Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Top Ten Best Philosophical Science Fiction Stories

This week, the SFSNNJ's feature events are Themes of the Fantastic, and the topic is Philosophy and Science Fiction. While I know that our wonderful moderators, Steve Spinosa and Bill Wagner, will do a bang-up job, I wanted to throw a few ideas around before the meeting anyway:

10) Iron Sunrise by Charles Stross - examines a culture completely devoted to Nietzche. A brilliantly written story with great characters (as only Charles Stross can do), Iron Sunrise explores a future where pseudo-Nazis are trying to take over the universe in secret in the hopes that the one true ubermensch, the Unborn God, will create the ultimate peace for them. Great concepts and a wonderful tale.

9) Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan - are you really you if you are wearing a different body? Morgan examines the concept of sleeved mentalities in this far future series. The initial story, Altered Carbon, shows us that in spite of everything else, Takeshi Kovacs is a UN Envoy, no matter whose sleeve (i.e. body) he is wearing. It is an interesting examination on the morality of killing when a cortical memory stack will still contain the base 'soul' of the sleeve.

8) Cyteen by C.J. Cherryh - Amazing philosophical debate about the idea of cloning. The great ethical debate in the story centers around a clone who is being made to undergo all of the same stresses and experiences as the original in the hopes of recreating the original completely. While some decry this as a far-future version of The Boys from Brazil, the truth is that this story actually argues the point instead of using it merely as a plot vehicle.

7) Maximum Light by Nancy Kress - This bleak look at a barren and sterile future shows us a new argument to look into. Is it morally justified to castrate a homosexual in order to harvest his sperm in order to ensure the propagation of the species? The despicable act is explored in all its torrid thoughtfulness, and eventually the characters must choose between exigence and morality.

6) Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner - Granted, this cautionary tale of overpopulation and belligerent, chest-thumping nationalism is a bit dated, but the core concept: is it justifiable to kill a man who will give your enemies an advantage, is still there. Brunner looks at the morality of the espionage and assassination culture of international politics, and presents a great moral and ethical problem for the character.

5) The Stone Canal by Ken MacLeod - When is revenge enough? When has it gone too far? This story revolves around that ethical debate, while providing us with a somewhat gritty utopia of a society built around communism and Maslow's hierarchy of needs. MacLeod gives us a great look into the pros and cons of his little universe, as well as a superlative story of vengeance and hatred spanned several centuries.

4) The Traveler by John Twelve Hawks - If might makes right, what does it mean when the villains don't use physical force to coerce their victims? Enter the world of Harlequins and Travelers and find out what the counter-culture is really fighting against, and watch as the debate over the concept of a super-panopticon rages across the text of the story.

3) The Golden Age by John C. Wright - Is it ethical to completely redact a man's memories and impose a death penalty upon him should he try to restore them? What if your redactions are so thorough that he does not know why he has missing memories, only that he has missing memories? Is that character justified in taking any and all steps to restore balance even when told that he might risk his life in doing so? Read it and find out.

2) Kingdom of Cages by Sarah Zettel - Like the Nancy Kress story Maximum Light, this story deals with the ethical conundrum of the rights of a few versus the survival of the species. The question is really more pointed here, though, as human colonies are being destroyed by plague and worse, all because humans were irresponsible in not trying to understand the environments of colony worlds before making colonies there. Brilliant story, well told, and ethically perplexing.

1) Dune by Frank Herbert - Granted, Dune is my favorite novel of all time, but the ethical implications of prescience are explored with quite a bit of depth here. Does Paul Atreides have a moral imperative to shape the future of the known universe, or is this merely hubris on his part?


robustyoungsoul said...

I've actually been rereading the Dune novels over the past couple weeks and I'm into Heretics of Dune at this point. I don't think that when I was a freshman in high school I really grasped how intense God Emperor of Dune is, it mostly went right over my head. Definitely enjoying reading the later ones for what is essentially the first time.

Todd said...

Yeah, they are truly great stuff:) Herbert definitely had a good plan for where everything was going, and God Emperor was a harsh reminder of exactly how demanding loyalty could be.

Stephen G. Spinosa said...

Great list,Todd!!! I wish I'd seen
it before the meeting but I was taking medicine for my cold.

John Galt said...

Your blog's color combination is painful to look at. After 2 minutes, its starting to hurt my eyes. Please consider using another color combination.

Nick Joll said...

This list could keep me going for a while. The only one on the list that I know already is Dune!

Nick Joll said...

This list could keep me going for a while. The only one on the list that I know already is Dune!

Jerald Cantor said...

A great blog and very helpfull post. I really like it. philisophical stories

Bryan Adams said...

Me and my friend were arguing about an issue similar to this! Now I know that I was right. lol! Thanks for the information you post.

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