Dr. Victor Frankenstien pieced together his creature from exhumed corpses of people and animals. With a jolt of electricity, Frankenstein’s monster came to life.
In this spooky season, the 1818 classic “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley — deriving from a storytelling contest with her compatriots during a days-long, volcano-induced storm in Switzerland that had them trapped inside — represents the first modern horror story.
This retelling of the Prometheus myth, in which the Greek god of fire created mankind out of clay, is more than just a horror story.
It is also the first science-fiction novel.
Before she was 21 years old, Shelley created one of the most enduring pieces of fiction, one that has never been out of print since it was first published and has inspired legions of writers and film directors.
More importantly, though, Shelley inspired science.
By telling a tale of a scientist who used organs and other tissues from deceased donors to bring the monster to life, Shelley set the stage for modern organ transplants.
Throughout history, science fiction works have prophesied technology.
Consider Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World,” which debuted in 1931. It predicted mood-enhancing medication, and now we have Prozac and Zoloft.
Then there’s George Orwell’s “1984.” Even in 1949, Orwell came up with mass surveillance and police helicopters. Now, anywhere you go, you are probably on camera, and some of us even have cameras built into our doorbells.
In 1953, Ray Bradbury wrote “Fahrenheit 451.” Though the dystopian novel’s central premise revolved around the burning of books, it also brought about the idea of wireless headphones via the “little seashells” featured in the tale, as well as flat-screen televisions.
Arthur C. Clarke wrote the short story “Sentinel of Eternity” in 1951, and Stanley Kubrick adapted it into his 1968 epic “2001: A Space Odyssey.” From this, we got a “newspad,” which seems similar to an iPad, and thanks to the artificial intelligence of the supercomputer called HAL 9000, we now have Siri and Alexa.
Don’t forget “Star Trek: The Next Generation” from the 1980s and 1990s. In that science-fiction television series, we were introduced to the food replicator. Now, we can print food using specialized 3D printers.
Of course, these are just a few examples of how science fiction has predicted the future of technology. We haven’t even touched on water beds from Robert Heinlein’s “Stranger in a Strange Land” in 1961, bionic limbs from Martin Caidin’s 1972 “Cyborg,” the internet and virtual reality predicted in William Gibson’s novel “Neuromancer” in 1984, or countless other examples.
Not every piece of science fiction is visionary, though. We don’t have flying cars as “The Jetsons” would have had us believe, and we can’t travel at supersonic speeds, teleport or travel through time (even though Homer Simpson figured out how to do just that by using a modified toaster in “Treehouse of Horror V,” which was the sixth episode of the sixth season of “The Simpsons”).
Still, at least we aren’t controlled by computer overlords like “The Matrix” predicted . . . although, if we are honest with ourselves, we do have unhealthy connections to our smartphones.
Some argue that science fiction isn’t predicting future technologies, though. Instead, they suggest science fiction is inspiring technologies.
This almost seems to be the case based upon a recent article in Popular Mechanics.
In the September/October 2021 issue, Courtney Linder reported on a team at the University of Arizona that is working on “a 21st-century version of Noah’s Ark on the moon. This ark wouldn’t contain two of every animal, but rather a repository of cryogenically frozen reproductive cells from 6.7 million species on our planet.”
On its face, this isn’t a new idea. We already have the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway.
This facility — buried in the permafrost and thick rock deep inside a mountain on a remote island halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole — maintains a genebank of the world’s crops to prevent the extinction of any crop due to natural or man-made disasters.
Doing something similar on the moon makes sense.
It is another way to ensure the continued existence of life found on Earth. This is particularly important considering, as the scientists behind the project suggested, challenges such as climate change, concerns of an asteroid strike, possibilities of Supervolcanic eruptions, real impacts of a global pandemic, or fears of a nuclear holocaust spurred by geopolitical tensions, such as we saw during the Cold War era under the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction (the 1983 made-for-television movie “The Day After” predicted a nuclear holocaust, but thankfully that was another strike on science fiction’s record of prediction).
What’s most interesting about this lunar ark, though, is the timing.
The idea was presented on March 7 at the 2021 Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Aerospace Conference.
Yet in 2017 author Andy Weir brought us “Artemis,” a novel about a city on the moon, and this came after Weir’s 2011 debut novel “The Martian,” which focused on a scientist who is stranded on Mars and must learn to grow food on the Red Planet in his attempt to survive.
Similarly, the Apple TV+ series “For All Mankind,” which presents an alternate history of the space race in which Russia beat the United States to the moon and set the stage for a moon base, hit the streaming platform in 2019.
I have no evidence to support it, but it seems plausible that science fiction might have inspired the lunar ark.
If that is the case, it makes me wonder about how society consumes this genre of entertainment. Will science fiction creators come up with something that we bring to fruition and ultimately impacts the world in the worst possible way?
It seems possible. If technology becomes sentient like HAL 9000 or robots in any of several other books or movies, we could have ensured our demise.
Of course, science fiction author Isaac Asimov gave us the “Three Laws of Robotics” that say robots must not harm a human or allow a human to be harmed through inaction, robots must obey the commands of humans as long as doing so doesn’t result in harm of a human, and robots must protect themselves as long as doing so doesn’t conflict the two aforementioned laws.
However, as we can see in a myriad of science fiction works, even the best intentions can go awry.
That’s the importance of science fiction. It’s more than entertainment. It’s important social commentary, highlighting the possessive and negative aspects of mankind.
For example, Ray Bradbury didn’t just predict future technologies in his work. He warned society about the potentially dire consequences of their actions by imagining a future where we have gone too far down the path of bad choices so the only destination is self-destruction.
So while you enjoy your favorite horror or science fiction films this Halloween, consider the underlying message. Reflect on what kind of future you create for yourself and society with the actions you take every day.
And if you end up “fixing” your toaster to the point it becomes a time machine, don’t do what Homer did. Don’t sit on any creatures or sneeze in the face of a dinosaur. It will certainly alter the future.
Todd Vogts is a native of Canton, a resident of McPherson County, and an assistant professor of media at Sterling College. He can be contacted with questions or comments via his website at www.toddvogts.com.