philosophy authors

My friend Keith offers an interesting list of authors who have influenced him, oriented towards his field of philosophy.

A similar list for me must include Douglas Adams, for his comments on the nature of faith, which were particularly insightful to me as a believer even though he came at it from atheism). Adams always comes up when I’m talking about philosophical questions, on this blog anyway.

Cognition is more complicated than IQ.
Cognition is more complicated than IQ.

Also, 20 years later, Douglas Hoftstader still makes my list, more so for Metamagical Themas than G.E.B. The fundamental idea I took from this was that there are fundamental limits to Reason. Thanks to his writing, I eschew binary thinking about cognition, I believe there is no such thing as being “super-rational,” and 15 years ago I even setup a group blog experiment dedicated to this idea. A good discussion ensured here at Haibane about it, too. I credit the Hoft with also introducing me to Godel in general, and thinking about the implications for faith, a topic i have explored several times since.

The third book I need to mention here is Rene Daumal’s Mount Analogue. He died before finishing it, but the incomplete story is published, thankfully. The entire idea of an asymptotic ideal is at the heart of my understanding of god (and the religious concept of jihad) and there is a strong component of Platonic thought embedded within. Alas, I no longer have a copy of this book, having lent both of mine away and forgotten to whom I lent them.

Let’s also give credit to Yoda – or rather, George Lucas, for the incredibly meaningful “Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter” line. Such a simple message, but so powerful, and inheritor of a vast body of thought on its own.

More recently, I read (audiobooked) Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel; Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene, and (heh) On Bullshit by Harry Frankfurt. These count as philosophy for me because they try to answer the question of who we are and WHY we are. Next up on my list is On the Shortness of Life by Seneca, since generally compatible with the Stoicism worldview.

Ultimately though, philosophy is about the exploration of what it means to be human, what it means to be alive, what it means to BE. And as a genre, I have found more interesting explorations of these ideas in science fiction than I have in philosophy texts or authors. But that is a separate list entirely.

in defense of Apu Nahasapeemapetilon

Some people have argued that there is a problem with Apu, and are upset that the Simpsons don’t see it that way.

I’ve been called and teased as “Apu” from the Simpsons many times. In fact my real full name even evokes Apu, and in high school I was one of exactly two kids of Asian descent. I smelled funny, I looked weird, I was a geek and a loner (and still am). Apu was introduced to the world in 1989, my junior year, so I didn’t have to coexist with Apu for that long, and today’s kids probably see the Simpsons as archaic TV so I doubt Apu’s cultural resonance is as relevant now as it was during the 90s and 2000s. Still, at least two or three generations of brown kids have had to endure, at some point, a comparison to Mr. Nahasapeemapetilon. That sucks, sure.

However, had Apu never existed, would brown-ness have been invisible? Was Apu the cause of alienation, bullying, mean-ness, feeling different, feeling Othered? I think Apu was a handy tool for the kind of schoolyard nonsense we all endure in varying forms – and let’s be clear, being brown meant you were privileged in a way that other minorities were not, so enduring Apu and Kwik-e-Mart jabs during adolescence was hardly an existential identity crisis of the sort that Muslim Americans (kids and adults alike) have had to endure since 9-11.

Look, soft racism is racism, racism is bad. But soft racism can be endured without losing your dignity in a way that hard racism cannot be endured without true pain. I have experienced both and frankly, being compared to Apu is a mark of pride for me. Lets ask ourselves who Apu is?

Apu is not accused being part of a cultish religion that allegedly either controls the media and the world’s finances, or is set on replacing the world’s law with a throwback system of brutal control over unbelievers. Apu is not portrayed as a sexual fiend, a criminal, or a academically talented but poorly-endowed freak, based on the color of his skin or the shape of his eyes. Apu is not a member of an elite who makes your life miserable, who has everything you deserve.

Apu is a father, an entrepreneur, and a kind person, who minds his own business (literally and figuratively), who others rely on, who has sometimes needed help. But most of all, Apu doesn’t change who he is. Apu has been the target of soft racism for 20 years and hasn’t changed his hair, his clothes, his accent, his beliefs, his values.

