Archive for the 'science fiction' category

Friday Fun: Is Game of Thrones an allegory for global climate change?

Aug 18 2017 Published by under climate change, friday fun, science fiction

After a bit of an unexpected summer hiatus, I'm back to regular blogging, at least as regular as it's been the last year or two.

Of course, I'm a committed Game of Thrones fan. I read the first book in paperback soon after it was reprinted, some twenty years ago. And I've also been a fan of the HBO series, which though a bit inconsistent and wobbly at times, has been quite worth watching.

And speaking of winter, has anyone else noticed that winter doesn't seem to be coming? Has anyone noticed the person most worried about climate-related issues, Jon Snow, is having trouble being believed? In fact, anyone who worries about the climate is having trouble being taken seriously. Sure, war is important, but the Army of the Dead will kill everyone, no matter who sits on the Iron Throne.

Sound familiar? Well, I'm hardly the first person to notice the link between our favourite apocalyptic TV show and our least favourite real life environmental apocalypse.

Enjoy, or at least seriously ponder, some of the links below.


Is “Game of Thrones” an allegory for global climate change?

Just as the White Walkers are being ignored by the houses fighting over the Westerosi throne, so too are the major producers of carbon emissions struggling to succeed in an economy that will, in the end, render the planet uninhabitable.


Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen's Face-to-Face Shows the Myopia of Climate Change Denial

How do we confront an enemy no one believes in because no one can see it? That's the question Snow leaves us with. We can see iceberg calving thanks to patient videographers positioned at the planet’s edges—a relative term, of course, as circles don’t have edges. But at this moment most would rather watch the videos on their screens rather than give up the behaviors that are part of the problem that’s causing calving. We tend to choose the superstitions that benefit us, not the ones that point at our destruction.


Like it or not, Game of Thrones is out biggest analogy for climate change

And what did Tyrion do with that information? What did he do when he learned that all of mankind was at risk? Did he beseech Daenerys to forego her quest for the Iron Throne and head north with her dragons? Did he explain to her that it was Jorah’s father who first told him about the White Walkers, in a desperate attempt to make her accept the existential threat they all face?

No, he did nothing more than convince her to give away some some worthless dragonglass as a show of good faith. He probably does believe Jon, but taking the Iron Throne is far more important to him, so the White Walkers will have to wait for another day.


Game of Thrones is secretly all about climate change

Swap climate change for White Walkers and "countries" for noble houses, and it starts to sound a lot like the real world.

Specifically, it sounds like the problem of international coordination on climate change. No one country can prevent catastrophic warming on its own: Every country that's a major greenhouse gas emitter is part of the problem.

Yet the biggest emitters, like the United States and China, are also geopolitical competitors: Both are wary of the other's intentions, making it hard for them to see any kind of deal that limits their emissions as win-win. And even if you get over the US-China hurdle, you have to get a deal that's acceptable to most every other country in the world — including developing ones that need cheap energy to fuel economic growth.

The big wars in Game of Thrones — the Baratheon-Targaryen-Stark-Tyrell-Lannister free-for-all — are basically supposed to stand in for these complications. All of these noble houses are focused on their short-term interests, but pursuing them is blocking the real problem: stopping the White Walkers and their zombie army. Likewise, CO2 emissions skyrocketed in the past 100 years — with potentially catastrophic consequences for the human race.

Summer is coming.


And a few more...

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Friday Freak Out: Dystopian reading for a nervous new year

Somehow I think 2017 is going to be a bit more of a Friday Feak Out year than a Friday Fun year...

And in that spirit, some freak out fiction for your reading list this year. It'll be a great year for novels highlighted how truly awful the world could get if we let it.

For your 2017 reading please, a year of dystopian reading. A dozen suggestions (with a few bonus suggestions) for dystopian reading in the new year, one per month to keep us all grounded in an unforgiving world, but not so much that we'll lose hope. One per month should leave plenty of time for reading comedy!

Of course, in compiling the list below I took advantage of some other who were also thinking along the same dystopian lines...

I've read most of these, mostly quite a while ago. A few others have been widely recommended in the lists I cite above so I'm considering them part of my new year's reading list. I also tried to come up with a few that haven't been widely recommended on other lists. I'm currently re-reading 1984 and may over the course of the year reread one or two others which I haven't read in decades, like The Handmaid's Tale. I've also included a couple of perhaps less strictly dystopian politically-themed novels that seem appropriate for variety's sake.

Enjoy! Freak out!

  1. 1984 by George Orwell (Bonus: Animal Farm)
  2. Bug Jack Barron by Norman Spinrad
  3. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
  4. The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin
  5. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  6. The Gate to Women's Country by Sheri S. Tepper
  7. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (Bonus: The MaddAddam Trilogy)
  8. The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins
  9. Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler (Bonus: Parable of the Talents)
  10. The Space Merchants by Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth
  11. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
  12. V is for Vendetta by Alan Moore

Bonus political novel: The Manchurian Candidate by Richard Condon.

