Great-grandpa would have spat tobacco on the floor. Then…he would have cursed this like a sailor.
Dad would have just laughed…
…Then Dad would have turned off the cartoons and showed me how it’s done. Kick yourself and the kids off the couch and go outside before the summer is over.
“Like any enduring cultural experiment, science fiction has evolved its own codes, its own logic. Some of the genre’s most intense and visionary work talks in a shared language of concepts that can be hard for the uninitiated to penetrate – works Samuel Delaney’s Dhalgren or James Tiptree Jr’s Ten Thousand Light Years From Home, for instance, would be a forbidding place to start. But if you want to catch up with the literature of our shared future then where can you begin?
It would be hard to find a better starting point than Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow. Mankind receives a signal from space, music from the alien world Rakhat. The first to respond are not governments or even corporations, but the Jesuit missionary order, who send a private expedition in a hollowed out asteroid to make contact. The novel is told in retrospect through the eyes of the only surviving crew member, priest Emilio Sandoz. If this scenario sounds at all oddball to you, please put those feelings aside. The story of the first encounter between humankind and alien life that Russell creates is both devastating and an awe-inspiring treatise on man’s relationship to our universe.”
— Damien Walter, The Guardian.
For additional Sci-Fi reading, click here for the entire article and remaining four books.
“Science fiction often assumes that civilizations which exist on a galaxy’s outer rim will be backwards in nature. It’s a understandable reaction – the “centre” is more sophisticated while the “outlands” are more primitive. For example, in Star Wars, the Outer Rim Territories were sparsely settled and relatively unexplored. In Isaac Asimov’s original Foundation books, the focus of the Galactic Empire is on Trantor at the galactic centre, whilst the Foundation itself is located on the remote planet Terminus at the rim, where other planets are not so scientifically advanced.
But a galactic centre can be a dangerous place. As in our own galaxy, there may be a super-massive black hole to suck matter in. There are more stars in the vicinity, some of which might start throwing out unpleasant things, or even go supernova. Obviously an advanced civilization would know this, and could move away if something goes wrong, but then again why should it? Human beings can live near volcanoes, in earthquake zones, or on flood plains; but if they have a choice they tend to prefer to live somewhere safer in the first instance. Advanced aliens are probably no different.”
Mark Stewart, bis-space.com
From The Pedestrian, 1952
On this particular evening [Leonard Mead] began his journey in a westerly direction, toward the hidden sea. There was a good crystal frost in the air; it cut the nose and made the lungs blaze like a Christmas tree inside; you could feel the cold light going on and off, all the branches filled with invisible snow. He listened to the faint push of his soft shoes through autumn leaves with satisfaction, and whistled a cold quiet whistle between his teeth, occasionally picking up a leaf as he passed, examining its skeletal pattern in the infrequent lamplights as he went on, smelling its rusty smell.
“Hello, in there,” he whispered to every house on every side as he moved. “What’s up tonight on Channel 4, Channel 7, Channel 9? Where are the cowboys rushing, and do I see the United States Cavalry over the next hill to the rescue?”
The street was silent and long and empty, with only his shadow moving like the shadow of a hawk in midcountry. If he closed his eyes and stood very still, frozen, he could imagine himself upon the center of a plain, a wintry, windless Arizona desert with no house in a thousand miles, and only dry river beds, the streets, for company.
“What is it now?” he asked the houses, noticing his wrist watch. “Eight-thirty P.M.? Time for a dozen assorted murders? A quiz? A revue? A comedian falling off the stage?”
Was that a murmur of laughter from within a moon-white house? He hesitated, but went on when nothing more happened. He stumbled over a particularly uneven section of sidewalk. The cement was vanishing under flowers and grass. In ten years of walking by night or day, for thousands of miles, he had never met another person walking, not once in all that time.
— by Ray Bradbury
“Good morning!” said Bilbo, and he meant it. The sun was shining, and the grass was very green. But Gandalf looked at him from under long bushy eyebrows that stuck out farther than the brim of his shady hat.
“What do you mean?” he said. “Do you wish me a good morning, or mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not; or that you feel good this morning; or that it is a morning to be good on?”
“All of them at once,” said Bilbo.
— The Hobbit (1937)
Does science fiction have a new sub-genre called ‘cli-fi’, short for climate-fiction? Rodge Glass of The Guardian says:
“Whereas 10 or 20 years ago it would have been difficult to identify even a handful of books that fell under this banner, there is now a growing corpus of novels setting out to warn readers of possible environmental nightmares to come. …There’s an argument for saying this is simply rebranding: sci-fi writers have been engaging with the climate-change debate for longer than literary novelists – Snow by Adam Roberts comes to mind – and I do wonder whether this is a term designed for squeamish writers and critics who dislike the box labelled “science fiction”. So the term is certainly imperfect, but it’s also valuable. Unlike sci-fi, cli-fi writing comes primarily from a place of warning rather than discovery. There are no spaceships hovering in the sky; no clocks striking 13. On the contrary, many of the horrors described seem oddly familiar.”
Thanks to Terri Main at Science Fiction and Mystery Writers for the tip.