Let’s compare Apu to the current heroes of the Brown Folk today: Aziz Ansari and Kumail Nanjiani. I commented elsewhere that these two real-life humans have done more (on screen) to damage Brown identity in just the past couple years than anything Apu has done in the past 20. Why? Others have said it better than me:

https://themuse.jezebel.com/i-m-tired-of-watching-brown-men-fall-in-love-with-white-1796522590

The Religion (Islam) Between Immigrant Parents and their Children on Aziz Ansari’s “Master of None”

The pursuit of white women: Brown actors like Aziz Ansari have reduced brown women to a punchline

The bottom line is that the Simpsons and Hollywood have two different versions of brown males. One is someone who embraces his identity, even in the face of mockery. The other is one who does the opposite. I’m with Apu.

Results on BFI-2 Personality Test

For personal reference, taken at personalitylab.org:

  • Extraversion: 60
  • Agreeableness: 81
  • Conscientousness: 44
  • Neuroticism: 46
  • Openness to Experience: 92

Taken after reading Most Personality Quizzes are Junk Science – I found One That Isn’t at FiveThirtyEight.com. Also see the lab page of the researchers who developed the test.

Definitions:

Extraversion

High scorers tend to be talkative and energetic. They like being around people, and are comfortable asserting themselves in a group. High scorers tend to have more friends and dating partners, and are seen as more popular. They generally prefer, and are successful in, social and enterprising occupations. They are more likely to serve in community leadership roles, and to do volunteer work. They tend to prefer energetic music such as hip-hop, rock, and heavy metal, exercise more frequently, and are more likely to play a sport. They experience more frequent positive emotions, and react more strongly to positive events. Women tend to score higher than men.

Low scorers tend to be socially and emotionally reserved. They generally prefer to be alone or with a few close friends, and keep their opinions and feelings to themselves. Low scorers tend to pursue, and do better in, jobs that involve independent work rather than social interaction. They are less likely to engage in thrill-seeking or risky behaviors, such as smoking, alcohol consumption, and risky sexual activity.

Agreeableness

High scorers tend to be considerate and polite in social interactions, and enjoy cooperating. They find it easy to trust people, and feel compassion for those in need. High scorers tend to be well liked by their peers, and establish satisfying and stable close relationships. They generally prefer, and do better in, social occupations. They are more likely to be religious, to serve in community leadership roles, and to do volunteer work. They tend to prefer pop, country, and religious music. Women tend to score higher than men, and older adults tend to score higher than younger adults.

Low scorers express themselves directly and bluntly, even at the risk of starting an argument. They enjoy competition, and tend to be skeptical of other people’s intentions. Low scorers tend to earn higher salaries, and are more likely to engage in some risky behaviors, such as smoking and aggressive driving.

Conscientiousness

High scorers tend to be organized and responsible. They work hard to achieve their goals, and see tasks through to completion. High scorers tend to earn higher grades in school, and perform better in many occupations. They are more likely to be religious and hold conservative political attitudes. They tend to exercise more, have better physical health, and live longer. Women tend to score higher than men, and older adults tend to score higher than younger adults.

Low scorers tend to act spontaneously rather than making plans, and find it easier to look at the big picture than pay attention to details. They prefer to jump between tasks, instead of finishing one at a time. Low scorers are more likely to hold liberal political attitudes. They tend to engage in more risky behaviors, such as smoking, alcohol consumption, drug use, and risky sexual activity.

Neuroticism

High scorers tend to be emotionally sensitive, and have up-and-down mood swings. They experience more frequent negative emotions, and react more strongly to negative events. Women tend to score higher than men, and younger adults tend to score higher than older adults.

Low scorers tend to be emotionally stable and resilient. They usually stay calm, even in stressful situations, and can quickly bounce back from negative events. Low scorers tend to feel a greater sense of well-being.

Openness to Experience

High scorers are generally open to new activities and new ideas. They tend to be creative, intellectually curious, and sensitive to art and beauty. High scorers tend to prefer, and do better in, scientific and artistic occupations. They are more likely to hold liberal political attitudes, prefer classical, jazz, blues, and rock music, and engage in drug use.

Low scorers tend to be traditional, down-to-earth, and stick with tried-and-true ways of doing things. They prefer the familiar over the new, and the concrete over the abstract. Low scorers tend to prefer, and do better in, conventional and practical occupations. They are more likely to hold conservative political attitudes.

