Sunday, December 30, 2018

Putting the Hype to the Test: Ready Player One, David Weber, and Jim Butcher

Geekdom is awash in hype.  But how much of geek/nerd culture lives up to the hype?

Several months ago I decided I should try to read some really popular stuff in the SF/F world to see what the hype is about.  Many years ago this is how I discovered Harry Potter, which shows that sometimes books really do live up to the hype.  Once in awhile the results are just terrible.  My experience of Ready Player One comes to mind (more on the book and the movie below).  Other times stuff is not for me, but I can see why other people like it.  This was the result when I read David Weber's first Honor Harrington book a few months ago (see my review below).  And occasionally something isn't my favorite, but it's hard to deny it's a lot of fun, as with Jim Butcher's famed Dresden Files (more below).

Friday, December 28, 2018

Random Thoughts, Part 2

Made at:

Back in "Random Thoughts, Part 1" I listed some of the random thoughts I decided to start writing down several months ago.  Alas, we have come to "Random Thoughts, Part 2," in which I continue this project.  I've saved some of my longer thoughts for this part, so get ready.  And read to the end for a surprise announcement.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Journeys in the Metafictional Multiverse: The Dark Tower: The Dark Tower VII by Stephen King

The Dark Tower series is a journey like no other.  And The Dark Tower: The Dark Tower VII is the destination as the final* volume in the series (*Not exactly the final book: King added volume 4.5 in 2012).  One of the strongest threads running through the series is a tension between being fixated on the goal (Roland) and enjoying the journey itself (Oy, and as we come to learn but could have guessed earlier, King himself).  I'm definitely an "it's about the journey not the destination" kind of person, but I have to say I loved this destination, probably precisely because I wasn't fixated on it.  As the Buddha figured out thousands of years ago, sometimes the best way to get something is to stop wanting it so much.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Random Thoughts, Part 1

Made at:

I have a lot of random thoughts.  Walking down the street, in the shower, doing the dishes, watching a movie, standing in line at Taco Bell, waiting to fall asleep, clearing the cobwebs from my mind in the morning...  There's really no telling when a random thought will strike.  I guess that's what makes them random.  Several months ago I started writing some of them down, not always right away and sometimes with a little editing.  But I thought it might be interesting project to keep a record of some of my random thoughts and to subject the internet to a handful of them.  Enjoy!

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Mortal Engines and Liking What You Know Isn't Good

A small city being pursued by London in Mortal Engines

I have a strange habit of occasionally liking movies I know aren’t very good.  I have defended Jupiter Ascending.  I was one of about four people who liked The Dark Tower movie.  For reasons I don't entirely understand, I've watched all nine Hellraiser films.

I went into Mortal Engines with few expectations.  I knew Peter Jackson had something to do with it, it was based on a book I had never heard of, and from the trailer I knew it featured cool-looking giant cities on wheels in a post-apocalyptic world (seriously, go watch the trailer!).

While I can't say it was a good movie, I was entertained.  It was one of those movies I enjoyed a lot while I watching it, but I liked it less as the movie went on and as I thought more about it later.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Towering Paradoxes of Self-Reference: Song of Susannah: The Dark Tower VI by Stephen King

Song of Susannah, the sixth installment of Stephen King's sprawling Dark Tower saga, may be my favorite so far in this series.  Now I see why philosophical types love these books so much.  I particularly love the towering paradoxes of self-reference (pun intended, of course).  More on that in a bit.

Oddly, Song of Susannah seems to be a lot of people's least favorite (judging by a non-scientific sample of online reviews).  Is there a lot of linear movement toward the ka-tet's goal of reaching the Dark Tower?  Not really, although some really important things happen.  Is there a lot of what might look to some people like self-indulgent postmodern wankery?  Sure, but I think that's a surface-level reaction -- the line between wankery and brilliance can be thin, but I think King is on the side of brilliance if you catch a glimpse of what he's doing.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Being Decent: An Appropriately Vague Moral Theory

The first time I read Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics over 20 years ago and every time I have read it since, I’ve been struck by what may appear to be one of Aristotle’s more casual comments, but which I have since come to see as a deep point about moral thinking in general.

