Monday, August 8, 2016

Philosophical SF Recommendations

Books!  Check 'em out!  (Includes a few from my list)

Eric Schwitzgebel has published new entries in his series of recommendations of philosophical speculative fiction from professional philosophers and SF writers with philosophical backgrounds.  The latest entries come from philosophers Paul Prescott, Helen Daly, John Holbo, and ... me!

CLICK HERE to read the recent entries.

Thanks to fellow philosopher/science fiction fan Helen Daly for putting me in touch with Eric Schwitzgebel.  It's an honor to be included in such esteemed company!  There's a lot of great stuff on these lists as well as some works I will be adding to my ever-expanding to read list.  I had heard of Ted Chiang before, but I had no idea he was so beloved by philosophers!

For these lists contributors are limited to ten items.  One of the things that made this extremely difficult for me is that I consciously tried to include newer items that weren't already represented on the previous lists.  With the exceptions of Zelazny and Butler, I managed to do so, but this meant I had to cut out my recommendations for favorites like Ursula Le Guin's The Dispossessed, Iain M. Banks's Surface Detail, Philip K. Dick's Ubikand Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End.  Woe is me!

Here's my list with super awesome bonus links to my reviews just in case my little blurbs aren't enough for you.

Roger Zelazny, Lord of Light (novel, 1967). In the far future humans use technology to become gods and goddesses from the Hindu pantheon, until a Buddhist challenger arrives. Not entirely accurate, nor easy to understand, but always fun.  [See my blog review]
Frank Herbert, God Emperor of Dune (novel, 1981). The most philosophical of a philosophical series. Aside from Herbert’s usual ruminations on politics, ecology, and what it means to be human when some are more human than human, it asks: What would you do with the whole human race?  [See my Goodreads review]
Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents (novels, 1993 and 1998). During a chillingly realistic slide into dystopia paired with meditations on race, gender, empathy, and nationalism, a quasi-religion, Earthseed, is founded by the main character and later questioned by her daughter. Should we make space travel a long term organizing goal rather than war, economic gain, or political domination?  [Oddly I've never formally reviewed these amazing books, but I will be discussing them during my talk at Worldcon next week!]
C. S. Friedman, This Alien Shore (novel, 1999). A bit of Dune, a bit of cyberbunk, and deep science fictional meditations on the value of diversity in which physiological diversity is paired with cognitive diversity.  [See my blog review]
Amy Thomson, The Color of Distance (novel, 1995). A scientist is marooned on a planet with amphibian aliens. Exploration of issues in feminist ethics and philosophy of science: Should we abide by abstract rules and sanitized observation or should we also rely on lived experience, particular judgments, and direct interaction? [See my blog review]
Liu Cixin, The Three Body Problem (novel, Chinese original 2008, English translation by Ken Liu 2014). Begins during the Chinese Cultural Revolution and follows a First Contact story and a video game that features Mozi and Leibniz and introduces a world where the laws of nature aren’t uniform.  [See my blog review]
Jo Walton, The Just City (novel, 2015). Time traveling goddess Athena tries to set up Plato’s Republic in the pre-Homeric Mediterranean world. Socrates shows up. Hijinks and philosophical ruminations ensue.  [I forgot to mention that Socrates has dialogues with robots!  See my blog review.]
Kim Stanley Robinson, Aurora (novel, 2015). A beautiful, melancholic work of hard scientific speculation and philosophical inquiries on artificial intelligence, narrative theories of personal identity, and whether it’s ecologically plausible or ethically desirable to colonize other solar systems. The ship is one of my all time favorite characters. [See my blog review and why this was my favorite novel of 2015.  I will also be discussing this during my talk at Worldcon next week.]
Nnedi Okorafor, Lagoon (novel, 2014). Aliens first contact a giant swordfish and then encounter various humans of Lagos, Nigeria. Science fiction doesn’t have to be Eurocentric or even anthropocentric.  [See my blog review]
Carolyn Ives Gilman, Dark Orbit (novel, 2015). An expedition to a planet where the inhabitants are mostly blind. Interrogates whether the senses, especially in the modality of vision, and empirical scientific methodologies are giving us the full picture of the universe.  [See my blog review.  This was my second favorite novel of 2015.]


  1. Just what I needed -- more books for Mt. TBR!

  2. Voyage From Yesteryear by James P. Hogan. Maybe more about how social psychology determines philosophy and cultural conflict between the past and the future.

  3. The Just City is the free e-book this month for the Tor Book Club! It's now in my e-library.

    1. Cool! It's a really fun and interesting book. I hope you like it!