Science Fiction As Its Own Journey, Part 1

Good evening, everyone. First, my apologies: I haven’t been able to be as involved in this blogging project as we’re meant to be, and I’m sorry for that. Things on the personal front are finally calming down, and I should be able to be much more involved now. Thanks for the patience- it’s been noted, and appreciated. Right- now- to the task at hand! (Be warned: long long post.)

We’ve been prompted to write about Neuromancer. I’m not writing about that here. I just need more time to digest it. More to the point, I forgot we had been given a prompt until this post was writtenDigit.) My next blog will definitely be more about it- I’m interested in comparing it to the only other Gibson work I’ve read, Pattern Recognition- but it’s looking like his writing style is much less crisp in his first book. I can see how certain elements of his style persevere (like the way he treats setting), but I’m getting ahead of myself- Neuromancer and Gibson, specifically, will have to wait a bit. I’m thinking less about the text itself and more about its theme of the mind crossing into new territory, and how that voyage can be seen in the sci-fi genre itself.

Last week, Mike asked why DuBois didn’t make “The Comet” a full novel, and he also raised the question of television’s value in the science fiction genre. I don’t see any reason in adding another post about how interestingly both “The Comet” and “Who Goes There” frame questions of race and social mobility- you’ve all summed that up rather well. As we move from Frankenstein through early sci-fi shorts to the maiden voyage of cyberpunk, I think this might be the best time to talk about the way science fiction, as a genre, evolves- and impacts the evolution of other media along the way.

Let me start with Frankenstein. I realize it’s been a few weeks, but Neuromancer’s author is still alive, and it’s easy to see its influence on movies and games. I will get to it later, but think of this more as a post exploring one of the themes of Neuromancer- ideas and the mind taking the leap into new territory. It isn’t the best example for the purposes of this post. So, Frankenstein! We’ve talked about later adaptations of the text, and we’ve seen how Shelley’s contemporaries influenced her story. We’ve even talked about how Shelley herself dramatically edited the text later in life, emphasizing destiny over free will. The intro to the text mentioned Shelly and her friends passing time in winter by writing these stories, which reminded me of one of my favorite bands, Rasputina. They’re an eerie gothic cello band known for their love of obscure historical events and texts, and rather nicely painted a picture of the world Shelley lived in:¬†

The lyrics are informative, but as with all music, so much of the song’s flavor comes from the music and vocals- not just the material presented, but how it’s presented. It gave me more empathy for how events in Shelley’s life helped shape the text, and it shows how some of the emotions I felt while reading Frankenstein (the vast, but sometimes crushingly bleak landscapes- the idea of the eerie and unnatural undermining the beauty of human activity and form) were captured by Shelley not only for her own time, but in a way that was able to communicate these feelings to people almost 200 years later.

A more direct use of Frankenstein can be found in the roleplaying game¬†Promethean: the Created. It’s a tabletop storytelling game (think Dungeons and Dragons), the setting is present-day fantasy/horror, and the basic idea is that the players portray characters that are corpses animated by Pyros, the divine fire. In the book’s opening fiction, one of the main characters may or may not be Frankenstein’s Creature, and he’s going by the name Verney. In Promethean, gamers get to explore a dynamic and unique story that explores the way everyday people react to the unnatural and what it means to be human, from the imagined perspective of outsiders. Two of the most interesting aspects of Promethean is that it takes certain myths (like the golem) and recasts them as another variation on necromantic animation, and that Prometheans must make another Promethean as part of their efforts to understand life. After all, they have no normal way of creating it. The game wasn’t as popular as some of the company’s other lines, but it is regarded as one of the most philosophically intense. While a lot of games out there, both science fiction and fantasy in nature, offer a lot of options for exploring certain themes and paradigms, Promethean takes the cake by being one of the only games in which the goal is to lose all your powers and understand the modern, real-world human. Talk about your cognitive dissonance! It challenges you from the perspective of a gamer used to certain types of gaming, as well as from the usual angle sci-fi angle of introducing the uncanny to the otherwise mundane. It builds on Shelley’s themes and existing folklore, but adds completely unique elements that make it a stand-alone work of interactive art.

In an effort to not make this ABSURDLY long in a single post, I’m going to cut here. I’ll be posting again soon about short stories versus novels, the positive and negative aspects of television and film, and eventually, new media. (And, naturally, a more direct look at Neuromancer.) Cheers!

-Brandon Moore-McNew


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