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


~ by melissascharles on January 19, 2014.

2 Responses to “The Transcription of Science Fiction”

  1. I definitely agree with your ideas about science fiction in this entry. This genre always seems to be a fantastic medium for encoding ideas about ethics and especially human nature. The advantage is that any modern knowledge is stripped away – often, readers are plunged into a world so vastly different from our own that the only thing they can do is hang on to what the characters represent. This makes the commentary offered both obvious but also confusing, because the reader must make value judgements about how the character is acting. The Island of Dr. Moreau presents a great example of this, namely, judging the characters based on their actions without knowing the background, but then revisiting those judgements once the background is revealed.

  2. I agree with what you have to say about reading a work without factoring in the context from which it came–just like New Criticism purports (which was largely formulated at Vanderbilt University), there is value in analyzing a work of literature as a self-contained thing, an entity that ought to be parsed without relying on extraneous information. This, as you get at yourself, allows the work to stand on its own long after it has been created. The best works of literature last throughout lifetimes for this reason–because they stand on their own and can relate to human life and meaning on more than just the current (when it was constructed) temperament.

    What I don’t necessarily agree with here is where you say how we as readers must read and determine what is right and wrong, with regards to the text, story and characters. While this (as, perhaps indicated by your quotation marks) may have been said somewhat facetiously, I still feel the need to say how I believe there is very little, if anything at all, that can be categorized so easily. To do so, I believe, is a disservice to the nuance of the human spirit, the inherent complexity of ourselves and the ever changing world that turns around us.

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