I Contribute To Schwitzgebel’s Extremely Long (And Growing!) List of SF and Philosophy Recs – Plus Thought-Experiments As Pulp Fiction

by John Holbo on August 9, 2016

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.

Galileo's Tower

And:

Newton's Cannon

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?

The Conquest of Gola

Ah, my eyes! The goggles, they do nothing!

{ 29 comments }

1

Rich Puchalsky 08.09.16 at 3:28 am

“It is obviously a bad idea to mix in a lot of lurid adventure and wish-fulfillment and scantily-clad ladies and such.”

Why? I never understood the reason for that. Philosophical thought experiments clearly *are* really about lurid adventure and wish-fulfillment and so on — although they generally don’t include enough scantily clad people — so why not just make them be what they’re about? It would take a lot to convince me that all of those careening trolley cars and brains in vats and zombies that look just like people are really examples of abstract, purified thought.

2

John Holbo 08.09.16 at 3:33 am

Oh, it’s only bad for thought-experiment purposes. For all other human purposes, one should indulge one’s fetishes. In a more general sense: one should indulge one’s fetishes. Fetish-free thought-experiments are just a special case of this truth. It’s just that some people have a thought-experiment fetish, whereas others like shoes with high heels.

3

John Holbo 08.09.16 at 3:34 am

And I quite agree that the dramatic incidentals of philosophy thought-experiments are highly suspect.

4

Rich Puchalsky 08.09.16 at 4:02 am

“the dramatic incidentals of philosophy thought-experiments are highly suspect”

Are they? Take the Lewd and Prude example since I’ve already linked to it. If it was a mathematical proof about Pareto efficiency then all it would really need is math, and the rest would be incidentals. But is it really that, or is it a story about sex and relationships and the ways in which people are drawn together? (Together with, in the original, a comical “social planner” as a kind of inept duenna.) If it’s a matter of suspect subtext undermining text then you have to ask why the subtext is the text.

5

SusanC 08.09.16 at 9:47 am

The subtext works particular well in the Lewd and Prude thought-experiment. Game theory and traditional economics assume the existence of utility functions that we rationally maximize; that we are consciously aware of our own utility function. But then cough Freudian psychoanalysis meets game theory.

On another notes, Margaret Cavendish’s The Blazing World deserves a shout-out for philosophy meets genre fiction. (Undoubtedly on everyone’s lists already; but if you’re going to do a pulp fiction cover…)

6

Adam Roberts 08.09.16 at 10:11 am

Proper philosophical science fiction! One day I hope to write some of that myself.

7

ZM 08.09.16 at 11:11 am

SusanC,

Oh, I love the blazing world. Such an interesting work, I’ve mentioned it here so many times.

8

SamChevre 08.09.16 at 12:22 pm

New, but I’d put Jo Walton’s Thessaly books on my list.

Weird, but I don’t know if it’s sf or fantasy or what–but definitely philosophical and not-normal–James Morrow: Towing Jehovah and Only Begotten Daughter especially.

9

Rich Puchalsky 08.09.16 at 12:27 pm

James Morrow sort of wrote one book over and over.

Here’s what I’ve written about Adam Roberts’ books if anyone wants to read that.

