science fiction

“The UN v. Skynet?” An ISA Teaser

by on 2014-03-25- 2 Comments

As the gods of the International Studies Association have seen fit to place my panel at 8:15 on a Saturday morning, I decided to advertise my talk in the blogosphere in hopes of drumming up some attendees. Below please see the teaser trailer for my working paper this year, which explores the impact of science fiction on global policy making in the area of autonomous weapons.

The paper itself is not yet ready for distribution (research is still in progress), but I should be able to circulate later this year and feedback at the panel will help me refine my conceptual framework - so if you are interested in these matters please come join us in the Richmond Room at the Toronto Hilton this Saturday! The panel, organized by UBC's Chris Tenove, is entitled "Representation Across Borders": Richard Price is chairing and other speakers include Wendy Wong, Sirin Duygulu and Hans-Peter Schmitz. Panel abstract is below the fold.

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Friday Nerd Blogging: Galactica (Not) Actual and the Sci-Fi / Sci-Fact / Globalization Intertext

by on 2013-08-30- 1 Comment

bsg

The Chinese state media could perhaps be forgiven for mistaking  fictional Battlestar Galactica blueprints for future US fleet schematics this week, given this.
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Favela Ninjas and Apartheid Samurai

by on 2013-08-13- Leave a reply

Neill Blomkamp's "Elysium" packs a punch for an action sci-fi film even if its punches don't land.

So yeah ... Jodie Foster doesn't give her best performance and the other roles for women in the film are completely lame.  A beefy Matt Damon, bless his heart, is poorly cast.  The core plot line doesn't make much sense.  Look, let's face it, there is just no way Blomkamp can match the brilliance of his earlier hit, "District 9."

Nevertheless, this film plays well with a range of contemporary possibilities/anxieties in the Global North: post-human bodies, surveillance drones, biometrics, the carceral archipelago, the securitization of migration, mega-favelas/globalized Gaza, privatized militaries, socialized medicine, the hierarchy of tongues, etc.

The film reminds us that globalization is as much about the construction of borders as their elimination.  It shows just how uncomfortable we are with liberal ideas in practice.  And it forces us to think about the reality of structural violence in our daily lives.

So how could this film have been better?
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Beyond Robopocalypticism

by on 2013-08-09- 5 Comments

Media1In all the media frenzy over “killer robots,” Terminator imagery comes up a lot. So do references to Battlestar Galactica. So does a specific scene from Robocop, soon to be remade to resonate with public fears of domestic drones.

These iconic narratives invoke a recurrent theme in American science fiction about lethal robot malfunctions or uprisings against their human creators. So prevalent is this theme in anti-killer-robot media coverage that some have argued concern over autonomous weapons is a product of science fiction itself: Hollywood is apparently to blame for priming the public with an unfounded fear of killer machines. For example Joshua Foust writes:

"Why is there such concern? Part of the reason, arguably, is cultural. American science fiction, in particular, has made clear that autonomous robot are deadly. From the Terminator franchise, the original and the remake of Battlestar Galactica, to the Matrix trilogy, the clear thrust of popular science fiction is that making machines functional without human input will be the downfall of humanity. It is under this sci-fi 'understanding' of technology that some object to autonomous weaponry."

There are several reasons why this sort of argument doesn't make sense, but one of the most important is that it overstates the case about robopocalypticism in American "killer robot" science fiction. In fact, co-existing with the imagery of killer robots run amok is a broad range of far more benign killer robot imagery that no one seems to mind or even think about when worrying over autonomous weapons. Here are five great examples of killer robots filmmakers and TV producers definitely want you to want on your side in a pinch. [BSG SPOILER ALERT]
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Outside of Context: Iain M. Banks, 1954-2013

by on 2013-06-10- 12 Comments

Yesterday the world lost one of its great contemporary literary lights. Iain M. Banks, named "one of the 50 greatest British writers since 1945" by The Times in 2008, died of gall bladder cancer that had only been diagnosed this February. He finished his last novel -- ironically, it's a story about the final weeks of a man dying of cancer -- very recently, and it's due to be published before the end of the month. From all reports, he passed peacefully, having spent as much of his last months as possible spending time with his wife and close friends.

