SEVEN CIRCUMSTANCES

Book Reviews & Essays on Literature


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Six rules for writing about AI set out at Worldcon 75

Quote from the film, Ex Machina.

AI, Artificial Intelligence, is the one element that many SF writers like to work into their stories, particularly robot-human interactions. The bad news is that this particular element is probably the hardest to get right and the furthest away from becoming reality. On the third day of Worldcon 75, which ended last week, authors Anthony Eichenlaub and S.B Divya, and research scientist and software engineer Greg Hullender, formerly of Amazon and Microsoft, poured icy cold water on the notion that human-like robots will populate the world any time soon. Continue reading


Readers set the critics right at Worldcon 75

On day 2 of Worldcon 75 in Helsinki, I finally got to have a word with one of the “insider” attendees, which provided me with more of an eye-opener than the presenter himself had done. As part of a session on Chinese Science Fiction (SF), Eero Suoranta (University of Helsinki, Finland) presented his Ph.D. Study, The Inadequacy of Enlightenment Rationality in Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem. This was just after Prof. Mingwei Song had put forth his compelling arguments about making “the invisible” part of the real world. Continue reading


How Chinese SF writers deal with “the invisible” – Worldcon 75

One of Prof. Song’s slides. He ignores the conventions for Powerpoint presentations but his ideas are very interesting.

Day 2 of Worldcon 75 delivered an Academic Track session that was on par, at least in terms of content, if not presentation, with the latest ideas and findings in Chinese Science Fiction (SF), one of the sub-genres of SF that I find particularly interesting and puzzling. Mingwei Song (Wellesley College, USA) presented on Poetics and the Politics of “the Invisible” –  Science, Science Fiction, and Realism in China, 1890s-1920s. The one idea that he conveyed clearly is that in China, SF is a “marginalized, hidden genre”, which, despitue its lowly status, has become “a vehicle for conveying messages that are beyond popular interpretations”, particularly about subjects that are contrary to, or not part of, the Chinese government’s prevalent “Chinese Dream” of prosperity, stability and happiness. Continue reading


Poor presentations detract from the messages at Worldcon 75

Messukeskus Conference Centre, Helsinki, venue of Worldcon 75.

The first Academic Track session on the first day of Worldcon 75 (the 75th World Science Fiction Conference), on the 9th of August in Helsinki, Finland,  promised to showcase the finest minds and the most sophisticated analyses that academics working in Science Fiction (either the science part, or the fiction part, or both) have to offer. The subject was “Uses of Fantasy: The Book, The Film, and Audience Responses – Results of the Finnish Sub-Project of the World Hobbit Project”. The presentations by three academics were, unfortunately, examples of “Do as I say, not as I do”. Continue reading


Why we think that fictional characters are real

The reboot of the TV series Twin Peaks, Twin Peaks: The Return premiered on the 21st of May, to a huge response from fans. What was interesting is how they responded, criticizing the producers if any of the characters deviated from their previous incarnations by so much as a word or gesture. They were commenting as if the people of “Twin Peaks”, “Detective Dale Cooper”, “The Log Lady”, “Laura Palmer”, etc., were real. What interests me, is why we identify with fictional characters and think they are real – or want to believe they are real. There has to be a psychological or neurological basis for this. In the linked pages of this post I discuss one reason at a time, from our ability to fantasize to the way our brains work. Continue reading