In this series, I’ll be exploring speculative fiction, in particular science fiction or fantasy, as a philosophical tool by interviewing philosophers who write in these genres. This fourth part of the series is with David John Baker, associate professor at the University of Michigan. He writes short science fiction stories.
Can you tell me something about yourself, and how you got into writing science fiction/speculative fiction?
My dad is a long-time science fiction fan, so I had a lot of early exposure to the genre through him. I can’t remember a time before I saw Star Wars, for example. I probably also saw 2001 (and understood maybe a tenth of it) before I could read. I also decided I wanted to be a scientist when I was four, so that factored in. I thought of myself as a science person. I hoped I would live in space one day, like the animatronic people in Disney’s Tomorrowland. It was the Eighties. Kids' science books painted a pretty optimistic picture of the future.
It got to be the Nineties, and my dad and I decided to share a subscription to the Science Fiction Book Club. One of the books you could order was Orson Scott Card’s How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy. I saw the title in the catalog and it dawned on me that I could try writing the kind of stories I liked to read. Soon after that I also read Dan Simmons’s Hyperion, which convinced me that you could accomplish something really important in the genre. I started a novel, which went nowhere, and decided I’d better begin with short fiction instead. By that time I was studying philosophy, so philosophy started working its way into my stories. Although it would be more accurate to say that I got into philosophy because of my love of sci fi. Long before I took a philosophy class, I was already immersed in thought experiments from the fiction I was reading and writing.