10

jake the antisoshul soshulist 08.09.16 at 1:09 pm

11

SusanC 08.09.16 at 1:43 pm

By the way, if you’re drawing parodies, Eric Schwitzgebel works well as Rupert Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Something along the lines of: Buffy and Willow are grad students in philosopht at some unnamed US university. Giles, their thesis adviser, is researching lucid dreaming but is unable to become lucid himself. Willow is surprised, as this is a beginners task in meditation she can do easily. They eventually discover that Giles is a member of a centuries-old international conspiracy of philosophers who are trying to defeat the doctrine of Realism. The interest in lucid dreaming is only a proxy war: the eventual goal is to try to convince the world that there waking experiences aren’t real either, Willow: “But didn’t the Buddha discover that years ago…” Giles hopes that his new grad students will be able to convince the world, a task he has been unable to complete himself. Meanwhile. Giles is working every evening on his latest paper. One morning, for a minute after waking. he is unable to move and sees a demonic figure standing at the foot of his bed. Being a good skeptic, Giles puts it down to sleep paralysis and carries on working, despite the repeated appearance of the demon each morning, At the end of the week, he decides he needs a retreat away from the pressures of teaching classes and goes to spend the weekend at his cabin in the woods. Buffy and Willow have become concerned about Giles’ tiredness, overwork, and now, disappearance. Meanwhile, at the cabin in the woods, the demon has become more concrete and long lasting. Giles attempts to fight it with a chainsaw that has conveniently been left in a outbuilding, but looses and the demon drags him down into a network of tunnels leading from the cellar, Buffy and Willow arrive at the cabin and start to search for Giles. Down below in the tunnels, the demon has stabbed Giles with a ceremonial dagger, There is blood all over his clothes. As he bleeds out, Giles has a revelation. While his current experience may or may not be real, it is certain that he will eventually die. All previous metaphysical speculation about realism vs antirealism seems to him to be mere denial and obfuscation of the real issue, that we are all mortal and will eventually die. Buff and Willow find Giles and the demon, and defeat the demon with excessive use of computer generated imagery. They carry the wounded Giles out of the tunnels out to the surface,. (End movie)

See also: “1$ scepticism”, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Cabin in the Woods, The Evil Dead, An American Werewolf in Paris, J.J Abram’s Super 8, etc. etc.

12

oldster 08.09.16 at 3:44 pm

In a different thread, I was asking for help with a German idiom.

Now I need help with (what I presume to be?) an English idiom:

“Eric has busted in sf authorship himself since our grad school days.”

This use of “to bust in” is entirely opaque to me. Normally I would think “has made a failure of,” but context makes that unlikely. I assume that this is some new expression, popular with the youth of today.

Translation, please?

13

SusanC 08.09.16 at 3:55 pm

In case anyone should accuse me of not citing source :-) the above also nods towards Dracula (the philosopher as Lucy Westenra), the Werner Herzog remake of Nosferatu, Ursula Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea (the philosopher as Sparrowhawk, attempting to summon a spirit from the land of the dead and unleashing the Nameless Ones), and John Carpenter’s The Thing, Everyone is recycling the same plot elements.

14

NickS 08.09.16 at 4:10 pm

I’ve really enjoyed the couple of books that I’ve read by Linda Nagata and Vast, in particular, is fantastic and deals with a number of interesting philosophical issues around identity, but is probably too long and complicated to be a good classroom read.

15

Jake 08.09.16 at 4:38 pm

oldster: are you sure that’s not autocorrect gone wrong?

16

P.D. 08.09.16 at 5:09 pm

oldster: I think “Eric has busted into sf authorship…” would be more idiomatic, but even as written it means that he has taken it up or moved into doing it. “Eric’s sf authorship has been a bust” would mean that it’s a failure.

17

jake the antisoshul soshulist 08.09.16 at 8:00 pm

Stuck in moderation at number 10.

18

John Holbo 08.09.16 at 9:37 pm

Busted into. Should be.

19

John Holbo 08.09.16 at 9:50 pm

“You should have gone full Margaret Brundage.”

I’ve got my Margaret Brundage book right then on the shelf – next to the admittedly larger Norman Saunders. Somehow the current project really just seems more of a Saunders-y joke, waiting to happen. But my hero is Allen Gustav Anderson

http://www.pulpartists.com/AA.html

His stuff is the best. I mean: before we get to Frazetta.

20

AnthonyB 08.10.16 at 1:47 am

“Eric has busted in sf authorship himself since our grad school days” sounds a bit odd, but with “into” for “in” we could have something along the lines of

“I told her that I had finally broken into show business.”

21

Matt 08.10.16 at 7:32 am

Nick Bostrom is a philosopher whose so-so Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies has been mis-shelved as popular science when it’s actually didactic science fiction in the mode of Looking Backward. But Bellamy’s characterization is slightly less wooden.

