Pyrkon, Philosophy, William Shatner


The concom is already hard at work designing appropriate attire for the BOG. This artist's conception is by Stanisław Czarnecki.

The concom is already hard at work designing appropriate attire for the BOG. This artist’s conception is by Stanisław Czarnecki.

They’ve announced it on Facebook, they’ve put it up on their website, so I guess I can announce it here: after a five-year absence, I seem to be returning to Poland as a “Special Guest” of Pyrkon: a massive Polish con attended by somewhere around forty thousand folks annually. According to the facebook comments attending the announcement, negotiations to bring BOG along are ongoing. So if you happen to be in Poznań between April 28-30, I will be making myself available to either a) apologize for putting my Nowa Fantastyka column on hiatus again, or b) accept your gratitude for same.

I’m also supposed to deliver some kind of lecture for the better part of an hour. I have about two months. Suggestions welcome.


Since I’m already thumping the ol’ tub, this might also be a good time to point out that Blindsight has made it onto Greg Hickey’s list of “The 105 Best Philosophical Novels“. According to the text, though, it’s not exactly Greg Hickey’s list: it’s based on “curated lists from The Guardian, Flavorwire and more, suggestions from readers on Goodreads, Quora and Reddit, and picks from philosophical fiction authors like Khaled Hosseini, Irvin D. Yalom, Rebecca Goldstein and Daniel Quinn”. On first glance that seems to be a pretty credible set of criteria (for obvious reasons, I’m not going to take a second glance).

Blindsight ranks 71rst overall, which puts it just behind Lord of the Flies and a few spots ahead of Blood Meridian and The Idiot.  It kicks the ass of various titles by Beckett, Dick, Vonnegut, Rand, and Atwood, and has its ass kicked in turn by other titles by the same authors. We all get our asses kicked by Camus’s The Stranger.

I find this list a bit suspect— maybe “mystifying” is a better word— and not just because I’m on it. For one thing, rankings were based on “a weighted score to each novel appearing on a previous list and combined these scores with votes from readers and authors to produce a cumulative score”, which implies some sort of quality-based hierarchy. But the list is also subdivided into other groups— “Black Tragicomedies”, “Cult Favorites”, “Social Critiques” (Blindsight falls under “Diamonds in the Rough”)— and all the titles in each of these groups is ranked contiguously. That is, all the “Black Tragicomedies” are worse than all the “Portraits”, all the “Portraits” are worse than all the “Mindfucks”, and so on. I find this odd.

I’m also a bit suspect of the whole idea of “philosophical novel” as a category. Fortunately I got a chance to vent on this very subject, since Greg approached me for a list of my own “favorite philosophical novels” (He includes a pdf of  annotated “Author’s picks” as a downloadable extra on the same page; my own remarks are perhaps the least informative of the eleven authors who weigh in). I tried to deflect attention from my own  lack of education by questioning the very definition of the term. “You could argue that science fiction is infested with philosophy, almost by definition,” I began, rattling off a list of obvious examples. “And those are brilliant books, and they do contain philosophical elements, but to describe all these as philosophical novels is like proudly proclaiming William Shatner to be Canadian because he passed through town on his way to Hollywood. You can make the case, technically, but it makes you look really insecure.”

Anyway. It’s a fascinating list, refreshingly genre-heavy (Dick and Stephenson are all over it, although Huxley’s the only SF author to make the Top Ten)— and if nothing else, it’ll give you a whole lot more to stick on your bucket list.

I’m ashamed to admit I’ve only read a quarter of them.