Sunday, April 23, 2017

Movie Round Up: Life, Logan, Get Out, Kong: Skull Island, A Dark Song



Lately I've seen a fair number of movies in the science fictional/fantastic realm, but with the exception of Ghost in the Shell (both the 1995 anime and the 2017 live action remake) I've been remiss when it comes to reviewing them.  Alas, it's time to rectify this unconscionable situation with a movie round up!  Here are my short reviews of Life, Logan, Get Out, Kong: Skull Island, and - just to keep things from being 100% Hollywood - the Irish/Welsh indie film A Dark Song.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Dear Fellow White Dudes…

White dudes

Dear fellow white dudes,

It’s pretty cool being a white dude, isn’t it?

We’re well represented. Here in the United States (my home country and focus here), the majority of Senators and Representatives have always been white dudes, not to mention 44 out of 45 US Presidents.  The majority of actors in leading roles in Hollywood movies are white dudes, as are most Hollywood directors.  Most corporate CEO’s, military leaders, educational administrators, and so forth are white dudes. 

We white dudes have done some pretty cool stuff.  Plato and Aristotle were white dudes, although nobody realized this until the construction of modern racial identities in the European Enlightenment, which was also the work of white dudes (and a few white dudettes).  Many of my favorite science fiction and fantasy authors are white dudes: J. R. R. Tolkien, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Iain M. Banks, Kim Stanley Robinson, etc.  Some of my best friends are white dudes.

White dudes are far less likely than others to be harassed or to receive threats of violence in person or online.  We are less likely to be murdered by our romantic partners or by the police.  White dudes who engage in mass murder are framed as troubled loners, but rarely as terrorists or thugs.  We statistically get paid more for the same work as other people.

We white dudes have a lot of privileges, which as science fiction author and white dude John Scalzi has pointed out, is like playing a video game on the easy setting.  We still have to put in the effort to play the game, but it’s easier for us, especially if we're straight, cisgender, non-disabled, and come from middle to upper class socioeconomic backgrounds.  White dudes’ greatest privilege is that we can choose to ignore all this and go about our lives in the invisible safe space of a world made for us.

Man, it’s pretty awesome to be a white dude!  But you’d never know it if you listened to a lot of white dudes these days, which as a white dude myself I find kind of weird.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Unprofound Meditations: Ghost in the Shell (2017)



I didn’t hate everything about the 2017 Ghost in the Shell remake. If I weren’t a huge fan of the 1995 anime film, I maybe even would’ve liked it a lot.  But alas, the remake falls as flat as anyone who stands in the Major’s way.

I debated for a long time whether I even wanted to see the remake.  There’s of course the whitewashing issue of having most of the main characters played by white actors (more on that later).  There’s also my general fatigue with Hollywood remakes and sequels (although I’d be lying if I said I weren’t as excited as I am apprehensive about the upcoming Alien and Bladerunner sequels).


Why, Hollywood, Why?

But this particular remake didn’t seem like it needed to happen.  I don’t watch a lot of anime, but Momoru Oshii’s 1995 anime film is nothing short of a masterpiece of philosophical science fiction (see my post: "Buddhist Philosophy and Ghost in the Shell: Studying the Ghost to Forget the Ghost").  One does not simply remake a masterpiece.  

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Women’s History of the Future: Reviews of Works by Okorafor, Brackett, and Le Guin




March is Women’s History Month. Last year I celebrated by writing a post on women's history in philosophy and science fiction.  This year I thought I'd review work from three prominent women science fiction authors: Nnedi Okorafor, Leigh Brackett, and Ursula K. Le Guin.

The three works in question are all relatively short, hovering near the border between long novellas and short novels.  Okorafor's Binti: Home is a longish novella while Brackett's The Nemesis from Terra and Le Guin's Planet of Exile are each really short novels.