What are some dystopian or political novels you would suggest? Or maybe even some comedy for balance?

6 responses so far

Best Science Books 2016: Goodreads Choice Awards

As you all have no doubt noticed over the years, I love highlighting the best science books every year via the various end of year lists that newspapers, web sites, etc. publish. I've done it so far in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013,2014 and 2015.

And here we are in 2016!

As in previous years, my definition of "science books" is pretty inclusive, including books on technology, engineering, nature, the environment, science policy, public health, history & philosophy of science, geek culture and whatever else seems to be relevant in my opinion.

Today's list is Goodreads Choice Awards: Nonfiction, Memoir and Autobiography, History and Biography, Science and Technology.

  • The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley
  • When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
  • Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
  • Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars by Nathalia Holt
  • Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly
  • Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? by Frans de Waal
  • The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee
  • Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War by Mary Roach
  • The Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman
  • The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself by Sean Carroll
  • Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets by Luke Dittrich
  • Idiot Brain: What Your Head Is Really Up To by Dean Burnett
  • Into the Magic Shop: A Neurosurgeon's Quest to Discover the Mysteries of the Brain and the Secrets of the Heart by James R. Doty
  • In a Different Key: The Story of Autism by John Donvan, Caren Zucker
  • Unseen City: The Majesty of Pigeons, the Discreet Charm of Snails & Other Wonders of the Urban Wilderness by Nathanael Johnson
  • On Trails: An Exploration by Robert Moor
  • Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions by Brian Christian, Tom Griffiths
  • Cure: A Journey into the Science of Mind Over Body by Jo Marchant
  • I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life by Ed Yong
  • The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future by Kevin Kelly
  • Time Travel: A History by James Gleick
  • Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy by Cathy O'Neil
  • Baby Birds: An Artist Looks into the Nest by Julie Zickefoose
  • Citizen Scientist: Searching for Heroes and Hope in an Age of Extinction by Mary Ellen Hannibal

And check out my previous 2016 lists here!

You can also check out my appearances on the Science for the People Gifts for Nerds podcasts for the last few years: 2014, 2015, 2016.

Many of the lists I use are sourced via the Largehearted Boy master list.

(Astute readers will notice that I kind of petered out on this project a couple of years ago and never got around to the end of year summary since then. Before loosing steam, I ended up featuring dozens and dozens of lists, virtually every list I could find that had science books on it. While it was kind of cool to be so comprehensive, not to mention that it gave the summary posts a certain statistical weight, it was also way more work than I had really envisioned way back in 2008 or so when I started doing this. As a result, I'm only going to highlight particularly large or noteworthy lists this year and forgo any kind of end of year summary. Basically, all the fun but not so much of the drudgery.)

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Climate change fiction is the hottest thing in the book world!

Aug 13 2014 Published by under environment, science books, science fiction

Sorry about that, but posts and articles about climate change fiction seem especially prone to bad puns...

In any case, climate change fiction (or "cli-fi" to use the rather ugly short form) is fiction -- either speculative or realistic -- that takes as it's basis the fact that the earth's climate is changing and jumps off from there.

It's actually been around for quite a long time in various guises, even before it became obvious that anthropogenic global warming was an issue, with JG Ballard's The Wind from Nowhere and The Drowned World being perhaps the earliest modern examples. Not surprisingly, the last 20 or 30 years has seen a bunch of climate change novels being published with a number of particularly notable ones in the last 5 years or so.

Mostly, I think, with the hope that by dramatizing the effects of climate change that it will seem more real and that the general public will therefore be more likely to for one, believe that it's real and for another, actually want to do something about it, individually and collectively. Similarly by making scientists seem more human somehow the ideas that they are trying to communicate will seem more real and more urgent. On the other hand, the whole movement may mostly be preaching to the converted.

Recently there's been a number of articles, websites and blog posts analyzing climate change fiction. See so many of them is what's inspired me to gather those articles as well as many of the books they mention

Below I'll list a bunch of the most interesting looking ones chronologically and leave it up to my readers to figure out which ones to pursue in more depth. After the list I'm also going to list the posts, articles and sites that I used in my research. Danny Bloom has done a lot of work in this area and his material has been invaluable.

I've read a few of the books on the list but not many. So in a sense, this is very much a list for my own use over the next year or so.


The Books


The Resources


These list obviously only scratch the surface. If anyone has any particular recommendations that I don't mention here, please feel free to include them in comments.

21 responses so far

Friday Fun: Neil deGrasse Tyson on why Star Trek OWNS Star Wars

May 17 2013 Published by under friday fun, science fiction

I have to admit -- I've always been more of Star Trek fan rather than Star Wars. The Star Trek universe has always seemed more open, more diverse, with a lot more opportunities for telling different stories not just about the rebels versus the empire.