For it is characteristic of a well-educated person to look for the degree of exactness in each kind of investigation that the nature of the subject itself allows. For it is evident that accepting persuasive arguments from a mathematician is like demanding demonstrations from a rhetorician. (Nicomachean Ethics, Book I, 1049b24-26, translated by C. D. C. Reeve)

Aristotle doesn’t spell out exactly what he means, perhaps on purpose or perhaps because what we have from him are more lecture notes than polished texts. My thought is that according to the account of virtue he sets forth later in the text, Aristotle is well aware that his general account of virtue will not always tell you exactly what to do in any given situation. It’s not a decision algorithm (as modern Western theories like utilitarianism or deontology are sometimes thought to be). The vagaries of human life and specific situations will not allow any such thing.

Instead, Aristotle’s account of virtue is a general guideline for how to become the kind of person who generally knows what to do in specific situations. Virtue is a skill. He can’t tell you how to solve the trolley problem or how to be the most effective altruist, but he might help you become the sort of person who can solve such moral conundrums when or if they appear in specific contexts.

I think this is also a key to a defense against some kinds of moral relativism, because sometimes you’ll hear an oddly scientistic argument that because moral thinking is messy, imprecise, and unscientific, it must be relative – a conclusion that in no way follows if you accept that moral thinking could be both imprecise and non-relative.

Being Decent

But Aristotle’s insight about the inexactness of moral reasoning also helps me think through a moral theory I’ve been thinking about for a while: what matters most in ethics is being a decent human being.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

True Crime Goes Weird: Maplecroft by Cherie Priest

Have you always wanted to read a Lovecraftian version of the Lizzie Borden axe murder story?  Me, neither.  That is, until I heard about this book a few years ago.

Cherie Priest's Maplecroft might appeal equally to true crime fans and fans of Lovecraftian cosmic horror.  I'm definitely more in the second group.  I'm not judgmental about it, but personally true crime sometimes skeeves me out, like I'm supposed to be entertained by other people's real life misery.  I don't know the Lizzie Borden story extremely well, but I could follow this novel just fine.  You mileage may vary depending on how much you love true crime in general and Lizzie Borden in particular.

When it comes to Lovecraftian glimpses behind the veil of the world as we believe it to be, on the other hand, I'm totally on board.  There are plenty of eldritch horrors here.  There's even a professor from Miskatonic University if you're not sure Priest has Lovecraft and his particular brand of weird fiction in mind.  Luckily, Priest doesn't write like Lovecraft.  I have a bizarre love of Lovecraft's eccentric prose, but nobody else can get away with that and I'm glad Priest didn't try.  Her style is modern and engaging even though she preserves just enough of a 19th century style to allow the reader believe the journal entires and letters could have been written in the 1890's.

A bonus fact: Priest earned an MA in Rhetoric and Professional Writing from the university where I currently teach.  Small, weird world!

Friday, November 23, 2018

American Horror History: Re-reading Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

I first read Kindred by Octavia Butler back in 2015.  As I read it, it occurred to me that, while it uses the science fiction trope of time travel, it is essentially a horror novel.  The horror is American slavery.  The novel also encourages us to think about what, distinctively, was wrong about American slavery, a project taken up by philosophers such as Howard McGary and Bill E. Lawson.  See my full review here.

Fast forward to 2018 when I was planning a course on horror and philosophy.  I was planning to cover Du Bois's double-consciousness in Jordan Peele's Get Out and Victor LaValle's response to Lovecraft's racism in The Ballad of Black Tom, so I thought the horror of Kindred might make a nice addition to help us focus on the horror of American history.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Thankful for Thanksgiving

I’m thankful for Thanksgiving. I know that sounds dumb. Let me explain.

I’ve been in academia for most of the last 23 years in roles as student, staff, and faculty. Here in the United States, Thanksgiving always falls on the fourth Thursday of November. In American colleges and universities, the fall semester usually starts in late August or early September and ends in early to mid-December (a minority of institutions have quarters or trimesters, but I have thankfully been spared such madness).

What I’m getting at is this: Thanksgiving is the perfect time to stop and catch your breath before the last weeks of the semester, weeks that usually include a bizarre ritual of academic sadomasochism for both students and faculty: Finals Week.

