Professor’s sci-fi novel engages timeless questions about technology

OSWEGO — The lines between two of SUNY Oswego faculty member Craig DeLancey’s great passions — philosophy and science fiction — intertwine subtly but surely in his first traditionally published novel, “Gods of Earth.”

New from 47North, an Amazon-owned publisher based in Seattle, DeLancey’s novel follows Chance Kyrien, a 17-year-old orphan who longs for nothing more than a farm, a wedding and a religious life, but who is swept up in the aftermath of a cataclysmic war in a far-future, technologically out-of-control Earth. A dark, brooding god awakens and seeks him out, launching Chance on a quest to save himself, his family and his way of life.

SUNY Oswego philosophy faculty member Craig DeLancey's new book, "Gods of Earth," follows a young man's quest through a world brought low by out-of-control technologies. While staying far away from philosophical theory, the science-fiction book raises some large questions that technological advances pose for humankind.
SUNY Oswego philosophy faculty member Craig DeLancey’s new book, “Gods of Earth,” follows a young man’s quest through a world brought low by out-of-control technologies. While staying far away from philosophical theory, the science-fiction book raises some large questions that technological advances pose for humankind.

“It’s a novel that reflects on, ‘What are the ultimate ends of technology?'” DeLancey said. “If we are free, how do we decide how to live? If we are radically free, and if technology continues to progress, then technology is going to make us more and more powerful. (Chance) is confronting the possibility of technologies that allow you to be whatever you want to be.”

A faculty member in SUNY Oswego’s philosophy department since 2002, DeLancey teaches logic and existentialism, among other courses. He also has a scholarly book published by Oxford University Press, more than a dozen peer-reviewed articles in such journals as Philosophical Studies, Metaphysica, and Ethics and the Environment, and numerous presentations on subjects from emotion and the function of consciousness to the concept of wilderness.

Why science fiction?

“I can’t ever remember not being interested in science fiction,” DeLancey said. “At a very young age, I declared — I think I was 6 — that I was going be an astronaut. … My stepfather bought me a boxed set of (Robert) Heinlein’s juvenile novels when I was 13 or 14. That was the end of all resistance for me. I’ve probably been continually writing and reading sci-fi since that time.”

Sci-fi as literature

Science fiction, he said, is the literature of ideas. It’s inevitable that when his love of philosophy and his love of science fiction meet, one informs the other, DeLancey said.

“There is a character in the novel that is an artificial intelligence, not an uncommon presence in sci-fi these days,” he said. “That’s one of my areas of research — the philosophy of artificial intelligence; the philosophy of mind is my primary area of research. How that (an AI character) would work — and the challenges and difficulties for the kinds of things that computation can do and moreover the kinds of things it can’t do — really informed the book.”

Smiling, he added, “I know I just scared away a thousand readers. You can read it as a kind of tale. You don’t need a degree in philosophy to read this book.”

The 503-page “Gods of Earth” had what DeLancey called “a very curious genesis.” About 10 years ago, an artist friend of his wanted to collaborate on a project, and sent DeLancey some artwork.

“One of them was a figure that was strange and interesting — it was just meant to be a lamp, I think — but to me it looked like some kind of strange container, and that’s what spurred me to do a story for this,” he said.

“There’s no doubt that the philosophical questions drive many of the themes of the fiction, and that I think is true of all the things I’ve written,” DeLancey said. “I try not to indulge in theory ever in my fiction — to keep those worlds separate — because I think fiction is about portraying the complexities of life that have difficulty being squeezed into theory. Fiction is about things that are messy and seem to us at first patternless — the accidents of a person’s life and what they do to make meaning of that.”

A month since publication, “Gods of Earth” has sold primarily as an e-book, though it’s also available as a paperback. DeLancey said an audio book read by Nick Podehl, whose credits include Nora Roberts’ “Black Hills,” is due out soon.

DeLancey has published dozens of short stories in science-fiction magazines such as Analog, Cosmos and Shimmer, and won a Cosmos Top 12 Science Fiction Short Stories Award of 2012 for “The Man Who Betrayed Turing.” He also writes plays, many of which have received staged readings and performances in New York, Los Angeles, Sydney and Melbourne, among other places.