Archive for January 25th, 2008

Why I Like Science Fiction

I kinda thought I had written this post already, but now Clive Thompson has gone and beaten me to it:

If you want to read books that tackle profound philosophical questions, then the best – and perhaps only – place to turn these days is sci-fi. Science fiction is the last great literature of ideas.

From where I sit, traditional “literary fiction” has dropped the ball. I studied literature in college, and throughout my twenties I voraciously read contemporary fiction. Then, eight or nine years ago, I found myself getting – well – bored.

Why? I think it’s because I was reading novel after novel about the real world. And there are, at the risk of sounding superweird, only so many ways to describe reality. After I’d read my 189th novel about someone living in a city, working in a basically realistic job and having a realistic relationship and a realistically fraught family, I was like, “OK. Cool. I see how today’s world works.” I also started to feel like I’d been reading the same book over and over again.


…[Science fiction] authors rewrite one or two basic rules about society and then examine how humanity responds – so we can learn more about ourselves. How would love change if we lived to be 500? If you could travel back in time and revise decisions, would you? What if you could confront, talk to, or kill God?

This is exactly why I love sci-fi and have so much trouble reading regular fi – I’m fascinated by the universes that the writers create. The what-ifs, the concepts, the richness and complexity and otherness of it.

I’ve read stories where people can create specialized one-day duplicates of themselves whose memories they can download before the duplicates expire (Kiln People); where everyone’s brain is backed up to a hard drive and can be re-inserted into a new “sleeve” if they die (Altered Carbon); where entropy works in reverse so that everything improves with use (The Practice Effect); where intelligent spaceships pose frozen passengers in historical dioramas (Excession); where aliens spell out messages with human pimples (oops, that was the Weekly World News). And I’ve already gone on at length about Queen Of Angels.

A finely-crafted universe is a compelling character unto itself.

4 comments January 25th, 2008 at 10:26pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Books,Science,Technology

The Money Quote


A study by Zandi estimates that every dollar put into the food stamp program produces a $1.73 increase in the economy as the money is spent and spent again. By contrast, every dollar put into the business tax breaks that are in the stimulus package will increase the economy by 27 cents, according to the study.

Unfortunately, this is the wrong metric. The correct metric is, of course, how many of those stimulus dollars end up in campaign contributions to Republicans.

(By way of The All-Seeing Eye Of Froomkin)

January 25th, 2008 at 06:51pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Bush,Economy,Quotes,Republicans

Downtown Photoblogging Wrap-Up

Well, I guess this about does it for the downtown photoblogging:

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Who among us does not love circles on their buildings?

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It feels like the walls are closing in, man.

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I think I may have caught someone in mid-teleport.

January 25th, 2008 at 11:37am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Photoblogging,Pittsburgh

Friday Memorial Quote & Dog Blogging

This week’s quote is from The Pillow Book. Peter Greenaway + Ewan McGregor + full frontal nudity = Quality!

Farewells can be both beautiful and despicable.

And, of course, there’ll be other people’s dogs…


R.I.P. Woody’s most excellent and adorable dog Mischief.

January 25th, 2008 at 07:37am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Friday Quote & Cat Blogging

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