Tor.com content by

Corey J. White

The Ship of Theseus Problem Reveals A Lot About SciFi

The Ship of Theseus is a thought experiment first posited by Plutarch in Life of Theseus. It goes a little something like this:

A ship goes out in a storm and is damaged. Upon returning to shore, the ship is repaired, with parts of it being replaced in the process. Again and again the ship goes out, and again it is repaired, until eventually every single component of the ship, every plank of wood, has been replaced.

Is the repaired ship still the same ship that first went out into the storm? And if not, then at what point did it become a different ship?

Now, say you collected every part of the ship that was discarded during repairs, and you used these parts to rebuild the ship. With the two ships side-by-side, which one would be the true Ship of Theseus? Or would it be both? Or neither?

There’s no single answer to the problem, no correct one, just the looming question: what is the intrinsic thingness of a thing? But the thought experiment has captured my attention because, even though it is thousands of years old, it’s still relevant today. It’s given me a new way to look at some of my favourite bits of pop-culture, some of the technologies used in science fiction, and by extension, a valid frame by which to look at some of the technologies we may be using in the future.

[Read more]

Five Unforgettable Prisons in Science Fiction and Fantasy

Countless times in fiction we’ve seen heroes pull off daring heists, avenge the deaths of loved ones, and vanquish colossal foes (whilst causing considerable collateral damage), but what might happen if they didn’t get away with it? What does it look like in science fiction and fantasy when a character finds themselves behind bars, whether literal or only figurative? Here are five books that explore that very question.

[Read more]

Series: Five Books About…

Stephen King’s The Long Walk and the Art of Dystopian Simplicity

Even though Stephen King has been a fixture of popular culture in the West since before I was born, I somehow still went thirty years before reading any of his books. He’s a renowned master of horror—penning the likes of Carrie, The Shining, IT, and Misery to name just a few—but it was his vision of a dystopian future America that first grabbed my attention: The Long Walk.

[Read more]

Series: That Was Awesome! Writers on Writing

Five Books About the Collapse of New York City

New York City is massive, varied, vibrant, beautiful and ugly, and when you’re on the streets of Manhattan as a wide-eyed tourist, you can feel the city thrumming around you. It’s arguably the capital of the world, and has had to bounce back from devastating storms, floods, fires, terrorist attacks, and more. Perhaps this is part of the reason why authors continue to treat the city so harshly in their fiction: no writer wants to be outdone by reality. Below are five books which feature New York City in various stages of collapse.

[Read more]

5 of the Coolest Cats in Space

The cat is on the floor, looking up at me and yelling as I type this. My original plan was for a piece on ‘Pets In Space’, but she’s threatened to vomit on my bed, under the covers, if I don’t focus solely on cats. Why? Because cats are better than dogs. I am typing this of my own free will. Please send salmon.

In all seriousness though, even dog lovers have to admit that cats would make better pets aboard a space craft: they don’t require as much food as any but the smallest dogs, unlike many dog breeds they don’t need a lot of space to run around, and they’re great at catching the rodents chewing on the cables of the life-support system.

Now, with that debate settled, let’s look at some of the best cats in space across literature, comics, film, and video games.

[Read more]

The One Book That’s Tattooed on Both My Arms

Philip K. Dick’s VALIS is one of my favourite books of all time—to the point where I have tattoos inspired by the book on both my forearms—but I don’t know that I’d recommend it to anyone who wasn’t already a big fan of Dick.

I was raised Christian. A lot of the time when people say that, what they mean is, “I endured church until I was old enough to talk my way out of it,” but I was devout right up until my final year of high school. At that point, I had more questions than my church had answers; in fact, I finally decided to leave after a sermon in which the pastor equated Jesus’s instruction to “have faith like a child” with not asking any questions… Sure, because children don’t have a million questions about absolutely everything. Anyway…

I had been a fan of Philip K. Dick for a few years by this time, but I hadn’t yet read VALIS. It’s a good thing I did, though, because if at that time I had discovered something like The God Delusion instead, I probably would have turned into an insufferably militant atheist type instead of … well, whatever I am now.

[Read more]

Cats In Spaaaaace!

The cat is on the floor, looking up at me and yelling as I type this. My original plan was for a piece on ‘Pets In Space’, but she’s threatened to vomit on my bed, under the covers, if I don’t focus solely on cats. Why? Because cats are better than dogs. I am typing this of my own free will. Please send salmon.

In all seriousness though, even dog lovers have to admit that cats would make better pets aboard a space craft: they don’t require as much food as any but the smallest dogs, unlike many dog breeds they don’t need a lot of space to run around, and they’re great at catching the rodents chewing on the cables of the life-support system.

Now, with that debate settled, let’s look at some of the best cats in space across literature, comics, film, and video games.

[Read more]

No Sleep ’til Beerlight: The Brilliant and Bizarre Science Fiction of Steve Aylett

Steve Aylett is a criminally underrated author of satirical works across a variety of genres—“criminally” being the operative word as Aylett’s city of Beerlight is a cyberpunk landscape of corrupt and/or useless cops, powerful mobsters, and bizarre private defectives (no, that’s not a typo).

The Beerlight books seem to marry the cyberpunk vision of William Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy or Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, William S. Burroughs’ talent for utterly weird but comprehensible description, and the hardboiled stylings of Raymond Chandler or Elmore Leonard. That might make his work sound like pastiche, but the three novels and one-and-a-half short story collections that encompass all of the Beerlight stories are far too inventive and unusual to be anything other than completely unique.

Aylett’s books proceed at breakneck speed; they’re slender titles packed with more originality, insanity, and laughs than most of the larger tomes weighing down your bookshelves. Below you’ll find a rundown of the Beerlight books, including choice quotes and some of the fascinating science fiction concepts that Aylett employs…

[Read more]

New York Burning: Five Books About the Collapse of New York City

New York City is massive, varied, vibrant, beautiful and ugly, and when you’re on the streets of Manhattan as a wide-eyed tourist, you can feel the city thrumming around you. It’s arguably the capital of the world, and has had to bounce back from devastating storms, floods, fires, terrorist attacks, and more. Perhaps this is part of the reason why authors continue to treat the city so harshly in their fiction: no writer wants to be outdone by reality. Below are five books which feature New York City in various stages of collapse.

[Read more]

Series: Five Books About…

Our Privacy Notice has been updated to explain how we use cookies, which you accept by continuing to use this website. To withdraw your consent, see Your Choices.