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Tag Archives: guest post
Guest Post: Eric Schwitzgebel Gives One-Point-Five Cheers for a Hugo Award for a TV Show about Ethicists’ Moral Expertise
When The Good Place episode “The Trolley Problem” [won one of science fiction’s most prestigious awards, the Hugo, in the category of best dramatic presentation, short form, I celebrated. I celebrated not because I loved the episode (in fact, I had so far only seen a couple of The Good Place’s earlier episodes) but because, as a philosophy professor aiming to build bridges between academic philosophy and popular science fiction, the awarding of a Hugo to a show starring a professor of philosophy discussing a famous philosophical problem seemed to confirm that science fiction fans see some of the same synergies I see between science fiction and philosophy.
I do think the synergies are there and that the fans see and value them – as also revealed by the enduring popularity of The Matrix, and by West World, and Her, and Black Mirror, among others – but “The Trolley Problem”, considered as a free-standing episode, fumbles the job. (Below, I will suggest a twist by which The Good Place could redeem itself in later episodes.)
Yeah, I’m going to be fussy when maybe I should just cheer and praise. And I’m going to take the episode more philosophically seriously than maybe I should, treating it as not just light humor. But taking good science fiction philosophically seriously is important to me – and that means engaging critically. So here we go.
Look, I love to write about terrible food. Life contains so much more of it than good food, or at least my life does. (I have limited funds and poor judgement for risk.) But more than the realism, I’m drawn to bad food because it infuses a scene with context, with a messy pathos. Someone failed before this dish was even served. Continue reading
I sat at a desk that I shared with two other people as a piece of paper was handed to me from my boss. I was nineteen years old, my boss was my dad, and the paper was an estimate … Continue reading
Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks (1942) is one of my favorite paintings. There’s something uniquely inspirational in the drama and mystery of strangers gathered at a late-night diner. I also like it because it’s stylistically uncluttered, focused, and full of Mad Men era nostalgia. Recently, I had to pick up some friends from the airport at 5:30 am. Because I like to be painfully early, whether to catch a flight, or to pick people up, I left at 3:00 am. Naturally, I had some time to kill, so I dropped into a nearby Waffle House to see what it might have been like to be one of Hopper’s nighthawks. And also for breakfast.
After a few minutes on the interstate, I took an offramp and made a right turn onto an empty road. The darkness was occasionally punctuated by hotel marquees, stop lights, and an unmistakeable bright, yellow-blocked Waffle House sign. I pulled into the empty parking lot and backed my Jetta under the amber glow of the lone street lamp. At least someone might see me if I got mugged.
Through the windows, I saw a man behind the bar, most likely the cook, and a young lady seated at the end of the counter reading a book. Great, I wasn’t the only nighthawk. And someone should definitely see if I get mugged. I grabbed my trusty notebook from my book-bag and headed in.
In my backyard, I have a tree whose fruit is colored bottles, and it serves a useful purpose. The bottles trap and kill evil spirits. During the night, evil spirits wander into the bottles, and they can’t find their way out—basically like a lobster trap for spirits. Then, when the morning sunlight hits the bottles, the evil spirits, which don’t like sunlight, are burned away. Poof!
Skeptical? Where’s your sense of mystery? The bottle tree legend is believed to have originated in Africa and been brought to the states with African slaves, which is why you’re more likely to see one in the South. Being a transplanted Yankee, I’d never seen a bottle tree until I experienced one years ago at The Antique Rose Emporium in Brenham, Texas. It was a thing of beauty, and a sign nearby explained the legend. I thought the idea was so cool that I wanted to have one, but I needed the right structure. Some people use welded metal rods, but I wanted something more organic. So, when our Majestic Indian Hawthorn tree died last year, I saw an opportunity to have a bottle tree although I knew it would take some work.
Hello. I love, read, and write fantasy fiction. Oh, and I’m a vegan.
When I sell my fantasy novels at Comic Cons, I’ll usually sneak a little reference onto the bottom of my table white board, such as Vegan, or Vegan-friendly. In my mind, this covert signal will draw vegans to my table, whispering, “I am one too. Tell me, sister, about your fiction.” Like that first moment of connection in a dystopian novel. This doesn’t happen. Instead, people skip all the other great things on the board, point right to vegan, loudly state, “Look, it says veggan!” and then laugh. This hasn’t dissuaded me from the attempt. About half of those times, someone will ask, “Vegan-friendly fantasy fiction? What’s that?” They laugh. Then when I start to answer, they leave.