So, I’m thankful for Thanksgiving as an important moment of respite in the rhythm of academic life. It’s a time to pause, reflect, be grateful, and, of course, eat a lot.

Another thing Thanksgiving gives me time to do is write blog posts!  Here are some of my Thanksgiving posts from previous years: "Giving Thanks for Philosophy, Science Fiction, and Good People," "I'm Thankful for my Regrets", and "Believe -- Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade."

Happy Thanksgiving!

EDIT: Another thing you might do with some extra time is to reflect on the troubling history of colonizers' relations with the indigenous peoples of North America. In particular, the cheery story of natives and pilgrims many Americans learn is at best incomplete and probably just wrong. Check out this article for ideas: "How to Support Indigenous People on Thanksgiving."

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Thoughts on the 2018 US Midterm Elections

My voting selfie!

The 2018 US midterm elections occurred two weeks ago.  Right before that I wrote a "Weird Al-Themed Voting Round Up" that included some of my thoughts on voting, and of course, some Weird Al references.  I promised I'd have some thoughts back then.  So now that the elections are a couple weeks behind us, here are a few thoughts going more-or-less from specific to general.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Vampires and Philosophers: 'Salem's Lot by Stephen King and Stephen King and Philosophy, edited by Jacob M. Held

I've been on a Stephen King kick lately, but 'Salem's Lot was never near the top of my list until recently.  Vampires aren't my favorite horror trope (they're overdone, not that original, and kinda boring most of the time).  But I changed my mind about 'Salem's Lot a few months ago when I read The Dark Tower V: Wolves of the Calla (see my review!).  To avoid spoiling two books at once, I won't say more about that connection except that it made 'Salem's Lot sound a lot more interesting to me.

So is 'Salem's Lot any good?  It is!

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Vote 2018! A Weird Al-Themed Voting Round Up

Today is Election Day here in the United States!  Here's a round up of a few things I've read and a few things I've written about voting.

And now my fellow Americans, I ask you to stop reading this, and please, for the love of whatever you hold dear: vote!

Bonus tweet from Weird Al!

EDIT (10 Nov. 18): I'll have a post on my thoughts on the results of the election later, but I just realized this is the 300th post on this blog!  Congrats to me!

Monday, October 29, 2018

Unspeaking Horror: Halloween (2018)

When it comes to the heyday of slashers in the 1980's, I always preferred the corny jokes of Freddy Krueger and the one-liners of Hellraiser's Pinhead to the sullen silence of Michael Myers and his compatriot Jason Voorhees.  It's not that I didn't like the original Halloween when I saw it on video in the 80's, but I admit that most of what I've always loved about the original was John Carpenter's synth-tastic soundtrack.  Apparently I wanted to hear something.  

But I did hear good things about this 2018 incarnation of Halloween, especially the performance of Jaime Lee Curtis.  John Carpenter is back, too; he updates his classic soundtrack with Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies, but leaves the directing to David Gordon Green this time.

So, how is it?  Maybe not the greatest horror movie ever, but a lot deeper than you'd think.  It turns out that a movie about a silent killer may have something to say.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Novella King: Different Seasons and The Mist by Stephen King

I've been on a bit of a Stephen King kick lately.  I'm five books into The Dark Tower series.  I even taught Pet Sematary in a class on philosophy and horror.  I've read at least 16 of his books (according to my count on Goodreads), and I've added most of the rest to my to read list.  And here are a few coincidences: I found a stand-alone copy of The Mist at the used book store a couple months ago, I saw The Shawshank Redemption on TV a month ago, and I saw a copy of Different Seasons at the public library a week later.  Due to these coincidences (or was it ka?), I thought I'd check out some of King's novellas.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Are College Students Relativists?

Several weeks ago I came up with the following hypothesis.