All three works deal with the idea of being at home.  This theme is clearest in Binti: Home (it's right in the title!), where the title character returns home after an interstellar sojourn.  Brackett and Le Guin ask whether you can be at home in a place you're not expected to be at home; Okorafor deals with not being at home in a place where you expect to be.

What do I mean by all this?  See the individual reviews below!

Saturday, March 18, 2017

200th Post Spectacular!


Reflection on 200

This is my 200th post for Examined Worlds!  To celebrate this momentous occasion, I thought I'd pause to reflect a little bit.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Intellectual Wandering: A, B, C: Three Short Novels by Samuel R. Delany


A, B, C is a nice omnibus collection of three early short novels of SF genius Samuel R. Delany. Each novel was originally written in the early 1960's, although Delany did some revision of Çiron in the 90's.  There's quite a bit in the way of forword and afterword written in 2014.  The afterword gets a bit academic, which may not be to everyone's taste, but then I suspect most serious Delany fans aren't the type to scared by citations of Derrida and Wittgenstein and lengthy footnotes.

Like most of Delany's early work (e.g., see my review of Nova), the novels are well written with hints of the depth of his later genius.  The Ballad of Beta-2 was my favorite, but I enjoyed the others more than I was expecting.  Sticking with the alphabetic contrivance of the title, I'll review them in order.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Recommended Daily Dose of Dairy Queen: Thoughts on my Mom's Birthday


Today would have been my mom's 68th birthday.  Although she died almost 17 years ago, I still commemorate this day every year with a little tradition that she called her "recommended daily dose of Dairy Queen."  Today is was one of her favorites: a hot fudge malt!

As I took my maternal communion, I thought about how much I miss her and how much she made me who I am today.  As I usually do, I also pondered a lot of "what ifs?"

Monday, March 6, 2017

A Tale of Two Conferences: Con Nooga and Central APA

Posing in front of a cool backdrop at Con Nooga!

In the last few weeks I've been lucky to attend two conferences that correspond to the two sides of this blog: Con Nooga here in Chattanooga, TN and the APA Central Division Meeting in Kansas City, MO.

I had a great time at both events, but they conspired to put me a bit behind in my usual responsibilities (like grading midterm papers).  So rather than an elaborate report, I thought I'd offer a few highlights from my experiences at each conference.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Buddhist Philosophy and Ghost in the Shell: Studying the Ghost to Forget the Ghost



My colleagues Talia Welsh and Bo Baker asked me to visit their team-taught course Honors 3590: Non-Western Cultures: Zen, Film, and Anime at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. In preparation for this event, I thought I’d write a blog post to collect my thoughts on the film we’ll be discussing, which also happens to be one of my favorites. Note that I am discussing the original 1995 animated film directed by Mamoru Oshii.



“Do you even know who you are?”

– The Major



I’ve honestly never been a huge anime fan, but I’ve loved Ghost in the Shell since I first saw it in the 90’s. First of all, it’s one of the most beautiful anime films out there. The meditative city montages alone are worth the price of admission.

But it’s also one of the most philosophically profound movies out there, anime or otherwise. It gets deep from the first moments. The intro tells us, “the advance of computerization … has not yet wiped out nations and ethnic groups” (Is there a reason to think it will?). There’s also the issue of all those lingering shots of the Major’s body: What’s the line between a problematic male gaze and artistic statements about corporality?

But the deepest issue of all is personal identity. Consider the Major’s post-scuba diving soliloquy.
“There are countless ingredients that make up the human body and mind like all the components that make up me as an individual with my own personality. Sure, I have a face and voice to distinguish myself from others. But my thoughts and memories are unique only to me. And I carry a sense of my own destiny. Each of those things are just a small part of it. I collect information to use in my own way. All of that blends to create a mixture that forms me and gives rise to my conscience. I feel confined, only free to expand myself within boundaries.”
Like anime science fiction more generally, Ghost in the Shell combines modern, computerized themes with ancient philosophical roots. The personal identity questions in the film are asked with the accent of modern computer technology but the deeper grammar is that of Buddhist philosophy.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Serious Humor in Trumpian Times


Melissa McCarthy as Sean Spicer on Saturday Night Live

While Donald Trump himself often comes across as a buffoon, there's nothing particularly funny about Trumpism as a political ideology: it's by and large a bleak, dystopian affair filled with horrific problems that only a superhero/savior can fix.  "I alone can fix it," Trump said during the Republican National Convention.  "This American carnage stops right here and stops right now," he said during his inauguration speech.

