Look at the following science fiction movies and TV series, and try and identify from which original book (‘Ur-narrative’) they all borrow their basic plot-line or scenario!
- Battlestar Galactica
- The Blade Runner
- Avengers: Age of Ultron
- Ex Machina
Answer: Frankenstein: Or the Modern Prometheus, by Mary Shelley, 1816!
Amazing, right? But why do science fiction writers almost have to come back to this fundamental plot again and again? Well, Frankenstein represented not only a massive shift in how the plot-lines of literature were driven and organised; it also described the massive shift in society and thinking that was enabled by technology.
How so? Well, prior to Frankenstein, most western literature operated with God’s will as the organising function of the plot’s progression, and ‘natural justice’ (or God’s judgement upon the relative ‘goodness’ or ‘badness’ of the protagonist and antagonist) served as the plot’s resolution (and lesson). In Frankenstein, however, the character of the human scientist replaces God as the organising function of the plot, by using technology to bring (im)mortality, existence and Creation itself entirely within his own control! Famously, even when the scientist abandons his monstrous creation, the end of the narrative is left ambiguous, both in terms of its moral judgement and resolution.
And the social context that both informed and was reflected in the novel Frankenstein? The UK was experiencing the Industrial Revolution, when technology was changing our day-to-day lives, the nature of work, our relationship to the natural world/God’s Creation (we could now use the Earth on a massive scale to suit our own ends, rather than simply being at its mercy), and the very organisation of society itself (the working classes began to realise new social freedoms and a middle class began to emerge).
Frankenstein is the original narrative that encapsulates humankind’s desire to transcend our own corporeal limitations (of our physical bodies and/or our place on Earth), to become something more or to discover something more. In some ways, then, it is the only science fiction story that has ever been told. [If you would like to learn more about the above, I would recommend my new title: The Satanic in Science Fiction and Fantasy. Hey! It’s up to you.]
Write a short plot outline (or write a short piece of flash fiction) that represents a modern version of the Frankenstein story. You might like to start with one of these scenarios…
- An army doctor despairs of the war. He looks at all the dead bodies around him in the medical tent. He mourns for the loss… Most of the bodies are so mutilated that the deceased will never even be identified…
- A woman has been so unlucky and abused by love, that she decides she will have to build herself the ‘perfect’ man, one who will obey her desires. Now to collect the parts!
- A lonely child decides to create a friend for themselves out of snow…
- An old person does not want to die. They have read Sergio Canavero’s medical paper that ‘head transplants’ should be possible, but the Italian government has banned the practice (true story, by the way!). The old person is becoming more desperate and ill with every day that passes. They need a young body as soon as possible…
If you’d like me to look at your attempt, please do feel free to email me (Adam): adz_d2003 @ yahoo.co.uk – deleting the two spaces either side of the @ sign.
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