Hypothesis: College students aren't actually relativists in a normative philosophical sense as many philosophy teachers love to complain about, but rather students look at philosophical questions through a sort of descriptive "pop social science" lens. That is, they don't understand the distinction between the question "What is the truth?" and the question "What do people say is the truth?" Very little in our broader culture or education system prepares them to answer the Socratic question, "What should I personally think is the truth?" beyond unargued personal preference.
Corollary 1: Go easy on your students, philosophy teachers. We are asking them to do something our entire culture (and maybe even human nature) either militates against or deems literally unthinkable.
Corollary 2: This maybe also explains a lot about why philosophy and the humanities more generally are so misunderstood, disrespected, and ignored by the larger culture.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Voting is Like Going to the Dentist

Voting is like going to the dentist.  You don’t have to like it.  You don’t have to look forward to it.  But every so often you should probably do it.

Some people hate going to the dentist.  You have awkward conversations with people’s hands in your mouth. You get moralizing lectures about how you should floss more. The sound of that drill will haunt your dreams.  But a responsible adult should, if possible, go to the dentist for the sake of their dental health despite all this.

Likewise, some people don’t want to vote.  You have to navigate government bureaucracy to register.  You have to find your polling place and wait in line.  In some states you need to obtain the right photo ID.  And all this hassle for, well, what, exactly?  A single vote probably won’t make a difference.  And maybe you don’t like any of your choices.

But what if we thought of voting like going to the dentist, as something that isn’t exciting or pleasant or obviously immediately beneficial, but that responsible citizens should do for the health of their society? 

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Is Dead Better?: Pet Sematary by Stephen King

This is my second time reading Pet Sematary, and I found it even deeper and creepier than the first time.  (See my first review here).

This time I read Pet Sematary for my course on horror and philosophy, a book I chose to cover because I remember it being a great example of how horror can help us face the fact of death.  I found a great article in a book called Stephen King and Philosophy called "Sometimes Dead is Better: King, Daedelus, Dragon-Tyrants, and Deathism" by Katherine Allen.  Allen discusses Pet Sematary (along with The Tommyknockers) in the framework of transhumanism and bioconservatism.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Reflections on Life, the Universe, and Everything Upon the Event of my 42nd Birthday

For several years I’ve been looking forward to the day when I will finally arrive at the age at which I will discover the answer to life, the universe, and everything.  I am speaking of course of my 42nd birthday.

I have also been predicting that when this day comes the answer will remain elusive or will prove to be more perplexing than the question. So, is the answer 42 as told in Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy?  Let’s investigate.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Monsters, Death, and Authenticity: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Like most classic novels, there are depths to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and its ideas that a humble review like this can't hope to plumb.  From its complicated framing structure to its deep themes about human nature, science, and religion, it's no wonder this book continues to fascinate readers 200 years after its initial publication.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Why Do People Like Horror?: The Philosophy of Horror by Noël Carroll

The Philosophy of Horror: Paradoxes of the Heart by Noël Carroll is a thorough, academic treatment of the major philosophical issues surrounding the horror genre.  It focuses on two "paradoxes of the heart": the paradox of fiction (why are people scared of things they know don't exist?) and the paradox of horror (why does anyone like horror at all, since being scared is usually a bad thing?).

Sunday, September 2, 2018

2001: An IMAX Odyssey

Last week I was lucky enough to see 2001: A Space Odyssey in IMAX for a limited engagement to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the film.  2001 has been one of my favorite movies since I was a teenager, and in the last decade or so I've seen it on the big screen a couple times.  But seeing it in IMAX was a special treat.  (More technically minded film nerds will be sad to hear that I didn't see the full size 70MM IMAX, but the smaller digital IMAX format, which for a film neophyte such as myself is still pretty impressive).

Obviously the giant screen made for a great experience.  All of Kubrick's amazing shots look a bit more amazing on such a big screen, especially the uncanny beauty of all those outer space shots and the trip through the star gate.  Whatever they did to restore the film looked amazing.  You could see the texture on the actors' outfits in ways I had never noticed before.

I also noticed aspects of the soundtrack that I had never noticed at home or in previous big screen viewings, like new layers of creepiness in Gyorgi Ligeti's unsettling polyphonic compositions. The more famous songs like Johann Strauss's The Blue Danube and Richard Strauss's Thus Spoke Zarathustra also sounded great.

