My old poker buddy Eric Schwitzgebel has, for some time, been soliciting Top-10 lists from folks who teach SF and philosophy. So I finally got around to contributing. Tell me I’m wrong!
Eric has busted into sf authorship himself since our grad school days. Here’s one of his in Clarkesworld, “Fishdance”. “The two most addictive ideas in history, religion and video-gaming, would finally become one.” It’s good!
One thing I’m going to talk about this semester is the domestication of experience machines. In genre terms, The Matrix is a bit played out. Inception. Been there, done that. Can we agree about that? Also, video games just get normaler and normaler. Yesterday I looked around on the train and I was, literally, the only person NOT playing “Pokemon Go”. True story! It felt a bit weird. They were all off together in an alternate version of the city. I was alone in the real one, with only my headphones and music to keep me warm – like some savage. There are two obvious ways to make virtual life, as an alternative to real life, appealing: make the world really messed up. Make the virtual world nice. Maybe the people behind the scenes don’t need to be Agent Smith-style jerks. The first film to play it this way, in a nice way, is Avalon. But no one saw it. Good film. More recently you get the likes of Ready Player One and Off To Be The Wizard, in which players of games – and games within games, and games within games within games – are increasingly comfortable with the whole biz. Not that there’s no lingering anxiety about the appropriateness of this life strategy! I like to think that one of my all time faves, The Glass Bead Game, is an honored ancestor. Homo Ludens. What’s Latin for ‘man, the player of virtual reality games’?
Of course, I think of myself as more of a cartoonist than an sf author. Since I’m on the subject, here are a couple graphics I whipped up for my module last time, which amused me – although I did it all fast-and-sketchy. I’d really like to remake them carefully, in a Norman Saunders-y style.
The idea is to make fake pulp covers for classic scientific and philosophical thought-experiments.
Philosophically, the point is as follows: it would be silly to repackage Newton’s Cannon and Galileo’s Tower, etc. as pulp fiction. Why? Well, for a lot of reason too obvious to mention. Duh. But, narrowly: thought-experiments work by simplifying, abstracting and purifying, so our thinking is clear of irrelevant factors. It is obviously a bad idea to mix in a lot of lurid adventure and wish-fulfillment and scantily-clad ladies and such. So the question is: do a lot of classic sf short stories, generally felt to be ‘philosophical’, suffer from the silly problem implied by my parody covers? Namely, they are bad thought-experiments because their philosophical logic is bound by an excess of genre constraints, an overdeveloped narrative logic? But, in order to make this valid point, I found myself sketching lots of scantily clad ladies, so when we got to “The Conquest of Gola” I figured – fair is fair! Here is one for the ladies! (Or whomever. Or whatever.) Apparently Zack Galafianakis will be in the film version. It will be a lot like “The Martian”, looks like. Kind of “The Martian” meets “The Hangover”, maybe?
Ah, my eyes! The goggles, they do nothing!