Genre Top 5: Science Fiction
With today’s genre, I wanted to explore a realm the generally coincides with my own chosen genre of fantasy, science fiction. In fact, many people often think they two are the same genre- to be clear, fantasy is purely a realm of imagination, with elements and worlds that would never happen in the real world. Science fiction however, is based in science,; while we cannot fly to distant plants or create life from lifelessness yet, there is still the possibility that we may someday through scientific advancements. So in that sense, here are five of my favorite possible scientific scenarios to consider.
#5 Frankenstein- Mary Shelley
Considered by many to be a horror novel (and it is truly frightening) this still functions as warning about science without morals or foresight. The doctor’s classic story is motivated by a single, unthinking urge to surpass death, largely motivated by the death of his mother. And without any thoughts to the implications, he blindly goes about abusing science to create his ‘man’, only to be repulsed and refuse to accept responsibility for his actions. While there is a spiritual side to the story, it is clearly a case of using science irresponsibly for personal desires, and trying to distance yourself from your failures, a message for any person, regardless of their life pursuits (the Dean Koontz reimagining is also a worthwhile read, as it expands on these themes using modern medical science).
#4 The Martian Chronicles- Ray Bradbury
A collection of short stories rather then a full novel, this work details various aspects of the Earth migration to Mars. Bradbury takes the age old concept of man exploring the Red Planet, and filters it through every possible viewpoint and scenario. We see the future destruction that could cause man to leave Earth, the beings he finds on the surface of the planet, the things he might leave on Earth, and he very future of humanity. Familiar parts of society are reflected here- the forced relocation of a people, leaving behind “dangerous” materials and books, racism, and man’s failings at improving himself. But throughout it all, Bradbury keeps the material firmly grounded in the idea of fiction, which makes the book a warning about man’s failures, and the things he truly needs to leave behind before exploring the galaxy.
#3 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea- Jules Verne
Exploring the seas, rather then space, Jules Verne used the concept of ocean exploration and the world’s greatest submarine, to tell the personal story of a man who shunned the world at large. Captain Nemo, builder and commander of the Nautilis, may save the narrator and his crew, but is clearly estranged from the world as a whole, preferring to use the incredible science and discoveries of his voyage to increase his own knowledge, and acts with extreme violence towards the people that shunned him. While science is more of a background feature in this tale, it functions as a reminder that the greatest discoveries are sometimes lost because we turn away or shun those that make them.
#2 The Invisible Man- H.G. Wells
A tale by the godfather of science fiction, most remember it for the classic film starring Claude Raines. However, the tale itself echoes both Frankenstein and Jekyll and Hyde, telling the story of a tremendous scientific idea that is turned to ruin. The title character is trapped inside his achievement, and forced to work in secret to cure himself, though he is never able to succeed. His frustrations at his failures and his condition eventually push him to the brink of madness, where he performs various criminal acts and evil deeds before he is finally brought down. One of the earliest and best tales of science gone wrong.
#1 The Island of Dr. Moreau- H.G. Wells
A masterpiece from the sci-fi godfather, this stories is one of the most tragic and frightening examples of both scientific misuse and man’s abuse of natural order. The titular doctor, rejected from the modern world, has surgically altered animals to resemble humans in appearance and intelligence. But he has also made a society where he is worshipped as a god, and he is uncaring of the pain he inflicts on the animals he experiments on. Worse still, he continues to operate because the process is imperfect- the new men slowly regress to their animal states in time. Seeing intelligent beings revert to animal instincts is frightening for people as whole because it is so easy to happen (even the narrator finds it hard to be around humans after what he’s seen). But the novel’s greatest lesson, which has been echoed in stories like Jurassic Park, stays with the reader long after the final page is turned- that just because science can do something, doesn’t mean that it should.