If you’re interested in scary encounters with AI, but written better, Peter Watts is a biologist and SF author whose superlative Blindsight is about the collision of humanity and alien intelligence. In this collision humanity is the bicycle and the aliens are the truck. The mismatch is not obvious until it’s too late, because the humans mistakenly think that the qualities that make them unique also make them superior. Like possessing conscious experiences as opposed to “mere” intelligence. It’s a book colder than the microwave background, but as stimulating as it is icy.

Rule 34 by Charles Stross also paints a great picture of human and alien intelligence colliding. But the alien intelligence here is artificial intelligence created on Earth rather than something from deep space. It’s a truly alien, artificial intelligence — still an unfortunately rare thing in SF, despite the proliferation of real world AI applications in recent years. The future of AI — well represented in this novel — is AlphaGo plus Siri plus search plus the Internet of Things plus… It’s not R. Daneel Olivaw or anything else comfortably anthropomorphic. It’s not something that you can just pattern match against old stories about Greek gods or slave revolts.

22

dave heasman 08.11.16 at 11:44 am

Gaming and religion – have you read/heard of Chris Brookmyre’s “Pandaemonium”?

23

Dave Maier 08.11.16 at 1:53 pm

I’ve always been a big Stanislaw Lem fan: Imaginary Magnitude, A Perfect Vacuum, and The Chain of Chance are all excellent; the first two (partly) about AI and the last about, well, chance. Very visionary for the time. Although I do remember a technological misfire in a book of his from the 60s (forget the name; Eden maybe?) where he has the astronauts go back to the ship to … develop the film they just shot.

24

Icastico 08.11.16 at 7:23 pm

An bit tangentially, this thread motivates me to recommend Samuel Delany’s work for anyone looking for philosophical depth in artful SF narratives. The Neveryon series is the most blatant in this respect, but Triton and others have a fascinating subtext.

25

ZM 08.12.16 at 2:22 am

” One morning, for a minute after waking. he is unable to move and sees a demonic figure standing at the foot of his bed. Being a good skeptic, Giles puts it down to sleep paralysis and carries on working, despite the repeated appearance of the demon each morning,”

This seems uncharacteristic for Giles — he’s the Vampire Slayer Watcher after all, he is always fighting demons at every turn.

Why would he suddenly develop a scepticism about demons and put it down to sleep paralysis?

Actually this Buffy fan fiction about someone where “the eventual goal is to try to convince the world that there waking experiences aren’t real either” reminds me of Descartes’ “evil genius not less powerful than deceitful”.

Descartes considers that “the heavens, the earth, colours, figures, sound, and all other external things are nought but the illusions and dreams of which this genius has availed himself in order to lay traps for my credulity.”

I don’t know that a genius can actually be evil. A genius should be smarter than being evil I am pretty sure.

But some evil creep criminal could contrive to do that to someone I suppose. Contrive to make someone doubt reality.

But I don’t see Giles the Watcher doing that. It just isn’t his character. It would surely have to be one of the evil vampires. Maybe Drussila trying to stop Spike leaving her or something.

It makes me think of Derrida’s essay on Descartes and Foucault’s Madness And Civilisation actually, in the context of John Holbo’s dimestore style lurid philosophy book covers.

You could do some really pretty lurid dimestore covers for Discipline And Punish, and Madness And Civilisation.

Derrida asserts that three “allusive and somewhat enigmatic pages” on Descartes pinpoints “the sense of Foucault’s entire project”

Foucault seems to have been a rather unusually domineering professor from what Derrida recounts of being his student. Derrida also looks at Foucault’s connections between madness and hybris — being hubris, and the goddess of hubris. In a passage I am not quoting here, for reasons of length, he says that Foucault was unable to disengage from hyperbole. I think that hubris and hyperbole have some relation. It is a really interesting essay on Foucault. It was one of the most interesting essays I read doing an assignment on Foucault in the early 2000s.