Seeing 2001 again also reminded me of everything I love about the film -- as well as why it's not everyone's cup of tea.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Worldcon 76 Report

Me giving my talk "Le Guin's Daoism" at Worldcon 76 on Aug. 18, 2018 (Photo credit: Mike Substelny)

I recently attended Worldcon 76 in San Jose, California, where I also gave a talk called "Le Guin's Daoism."  I unfortunately had to leave before the Hugo Awards ceremony took place, although I was able to watch it online from home.  Check out the results here (if you want a breakdown of the votes, see here).  I heartily recommend watching the acceptance speech of N. K. Jemisin, who is as of Sunday a three-time winner of the Hugo for Best Novel!

My Hugo ballot matches the results for Novel, Short Story, Dramatic Presentation (Short Form), Graphic Story, Professional Artist, Semiprozine, and Fanzine (I also got the Campbell Award right with Rebecca Roanhorse).  Overall I was pretty pleased with the Hugo results this year.  Luckily the whole Puppy thing seems to have blown over, or at least the Puppies took their yapping elsewhere.  Either way, good riddance.

Here are some highlights of my con experience:

Monday, August 13, 2018

Worldcon 76 Academic Track Presentation: "Le Guin's Daoism"

This week I'm going to San José, California to attend Worldcon 76 where I'll be making a presentation on the Academic Track called "Le Guin's Daoism."  The presentation will be on Saturday, Aug. 18 at 3pm (details here, abstract below).

This will be my second Worldcon, after MidAmeriCon II (Worldcon 74) in Kansas City, Missouri in 2016 (read about my experience here).  I had a great time at that one, so I'm looking forward to this one.  I'll also be spending a day in San Francisco beforehand, and thus need to pack for a totally different climate than San José.  The Bay Area is weird.

Weird Connections: Wolves of the Calla (The Dark Tower V) by Stephen King

At some point in Wolves of the Calla (The Dark Tower V), Roland wonders why the stories from the world of Jake, Susannah, and Eddie (i.e., our world) tend to be of only one genre (science fiction, Western, mystery, horror, etc.).  I've wondered this, too.  And apparently so has Stephen King, especially in this genre-blending series that I continue to love.

Wolves of the Calla is the fifth volume in the series, which is one long story (or more precisely, a network of interconnected stories).  So, don't even think of reading this unless you've read the previous four books (there's a later stand alone novel that I'm saving for later).  You can see my reviews of volumes one and two here, volume three here, and volume four here.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Philoso-monks Save Some Worlds: Anathem by Neal Stephenson

I finally found the Neal Stephenson book that's right for me. I've enjoyed a few of Stephenson's other books (particularly Snow Crash and Seveneves), but I admit I wasn't sure what all the hype surrounding Stephenson was about. Now that I found the right book, I get it.

Monday, July 30, 2018

2018 Hugo Ballot, Part Four (Artists, Zines, Campbell Award, Etc.)

Voting for the Hugos can be a bit exhausting, but I think it's worth it.  If you want to get in on the action, you have until tomorrow (July 31) to do so (see here for details).  Every time I tell myself that next time I will leave myself more time, but I always run out of time.  Where does the time go?  Maybe I need a time machine.  Oh, well.  I guess I'll get started.  (It's about time.)

Sunday, July 29, 2018

2018 Hugo Ballot, Part Three (Related Work, Dramatic Presentation, and More)

I've already submitted my votes for this year's Hugos for Best Novel, Best Novella, Best Novelette, and Best Short Story (see my ballots here and here).  But there are a lot more categories!  So ... many... categories.  You can see all the finalists in all the categories here.  There are more categories, honestly, than I can hope to vote for before the July 31 deadline.  I think I can manage a few more at least, so here's what I think about Best Related Work, Best Graphic Story, and Best Dramatic Presentation (Long and Short).  I'm not going to vote for Best Series because I haven't read any of them.  I'll probably also skip the editor categories because I don't feel as plugged into the professional side of science fiction as I feel like I ought to be to vote for those (although editing is a lot of work and deserves recognition, so I may change my mind there).  Hopefully I'll get to the other categories in Part Four!

