Thursday, May 24, 2007

Upcoming Chomsky interview on ETFF

The next two Sundays, Equal Time for Freethought's Barry F. Seidman and Neil J. Murphy will be interviewing one of the show's most famous guests ever: the one and only Noam Chomsky! The show is partially inspired by The Humanist magazine's publishing an interview with Chomsky earlier this year; where as one would expect, he addressed his take on humanism in addition to his usual political topics. In this interview, Chomsky deals with a range of subjects, from humanism, the role of religion in politics, the free will question, human nature, to politics and economics.

A few weeks ago, I helped the producers draft some of their interview questions. Now, I've just finished listening to the unedited version of the prerecorded interview, and I'm really happy at how it turned out. There's definitely areas where one can disagree with Chomsky: for instance, all of the ETFF crew take a much harder determinist position on the free will question than Chomsky, and his politics is his familiar, frustrating mix of Smithian classical liberalism and more mainstream social democracy. But in all cases, Chomsky makes his points very well, drawing on a vast array of knowledge, but also willing to say what he doesn't know (or doesn't think is yet known to science). Look forward to it.

Remember: ETFF airs Sundays, 6:30-7PM at 99.5 FM in the NYC area, and streams at WBAI's website, and can be heard afterwards at WBAI's and ETFF's audio archives.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

John J. Pierce in the New York Times 2

Science fiction critic/editor/fan John J. Pierce is at it again. For the second time this year, he's gotten a letter to the editor about science fiction published in The New York Times. Last January, as previously seen on this blog, he weighed in on Heinlein's ever-controversial Starship Troopers.

Today, the NYT printed his response to a snooty article on Philip K. Dick. The article was one of many that take the "science fiction for people who hate to admit that worthwhile literature is science fiction" tack: take a single science fiction author (Bradbury, le Guin and Vonnegut are common examples) and proceed to argue that the author has some special talent that is completely different from the bulk of science fiction authors, and that their literary value is mutually exclusive to the science fictional aspects of their work. So, this article will note Dick's origins in pulps and Ace Double paperbacks, and then follow it up with "you don't read Mr. Dick for his prose". In response, Pierce notes that "it saves a lot of time and a lot of reading to anoint a single science-fiction writer as the only one worthy of consideration". To provide some examples of equally worthy authors, he plugs Theodore Sturgeon, Fritz Leiber and James Tiptree Jr. The latter did recently earn some attention from the NYT when a biography of her received a front-page book review; and only last week, a letter to the editor focused on science fiction author Leigh Brackett's screenwriting career.

Also, Pierce accurately notes that the recent film The Last Mimzy "hasn’t inspired the slightest interest" in Henry Kuttner, who wrote the source story "Mimsy Were the Borogoves". (Many of the reviewers didn't even realize that the credited author "Lewis Padgett" was Kuttner's pseudonym.) For me, the missed opportunity involved was a huge disappointment; it seemed like Kuttner was about to get his due at last, and that Hollywood would finally "get it", and realize the large amount of source material lying around by people not named Philip K. Dick. Alas.

At least the grand old The Best of Henry Kuttner collection has been brought back into print as a tie-in book, complete with Ray Bradbury's excellent introduction. As it so happens, the "Best of" series (in which Pierce edited three of the volumes) also had an entry for Dick; the entire series was published in the late 1970s, just before Blade Runner catapulted Dick into the spotlight.

Addendum: Sha LaBare points out in the comments that I should have credited Kuttner's wife and fellow writer C. L. Moore as co-author of "Mimsy Were the Borogoves" (as well as most of the other stories in The Best of Henry Kuttner).