“Now, the disciple’s consciousness, when he starts, I would not say to dispute, but to engage in dialogue with the Master or, better, to articulate the interminable and silent dialogue which made him into a disciple—this disciple’s consciousness is an unhappy consciousness. Starting to enter into dialogue in the world, that is, starting to answer back, he always feels “caught in the act”, like the “infant” who, by definition and as his name indicates, cannot speak and above all must not answer back.

And when, as is the case here, the dialogue is in danger of being taken—incorrectly—as a challenge, the disciple knows that he alone finds himself already challenged by the Master’s voice within him that precedes his own.

He feels himself indefinitely challenged, or rejected, or accused; as a disciple, he is challenged by the Master who speaks within him and before him, to reproach him from making this challenge and to reject it in advance, having elaborated it before him; and having interiorised the Master, he is also challenged by the disciple that he himself is.

This interminable unhappiness of the disciple perhaps stems from the fact that he does not yet know — or is still concealing from himself — that the Master, like real life, may always be absent. The disciple must break the glass, or better, the mirror, the reflection, his infinite speculation on the Master. And start to speak.”

Derrida above questions Foucault’s existence as the Master and then questions the existence of real life.

At the end of the essay this question is answered.

Derrida goes on to look at what Foucaults’ project is:

“In writing a history of madness, Foucault has attempted — and this is the greatest merit, but also the infeasibility of his book—to write a history of madness itself. …

Foucault wanted madness to be the subject of his book in every sense of the word … not a history of madness described described from within the language of reason, the language of psychiatry on madness — the agonistic and rhetorical dimensions on the preposition on overlapping here— on madness already crushed beneath psychiatry, dominated, beaten to the ground, interned, that is to say, madness made into an object and exiled as the other of a language and a historical meaning which have been confused with logos itself.’

Derrida recounts Foucault’s writing of madness, which reminds me of Foucault’s fascination with drawing and quartering in Discipline And Punish:

“sentences such as these, which I simply cite in order not to deprive you of their dense beauty:

“The perception that seeks to grasp them [in question are the miseries and murmurings of madness] in their wild state, necessarily belongs to a world that has already captured them. The liberty of madness can be understood only from high in the fortress that that holds madness prisoner. And there madness possesses only the morose sum of its prison experiences, its mute experience of persecution, and we—we possess only its description as a man wanted.”

And, later, Foucault speaks of a madness “whose wild state can never be restored in and of itself” and of an “inaccessible primitive purity”.

…(Here, I wish to open a parenthesis and a question: in the name of what invariable meaning of “madness” does Foucault associate, whatever the meaning of this association, Madness and Hybris? … everything transpires as if Foucault knew what “madness” means. Everything transpires as if, in a continuing and underlying way, and assured and rigorous precomprehension of the concept of madness, or at least its nominal definition, were possible and acquired….)”

The importance of Descartes to this essay is that his Meditations is linked by Foucault to the silencing of madness by reason in the 17th C:

“Descartes, then, is alleged to have executed the act of force in the first of the Meditations, and it would very summarily consist in a summary expulsion of the possibility of madness from thought itself.

I shall then cite the decisive passage from Descartes, the one cited by Foucault.

“But…” “but yet perhaps…” … “But it may be that although the senses sometimes deceive us concerning things which are hardly perceptible, or very far away, their are many others to be met with as to which we cannot reasonably have any doubt….

And how could I doubt that these hands and this body are mine, were it not perhaps that I compare myself to certain persons, devoid of sense, whose cerebella are so troubled and clouded by violent vapours of black bile, that they constantly assure us that they think they are kings when they are really quite poor, or that they are clothed in purple when they are really without covering, or they imagine that they have an earthenware head or are nothing but pumpkins or are made of glass…”

Foucault is the first, to my knowledge, to have isolated delirium and madness from sensation and dreams in this first Meditation. The first to have isolated them in their philosophical sense and their methodological function. Such is the originality of his reading. But if the classical interpreters did not deem this dissociation auspicious, is it because of their inattentiveness?”

