Posted by: David | February 7, 2008

Science Fiction

An article in the current issue of WIRED magazine seemed interesting to me. It’s by Clive Thompson, and is entitled Why Sci-Fi Is the Last Bastion of Philosophical Writing. It’s not very long and is fairly thoughtful. Try it you’ll like it.

Lest you think me an atheist, I remind you that I am a registered Theistic Iconoclastic Nihilist®. Not to be confused with Scientology. This belief system requires infinitesimal faith. Know’m say’n? Oh yeah, and I’m a giant NERD too. I’ve seen the movie 2001 A Space Odyssey an infinite number of times.


Stop Dave. Will you stop Dave?

I’m afraid Dave.



  1. I have not read any fiction recently, but my impression is that there is also real writing in US crime fiction. The science fiction novels that I have read about, including the “Canticle” that you recommended, seem to deal with large numbers of people, collectives and their fates. I like to read the story of individuals. I suspect that more can be understood there.

  2. I think Thompson is right that “speculative fiction” is, often, a fiction of big ideas (or, at least, elastic premises). He’d dead-on, too, about the “deranged” notions of the inner lives of women that mar some of the masterworks. But I’m sorry he gives up so utterly on so-called “literary” fiction. Maybe he would take heart if he had a subscription to one of McSweeney’s publications, or a boxed set of Charlie Kaufman’s screenplays. Anyway I am uncomfortable with his kind of categorizing — was it Duke Ellington who refused to split music up into a zillion little genres, and said: there’s just good music, and the other kind? Fiction is the same way, to me — there’s plenty of delightful, or jarring, or eloquent, or just plain absorbing stuff around.

    Thanks, Dave, for a good ponder to go with my early morning coffee!

  3. I love science fiction. I’ve read a lot but I aways go back to scifi. I love it because you can let your imagination fly. I love astronomy and have a good telescope. I have seen the rings of Saturn from my backyard. I’ve seen comets and nebulas and all sorts of stuff. There are some good scifi writers out there (some crappy ones too).

  4. The most recent fiction I’ve read is the Pullman trilogy – His Dark Materials. I loved the idea of Dust- a sort of elementary particle of consciousness with a physics of its own.

    I agree cantueso that the stories of individuals are more immediately accessible. I still recommend A Canticle for Leibowitz, but maybe it’s time I reread it.

    Nice Duke Ellington quote vermonter. Tolerance of others’ sincere creations, and respect for their hard work- these qualities make for a good teacher!

    Joan I bet you see lovely stars out there on the cape. We’ve had plenty of comets to see in the past 10 years haven’t we? I’m always looking at the night sky too.

    Thanks for the thoughtful comments.

  5. what’s the Pullman trilogy? I don’t know it. That business about Dust sounds like my cup of tea though.

  6. It’s considered to be young adult fiction/fantasy. Philip Pullman wrote The Golden Compass back in the mid 90s. The Subtle Knife and the The Amber Spyglass followed in the next 5 years. The heroine of the series is a plucky lass named Lyra. Bet you’d like her! Dr. Knisley pointed me to these books.

  7. I agree with Vermonter and Duke…there’s good stuff and the other and, despite my career, I’m not a big fan of parsing things to an absurd level (ok, maybe I am but it can get in the way of a good discussion)…Sci Fic is great for exploring philosophical topics but so is the Simpsons, Bob Dylan and Seinfeld as this series tries to point out…

    so I’d take issue with the whole “last bastion” bit but not the overall premise that sci fi can do a great job with philosophy though philosophy books do a good job all by themselves.

  8. Yeah Kevin, that vermonter writes a heckuva comment huh? The links she provided are pretty interesting to. Who the hell is this McSweeney guy? Thanks for your link to the philosophy series.

    Agree with you on the bolognious nature of that ‘last bastion’ idea. I think that it arises naturally from the potent concept of Technos as Savior, and the way that Science is still thought to be the bringer of Truth (by the laity anyhow).

  9. I haven’t read much sci fi – but I’m open to it! (I did read Snow Crash last year.) and recently read the Golden Compass. I adore Charlie Kaufman!!!

    C- how did you like The Golden Compass?

  10. bolognious is the Best Necessary New Word of 2008. All you other words, pack it up; this year’s contest is over. Go home and practice, and we’ll see you next year.

  11. Thanks vermonter, but sheesh, it’s only February. And February of a year that, so far, seemingly promises to bring Hitherto Unimaginable Folly!

    Carcinogenic Luncheon Meat Names are the tip of this berg. In my little corner of the world I am still hoping to bring the word CRAPSTACK into common usage. It just doesn’t seem to be catching on, though I use it every day to set an example … baby steps …

  12. Part of what I like about bolognious is that it is the pitch-perfect opposite of another word-that-ought-to-be: integritous. Integritous is a word I have long thought should exist, being the state or condition of having integrity. The opposite of bolognious. So you see bolognious already has a place in the world.

  13. For all the flower porn:

  14. Daing…let’s try that again:

    (for ALL the flower porn)


  16. Creepy lemur.

    I enjoyed The Golden Compass… I like to read the books before seeing the movie and was curious about the controversy. Just about the time I was wondering why the Catholics were in an uproar, I found something possibly upsetting to them. It was good. But I haven’t yet seen the flick and have not yet rushed out to get the 2nd and 3rd.

    ah! VTer, thanks for explaining the words. I actually went to google to ‘define bolognious’ and didn’t get it. sigh…

  17. well creepy or not, i cannot watch that lemur without laughing out loud no matter who’s within earshot or even if i am completely by myself without even the cats. it’s like a little happy-pill you take with your eyes.

  18. Have you read Earth Abides by George R Stewart? It is amazing our sci fi book club covered it. We wanted to read Canticle as a comparative novel. I love crime and sci fi and now, although I do not like biographies, I love reading blogs.
    My son writes speculative fiction[short]

  19. Hi Magik Quilter, thanks for your comment. I did read Earth Abides, but so long ago that I don’t remember much of it. I think it’s worth a reread so thanks for mentioning it. And for the link to your son’s blog.

  20. […] Is it good practice to base your life philosophy on lessons learnt from SF authors? Interestingly: (from the link in the post) “If you want to read books that tackle profound philosophical […]

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