It seems that Neil deGrasse Tyson agrees.

"I'm old-school with the big traditional TV and movie series, so I'm old-school Star Trek. I'm partial to the old crew, Captain Kirk,"


"I never got into Star Wars," Tyson said. "Maybe because they made no attempt to portray real physics. At all."


"I like the double star sunset scene (on Tatooine). Most stars you see in the night sky are double and triple stars, so that's a very common thing we would expect in the universe. But, yeah... [holds up Vulcan hand sign]"

Head over to the link to watch the full video interview.

Great minds think alike!

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Books I'd like to read: Food, physics and horror

hardly ever does The Globe and Mail books section every Saturday feature more than one, maybe two, books that I'm interested in. They're pretty heavy on the Canlit side, with a heavy helping of the kind of public affairs books that don't really do it for me. The mystery roundup feature is usually my best bet. Well this week there were three -- count'em three -- books that really piqued my interest. And a pretty diverse bunch too, one physics, one horror fiction and another environmental non-fiction featuring the kind of intersection between food, science and policy that I find so interesting.

Here goes!

Time Reborn: From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe by Lee Smolin (reviewed by Dan Falk) (Amazon)

Considering the esoteric nature of some of the material being presented, Time Reborn is relatively jargon- and equation-free. There are some challenging concepts, but nothing to deter the lay reader. (Smolin has said that he’s also working on a more technical book on the same subject, to be co-written with philosopher Roberto Mangabeira Unger.)

I hope this is the start of an exciting new chapter in theoretical physics. But I fear that Einstein was right, and that the ultimate explanation for time’s apparent flow might come from the realm of psychology or neuroscience rather than physics. Science, after all, has a track record of overturning our “common sense” beliefs about the world. Again and again, things that were “obvious” – that the sun revolves around the earth; that humans are fundamentally different from other animals – have been shown to be artifacts of an anthropocentric worldview. Maybe the “obvious” passage of time is another of these illusions.

NOS4A2: A Novel by Joe Hill (Reviewed by Ilana Teitelbaum) (Amazon)

Hill is the son of Stephen King and, with this new novel, he emerges as a literary inheritor of his father. (Hill’s brother, Owen King, also recently released a new novel, Double Feature.) NOS4A2 contains familiar elements for Stephen King fans, such as the twisting of something beloved (in this case, Christmas) into something pathologically scary, and a maliciously sentient car. But despite its roots in traditional horror, this is a book about the dangers of idealizing innocence and traditional values, a message with clear political implications.

One of the standout qualities of Hill’s work is his ear for the rhythms of language, the creative metaphors that surprise and satisfy. His sentences crackle with wit and understated craftsmanship – the kind so skillful it is only visible if you’re paying attention. It is through language that Hill weaves the subtly disturbing atmosphere that permeates NOS4A2 even in its least threatening moments, such as in a description of a diner: “[She] didn’t like looking at the flypaper, at the insects that had been caught in it, to struggle and die while people shoved hamburgers into their mouths directly below.” Not long before, Hill describes the laughter of a group of girls as being “like hearing glass shatter.”

Consumed: Food for an Finite Planet by Sarah Elton (Reviewed by John Varty) (Amazon)

But I don’t think Elton’s all about casting off the “other side” with tidy dualisms. Indeed, she anticipates, even concedes, some of her critics’ main arguments. She’s aware that “conventional” agriculture tends to out-yield organic; she’s heard about studies challenging the energy efficiency of local food.

Trouble is, so many studies supporting industrial agriculture simply don’t provide a full-cost accounting. Yield, for instance, is clearly important; but preponderant evidence suggests that the total energy inputs of modern agriculture are not returned to us in calories. Not even close.

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Best Science (Fiction) Books 2012: io9

(Yeah, yeah, I know. This list isn't strictly part of my regular list of science books lists, but hey, it's Boxing Day and we should all be a little extra self-indulgent and buy ourselves something nice. Being a fan of the full range of science fiction, fantasy and horror genres, I have been paying attention to those "best of 2012" lists as I see them online -- as well as crime fiction and cookbooks, natch -- so I thought I'd share one of the nicest ones I've seen with all my readers. Enjoy!)

Another list for your reading, gift-giving and collection development pleasure.

Every year for the last bunch of years I’ve been linking to and posting about all the “year’s best sciencey books” lists that appear in various media outlets and shining a bit of light on the best of the year.

All the previous 2012 lists are here.

This post includes the following: io9: The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Books of 2012.

I'm always looking for recommendations and notifications of book lists as they appear in various media outlets. If you see one that I haven't covered, please let me know at jdupuis at yorku dot ca or in the comments.

I am picking up most of my lists from Largehearted Boy.

