Review by Stefano Bigliardi, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane. This detailed review covers both the first (2009) and second (2016) editions.
From the review: “Reading this collection (that is, the first edition as well as the pieces that were added to the second one) with the attention and meticulousness that suits a reviewer took me several months. I emerged from such an experience feeling that I had completed a master class—in the interaction of science fiction and philosophy, as well as in multiple philosophical subfields. The reason for such a feeling is the same that prompted me to spread the examination, indeed the study, of Science Fiction and Philosophy over a relatively long timespan: Schneider’s collection is dense, thought-provoking, frequently technical, and advanced…”
Call for Papers, Vol. 4: The Day that Coronavirus Stopped the World: What Do We Learn About Pandemics in Science Fiction Stories?
We can’t say we weren’t warned. For decades now science fiction authors have been playing around with an enormous variety of pandemic scenarios. While some stories focus on attempts to avert them, many explore their catastrophic consequences, or the plight of victims and survivors in-between, and the ways in which the most trivial daily routines and the simple facts of life we take for granted may be critically, perhaps permanently disrupted. There’s the odd case (as in Wells’ War of the Worlds) in which an endemic virus turns up to be a savior, and there’s also the eerily prophetic (Brooks’ World War Z places the beginning of its pandemic a mere 300 km from Wuhan, before quickly spreading around the world). Beyond their occasional ability to anticipate some of the factual elements of the present pandemic, though, this volume invites us to reflect on the deeper lessons of science fiction stories, and how they help us illuminate philosophically our present times.
Possible prompts and topics for reflection:
- Governmental and institutional preparedness in times of crisis: how is the preparedness/ unpreparedness of governmental institutions reflected and explained in SF stories?
- Human resilience: how does humanity cope with deep, global-scale life-affecting crises?
- Ethics on the brink: what is the appropriate response when the institutions of civilization collapse and individual survival is threatened?
- Disease and exclusion: how do responses to pandemic scenarios exclude minorities and the disabled? What about the exclusion of the diseased themselves? How is disease used as a metaphor to justify other forms of exclusion? What do we learn in reverse scenarios, in which population-wide incidents have normalized disability?
- Contagion and human relations: how does the possibility of contagion (literal or metaphorical) corrode human relationships? How does it affect friendship, loyalty, trust in others and in oneself?
- “Social distancing” and physical presence: how is civilization envisioned, and what may be lost if (as in Asimov’s The Naked Sun, for non-medical reasons) social distancing and online relations become the norm, while physical presence becomes taboo? Are we heading in that direction already?
The deadline for the first round of reviews is August 15, 2020.
New Article: “Political Myths in Plato and Asimov”
A new article, “Political Myths in Plato and Asimov,” by Dr. Nathaniel Goldberg, has been published in Vol.2 of the Journal of Science Fiction and Philosophy.
This article marks the closing of Volume 2 (2019): Dystopian Caves and Galactic Empires: Social and Political Philosophy in SF Stories. The contents of Volume 2 are:
– “Living in a Marxist Sci-Fi World: A Phenomenological Analysis of the Power of Science Fiction,” by Matías Graffigna.
– “Political Myths in Plato and Asimov,” by Nathaniel Goldberg.
– “Gallifrey Falls No More: Doctor Who’s Ontology of Time,” by Kevin Decker.
Volume 3 will be launched soon!
Call for Papers: Volume 3, Second Round (Deadline June 1, 2020)
The Blue Pill Dilemma: Is Knowledge a Blessing or a Curse?
In the original The Matrix Neo took the Red Pill, choosing Truth – and got himself into a world of trouble. Wouldn’t the Blue Pill (of “Ignorance is Bliss”) have served him better?
In dystopian tales, deep questioning is proscribed to safeguard the (questionable) happiness of the general population. In pre- and post-apocalyptic scenarios scientific knowledge can be savior and culprit, both revered and feared. Brain-in-a-vat stories make the choice between harsh reality and simulated bliss vivid and poignant, while cyberpunk stories emphasize the double-edged character of the “Information Era.”
The tension in these stories merits examination. Which is preferable? Which is better? Can a truth cause more harm than a lie? Is there a danger of “knowing too much”? Is knowledge just a neutral tool, or is there, as Plato would have it, something inherently good about seeking knowledge?
The deadline for the second round of reviews is June 1, 2020.