There wasn't much humor for people who were detained at airports due to the administration's ill-conceived and possibly unconstitutional travel ban.  Trump's cabinet thus far, which includes controversial members like Rex Tillerson, Jeff Sessions, and Betsy DeVos, is no laughing matter.  And those are just the major points.  It's frankly almost impossible to keep up with the administration's deeds from the nefarious to the bizarre (this website makes a good attempt).

It might seem like there would be precious little levity in these Trumpian times.  Yet in the last few weeks comedy has been made great again.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Recent TV Round Up


I originally intended to write a Best TV of 2016 post.  But now that we're veering toward mid-February 2017, it seemed a bit late for that.  Also, I watched a few new things while I was putting off writing this post.  So I give you: Recent TV Round Up featuring Stranger Things, The Good Place, Westworld, Sense8, and The OA!

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Most Interesting SF/F Novels of 2016

Some of the books on the list

Last year I wrote about my favorite books of 2015.  In 2016 I read a lot of interesting books, but nothing I loved quite as much as my favorite book of 2015: Kim Stanley Robinson's Aurora.  So this year I've decided to forego a "Best of" list in favor of a "Most Interesting" list.  Maybe this will be more interesting, too!

The following list is limited to science fiction and fantasy novels published in 2016.  I read a lot of other interesting stuff in 2016 that doesn't fit those parameters. Some notable fiction I read included: Liu Cixin's The Three Body Problem, Philip K. Dick's A Scanner Darkly, Nnedi Okorafor's Binti, Jean M. Auel's Clan of the Cave Bearand C. S. Friedman's This Alien Shore.   Some interesting philosophy books I read last year were Mary Midley's Utopias, Dolphins, and Computers and B. K. Matilal's The Character of Logic in India.  If you want a more comprehensive list, see my Year in Books from Goodreads.

In any case, here's my list of most interesting science fiction and fantasy novels of 2016!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

ChattaCon 42: Cons, the Universe, and Everything



This weekend I attended ChattaCon, which is a nice little science fiction/fantasy convention here in Chattanooga, Tennessee that celebrated its 42nd anniversary this year.  This makes it one of the oldest conventions in the southeastern United States.  This was my third ChattaCon (my first was just several months after I moved here).

As I've discussed before, even with the plethora of online fandom communities, it's still worthwhile to get together in person.  Especially given the uncertain times of our new President here in the US, it was nice to be among my people for a weekend (although I did take a break to attend the Chattanooga Women's March on Saturday).

Here's some of what I did:

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Some Lessons from the Obama Years


In the grand scheme of things the world hasn't actually changed that much since Barack Obama took office in January 2009.  I've never bought the idea, touted by tech journalists and people who write books about "synergy", that the world changes over night.  The world is much the same place it was before, piling up small changes while we're looking for big ones.  Nonetheless, the world of 2017 is not exactly the same as the world of 2009.

When Obama took the oath of office in January 2009, a recession threatened to destroy the world's economy, only the more tech savvy among us had smart phones, social media was mostly a way to keep up with high school friends, anything called a "tea party" usually involved actual tea, and Donald Trump was a reality TV star. 

As the Presidency of Barack Obama ends, it's worth reflecting a bit on the Obama years.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

MLK Day 2017: The Moral Arc, Philosophy, and Science Fiction




I don’t have a lot of heroes, but Martin Luther King, Jr. is one of them.