For my purposes, I define science books pretty broadly to include science, engineering, computing, history & philosophy of science & technology, environment, social aspects of science and even business books about technology trends or technology innovation. Deciding what is and isn’t a science book is squishy at best, especially at the margins, but in the end I pick books that seem broadly about science and technology rather than something else completely. Lists of business, history or nature books are among the tricky ones.

And if you wish to support my humble list-making efforts, run on over to Amazon, take a look at Steve Jobs or The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks or maybe even something else from today's list.

7 responses so far

Friday Fun: J.R.R. Tolkien on George R.R. Martin

Aug 24 2012 Published by under friday fun, science fiction

George R.R. Martin is the new J.R.R. Tolkien, right?

Great big, fantasy series with large casts of characters, epic battles between good and evil?

Maybe, maybe not. Tolkien certainly create a more black and white universe compared to Martin's infinite shades of gray. On the other hand, Tolkien found a very nice level of actual productivity. He basically wrote one amazing thing and actually finished it. Sure, there were a few other peripheral works that came out during his lifetime, but Lord of the Rings is it. He also wrote in an era when there was no expectation of ever becoming blindingly, insanely rich creating such a universe. And hence, very few temptations to the dark side of endless drivel, never completed in a single human lifetime.

So what would Tolkein have thought of the Song of Ice and Fire series?

Raw Book Reviews by the Restlessly Deceased: J.R.R. Tolkein on George R.R. Martin

A Game of Thrones? A game indeed. A foul and sniveling one, bereft of winners, the sole purview of losers, to be played by pudgy children, the spawn of editors and lawyers alike. Darkness and daylight, vagueness and vividness of perception, ease and action, horror and euphoria. These are the elementary contradictions of superior prose. To wit: nowhere are these basic tensions to be found within the shoddy sentence-making and cheap simile that marks the Martin oeuvre.

Little wonder (after wading through the Mordor-ian depths of this endless and execrable tome) that some have suggested (as well they might) that there is indeed a distinction to be made (if not a gaping lava-bottomed chasm to be forded) between what learned men call “high fantasy” and what dimwitted sausage-sniffers refer to as “merely genre.” And this, my friends, I can tell you with no compunction and even less regret, is indeed the lowest, most gormless “genre” I have ever had the displeasure to read. Or should I say cursorily skim and, at long last, fail to finish?

It's really very good -- funny, profane and irreverent. You should read the whole thing.

(And yes, I'm a big fan of both but I frankly haven't been able to make myself read the most recent Martin book, Dancing Dragons or whatever.)

One response so far

Friday Fun: Walter Mosley on The Case for Genre

May 11 2012 Published by under friday fun, science fiction

Longtime followers of this blog will know that I'm a fan of genre fiction, and the more genres the better: science fiction, fantasy, horror, hard boiled and noir. And in a lot of ways those genre boundaries are fluid, and sometimes the authors themselves embody that fluidity.

Walter Mosley
is one of those authors, writing with great success in both the mystery and science fiction genres.

Here's what he had to say recently in the blog: The Case for Genre.

In my opinion science fiction and fantasy writing has the potential to be the most intelligent, spiritual, inventive, and the most challenging of all literary writing. A good book of alternative reality creates an entire world, a skin that one can walk into and inhabit just as surely as we might walk out on the street in front our home.


This is what I call realistic fiction; the kind of writing that prepares us for the necessary mutations brought about in society from an ever changing technological world. It is no different than when Marx warns us of an economic infrastructure designing our social relations; when Freud tells us that our most important mental functions are unconscious and nearly unapproachable; when Einstein says that what we see, believe, and even what we've proven is all made up when piled next to the real God of existence - Relativity; when Darwin says that we are cousins to the redwood and fruit fly, the woodpecker and wolf. This is what science fiction is all about. It's our world under an alien light that allows us to question what we see and who we are seeing it.

And I'm sure a similar screed could be written on the value of all the various genres!

One response so far

Friday Fun: Jedis disappointed with new "energy-saving" lightsabers

May 04 2012 Published by under friday fun, science fiction

This seems like a fun one for May the Fourth: Jedis disappointed with new "energy-saving" lightsabers

Jedi knights have expressed anger at plans to phase out traditional lightsabers in favour of new, more environmentally-friendly models.

'These new lightsabers are rubbish,' complained Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi. 'They take ages to light up and when they do you can barely see anything with them.'


'I refuse to switch to these new low energy sabers,' said a typically petulant Luke Skywalker. 'By the time they've reached full brightness you may have already had your hand chopped off by a man you didn't even realise was your own father.'

However, intergalactic environmentalist George Monbiot disagrees. 'The old lightsabers may look impressive but they are very energy inefficient. Jedis need to appreciate that The Force is a finite resource and that we need to conserve it - at least until we develop environmentally sustainable solar wind farms.'

It's very funny. Go on over and read the whole thing.

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