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Rewatching the Matrix Sequels

Morpheus in The Matrix Reloaded

Like many teachers of philosophy who love science fiction, I show clips from The Matrix whenever I teach anything to do with external-world skepticism.  It's a nice way to dramatize the question: how you could know that you're not in some radically different world like the Matrix right now?

Another thing I often mention to my students is that I pretend the sequels (The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions) never happened.  The Matrix is a science fiction classic.  The sequels ... not so much.

But was I right?  Could my assessment of the sequels when I first saw them 15 years ago be as wrong as Neo's belief that he's not in the Matrix?  These questions were there like a splinter in my mind.  (Sorry, I couldn't resist).

So the other day I thought I'd conduct an experiment to answer these questions by rewatching the sequels.

Friday, July 27, 2018

2018 Hugo Ballot, Part Two (Novelette and Short Story)

Check out my 2018 Hugo Ballot, Part One to see what I had to say about the categories for novel and novella.  In this post I'm moving on to novelette and short story.  One of my favorite things about voting for the Hugos (which you can do, too!) is that it exposes me to new things and keeps me something like up-to-date with the SFF field.  This is especially true with the short fiction categories as I don't read nearly as much short fiction as I ought to.  So, thanks, Hugo awards!  There's some really great stuff this year!

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

2018 Hugo Ballot, Part One (Novel and Novella)

This year's voting for the Hugo awards is due on July 31, 2018, which means (as usual) that I'm scrambling to read as much as I can before the deadline.  So far I've read enough of the novel and novella categories to come up with a ballot.  You (yes, you!) can still sign up to vote with a supporting membership even if you aren't going to San José, CA for Worldcon.  Sign up here.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Modernity Expanded: The Lost Age of Reason: Philosophy in Early Modern India 1450-1700 by Jonardon Ganeri

I thought it might be interesting to post a review on the philosophy side of my interests.  So here you go!

The Lost Age of Reason: Philosophy in Early Modern India 1450-1700 is a groundbreaking work, even for Jonardon Ganeri's always extremely high standards.  There are at least three ways in which The Lost Age of Reason breaks new ground.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Vestiges of Identity: Provenance by Ann Leckie

After reading Ancillary Justice and now Provenance, I think Ann Leckie may be one of those authors that just doesn't click with me.  Something about her writing style feels ... murky to me, like an impressionist painting.  Leckie seems to be one of those authors who take their writing teachers' "show don't tell" rule way too seriously (although even the showing is a bit murky).

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Pre-Prolegomena to Future Discussions of Including Non-Western Philosophy in the Curriculum

If you come here for the science fiction or you aren't an academic philosopher, you may be surprised to learn that the academic discipline of philosophy is extremely Eurocentric. I've discussed this odd state of affairs on the blog before (for instance, here and here).

Over at the philosophy blog Daily Nous, the discussion of whether philosophy should try to be more inclusive came up yet again this week in a post called "End Philosophical Protectionism," which is in turn based on an interview with my friend and colleague Anand Vaidya at 3:AM MagazineAnd, as prophesied by Amy Olberding in an earlier post, the discussion in the Daily Nous comments section quickly took on some familiar beats.

Against my better judgment, I dipped my toes into the comments section.  As I read the comments, it occurred to me that maybe before the next one of these discussions takes place, we might stop to think about some things (we are, after all, philosophers!).  Maybe it's worth rethinking about some presuppositions and unquestioned assumptions that serve to make the familiar beats so annoyingly counter-productive.  To help, I came up with the following "Pre-Prolegomena to Future Discussions of Including Non-Western Philosophy in the Curriculum."  Enjoy!  Feel free to add your own pre-prolegomena in the comments.  (And thanks to Anand Vaidya, Amy Olberding, and Justin Weinberg for inspiring this post!)

Friday, June 29, 2018

Three Book Reviews: Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor, The Cyberiad by Stanisław Lem, and Among Others by Jo Walton

Sometimes I can go on for awhile (see: the past three and a half years of this blog!).  But sometimes I get more to the point, as in the following three relatively short book reviews.  I really enjoyed all of these books, so the shortness of my reviews should not be taken to reflect my estimation of their quality.  So, in the spirit of getting to the point, here are my reviews of Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor, The Cyberiad by Stanisław Lem, and Among Others by Jo Walton!