Happy Birthday to the Maniax

10 years of Oguie Maniax!

Wow, the Otakusphere is kind of middle aged now. I passed my 10 year anniversary last year and I don’t think I even noticed. Over the years I’ve posted about everything that interests me, so I don’t even think this is an anime blog anymore. But thats what makes us otaku. We love what we love.

via Pete, who just turned 10 this past June 🙂

Another year of awards

It’s nomination season again, and this year is an exciting one, because it’s the first in which I’m eligible to nominate for the Nebulas as well as the Hugos. Nevertheless, my nominations this year will be narrower than the last two: I’m planning to nominate in the short fiction categories only. Short fiction is what I write, so I feel more qualified to judge it than to judge novels, and I also didn’t have much time for book reading last year. Many SFF novels were published in 2016 and I have little doubt that some of them are great, but I haven’t had a chance to read enough of them to weigh the field.

I’ll start with novelettes rather than short stories, because that way I can start with my favorite story of 2016: Polyglossia by Tamara Vardomskaya (GigaNotoSaurus, March 2016). GigaNotoSaurus doesn’t usually get much attention from reviewers and critics, but this is a rich, multi-layered story that is well deserving of an award.

Polyglossia is a story of linguistics, cultural survival, family and resistance to oppression – not necessarily in that order – set in a low-magic fantasy world that suggests the early twentieth century. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a fan of good world-building, and the world of this story is intricately detailed and plausible; more than that, the world-building is integrated into the plot and informs the characters’ actions such that no detail is wasted. The linguistics are also tightly integrated into the plot – the author is a Ph.D. candidate in linguistics with an interest in the philosophy of language, and it shows – and the politics of language and cultural preservation come to play a key part in its resolution. At the same time, the story calls into question what we call family, what duties we owe to our ancestors, and how to balance those duties against the exigencies of politics. Polyglossia is rewarding on several levels – thus far, I’ve never failed to get something new out of it with each rereading – and if I had to pick one story that defined speculative fiction for me in 2016, it would be this one.

Second on my novelette list is The Dancer on the Stairs by Sarah Tolmie (Strange Horizons, November 2016), the story of a woman from our world who is swept into another and who must learn to navigate and ultimately preserve its society. I hadn’t expected to like this story – tales of mannered societies usually leave me cold, and the palace world within The Dancer is exquisitely mannered – but here, the reasons underlying the manners and the way in which they shape the protagonist’s life are absorbing, and her slow process of learning, adjusting and ultimately realizing her role in that world are both fascinating and emotionally affecting. Again, my taste for world-building, and the intricate way in which the details of this story unfurl, made it one of my favorites of the year.

Rounding out my novelette short list are A Dead Djinn in Cairo by P. Djeli Clark (Tor, May 2016) and Sooner or Later Everything Falls Into the Sea by Sarah Pinsker (Lightspeed, Feb. 2016). The former is a lush, beautifully written mystery set in an early twentieth-century Egypt in which supernatural creatures have helped to throw off the colonial yoke but are dangerous in themselves; the latter, a story of music and discovery (recurring themes of Pinsker’s) set amid a post-apocalyptic landscape and seasoned with longing for companionship.

Turning to short stories, my favorite of the year and the first on my nomination list is And Then, One Day, The Air was Full of Voices by Margaret Ronald (Clarkesworld, June 2016). In the near future, Earth has received signals from an advanced and accomplished alien civilization… which then slowly fade, and we realize that the civilization died many years ago and that the records of its decline and death are only now reaching us. The breadth of time and space between Earth and the alien world means that we can do nothing to prevent their demise, and the story is about the spiritual effect that this realization has on humanity. The story is heartbreakingly human, the narration lyrical, and the resolution satisfying to the soul.

Touch Me All Over by Betsy James (F&SF, January-February 2016) is second: the story of a young woman exiled by a magical curse who must learn to turn it into a blessing. This story has been told before, but the way James tells it is intimate, lyrical, and emotionally affecting, and the story is told with a visual richness and an eye for small detail that takes it well above its subject matter.