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Arguments for a New STAR TREK Series

by on 2013-02-19- 11 Comments

Cardassia RuinsBecause "53 reasons" is just plain stupid, and increments of five are basically listicles, I provide three.

1. We are heading straight for maximum Star Wars saturation. Despite its ham-handed didacticism,  Star Trek's values are far preferable to those of Star Wars. We cannot allow aristocratic fantasy to bury republican virtue.

2. JJ Abrams is a pretty good action director, but he doesn't seem to understand the intellectual possibilities of science fiction. At its best, Star Trek has been one of the few non-cable programs to explore those possibilities. And it has almost invariably done so better within the format of episodic television than that of the "major motion picture."

3. Onward toward the 25th Century! By the third season of The Next Generation, it was pretty clear that the political communities of Star Trek -- including the United Federation of Planets and the Klingon Empire -- are themselves important "characters" in the franchise. We've seen the Federation evolve --and not always for the best -- in light of the Borg and Dominion threats; we've learned just how much its status as a "post-scarcity society" rests on maintaining a Terra-centric utopia within a much harsher galaxy. We've watched the Klingon Empire repeatedly fail to reconcile the theory and practice of honor. Cardassia has broken our hearts time and time again.

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Hydrogen Sonata Forum wrap-up

by on 2012-12-23- Leave a reply

Just to collect all the links from our Forum on Iain M. Banks' The Hydrogen Sonata into one coherent place:

Chris Brown: A Triumphant Return to Form | Gerard van der Ree: Learning from Utopia Iver B. Neumann: Religion and the Sublime | Patrick Thaddeus Jackson: Actors on the Sci-Fi Stage | Dan Nexon: To Sim, Perchance to Dream | and Iain M. Banks' reply

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The Hydrogen Sonata Forum: Iain M. Banks Replies

by on 2012-12-23- Leave a reply

The-Hydrogen-Sonata-Iain-M-Banks

General Warning: this is emphatically not a spoiler-free Forum! Hence all of the text all of the contributions will be safely below the fold, and only the identifying information for the author of the contribution will be here for even causal browsers to see.

Iain M. Banks is a celebrated author of both science fiction and "regular fiction." According to his Wikipedia page, in 2008 The Times named him in their list of "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945."
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Dan Nexon on The Hydrogen Sonata: To Sim, Perchance to Dream

by on 2012-12-22- 1 Comment

The-Hydrogen-Sonata-Iain-M-BanksGeneral Warning: this is emphatically not a spoiler-free Forum! Hence all of the text all of the contributions will be safely below the fold, and only the identifying information for the author of the contribution will be here for even causal browsers to see.

Daniel H. Nexon is Associate Professor in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University.

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PTJ on The Hydrogen Sonata: Actors on the Sci-Fi Stage

by on 2012-12-21- 2 Comments

The-Hydrogen-Sonata-Iain-M-BanksGeneral Warning: this is emphatically not a spoiler-free Forum! Hence all of the text all of the contributions will be safely below the fold, and only the identifying information for the author of the contribution will be here for even causal browsers to see.

Patrick Thaddeus Jackson is Professor of International Relations and Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education in the School of International Service at American University.
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Iver B. Neumann on The Hydrogen Sonata: Religion and the Sublime

by on 2012-12-21- Leave a reply

The-Hydrogen-Sonata-Iain-M-BanksGeneral Warning: this is emphatically not a spoiler-free Forum! Hence all of the text all of the contributions will be safely below the fold, and only the identifying information for the author of the contribution will be here for even causal browsers to see.

Iver B. Neumann is Montague Burton Professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics. For some reason he doesn't have a personal page at the LSE, so here's his Wikipedia page instead.
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Gerard van der Ree on The Hydrogen Sonata: “Learning From Utopia”

by on 2012-12-20- 2 Comments

The-Hydrogen-Sonata-Iain-M-BanksGeneral Warning: this is emphatically not a spoiler-free Forum! Hence all of the text all of the contributions will be safely below the fold, and only the identifying information for the author of the contribution will be here for even causal browsers to see.