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Mysterious Clones: Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty

Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty is a well-constructed mystery narrative set aboard a spaceship with clones, mind mapping, and heavy doses of personal identity thought experiments.  It's not perfect, but I really enjoyed it.

Lafferty's biggest accomplishment is a carefully and intricately constructed plot.  The basic idea: several clones awaken with their previous clones having been murdered and nobody (not even the ship's AI) remembers what happened.  We learn enough to keep the mystery going exactly when we need to learn it.  People who are more fans of traditional mystery novels rather than science fiction might even appreciate this book for its structure alone.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Auschwitz, Immigration, and the Currents of Cruelty

The infamous "Arbeit macht frei" gate at Auschwitz (June 2018)

Last week I visited Auschwitz.  I was in Kraków, Poland for a conference (details here).  Visiting the site of a former Nazi death camp is not exactly a fun vacation activity, but I thought visiting would be well, what, exactly?  Meaningful? Worthwhile? Important?

It was all of that and more: deeply moving, educational, horrifying, profoundly unsettling…

Thursday, June 21, 2018

My Book is Coming Soon! -- Three Pillars of Skepticism in Classical India: Nāgārjuna, Jayarāśi, and Śrī Harṣa

This week I'm reading the proofs and preparing the index for my forthcoming book, Three Pillars of Skepticism in Classical India: Nāgārjuna, Jayarāśi, and Śrī Harṣa, which will be available in September.  It's nice to see something I've been working on for years finally come together.  And preparing the index is weirdly kind of fun as part of that process, although it is a bit time-consuming.

Check out the publisher's website here for more information.  The book is also mentioned on the Indian Philosophy Blog and it's already listed on Goodreads, which as a frequent Goodreads user I find really cool.  Also, I'm now officially a Goodreads author!

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Travels to Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary 2018

A selfie in front of St. Mary's Church in Kraków, advertising my department via t-shirt

Academic conferences are a great way to meet colleagues and present your research.  They also give academics a good excuse to travel!  I didn't have a lot of travel opportunities growing up, so as an adult I really appreciate the opportunities my academic career has given me to see new parts of the world.

I recently returned from a trip to Europe: Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary (with a stop at the Amsterdam airport for some Dutch cheese).  The primary purpose of the trip was to attend the Society for Asian and Comparative Philosophy Conference in Kraków, Poland, which took place June 8-11, 2018 (you can find out more about the conference in a previous post, which includes the abstract for the talk I gave).

Kraków is a beautiful city.  I recommend visiting if you can!  I think a lot of Americans overlook Poland when they visit Europe, but it has a lot going for it: great food (pierogies!), interesting history, beautiful scenery, not to mention being a bit cheaper than western Europe.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Saturday, June 2, 2018

A Marvelous World?: Toward an Understanding of our Superhero Age

I meant to write a review round up of three recent Marvel movies: Black PantherAvengers: Infinity War, and Deadpool 2.  I’ll have a bit to say about them in this post (with spoiler alerts as necessary), but they got me thinking of a deeper question – a meta-question if you will: why have superhero movies taken over genre films in the last decade or so?  What does this say about us as a culture?  (I'm speaking as an American here and mostly about movies, but I'd love to hear from people in other countries as well).

I set out to form a hypothesis to explain why superheroes have taken over science fiction and fantasy films in recent years.  I came up with at least four hypotheses.  If there's one thing philosophy has taught me, it's that everything is more complicated than you think it is.  So I think it's likely that the ascension of superheroes to total nerd domination is explained by more than one of these hypotheses, and just as likely, other hypotheses that didn't occur to me.  Maybe you can help.  Maybe we need an X-Men like force of cultural hypothesizers!  Anyway, here are my hypotheses for why we love superhero movies so much in this cultural moment.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Genre Mash Up and Philosophy Building: Wizard and Glass (The Dark Tower IV) by Stephen King

One of the things I love about the Dark Tower series (so far) is that you never quite know what's coming next.  What will Roland and company find after they disembark from the maniacal, riddle-loving supersonic train?  I don't want to spoil it, but I thought it was cool.  What if King spent 600+ pages on a flashback to Roland's youth in the fourth book in the series?   How could that possibly work?  The crazy thing is that it does work (for the most part).  Although Wizard and Glass, the fourth installment in the series, isn't perfect, it might be my favorite Dark Tower book yet.  (See my reviews of the previous books here and here.  I was perhaps one of five people that liked the Dark Tower movie that came out last year, which you can read about here.)