Derrida has a number of passages that make me wonder what Foucault’s personal knowledge of madness was, if he had any. Like he specifies “In general” only at the end of this passage. Was there some particular experience as well? He also points to Foucault have totalitarian tendencies, even though nominally that is what Foucault’s work accuses Western reason of being:

“And if madness in general, beyond any factitious and determined historical structure, is the absence of a work, then madness is indeed, essentially and generally, silence, stifled speech, within a caesura and a wound that open up life as historicity in general. Not a determined silence, imposed at one given moment rather that at any other, but a silence essentially linked to an act of force and a prohibition which open history and speech. In general.

I am not saying that Foucault’s book is totalitarian, for at least at its outset it poses the question of the origin of historicity general, thereby freeing itself of historicism; I am saying, however, that by virtue of the construction of his project he sometimes runs the risk of being totalitarian.”

Derrida returns to Descartes evil genius —

“If the madman could rebuff the evil genius, he could not tell himself so. He therefore cannot say so. …. philosophy is perhaps the reassurance given against the anguish of being mad at the point of greatest proximity to madness.”

I query this actually.

For one thing it implies that madness is an ongoing and permanent state, when mental illness is almost always a fluctuating disability. People who have an affective disorder with psychotic symptoms at times, do not always have those symptoms.

Foucault’s work looks at the past a lot, so I guess some of it is simply out of date. Where people may have died of exhaustion from having symptoms of mania and psychosis for 12 months or longer in the 19th C, now people have access to medication and the symptoms are lessened within a few days of starting the medication, and they are usually mostly gone by 6 weeks, although a fell recovery takes about 12 months.

Foucault and Derrida calling their subject the “madman” really fails to recognise the fluctuating character of mental illness, which I am pretty sure was already recognised by psychiatry at the time of writing Madness and Civilisation.

I actually have a negative experience of a group of “evil geniuses” somewhat like Descartes one related to the period of my life from my breakdown and first psychotic episode in 2005-2006 to 2014.

They are not evil geniuses really, just indie and alternative musicians, a sadist swinger who appears to use blackmail and threats on celebrities she lures into S&M affairs with her, and a couple of film directors and some record companies etc.

Will Oldham, Bill Callahan, Chan Marshall and the Dirty Three began writing songs about me and my friend Kerryn in 1998 after I briefly met Will Oldham, and Kerryn met Will Oldham without me present in Sydney where he left with a skanky older woman Kerryn told me, and she met Bill Callahan, and Liam Hayes, and 2 musicians from Tasmania one of whom supported Bill Callahan and the other who supported the Dirty Three.

In late 2005 Joanna Newsom and Bill Callahan toured Australia as a “couple” (Bill Callahan slept with the 17 year old cello playing support act who I sort of knew as the ex-girlfriend of a friend of a friend, although I didn’t find this fact out until this recently, so I don’t think Joanna Newsom and Bill Callahan were actually a real couple any longer in late 2005) and played games with me from the stage causing me to have a breakdown. Later in 2006 David Pajo told them I was having a breakdown after sitting next to me at his concert at The Old Bar. In August 2006 Will Oldham put out a Snow White themed Cursed Sleep EP and the title song seemed to refer to me, but I told my housemate and we couldn’t work out what any of the 3 songs were about and didn’t know anything about Will Oldham’s life. The second song is about him having an S&M affair with Joanna Newsom and the sadist, which I think took place before Joanna Newsom’s 2005 Australian tour. But me and my friend didn’t know what it referred to in August 2006. I had been having a severe breakdown for over 7 months by then, since the Joanna Newsom and Bill Callahan concerts. I was not in a position to do textual analysis of songs. I had to spend over a year in 2015-2016 working out what these people’s histories are and what their songs are about. I had a psychotic episode the next day. I wasn’t in the position to spend a year doing research and textual analysis. I had undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder after the psychotic episode, which happens to about 30% of first episode psychosis patients, even though it is usually overlooked in treatment in the public sector.

