Muir / The Handmaid’s Tale
44:40 Sixteen : Christopher Nolan / The Witcher
48:04 Fifteen : N K Jemisin / District 9
49:53 An offer you can refuse
52:48 Fourteen : Charlie Jane Anders / Harry Potter
55:31 Thirteen : Qntm / The Orville
58:31 Twelve : Hwang Dong-hyuk / Interstellar

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Can Denis Villeneuve make a movie out of Rendezvous with Rama?

What has a superbly detailed technical description of an interstellar megastructure and no characters or story?

Denis Villeneuve’s latest film project.

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Kim Stanley Robinson | Interstellar travel is a religious fantasy

Science fiction is fighting a doctrinal war. Between those who believe that humankind’s future is still the stars, and those – like Kim Stanley Robinson – who believe interstellar travel is a fantasy of religious belief. The science is clear, travel to other stars may well be forever beyond us. So why do we keep telling this story?

A response to Kim Stanley Robinson’s interview for the Science Fiction Talks club on Clubhouse. Find his full interview here: https://www.clubhouse.com/room/xe65rroG

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The most powerful scene in scifi cinema Blade Runner’s Tears in Rain

Rick Deckard is a Replicant. And Rick Deckard is also not the hero of Blade Runner…but is the villain. But the obvious questions about Blade Runner are also the least interesting. Empathy is the core of the Blade Runner story. Why we feel it, who we feel it for, and who we choose to exclude from our empathy. Blade Runner is an empathy test…for the audience…to see if you and I are human. All too often, we fail the test.

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The failure of Foundation is a lost opportunity for Apple

Stories that last through the ages aren’t just great storytelling, they also serve the power structures of their time. Powerful people have always patronised great stories. The epic poem Beowulf, The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri, the plays of William Shakespeare, were all supported by powerful patrons. Now the most powerful corporation in the world has decided to patronise a $500 billion production of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation saga, a story that represents the values of our technocratic elite better than any other.

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Thoughts after watching Denis Villeneuve’s DUNE (2021)

If science fiction is a gateway to the psychedelic, then DUNE is a portal to…awakening. Frank Herbert’s seminal novel and David Lynch’s baroquely weird movie are both powerful works of art on the theme of human awakening. Denis Villeneuve’s 2021 adaptation is a masterpiece of worldbuilding. But is it a kick in the third eye for would be seekers of truth? If the 13 year old me could see this Dune afresh, would the sleeper awaken?

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