* General Articles, Response Essays, Book Reviews, accepted year-round. See www.jsfphil.org for details *
New article: “Living in a Marxist Sci-Fi World: A Phenomenological Analysis of the Power of Science Fiction”
A phenomenological analysis of Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed.
A new article, “Living in a Marxist Sci-Fi World,” by Lic. Matias Graffigna has just been published. This article examines, with the use of tools from phenomenological analysis, the power of science fiction to “flesh out” certain concepts left undetermined by philosophical theories, “furnishing with content” the undetermined ideas and making them more present and concrete to the reader. The author puts this into practice by examining in this manner the anarcho-communist world of Anarres, as described by Ursula Le Guin in the influential novel The Dispossessed.
Call for Papers: Vol. 3 (2020)
The Blue Pill Dilemma: Is Knowledge a Blessing or a Curse?
The question about choosing knowledge or willful ignorance is at least as old as Plato’s Cave; older perhaps, down to the Tree of Good and Evil. Science Fiction writers can be as illuminating as they can be ambiguous. In the original The MatrixNeo took the Red Pill, choosing Truth – and got himself into a world of trouble. Wouldn’t the Blue Pill (of “Ignorance is Bliss”) have served him better?
In dystopian tales, deep questioning is proscribed to safeguard the (questionable) happiness of the general population. In pre- and postapocalyptic scenarios scientific knowledge can be savior and culprit, both revered and feared. Brain-in-a-vat stories make the choice between harsh reality and simulated bliss vivid and poignant, while cyberpunk stories emphasize the double-edged dangers of making all our personal information conveniently available. The tension thus created in these stories merits examination. Which is preferable? Which is better? Can a truth cause more harm than a lie? Is there a danger of knowing too much? Is knowledge just a neutral tool, or is there, as Plato would have it, something inherently good about seeking knowledge?
The (soft) deadline for the first round of reviews is October 15, 2019.
General Articles, Response Essays, Book Reviews, accepted year-round.
Thanks to all who voted!
The votes are in for our 2020 yearly theme: Is Knowledge a Blessing or a Curse?
Thanks for all who voted to decide the 2020 Yearly Theme for the Journal of Science Fiction and Philosophy. The theme that got the highest number of votes was #5: “Is Knowledge a Blessing or a Curse?” We will be sending a Call for Papers shortly.
For those curious about how the voting went, #5 carried the palm just one vote ahead of #4: “Should we fear artificial intelligence?” and two votes ahead of #1: “Surveillance Capitalism and the New Panopticon.” Curiously, not one person voted for #3: “Technology: Savior or Destroyer?”
As a voter commented, theme #5 to some extent includes all the others. My own preferences aside (#1 was my favorite) it made my heart glad to see that philosophers would choose to focus on the root issues first. (There is room, of course, for all topics in the General Articles section.)
Vote for the next Yearly Theme!
Help us choose next year’s theme for the Journal!
Dear Readers and Contributors:
The Journal of Science Fiction and Philosophy has just launched its newest issue! It is presently a small volume, with just a couple of articles; we have some articles under review and in preparation, which will continue populating this issue as they get published. Please take a look at www.jsfphil.org .
One unexpected difficulty we encountered during the preparation of our second volume was that only a small ratio of articles addressed our Yearly Theme, “Social and Political Philosophy in SF.” So we decided to make next year’s Call for Papers a collaborative affair. You will find below a list of prospective themes for the 2020 volume. All authors, reviewers and registered readers are invited to vote! (Although authors may be among the most interested, if you are planning an article that fits any of these themes). If you send us additional ideas, we will include them into next year’s prospective list.
What will our next Yearly Theme be?
- “Surveillance Capitalism” and the New Panopticon. This is a growing concern (and if you haven’t heard the expression, you probably will, soon). I don’t want to define it too narrowly, but it has to do with the online giants wanting to know everything we do—for profit—and us volunteering that information—for convenience. It has been recently explored in Black Mirror, and the oddly ambiguous The Circle, but it was advanced already in the memorable chase scene in Fahrenheit 451.
- Bioethics in Science Fiction: Addressing genetic technologies, “bio-enhancements,” “moral” enhancements, life-extending technologies, to name a few issues.
- Technology: Savior or Destroyer? Addressing one of the favorite topics of SF authors since at least Frankenstein. (Of course, this theme is already present in most of the other proposals.)
