The Transcription of Science Fiction
Last semester, my gender studies class read and analyzed The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, an author I’ll continue to read in Genetics and Literature. Our discussion centered around the notion of prediction. Atwood argued that her work was not meant to serve as a forecast for society; she meant it only as imaginative, speculative fiction. The magnetic adrenaline that comes from oscillating between possibility and probability is exactly what attracts us to science fiction. Authors craft their work within the existing laws of science and may even craft a few of their own, and then they layer in characters and plot. The negative or positive opinions of the author pull our perceptions of science ethics, whether we are aware of it or not.
My perception of The Island of Doctor Moreau before discussion on H.G. Wells was the polar opposite of my opinion after. Without background on the author, the book reads much simpler. Characters seem to have one clear motive in mind. The similarities between Montgomery, Prendick, and Wells himself complicate the reading immensely. Did he inadvertently evoke sympathy from readers for characters because he has empathy for characters like himself? Knowledge of major scientific and social movements at the time also completely altered my interpretations. Is the ethical commentary even relevant in 2014?
The fact that science fiction is touched by the life of the author and trends of the outside world does not render it useless for discussion of ethics. Science fiction allows us to imagine things beyond the obvious trends of science. Even the seemingly impossible, the scenarios that go further than is logical, can reveal and comment on human nature and the path we are on. Personally, I prefer to read without so much context at first. In this way you give your whole self to the author. They take you to a world separate from our own, but with laws built the same way. You form opinions about fictional characters doing things that are “right” or “wrong”. A direct application of these judgements to our world is incompatible, a mismatched pair. The judgements within the context of the fictional society must be translated to apply to our society. In this way science fiction can operate outside the concepts of author or the time it was written. It is simply the words on the page coding an idea, a reader assembling the idea, and the idea shaping the subtleties of human life.
– M. Charles