March 12th, 2013


In Which Dr. Phil Is Interviewed

Physics Consultant

Back in December, Nick Mamatas at Haikasoru -- an imprint that is bringing Japanese SF translated into English -- asked if I would be willing to look at the math and science translations of this very unusual and complicated SF novel. I said sure, sounds like fun. And it was.

Now, as Haikasoru is getting ready to release Toh EnJoe's Self-Reference ENGINE, Nick asked me to do a Q&A about SRE, which you can read here.
Q: Hard SF is supposed to be the subgenre of science fiction in which the laws of physics are held to. Of course, a lot of hard SF is really just science fiction that pretends toward rigor in its exposition—hard choices, Cold Equations, and tough guy/engineering stuff. Is Self-Reference ENGINE hard SF?

A: As a physics professor I’m all for holding to the laws of Physics, up to the practical limit of the story. Self-Reference ENGINE bends hard what we are sure can happen. It’s more thoughtful and cerebral than most hard SF, but if you consider Frank Herbert’s Destination: Void and The Jesus Incident hard SF — and I do — then SRE clearly fits in. Same with the Ghost in the Shell series. You can have drama through interesting discourse in hard SF. Part of what makes hard SF “hard” is the discussion of difficult technical concepts. This doesn’t mean every space marine or future cop has to have long debates on scientific minutia. But hard SF doesn’t have to be cliffhanger action or military space battles or impossible choices for the protagonist, as fun as those can be. Indeed, it’s hard to figure out who would be the protagonist in SRE, since there are so many entities — I’m thinking the concept is the star here.

This is an amazing meta novel, quite unlike anything I'd read before. And the science and math managed to survive the translation pretty well. Sometimes absurd and sometimes quite thought provoking and sublime, Haikasoru posts this amusing blurb on their webpage:
This is not a novel.
This is not a short story collection.
This is Self-Reference ENGINE.

Instructions for Use: Read chapters in order. Contemplate the dreams of twenty-two dead Freuds. Note your position in space-time at all times (and spaces). Keep an eye out for a talking bobby sock named Bobby Socks. Beware the star-man Alpha Centauri. Remember that the chapter entitled "Japanese" is translated from the Japanese, but should be read in Japanese. Warning: if reading this book on the back of a catfish statue, the text may vanish at any moment, and you may forget that it ever existed.

From the mind of Toh EnJoe comes Self-Reference ENGINE, a textual machine that combines the rigor of Stanislaw Lem with the imagination of Jorge Luis Borges. Do not operate heavy machinery for one hour after reading.

Dr. Phil