SCI PHI Journal

Sci Phi N6 cover

Via’s eNewsletter I found out about  SciPhi Journal, which combines two of my hobbies, science fiction and philosophy.

Just as I was despairing that the modern SF lost the philosophical depth of Bradbury’s, Le Guin’s and Strugatskys’ works. I also despaired that “the Kindle revolution”  is selecting for fast writing authors who churn out multiple sequels of mediocre quality.

In theory, magazines like this (selective acceptance, reader revenue based, paying the authors) can start a new Golden Era of SF just as the 1930s pulp fiction American magazines gave us SF classics.

P.S. I must declare a conflict of interests: I am submitting my short story to the magazine. However, I bought N3 and overall quality is good. I liked a story by Mark Andrew Edward so much that I started looking for his other work.


What fantasy ever did for humankind (except New Zealanders)?

I am taking part in Coursera’s  Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World.  Recently I was disappointed to learn that from the literary point of view SF (spaceships and robots) is a sub-genre of fantasy (kings and wizards), and not two separate, opposing genres.

So why do I  think that SF is better? Firstly, fantasy always happens in the past, even it’s “past in our future” as in  King’s  “The Dark Tower”.  And the past means outdated forms of social order, where your future is determined by your birth and you have no say in how the kingdom is run. Of course, everybody imagines herself being a princess with golden hair and blue eyes or an exceptionally gifted brunette sorceress, who will transgress the class boundaries. But I read witty short story, of which I don’t remember the author or the title (sic transit gloria mundi) about a young man, who is told that he should have been born in a fantasy and offered to transport him there. He agrees and becomes a groom, who shovels dragon dung all day long. There is only one princess for a hundred thousand of illiterate, half-starved peasants, so your chances of being a princess are negligible.

Prof. Rabkin from Michigan University in his excellent lectures have said that in granddaddy of modern vampire stories, Stoker’s Dracula the vampire represents aristocrats, an outdated social class, which is being replaced by a ragtag band of commoners including even a woman, representing emerging democracy. Likewise, werewolves represent middle class and zombies – underclass. In one of the most notorious modern fantasy franchise, Twilight, the heroine has a choice between a decent but poor werewolf and a very rich vegetarian vampire. It is the sign of our time of capital concentration and decreasing social mobility that, opposite to Dracula’s Mina and similar to another notorious pop-culture phenomenon Fifty Shades of Grey, she chooses the millionaire with kinky sexual habits. A fantasy world means acceptance and detachment from the real world. I don’t think Nineteen Eighty Four would have been so chillingly effective if it was set in a world ruled by an evil wizard.

Secondly, it may not matter from the literary point of view that in a fantasy people communicate via telepathy and in a SF novel via an ansible. But it matters in real life. The golden age of SF, 1930th – 1960th, raised a whole generation of engineers and scientists, who constructed bridges, buildings and dams, put man on the Moon and machines beyond the Solar System. A rational explanation leads to incorporation of cutting edge science into the public consciousness and results in discoveries. A purely fantastic explanation is an escapism, pleasant but not harmless.

Book Review: “Coalescent”, by Stephen Baxter

Cover of "Coalescent: Bk.1: Homo Superior...

Cover via Amazon

This is not just one book, but loosely connected, two and a bit – a historical novel, a biological thriller and a science fiction short story – under one cover.

The historical novel is about a girl growing up in Britain in the 5th century A.D., while the Roman rule disintegrates. Now, I am not a fan of historical novels – when I’ve tried to read them a couple of times before, I’ve been disappointed by how modern the characters’ thinking was. And if I want to know about history, I’d rather read a popular history book. However, this novel did not contradict anything I’ve read about the Roman period and, in fact, added a lot of details to the picture I’ve had before. Moreover, the narrative seemed as real as any “true story based” fiction.

This “reality” or “believability” is part of Stephen Baker’s trademark – anybody who has ever lived in Edinburgh and wanted to brush up on their geology should try reading another of his Sci-Fi books, Moonseed, and you will never look at Arthur’s Seat with the same eyes.

But I digress, back to Coalescent.

The biological thriller, set in a near future, is a Dan Brown-escue (in a good way) story about a man looking for his long-lost sister and discovering a Puissant Monastic Order led conspiracy. The most interesting detail is that at the heart of the conspiracy is biology with some emergent theory thrown in. The motto of the Order is:

      • Sisters matter more than daughters.
      • Ignorance is strength.
      • Listen to your sisters.   

        Worker bees

        Worker bees – E.O.Wilson thinks that humans have a similar capacity to live and work together as an meta-organism  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Continue reading