By Keystone Keith, Rolling Stone editor:
May 21, 2125
“75 years ago today The Potsticker’s released Westminster Bridge, an album that by all accounts should never had made it to a recording studio let alone to a listening public. How then did this musical classic manage to reach our ears? Let’s just skip the Venn diagram and lay this out for you in complete sentences:
These four robots had it implanted in their atomic memory cells to pattern a career on the twentieth century group The Beatles. Thus, it was only logical that the wildly popular Potstickers would sit on the precipice of an unconscionable break-up. (For those still needing a Beatles 101 reminder, go here to this old Wikipedia page.) Plans for a new album were shoved forward despite the plague of personality issues consisting of random zeroes and ones. The romance between the band’s co-lyricist and bleep-blorp machine player JAR-lottis and Japanese performance artist and former sex doll Yoriba reached its zenith and steered the Potstickers into exploring new horizons, as with classic songs like 3.141592653589793238462643383279502 884197 1693993751058209749445923078164062862089986280348253421170 679821480865132823066470938446095505822317253594081284811174 502841027019385211055596446229489549303819644288109756659334 4612847564823378678316527120190914564856692346034861045432664 821339360726024914127372458700660631558817488152092096282925 4091715364367892590360011330530548820466521384146951941511609. Additionally the group had just wrapped up filming its third movie, the physically painful Palvelstad, written by Yoriba and Joe Eszterhas. The band’s jrwork fiddler, RED-777, (who had sat out the recording session for their previous album, Shtone) up and disappeared for six months before he was spotted at the Oklahoma Spaceport loading and off-loading passenger baggage. PAU-@@@, co-lyricist and rhythm bonjabar, made nothing easier for the rest of the band: instead of composing new music, PAU set about dictating plans for the overthrow of South America. Throughout this tumult, fan favorite and zeemo player, “Kenush”, would simply sit in the corner of any given room and pretend to be a waste basket, which is how he infiltrated Buckingham Palace for eight weeks and struck up a friendship with the nation’s first and only cyborg king, Kronos III. The avalanche of robo-personality ticks and social tantrums made the creation of the Potstickers’ final album a bloody miracle. Had it not been for the demonstrative efforts of their human record producer George Herbert Walker Martin, “Westminster Bridge” would have crashed and burst into flames. (Much like Kenush did ten years ago when his hydrogen pack failed, thus scotching any plans for a reunion.)”
“Like one who, on a lonely road/Doth walk in fear and dread/And, having once turned round, walks on/And turns no more his head/Because he knows a frightful fiend/Doth close behind him tread. —Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner
No. I would never think on my own to quote from Coleridge. Only once have I read that poem, back when I helped my daughter slog through it as part of a college English assignment. But in Victor Frankenstein’s tiny abode he awakens to the creature standing over him, now loose in his home (yes, his so-called lab is a tiny room in his apartment and not a cavernous place, as depicted in the movies). Like a shot he flees into the night and nervously paces about, engulfed in the apprehension that he is being stalked by the creature. He realizes that he has no Plan B for dealing with the life he has created. (Perhaps he didn’t think it would actually work?) Herein he senses the creature nearby, lurking about and quotes this passage by Coleridge as it reflects his mounting terror.
I’ll come back to this point of the story in a moment. For now, back to the creature’s ‘birth’. To Robert Walton, Victor describes the great and dreadful moment when it came to life:
“It was on a dreary night of November that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils. …by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs. …His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness…his shrivelled complexion, and straight black lips. …For this I had deprived myself of rest and health. I had desired it with an ardor that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart.”
How the creature is technically brought to life is conveyed only in the line:
“I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet.”
Naturally a modern sci-fi writer with quintuple the medical knowledge and detailed descriptions of modern medical appliances and procedures, would engulf their tech-savy CSI-draunched audiences with said realism. Unbeknownst to Ms. Shelly, she is forging a new literary genre. While she understands that her story is unique to the audiences of her time, she keeps a literary aim on the human drama, simple and focused straightforward on the agony of the doctor, who leaves the room where the creature lies struggling to live. Next, Victor falls asleep in the next room and has a terrifying nightmare:
“I thought I saw Elizabeth, in the bloom of health, walking in the streets of Ingolstadt. Delighted and surprised, I embraced her; but as I imprinted the first kiss on her lips, they became livid with the hue of death; her features appeared to change, and I thought that I held the corpse of my dead mother in my arms; a shroud enveloped her form, and I saw the grave-worms crawling in the folds of the flannel.”
From here Victor awakes in a sweat and sees–
“…the wretch, the miserable monster whom I had created. He held up the curtain of the bed; and his eyes, if eyes they may be called, were fixed on me. His jaws opened, and he muttered some inarticulate sounds, while a grin wrinkled his cheeks. He might have spoken, but I did not hear; one hand was stretched out, seemingly to detain me, but I escaped, and rushed down stairs.”
Congratulations Mr. Frankenstein, it’s a hulking eight-foot…monster.
“I took refuge in the court-yard belonging to the house which I inhabited; where I remained during the rest of the night, walking up and down in the greatest agitation, listening attentively, catching and fearing each sound as if it were to announce the approach of the demoniacal corse to which I had so miserably given life…a thing such as even Dante could not have conceived.”
I’ve read Dante’s The Inferno and have taught it to high school seniors. Dante could easily conceive of such a monstrosity, but I understand Shelley’s point (and given her background the author’s proclivity to quote Coleridge and reference Dante). Allow me to quote from Richard Rhodes, author of Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb, who quoted one of the Los Alamos scientists following the atomic bombing of Japan:
“Our beautiful physics, which had seemed like such a almost religious science commitment before the war, should have been put into the deepest and darkest part of human existence.”
This aptly describes Victor’s vacillating emotions, from his dedication to the science and now to his reversal of disgust and horror, at what the science had wrought in his hands.
At the height of his mounting disgust, his fear of its discovery by the public, and his terror in returning home to face his creation, lo and behold in the distance a coach arrives and out steps his friend Henry Clerval who has arrived for a visit. Henry easily sees that his friend is pale, thin and emotionally agitated. Forced to return to his house to give lodging to his friend, Victor happily discovers the creature missing. However, his mental state proceeds to collapse into a full-blown nervous breakdown, which leaves Victor debilitated for months and the ignorant Henry staying by his side to serve as Victor’s caretaker.