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Title: The dawn of the mad scientist : tracing the development of the mad scientist figure in science fiction
Authors: Christopher Raj Arulanbazhagu
Keywords: DRNTU::Humanities::Literature::English
Issue Date: 2014
Abstract: Science fiction has long been viewed as a genre dealing with possibilities; possibilities that are in this context provided by the promise of scientific discovery and advancement. Science fiction authors display a tendency invariably to detail a view of the world that lies beyond the realm of human experience, often broaching topics that are far too implausible to occur due to technological or ethical restraints of the time. In order to circumvent this problem of implausibility, many authors utilize the potential of scientific progress and discovery as a tool, lending credence to their many suppositions and successfully bridging the gap between possibility and reality. To borrow a quote from Samuel Coleridge in Biographia Literaria (1817), “a human interest and a semblance of truth [is] sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for that moment” (174). This quote seems particularly well-suited for the discussion of science fiction given the genre’s tendency to play to one’s imagination. The very nature of science fiction invites us to “suspend our disbelief” and accept the impossible as possible often citing scientific experimentation and discovery as the means of supplementing this shortfall in understanding. A more important aspect of Coleridge’s quote worth analyzing and which will be discussed extensively in this paper is the notion of a “human interest” (174) that contributes to the suspension of disbelief he mentions. The human interest in most tenets of science fiction is borne simply out of the fact that they have at their n belief however, as long as the author maintains a greater human concern at the heart of the story, it becomes grounded in reality and lends the tale an air of authenticity. It thereby follows that the best science fiction novels place this “human interest at their epicenter, exploring larger human concerns, rather than focusing overtly on scientific methods and procedures. This prevents the science aspect of the novel from simply becoming a gimmick or a Deus Ex Machina that exists solely as a means for explaining away “inimical phenomena” (Wells 91) further lending authenticity to the science fiction narrative. When studying science fiction novels and trying to make sense of their core concerns therefore it becomes paramount that we direct our focus to their human elements. I refer here specifically to the scientists who perform the role of protagonist or antagonist in these texts. It is for this purpose that this paper will focus on the human element at the heart of three novels namely, Frankenstein, Or, The Modern Prometheus (1818), The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) and The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896). These novels also share the similarity of exploring the creature-creator relationship that forms an integral aspect of science fiction canon. The underlying suggestions in these novels is that while man can learn the trick behind endowing life he is by no means ready for the responsibility that comes with it. This directly translates into the evolution of the titular figures of each novel into mad scientist figures. The major idea being purported here is that the notion of guilt or the manner by which it is represented is symptomatic of the mad scientists’ condition. This paper will trace the development of the mad scientist figure in the three novels mentioned, within the context of a creature-creator relationship, paying particular attention to their treatment of guilt.
Rights: Nanyang Technological University
Fulltext Permission: restricted
Fulltext Availability: With Fulltext
Appears in Collections:HSS Student Reports (FYP/IA/PA/PI)

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