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Clive Thompson on Science Fiction and Philosophy

April 24, 2013

This is a wee bit old but still worth some thought:

Recently I read a novella that posed a really deep question: What would happen if physical property could be duplicated like an MP3 file? What if a poor society could prosper simply by making pirated copies of cars, clothes, or drugs that cure fatal illnesses?

The answer Cory Doctorow offers in his novella After the Siege is that you’d get a brutal war. The wealthy countries that invented the original objects would freak out, demand royalties from the developing ones, and, when they didn’t get them, invade. Told from the perspective of a young girl trying to survive in a poor country being bombed by well-off adversaries, After the Siege is an absolute delight, by turns horrifying, witty, and touching.

Technically, After the Siege is a work of science fiction. But as with so many sci-fi stories, it works on two levels, exploring real-world issues like the plight of African countries that can’t afford AIDS drugs. The upshot is that Doctorow’s fiction got me thinking — on a Lockean level — about the nature of international law, justice, and property.

Which brings me to my point. If you want to read books that tackle profound philosophical questions, then the best — and perhaps only — place to turn these days is sci-fi. Science fiction is the last great literature of ideas.

Read the rest here at Wired.

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