Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Sci Phi Show

I listened to the following episodes of The Sci Phi Show:
Episode 420 - Time Travel, Metachronopolis and John C Wright
Episode 419 - Is the Punisher ethical?
Episode 418 - The 100, Capital Punishment and Justice (technically, I read this one as the link has no audio file, but does have a transcript)
Episode 502 - Why are all utopia's dystopias?

I've been staring at the draft of this post for the last week. It's been amazingly hard to figure out how to write this review without it becoming ridiculously long and defensive. A humble reminder that the reviewers that manage an accurate and concise critique are amazing at their jobs in a way that we most often miss.

To be blunt about it, I really struggled with The Sci Phi Show.

For this podcast, Jason Rennie explores science fiction themes and the philosophical questions that arise from those themes. Occasionally, there is also an author interview. Each episode, excepting the author interviews, is fairly short, coming in at just under 15 minutes.

I love the premise. The execution, in my opinion, is shaky at best. The various ideas connected to the central theme of each episode flow logically enough from one another but not in a way that makes it feel like a natural segue or an argument building on itself. Instead, it felt like a stream of consciousness kind of ramble.

For each of the episodes, I found that there were problems in the form of illogical reasoning or false assumptions. For example, the episode titled "Why are all utopias dystopias?", the question itself is problematic. The basic assumption that all utopias fall apart with close examination into a dystopia is embedded in the question. In discussion, my significant other provided Heinlein's books as an example of utopias that remain utopian throughout the story. I have never read Heinlein, so I have to trust that my SO's assessment is accurate. If that is the case though, then the question presented is already a false question. It would have been better to first ask if all utopias fall apart into dystopias and then really looked to find a counterexample of a utopia that remains a utopia throughout the story. When that counterexample is found, the question then becomes why do some utopias fall apart but not others. It still allows for many of the same points that Mr. Rennie makes in the show, but is much more accurate.

In addition there is a certain base line knowledge of philosophy needed to fully appreciate this podcast. Helpfully, Mr. Rennie posted links in the show notes to various ideas and philosophies that he references during the show. Personally, I didn't really want to have to wade through the links for an hour to understand a 15 minute podcast. If you are already familiar with philosophy though, this won't be as big of a problem for you as it was for me.

The one author interview that I listened to was also problematic. To be fair, I don't know if the problem lay with the guest or the host. Mr. Rennie asked very few questions, instead allowing John C Wright to ramble on for most of the podcast. Luckily, Mr. Wright had many interesting points to make, but it seemed to lack direction and Mr. Rennie made no attempt to reign in his guest. I listened and mostly enjoyed the monologue, but walked away feeling that there was no point to that particular episode.

Probably the least of the problems, I found Mr. Rennie's voice to be monotone and lacking in excitement. Even though I picked out episodes that I thought I would like best, I still had to force myself to pay attention.

I did think he made some very good points throughout all the episodes I listened to. I liked thinking about the themes in a broad way, and they were often things that I would not have though about on my own. The part that I enjoyed the most was that the episodes served as a jumping off point to discuss a wide range of science fiction themes and ideas with my SO.

Although I do enjoy philosophical discussion, this is not a podcast that I will continue to listen to.

Do I think The Sci Phi Show is award worthy?
Current rankings for Best Fancast:
1. Tea and Jeopardy
5. No Award

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