SCIENCE FICTION SCIENCE FICTION Ambitious study of the history of the SF/Fantasy genres from a Humanistic perspective. In Six parts and with a Bibliography too. PART 1 PART 2 PART 3 PART 4 PART 5 PART 6 BIBLIOGRAPHY
CHAPTER TWO - FROM PROTO SCIENCE FICTION TO FRANKENSTIEN..
If we take the staple ingredients of SF, (especially Fantasy Fiction) to involve people on strange journeys, to unexplored lands where they adventure with all manner of unknown, and bizarre creatures, we may get a sense of deja Vu. Robots might remind us that in Greek mythology,. Daedalus, (father of Icarus) was able to make statues of people that were animated, and so lifelike as to be frequently mistaken for the real people. Were these pre-Christian androids? The epic of Gilgamesh, the Tales from the Thousand And One Nights, and even The Bible carry elements familiar to us in fantasy fiction. Samson has the strength to demolish temples, and fight off armies while with nothing more than the jaw bone of an ass. St. John The Divine describes a visionary trip into the future in which he sees the end of the world. Of course, he wasn’t writing fiction, but issuing a prophetic religious warning that you either believe in or not, as the case may be.
Lucien of Samasota, in the 2cd Century Ad described a trip to the Moon on a chariot pulled by a flock of birds. Many others would follow in equally unlikely carriages; Cyrano De Bergerac, and Baron Munchausen among them. Such flights of fantasy were made in the author’s full knowledge of their unlikilihood. Lucien knew birds could never take him to the Moon. Prospero’s Island in Shakespeare’s Tempest was a classic example of a fantasy setting, and the story was actually destined to be cheerfully poached as a plot-devise for the film, Forbidden Planet in 1956. Most such fantasies were allegories or tall-tales. Thomas More wrote Utopia, his 1516 study of an isolated perfect society knowing full well that Utopia means ‘Nowhere’, making his parable a lament that Utopian society will never arise for humanity. By presenting us with a poetically wonderful utopia, More was making a pessimistic assertion that our society can never amount to anything more than a dystopia. Jonathan Swift never believed in Lilliput or any other land visited by Gulliver. John Bunyan knew that his Pilgrim wasn’t really progressing through the biblical wonderland he placed him in. Lewis Carroll tells us on page one that Alice is dreaming about the Wonderland she goes to. The unknown creator of the myth of Icarus knew men would never fly like birds (little did he know of Hang-gliders). The story was an enthusiastic exploration of what it would mean if such wonders were possible. Wouldn’t it be great if we really could do such things?
In the 19th century the situation changed. Increasing adult literacy created increasing demands for novels. Popular among those more lurid and sensational titles available were the Gothic epics such as Ann Radcliffe’s Mysteries Of Udolpho, and Matthew ‘Monk’ Lewis’s works, such as The Monk, which placed heroes and heroines in sweeping, brooding dark landscapes, sheltering in old, creepy, shadowy isolated castles, and meeting with sinister strangers, who were often deformed as well as evil. The gothic novels promised readers thrills, exotic, often erotic encounters, and a great deal of violent bloodshed, albeit with dull travelogue sequences in between interesting incidents. The Monk, for instance, with something of a nod to The Marquis De Sade, offered its readers, (to quote Brian Aldiss) "murder, torture, homosexuality, matricide, incest, " a bleeding nun, licentious monks, robbers and homosexuality, as well as a few ghosts.
THE FIRST TRUE SCIENCE FICTION.
The gothic literature medium was becoming tired and cliched by 1818. Jane Austen satirized the whole genre in Northanger Abbey, published in 1818, the very same year true science fiction began. It began with a novel that breathed new life into the Gothic’, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Shelley, influenced by readings of Darwinian evolution theory, and the atheist ideals of her husband, Percy Blyshe Shelley, was unaware that she was creating a whole new genre in literature.
The story began as a nightmare, when she, Percy, and Lord Byron were competing (possibly with the aid of Laudanum) in creating the scariest story conceivable. Mary Shelley knew what was important in such a story; Lots of blood, death, and violence. A shrewd judge of her readership, Mary Shelley knew what ingredients would sell her story. Frankenstein, subtitled, The Modern Prometheus, after the hero who made men independent of the Gods by giving us fire and survival skills, also offered something new. Her story was very forward looking, and scientific in its moral and social look at the causes and effects of Frankenstein’s terrifying experiment gone wrong. Doctor Frankenstien is a science student obsessed with neglected alchemical theories. He merges old science with new and generally accepted theories on galvanic-electricity and evolutionary ideas; to raise a composite body made from dead men into a new living entity. Frankenstien is the first God Player in SF and like the gods disapproved of by Prometheus, he abandons his work. He creates life for the sheer sake of the achievement but then he discovers that he cannot control life, nor- does he have any plans for how to care for his creation. Wanting a thing of beauty, Frankenstein is appalled by its ugliness; and dumps it without a word. Against the odds the creature survives; alone, hated and despised by all who see only its ugliness; it learns by trial and error as we did ourselves. It lives in cold glaciers and later on the Arctic Ice flows; a Neanderthal throwback to our ice age. With acquired knowledge, comes anger, passion, and desire for revenge. He finds his creator, and kills members of his family. Frankenstien, unable to accept the full responsibility for the actions resulting from his God-playing, is reduced to misery and suffering. His lot becomes as wretched as that of his creation. There's an extremely powerful Christ allegory in this. The God who doesn't help his creation has to suffer with it for his inactivity.
The creature makes its God into a image of its own suffering; Both God and new man are terrible in nature, both do awful things, but we're forced to feel respect and sympathy for them; while being appalled by then too, Frankenstein's not a nice man, though often admirable. The creature begs fur a wife, which Frankenstein starts to produce, and then destroys it, unable to father a race of creatures. His destruction of a mate evokes terrible retribution from the God-Slayer; who has already said "remember, I an thy creature. I ought to be thy Adam; but rather I am thy fallen Angel, whom though drivest from Joy for no misdeed. Everywhere, I see bliss from which I am irrevocably excluded. I was benevolent and good, misery made me a fiend. Make me happy and I shall again be virtuous." The Creature loses
faith in Frankenstien; faith being Conditional dependency; We make our Gods into the source of what we want.
Frankenstien, the novel, plays on our relationship with God; and yet this creation wants to kill its creator. I myself used to imagine finding God and attacking him, killing him, somehow punishing him for my anxieties and pain. Only through love of each other as human beings do we avoid selfishness and nihilism. The creature avenges itself on Frankenstein for failing to give it any means of achieving this. The creature is blinded by love and passion, which it can never satisfy. The morale - Hell hath no fury like a monster scorned.
In the scientific age, a novel had come along showing the dangers of scientific malpractice. Frankenstein is literature’s first mad scientist. Many others would follow. The SF age had truly begun. Many writers started speculating what the next scientific innovation might be, and what its consequences would be. Fast economic travel, and news of new species of flora and fauna being found in exotic, distant lands, sparked a whole trend in adventure-travel, with scientists, anthropologists, and explorers leading the way to all manner of danger.
© Copyright. Arthur Chappell
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