- Science Fiction, Ethics and the Human Condition ed. by Christian Baron, Peter Halvorsen and Christine Cornea
One of the things that we do in philosophy, much to the annoyance of many of my students, is invent bizarre and unrealistic imaginary scenarios in order to test certain ideas. These thought experiments are useful because they help us bracket out a large number of influencing factors so that we can directly analyse a single concept or problem; we might imagine a scenario in which an individual is kidnapped and has their body hooked up via tubes to another individual to act as a kind of dialysis machine for that person, for instance, in order to test out intuitions and arguments related to the ethics of abortion. Sf characteristically presents these types of thought experiments to us in the midst of engrossing narratives and stories, causing those thought experiments to have a far greater impact on the reader than they otherwise might. Sf thus frequently causes us to ask important questions about what it means to be human, or how we should act in certain situations, as the constraints of the genre allow for much of that imaginary crafting to take place organically rather than artificially. [End Page 152]
Science Fiction, Ethics, and the Human Condition seeks to engage a number of questions in this vein. The book collects the work of scholars from a wide array of disciplines and in doing so provides a broad perspective on questions that relate to ethics, politics and the human experience. For instance, you have chapters written by scholars in media studies, theology, business and biology, to name a few. In bringing together so many disciplines, Science Fiction, Ethics, and the Human highlights how we can approach sf in a number of ways, and how our disciplinary backgrounds push us to ask slightly different questions about the same source material. In this regard the book is a great success. Many of the chapters examine the same sf works; for instance, the film Alien (Scott UK/US 1979) is focused on multiple times, as are the works of Kim Stanley Robinson. The text does a great job showcasing the breadth of questions that these works might cause us to ask and how they are all interrelated.
But what is on one hand a strength can also be, on the other, a weakness. Because of the broad scope of the book, it ends up lacking some depth. Many of the chapters spent time describing the work that they were going to analyse as well as describing the general methodological approach that they were going to take, which then left them with little room to actually analyse the sf works in interesting ways. I found myself, on a number of occasions, reading the last section of a chapter and thinking that the chapter was really starting to get interesting, only for that to be the conclusion. Oftentimes it felt that the chapters presented a text and described the types of questions that the text was asking, but then stopped short of attempting to examine how the text wanted to resolve those questions.
There also seems to be a question about the intended audience of Science Fiction, Ethics, and the Human. The chapters are all very well researched, referring at times to scholarship that is familiar and well known, like the work of Darko Suvin, and tying that scholarship to the particular disciplinary niche that each author is working in. A quick scan of the chapters would make you think that this work is intended for a scholarly audience. However, because many of the chapters spend much of their time providing descriptions of the texts that they are examining, despite some of these being very well known, like Alien, they frequently do not end up making the kinds of arguments that one would expect from scholarly work. The chapters are a little over-researched for a general audience, but a little under-argued for a scholarly audience; the best...