- Should We Fear Artificial Intelligence? For this theme we would introduce a constraint: articles should focus only on instances of AI “done right” (or mostly right) in SF. (Most of AI in science fiction is done very “loosey gosey”, as a plot device and to introduce interesting questions about personhood and the value of humanness. But occasionally authors pay closer attention to how computers actually work; my examples would be Clarke’s 2001—the novel—and the recent videogame The Turing Test.)
- Is Knowledge a Blessing or a Curse? This question may sound strange for philosophers, but some SF stories develop interesting ambiguities in this matter—think of the cycles of self-destruction in A Canticle for Leibowitz, or some questions posed by Star Trek’s “The Cage” and “The Apple.”
These topics incorporate some themes suggested by our contributors (e.g. an issue dedicated to the Canticle for Leibowitz or to the ongoing Westworld series), which are probably too specific at this stage. In the future we would also like to dedicate some issues to particularly important SF authors, but again, this shall wait until we have developed the necessary critical mass.
Thank you for your interest, and I look forward to your responses! Just send us an email with your input, (editor.jsfphil atgmail.com) and any additional comments.
Voting will be open until midnight, July 19th.
— The Editor
Call for Papers: Vol.2, 2019
Dystopian Caves and Galactic Empires: Social and Political Philosophy in SF.
One of the main roles of science fiction has been to warn us – sometimes humorously, sometimes through grim pessimism – of looming social dangers, the product of particular ideas, technologies or social trends. Just how powerful these warnings can be in the public’s imagination may be gauged by the ubiquity of the expression “Big Brother” in political reflection. Occasionally, too, SF has been used to propose somewhat utopian forms of organization. The goal of our 2019 Yearly Theme is to promote a critical discussion of these themes. Are recent dystopian stories warning us about possible bias, or do they instead reinforce us in our blindspots? Are there to be found in SF particularly creative systems of social organization that might be worth exploring? What does SF have to say about the explosive use of big data in social vigilance and control? Above all, what does SF bring to this philosophical discussion that is particular to its own domain?
The Journal accepts papers year-round. The deadline for the second round of reviews for its yearly theme is February 1st, 2019.
How many “persons” can you recognize on the cover of Volume 1?
(A quiz for SF afficionados)
Take the “SF Persons” quiz! The characters portrayed here have been chosen because they all have some bearing on philosophical reflections about the notion of personhood. How many can you name?
Call for Papers: General and Yearly Theme
The Journal of Science Fiction and Philosophy, a peer-reviewed, open access publication, is dedicated to the analysis of philosophical themes present in science fiction stories in all formats, with a view to their use in the discussion, teaching, and narrative modeling of philosophical ideas. It aims at highlighting the role of science fiction as a medium for philosophical reflection.
The Journal is currently accepting papers and paper proposals. Because this is the Journal’s first issue, papers specifically reflecting on the relationship between philosophy and science fiction are especially encouraged, but all areas of philosophy are welcome. Any format of SF story (short story, novel, movie, TV series, interactive) may be addressed.
We welcome papers written with teaching in mind! Have used an SF story to teach a particular item in your curricula (e.g., using the movie Gattacca to introduce the ethics of genetic technologies, or The Island of Dr. Moreau to discuss personhood)? Turn that class into a paper!
The Journal accepts papers year-round. The deadline for the first round of reviews is October 1st, 2017.
Every year the Journal selects a Yearly Theme. Papers addressing the Yearly Theme are collected in a special section of the Journal.
The Yearly Theme for 2017 is All Persons Great and Small: The Concept of Personhood in Science Fiction Stories.
SF stories are in a unique position to help us examine the concept of personhood, by making the human world engage with a bewildering variety of beings with person-like qualities – aliens of bizarre shapes and customs, artificial constructs conflicted about their artificiality, planetary-wide intelligences, collective minds, and the list goes on. Every one of these instances provides the opportunity to reflect on specific aspects of the notion of personhood, such as, for example: What is a person? What are its defining qualities? What is the connection between personhood and morality, identity, rationality, basic (“human?”) rights? What patterns do SF authors identify when describing the oppression of one group of persons by another, and how do they reflect past and present human history?
The Journal accepts papers year-round. The deadline for the first round of reviews for its yearly theme is October 1st, 2017.