In my mind, whenever someone asks what could be vegan about fantasy, it proves to me that they’ve never been a vegan reading fantasy. In addition to a lot of the violence and war in the genre (it’s usually a central component, even outside of grimdark), the best scenes feature someone riding their steed in a fine leather vest to grab a hock of ham. I’m not even sure I know what hocks are, but I have concluded they are key to the development of fantasy heroes. So, you know, my fiction is just focused a bit differently.
I’m not here to get into all of that, though. I’m here to talk about one of Cat’s and my favorite subjects: yummy food. Now, I’m not an authority on gourmet cuisine. Go to a vegan restaurant or check out many amazing online vegan chefs for that. (I’m particularly fond of Richa Hingle.) Hey, I’m not even a great cook. But I haven’t eaten meat in over two decades, so I can definitely speak to “what we eat.” Don’t worry. This is just a quick blog to spark some ideas. But if you don’t mind eating plants, here are five simple foods you could give a spin.
I’m not the world’s best cook by any means. If given the option, to steal more time for writing I will order in or use prepackaged dinners. But there are things I make when I need that extra comfort that take-out or microwave meals won’t provide. It was no surprise that one of my favorite home-made meals made its way into my novel Chaos Wolf.
In that scene, Jordan is due to present herself to the alpha werewolf of the Black Oak Pack for one final test. Alpha Shane has made it clear that if she can’t prove that she is in control her shapeshifting, he will kill her. She has just confronted Montgomery, her vampire mentor, about information he has withheld from her. Her trust in him is shaken when she needs his support the most. She’s exhausted emotionally and physically and needs something she can look forward to beyond mere survival. So she cooks.
Jordan doesn’t toss something into the microwave that warms up in two minutes. She doesn’t reach for the take-out cartons from the dinner the night before. She chooses to make a meal that will take a half hour to prepare and ten hours to cook.
In an act of quiet defiance against all of those who think she’s going to fail, Jordan chooses to hope that she will be there to eat it when it’s done. In her mind, it’s not her last meal, but her next meal to look forward to when she returns home.
Imagine a Hellmouth. No, not the one in Sunnydale, California—a medieval Hellmouth, straight out of a manuscript illumination. Pointy teeth, flames, unhappy people.
When I decided that I wanted to write a book about a medieval woman who leads a raid on Hell, that was the sort of underworld that immediately came to my mind. A mouth, though, implies a throat, and a stomach, and, well, everything else.
So I had a Hellbeast on my hands, a creature that spends centuries underground, but occasionally makes an appearance on the surface. It’s a little like a platypus, but without the bill. And a lot bigger.
Within the Hellbeast, there are revenants. But there are also humans—some have been altered in various ways, and some are extremely long-lived, but they are humans nonetheless. This led me to an unusual world-building question: What do people eat in the underworld?
Everybody’s tried to make a meal they mess up. A pile of perfectly good ingredients that just won’t come together into something palatable despite our best efforts. And when time and money and supplies are tight, sometimes tossing out the pot and starting over is not an option.
In each act of my new spacepunk steam opera novel, FLOTSAM, the four-person airship crew sits down to a meal. They come together to eat, to debate, and to problem solve. Their thoughts in these scenes are filled with worry over finding work, getting paid, keeping the ship in good repair, and staying out of trouble long enough to spend any money left after that.
Each meal is a backdrop to what’s going on in the story at that moment: an easy, familiar meal to celebrate getting away from a confrontation in one piece; a load of their favorite takeout as distraction from unpleasant news; and, finally, a dinner that goes horribly wrong before coming together in the end.
It’s always bothered me that fantasy and science fiction get lumped together into a single category. The two genres seem very different, at least on the surface. Fantasy usually features some kind of magic as a core speculative element. It often takes place in a secondary world at a pre-industrial state of technology. Science fiction, in contrast, usually takes us to the future in which some as-yet-nonexistent technology underlies the plot. Granted, there’s a huge overlap between fantasy and science fiction fandoms. Maybe that means we live for escapism, whether to a fantasy world or outer space.