Review: Sci Phi Journal, pt 1 – Overview; Domo; Ideal Machine

Short Form: Well worth a couple of bucks and your time. It’s a bit tragic that you’d need a somewhat specialized magazine to read stuff that treats Sci Fi, philosophy and Christianity seriously and with respect – but here it is. The writing is mostly quite good, even great, but uneven – hey, volume 1. Go buy and read this. 

Onward:

Here’s the Sci Phi Journal website. 

Nice evocative cover. My old school sensibilities make me wish I could hold this in my hands, rather than viewing it on my old school black & white Kindle. But hey, welcome to the 21st century.

Our culture used to be able to produce movies like It’s a Wonderful Life, where, whatever its other merits, Christianity was simply taken for granted, no apologies nor irony. There have even been times, in the misty past, when being a philosopher was considered an honorable profession. Not often, perhaps – a doom not helped by the small but noisy parade of narcissistic maniacs, political tools and empathy-free sociopaths, not to mention mere muddle-headed goofballs, who have claimed the title of ‘Philosopher’ over the centuries.

Yet – and here is a touchstone – there is and, since at least the ancient Greeks, always has been a perennial philosophy, around which serious people trying to live serious lives have gathered and studied. Any college sophomore can reach the basic conclusions of a Nietzsche or a Hume after a few beers and love affair gone bad. It takes a bit more, more skin in the game, as it were, to approach the Big Boys.

Sci Phi Journal want to get into that game, while at the same time honoring the flights of fancy, even sometimes puerile fancy, that give us Buck Rogers, Star Wars, as well as From Gustible’s Planet and Monster Hunter International. In no way am I knocking this – there were times in my life where I could quote pages of dialogue from Star Wars (I’m a little rusty in my old age) and argue the physics of Star Trek with the best of them. Serious philosophy and Sci Fi, even less than serious Sci Fi – match made in heaven. Kudos to Jason Rennie, the editor and godfather of this effort, for taking on this quest.

Almost everything in this magazine deserves a review – I’ll take a crack at several of the more memorable section. In this first review, I’ll tackle the short story Domo, by Joshua M. Young, and the novella Ideal Machine, by John C. Wright.

Domo. This story is the 1st person musings of an intelligent robot, Domo of the title, mostly centering around a weekly chess game with a retired priest. The most wonderfully sci fi aspects of the story are supposing that smart enough robots would have a social life in the cloud – that the mundane duties of ‘servitors’ would hardly engage their ‘minds’, and so much of their mental activity is networking, in both senses of the word, with other servitors. Then, the subject of re-imaging a robot is considered – what if a used robot is sold, and the buyer wants to, like Uncle Owen, wipe its memory? As the robots become more human, that act becomes more like murder. Good, well-written story.

Ideal Machine: It’s hardly surprising that John C Wright’s contribution is both the most well-written and mind-bending of the offerings here. He is a philosopher, first and foremost, and has already tried his hand at blending speculative fiction with Christianity, most brilliantly (and tear-jerkingly) in NativitySci Phi is a vehicle tailor made to his gifts, and he does not disappoint.

The story begins as a First Contact tale: a mysterious object is approaching earth, and decelerating – not a natural object. It comes to rest over an obscure country church in Maryland.  St. Ignatius Church was founded by Jesuits in 1641; in the story, it is little more than a museum, used only once a year for Mass. (As an aside, in the story it is stated as being the oldest Catholic church in America – nope – San Miguel’s was founded in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1610, and is still there. East Coast people always seem to forget New Mexico even exists as part of America.)

The action centers around two military helicopter pilots, Joseph Cupertino Tyler (Ha! St. Joseph of Cupertino is the patron saint of aviators, and is famous for levitating at Mass, witnessed by thousands of people), and Andre Adenoid Hynkel (Double ha! Adenoid Hynkel was the Great Dictator in Chaplin’s movie; Andre means ‘man’ or manly), his copilot, and their encounter with an elderly priest in the church.

Philosophical & moral question: if you had a devise with which you could save the world or gratify your every desire or anything in between, what would you do with it? What kind of a man should hold such power? Tyler, Hynkel and the priest take a crack at answering this question. The climactic scene called to mind the Simplification in Miller’s Canticle for Leibowitz – a good thing to be reminded of.

The priest’s interaction with the aliens takes place off camera, but provides some of the more mind-bending speculation in the story when recounted to the pilots.

Conclusion: Hey, under $4 on Amazon! What are you waiting for? The stories are well worth it, and we need to encourage this sort of thing.

 

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Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

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