Friday, May 25, 2018

Non-Spoilery Reactions to Solo: A Star Wars Story

It seems like it was just five months ago that I was writing up some non-spoilery thoughts on Star Wars: The Last Jedi.  Apparently this is because it was just five months ago.

Is it too soon for more Star Wars?  A couple years ago I remarked to a friend that I was worried Star Wars was going to reach Marvel levels of over-saturation.  His response was, "But what if they keep making good ones?"

So, is the latest entry into the Star Wars cinematic universe, Solo: A Star Wars Story, any good?

I can honestly say I really enjoyed it!  By way of elaboration, I present my non-spoilery reactions to Solo: A Star Wars Story!

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Review Bonanza, Part Three: The Frankenstein Chronicles, Three Virgins, Are Prisons Obsolete?, and More!

The Frankenstein Chronicles
Welcome to Part Three of my Review Bonanza!  See also Part One, which covered Annihilation, The Laplace's Demon, River of Teeth, and Moreand Part Two, which covered The Expanse, The X-Files, Infomocracy, Navigators of Dune, and More.

Here in Part Three, I've got The Frankenstein Chronicles, Three Virgins and Other Stories by Manjula Padmanabhan, Are Prisons Obsolete? by Angela Y. Davis, The Aztecs: A Very Short Introduction by David Carrasco, and What Kind of Creatures are We? by Noam Chomsky. 

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Review Bonanza, Part Two: The Expanse, The X-Files, Infomocracy, Navigators of Dune, and More!

The Expanse

As I mentioned in "Review Bonanza, Part One" I haven't been blogging quite as regularly in the last few months, so there are a lot of things I've meant to review that have sadly gone unreviewed on this blog.  In Part One I reviewed movies (Annihilation and The Laplace's Demon), fiction (River of Teeth), and non-fiction (The Island of Knowledge and Africa, Asia, and the History of Philosophy).

This time I've got two TV shows (The Expanse and The X-Files), two novels (Infomocracy and Navigators of Dune), and one work of non-fiction (What the Buddha Taught).  I even have a few more for Part Three, so stay tuned!  And despite my antipathy toward the superhero genre, I've also seen a few recent Marvel movies (Black Panther, Infinity War, and Deadpool 2), which I've decided to review in a separate Marvel Round Up post coming soon.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Laurel/Yanny Debacle: A Skeptic’s Amusement

As someone who's partially color blind, regularly mishears things, and has read a lot about philosophical skepticism, the thing I find most amusing about the Laurel/Yanny debacle (and the 2015 iteration: the Dress) is that people are so certain that the world has to be the way it appears to them.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Review Bonanza, Part One: Annihilation, The Laplace’s Demon, River of Teeth, The Island of Knowledge, and More!

The universe has conspired against me as of late when it comes to regular blogging.  Sad, I know!  But the good news is that this means I have enough of a backlog for a bonanza of reviews!  In this installment I've got two movies (Annihilation and The Laplace's Demon), a novella (River of Teeth), and two works of non-fiction (The Island of Knowledge and Africa, Asia, and the History of Philosophy).  Stay tuned for part two coming soon.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Book/Movie Reviews: A Wrinkle in Time and Ready Player One

Movie and book: A Wrinkle in Time

There's an old chestnut that the book is always better than the movie, but I'm not sure that's true.  Usually I think of a book and a movie as such different media that it's hard to say which is better than the other.  A book focuses on the creative use of language and has space for character development and background that rarely work in a movie, while movies work directly in images and sound in ways that the printed word can only evoke indirectly.  Nonetheless, I sometimes find it interesting to compare the two to see how a story works differently in a different media.

This spring two movies based on much-beloved books were released: A Wrinkle in Time and Ready Player One.  How did they fare as adaptations?  What did they give us to think about?