While the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr. have a special significance for African Americans that I in no way mean to undermine, I also think we all have much to learn from King.  For all his personal faults and the ways his message has been diluted and distorted in recent decades, he was one of the best that this country of ours has ever produced.  This is why Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is my favorite American holiday.

I’ve written posts for MLK Day in previous years (see my posts from 2015 and 2016).  This year, amid continuing racial disparities and a contentious election season that has emboldened old fashioned bigotries, King’s famous quote about the arc of the moral universe feels especially apt.  I admit to finding some comfort in it in the last few months, most recently when the US President-elect went on Twitter to belittle John Lewis, a beloved American hero and Civil Rights icon who worked directly with King.  

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Ten Rules for Public Discourse as Internet Comments Section



Back when Donald Trump's candidacy was still funny, there was a joke going around that he was the personification of an internet comments section. But the real joke has turned out to be that all public discourse now happens at the level of an internet comments section.  Or if not all of it, far more than is healthy for us as a society or as individuals.

One consequence of our comment section discourse is that we spend so much time telling people what they think that there's no time to ask them what they think and why.  We’re so busy cultivating cynicism and trying to be edgy that we forget to be kind and compassionate.  This situation has been the source of some of my melancholic mood as of late.

Alas, if we are to live in the era of public discourse as internet comments section, we ought to know what we’re getting into.  So without further ado...


Ten Rules for Public Discourse as Internet Comments Section


1. You must never think critically about your own beliefs. Your view is automatically right because it is yours. USE ALL CAPS INSTEAD OF REASONS!!!!

2. You must never empathize with people who disagree with you.

3. You must never admit that people who disagree with you might be decent human beings. 

4.  If people tell you that your view dehumanizes them, you must never reflect on whether they have a point. Remember: your view is automatically right because it is yours (see Rule 1). How dare they question it?

5. All issues must be black-or-white, with-me-or-against-me.  There can be no coalition building with people who disagree about a few issues; there is no such thing as an in-house disagreement. You are either 100% in my house or 100% outside of it.

6. All positions must be believed with the searing zeal of the martyrs; your enthusiasm for your position must burn as hot as your hatred for any opposing view. USE ALL CAPS TO EXPRESS YOUR COMMITMENT TO YOUR VIEW AND CONTEMPT FOR OTHERS!!!!!

7. Godwin’s Law is in full force: your opponents and/or their associates must be compared to Nazis as soon as possible.  It doesn't matter whether you're talking about powerful politicians or your local PTA.  No issue is too trivial to be compared to genocide.

8. Bombastic, hastily generalized claims must be made and clung to irrespective of nuance, truth, or new evidence.

9. You get to choose your own facts! If people disagree with your facts, direct them to a conspiracy theory or partisan website as evidence. Bonus points for hour-long YouTube videos of people rambling in their basements.

10. And of course, if your view can’t be expressed in 140 characters, it is not a view worth having. Sad!

Friday, January 6, 2017

2016 Movies: The Good, the Bad, and the Mediocre

The heroes of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Like the year itself, the movies of 2016 were a mixed bag that included a few gems and a lot of flaming garbage.  I've already written a post about this year's mostly wretched summer movie season, but since most of the gems arrived toward the end of the year I thought it would be good to continue my tradition of reviewing the year's movies that I found to be good, bad, and mediocre (see my 2015 list here).

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Bound to the Past: Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters



Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters is an interesting alternate history set in a modern day America in which the Civil War never happened and slavery is still legal in four states, aka "the Hard Four."  It's also written in a sort of thriller/mystery/noir style, which makes for fun reading.

The main character is known by many names while none of them seem to be his real name, somewhat like the protagonist of Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man (this is no surprise as Ellison is mentioned in the book, or at least an alternate history version of Ellison).

It's hard to say much about this book without spoilers, but I will say that it involves US Marshals who search for escaped slaves in non-slave states (most of the book takes place in Indianapolis), a daring mission to an Alabama slave-holding company, and enough plans within plans that you need to pay attention to catch them all.