Life in Stone, Glass and Plastic by Jose Pablo Iriarte (Strange Horizons, June 2016) is a story of memory: how it can be both painful and healing, and how what is lost might be regained at least temporarily. This is another intimate and compassionate story, dealing with dementia on the one hand and horror on the other: the trauma of memory and the trauma of its loss. This isn’t a lyrical story like James’, but it is a forceful one: its dialogue and description are contemporary, gritty and powerful, and its imagery is lasting.

Between Dragons and Their Wrath by An Owomoyela and Rachel Swirsky (Clarkesworld, February 2016) is an allegory of contemporary West Africa in which a refugee child earns a meager living by harvesting dragon scales, dreams of a better life in the capital city, and is both grateful and resentful toward the foreigners who provide aid. This returns to the lyrical style of storytelling, of which both Owomoyela and Swirsky are masters, and it tells of a haunting that is all too literal in much of the world. And Laws of Night and Silk by Seth Dickinson (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, May 2016) is another lyrical and powerful story of the child of a fair-folk race who is stunted so she can be used as a weapon, and the effect of her awakening on her caretaker and ultimately her society.

Finally, my nominations will include three novellas, all from Tor and all, to some extent, out of character for me to like. Runtime by S.B. Divya (Tor, May 2016) is a cyberpunk story – a genre I usually hate – but Divya gives it humanity through the striving of the protagonist, the tense excitement of a cross-country race, and a satisfying conclusion. The Cthulhu mythos also usually leaves me cold, but The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle (Tor, February 2016), set in 1920s Harlem, is a fortunate exception – the storytelling is a blend of Lovecraft and the Harlem Renaissance, and the irony of a black protagonist in that particular world isn’t lost on either author or reader. And A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson (Tor, October 2016) is a high fantasy that begins in a royal court – yet another thing that’s usually a turnoff for me – but which is set in a rich African-based world (something I’m a sucker for) and turns into a powerfully told romance. Again, I’m a fan of world-building, and this is what all three novellas on my list have in common: each of them will transport you as they did me.

Hopefully this year, I’ll have time to read a few novels between my writing, my day job and all that’s going on in the world.  But 2016 has still been immensely rewarding and inspirational – we’re living in a golden age of short SFF fiction, and some of the best of it was on display throughout the year – and with stories like those above, I have no regrets about my year in reading.

Carrie Fisher

bluesbros

[after a burst of gunfire from the Mystery Woman, Jake climbs to his feet, covered in mud from the tunnel floor]

Jake: It’s good to see you, sweetheart.

Mystery Woman: You contemptible pig! I remained celibate for you. I stood at the back of a cathedral, waiting, in celibacy, for you, with three hundred friends and relatives in attendance. My uncle hired the best Romanian caterers in the state. To obtain the seven limousines for the wedding party, my father used up his last favor with Mad Pete Trullo. So for me, for my mother, my grandmother, my father, my uncle, and for the common good, I must now kill you, and your brother.

[Jake falls to his knees]

Jake: Oh, please, don’t kill us! Please, please don’t kill us! You know I love you baby. I wouldn’t leave ya. It wasn’t my fault!

Mystery Woman: You miserable slug! You think you can talk your way out of this? You betrayed me.

Jake: No, I didn’t. Honest… I ran out of gas. I… I had a flat tire. I didn’t have enough money for cab fare. My tux didn’t come back from the cleaners. An old friend came in from out of town. Someone stole my car. There was an earthquake. A terrible flood. Locusts! IT WASN’T MY FAULT, I SWEAR TO GOD!

[Elwood covers his head in anticipation of more gunfire, Jake removes his sunglasses to make a wordless appeal, and the Mystery Woman visibly softens]

Mystery Woman: Oh, Jake… Jake, honey…

[Jake embraces the Mystery Woman and they kiss]

Jake: [to Elwood] Let’s go.

[He drops the Mystery Woman and walks off]

Elwood: [to the Mystery Woman as he steps past her] Take it easy.

This scene, and the final journey of the Mount Prospect police car, are what made this movie epic in my mind. Oh, and the sunglasses quote. Carrie Fisher doesn’t channel Leia here at all – she channels someone dark, vengeful, corrupted, a force of nature. There’s something just right about her carrying a gun, even though it’s a different character. Again, her character is softened by a scoundrel, and she shows her humanity too, but there’s nothing weak about her, even when she falls for it. She did, however, have the firing accuracy of a Stormtrooper. No one’s perfect.