Gerard van der Ree is Assistant Professor at University College Utrecht.
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Chris Brown on The Hydrogen Sonata: “A Triumphant Return to Form”

by on 2012-12-20- Leave a reply

General Warning: this is emphatically not a spoiler-free Forum! Hence all of the text all of the contributions will be safely below the fold, and only the identifying information for the author of the contribution will be here for even causal browsers to see.

Chris Brown is Professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics.
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A Christmas present: a Forum on Iain M. Banks’ new novel

by on 2012-12-20- 2 Comments

The-Hydrogen-Sonata-Iain-M-Banks

Iain M. Banks, an especial favorite author of mine and someone on whom I've written before, published a new novel earlier this Fall: The Hydrogen Sonata, the latest installment in his ongoing series of novels about The Culture, a post-scarcity pan-human civilization largely controlled by hyper-advanced artificial intelligences called Minds. I invited four other scholars -- Dan Nexon, Iver Neuman, Chris Brown, and Gerard van der Ree -- to write short critical essays on the novel, and sent the package to Iain for his comments. I now have all of the pieces in hand, and over the next few days I'll post them here. Happy holidays. You're welcome.

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Podcast No. 12 – ISA-NE2012 SF and Pedagogy Panel (mp3)

by on 2012-11-07- 1 Comment

This is the audio (in mp3 format) from the Speculative Fiction and Pedagogy panel at the International Studies Association-Northeast 2012 convention. The panel featured Henry Farrell, Dan Nexon, Jennifer Lobasz, and PTJ.

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Podcast No. 12 – ISA-NE2012 SF and Pedagogy Panel (m4a)

by on 2012-11-07- Leave a reply

This is the audio (in m4a format) from the Speculative Fiction and Pedagogy panel at the International Studies Association-Northeast 2012 convention. The panel featured Henry Farrell, Dan Nexon, Jennifer Lobasz, and PTJ.
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Alastair Reynolds, Blue Remembered Earth

by on 2012-11-01- 3 Comments

I think Duck of Minerva readers will really enjoy this podcast. Lots on the near-future imaginary, technological change, and other topics of interest.

From the write up at New Books in Science Fiction and Fantasy:

Blue Remembered Earth (Gollantz, 2012) takes place roughly 150 years in the future. Climate change, as well as the political and economic rise of Africa, have transformed the planet. Humanity is colonizing the solar system. Geoffrey Akinya, grandson of a visionary businesswoman, cares most about his scientific work with elephants. His sister, Sunday, pursues the life of an artist in an anarchic commune on the moon. But their grandmother’s death sets in motion an interplanetary treasure hunt with the potential to change humanity’s future.

Alastair Reynolds‘ latest book has received much critical praise; there’s a sense among some science-fiction writers and fans that Blue Remembered Earth marks an important development in the genre itself. Whatever readers may think of it, Reynolds is a gregarious and fascinating interview subject, and I’m very pleased that he agreed to record this podcast.

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New Books in Science Fiction and Fantasy: Meagan Spooner’s Skylark

by on 2012-10-04- Leave a reply

Check out the third episode of New Books in Science and Fantasy, in which I interview Meagan Spooner about Skylark.The summary:Lark Ainsley lives within a
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New Books in Science Fiction and Fantasy: D.B. Jackson’s Thieftaker

by on 2012-09-19- Leave a reply

My second NBinSFF podcast is live. “D.B. Jackson” is David B. Coe’s pen name for his new historical-fantasy series, The Thieftaker Chronicles. Thieftaker (Tor Books, 2012)
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Quick Questions (More SF&F Podcast Blogging)

by on 2012-09-05- Leave a reply

When I asked for suggestions for interview subjects for the NBinSFF podcast, Alastair Reynolds was high on the list (albeit mostly over email channels). Well,
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