The musicians all found out about my psychotic episode, like they knew about my breakdown from David Pajo, but they did not contact me and tried to cover everything up and lied to the media for years while continuing to write songs about me.

Stephen Malkmus sings on his 2007 Real Emotional Trash record that there was an indie and alternative music Rwandan Genocide with 2 sides, presumably of people who wanted to tell the truth and contact me, and of people who wanted to cover up all the songs about me and Kerryn since 1998 and lie about it.

The cover up side won. This is legally a conspiracy in my view.

In late 2013 I was lured into communication with Will Oldham, then in 2014 I was lured into communicating with David Berman via comments on Crooked Timber.

Finally in 2014 I got proof at last that these musicians had been singing about me when a series of film clips and songs started referring to my Crooked Timber comments without citations.

I wrote to Will Oldham for an explanation and he wouldn’t’ give me one. David Pajo attempted suicide.

The musicians left me from 2005-2006 to 2014 not knowing the truth about the reality of my own life, and the reality of their songs about me which they also hid from the media and from the audience as well.

I still have a mental illness. Its a fluctuating mental illness. The musicians have trigged my mental illness several times in 2015 and 2016 by their songs and film clips etc. Sometimes they have made me mentally unwell, sometimes I am mentally well and just upset or angry about this.

I think the lack of recognition of the fluctuating character of mental illness is a flaw in both Foucault’s work and Derrida’s essay as well. They speak of madness and the madman, but madness is periodic in most cases, and the madman is no one in particular, it is specific people who have mental illnesses as a condition and they have specific episodes of mental illness.

“Long after the passage on Descartes, some three hundred pages later, introducing Rameau’s Nephew Foucault writes, with a sigh of remorse: “In doubt’s confrontation with its major dangers, Descartes realised that he could not be mad—though he was to acknowledge for a long time to come that all the powers of unreason kept vigil around his thought.”

What we have attempted to do here this evening is to situate ourselves within the interval of this remorse, Foucault’s remorse, Descartes’s remorse according to Foucault; and within the space of stating that, “though he was to acknowledge for a long time to come,” we have attempted not to extinguish the other light, a black and hardly natural light, the vigils of the “powers of unreason” around the Cogito.

We have attempted to requite ourselves toward the gesture which Descartes uses to requite himself as concerns the menacing powers of madness which are the adverse origin of philosophy.”

26

lathrop 08.12.16 at 3:27 am

I have always been fascinated by Lem, also; for his pessimistic attitude about the fundamental incommensurability of alien intelligence, as in his thought experiments Fiasco, His Master’s Voice, Solaris, and elsewhere; so very antithetical to sf as meeting versions of ourselves in space, and playing with these near variations.

27

Dave Maier 08.12.16 at 2:16 pm

lathrop: Right, His Master’s Voice! And the other two also, for the reason you say. I love the long opening of Fiasco, so different from the rest of the book.

28

Rich Puchalsky 08.12.16 at 2:41 pm

I think that I’ve read almost everything by Lem published in English, and he’s an interesting case for this thread: his strengths as a writer are exactly related to his dislike of pulp themes. It’s more than that: as a writer, he writes as someone who is pretty flatly disgusted with sex. This means that he can’t really write about human relationships in any convincing way, and his female characters are ciphers (as they are going to be for those male writers for whom women = sex and sex = disgusting), but he doesn’t have to represent his aliens or artificial intelligences as humans either.

29

lathrop 08.13.16 at 3:17 am

A delightful aspect of each of the three Lem books I mentioned is that each has extended parodies of scientific, scholarly, and academic disputes about the content and implications of supposed communications from, or actions of, the Other. One might consider them an elegant example of the genre of academic send-ups, but they aspire to demonstrate the inadequacy of the most advanced human mathematical, scientific, and strategic thought to anticipate or comprehend Otherness, even where it has achieved the significant mastery of physics required to engage in the Contact hypothesized.

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