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"In the city of my birth, I had a dream..."
The Time Machine and The Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells 
8th-Apr-2006 10:29 pm
For some reason, I've been in the mood for vintage pulp fiction (or, at least as close as I can get to pulp fiction still in-print over a hundred years later), lately.

Wells, H. G. The Island of Dr. Moreau. 1896.
Summary: Edward Prendick is shipwrecked and rescued by Montgomery, an assistant to Dr. Moreau. Left behind on Moreau's island, he comes to realize that the doctor is conducting horrific experiments of vivisection on animals, making them to some extent human--with laws and "religion," worshipping real humans. However, the man-animals come to realize that the humans are mortal, and Dr. Moreau is killed. Montgomery commits suicide. Prendick lives for a time among the animals as they revert irrevocably to their bestial natures until his escape.
Comments: Okay, okay, so we all know that interspecies grafts don't work, and vivisection isn't gonna give an animal a conscience, but the ethical and moral issues--namely, how far is too far?--that this novel raises are perhaps even more relevant today than they were in Wells's day. However, even barring that, this novel is a lot more fun to read than Frankenstein, to which it bears a more than passing resemblance (right down to the narrator who is an observer of the story), and combines elements of adventure, horror, and science fiction. In short, something for everyone. I was most struck by the last chapter, in which Prendick describes seeing bestiality in humanity wherever he went. That must've rankled readers in Victorian times.
Notes: trade paperback, Dover Thrift Edition
Rating: 7/10 - Though the science is unquestionably fiction, the larger concerns are all too factual.

Wells, H. G. The Time Machine. 1895.
Summary: A scientist invents a time machine and travels far into to the future to 802,701 A.D. and discovers that humanity has (d)evolved into two races: the vegetarian Eloi and the carnivorous Morlocks who feed upon the Eloi. Though the nocturnal Morlocks confiscate his time machine, after setting fire to a forest and frightening them, they reveal it to him in the hopes of entrapping him. He then travels even further into the future and sees the sunset of all life on Earth.
Comments: I must admit that I was eating up the psuedo-scientific theorizing that time is the fourth dimension, but the actual evolution of mankind, while a fine fantasy, was not even remotely convincing. The Time Traveler's first theory, that humanity discovered perfect Communism and then devolved, was no less likely than the upper class and the lower class diverging biologically. Both subscribe to purely economic, Marxist paradigms that simply aren't realistic, and it seemed unspeakably myopic to me for Wells to assume that Londonites are representative of the trajectory of the entirety of humanity. Never mind how the disparity in number between the upper and lower classes reverse to sustain a prey/predator relationship. Still, if you don't question, it's an interesting bit of Gulliver's Travels-esque speculative fiction--I wouldn't mind a brief sojourn into Wells's future myself.
Notes: trade paperback, Dover Thrift Edition
Rating: 6.5/10 - Diverting bit of a novel, provided that you suspend your disbelief.
9th-Apr-2006 10:35 am (UTC) - The Island of Dr. Moreau
I think The Island of Dr. Moreau is the best of his science fiction books. I prefer his non-science fiction stuff myself. The ethical concerns expressed by The Island of Dr. Moreau are certainly still relevant.

Are we not men?
9th-Apr-2006 03:51 pm (UTC) - Re: The Island of Dr. Moreau
I also have a textbook edition of the novel that pairs it with Frankenstein called Making Humans. The two novels go together AMAZINGLY well on so many levels, and the commentary/analysis provided by the textbook editors is fascinating.
9th-Apr-2006 04:18 pm (UTC) - Re: The Island of Dr. Moreau
They also go quite well with E. T. A. Hoffman's The Sandman, which was written around about the same time as Frankenstein.

The Mad Scientist novel was well and truly established as a genre by the end of the 19th century!
9th-Apr-2006 04:20 pm (UTC) - Re: The Island of Dr. Moreau
In this light, Darwin arose out of a larger, post-"discovery" of the New World anxiety about the nature of humanity.
9th-Apr-2006 04:32 pm (UTC) - Re: The Island of Dr. Moreau
There was so much interesting stuff going on in the 19th century. Evolution was already a fairly old idea by the time Darwin and Wallace came along. Lamarck's theory of evolution pre-dates Darwin by many decades. So many ideas floating around. And there was the wonderful controvery between the Catastrophists and their rivals in geology. And 19th century scientists are fantastic! They're nothing like the scientists of today who are so dull they could just as easly be accountants. 19th century scientists were bizarre. Like Dean Rutland - get invited to dinner at his place and you find yourself eating insects. And so many amateurs making crucial discoveries, people like Mary Anning.
9th-Apr-2006 04:44 pm (UTC) - Re: The Island of Dr. Moreau
The modern notion of race (along with psuedo-scientific suppositions that Africans were more closely related to chimps and Native Americans were further back on the same evolutionary/historical scale than Europeans) dates back to the "discovery" of the New World and Enlightenment thinking. There really is NOTHING of that sort of thinking happening before that. A big writer along those lines was former US President Thomas Jefferson, actually. :P
9th-Apr-2006 04:19 pm (UTC) - Re: The Island of Dr. Moreau
Actually Hawthorne's wonderful, wonderful story Rappaccini's Daughter could be added as an American entrant in the Mad Scientist genre.
9th-Apr-2006 04:25 pm (UTC) - recommending an anthology
If you can get hold of a copy I strongly recommend an anthology called The Birth of Science in Fiction: The Best Science Fiction of the 19th Century, edited by Isaac Asimov, Martin H. Greenberg and Charles G. Waugh. The ISBN of my paperback copy is 1-56129-086-6.

It includes both Rappaccini's Daughter</i> and The Sandman along with Mary Shelley's The Mortal Immortal along with some interesting stories by people I'd never heard of.
9th-Apr-2006 04:34 pm (UTC) - Re: recommending an anthology
Hmm. I'll try checking it out at some point. There aren't that many good academic sci-fi anthologies. The Oxford Book of Science Fiction is a disappointment (tries to bite off more than it can chew).

On a related note, the writings of geneticist R. C. Lewontin (I loved Biology as Ideology) are fascinating to read in tandem with science fiction of the Dr. Moreau type. He's considered the foremost authority on how social and economic forces have a powerful effect on so-called "impartial/unbiased" science.
9th-Apr-2006 04:37 pm (UTC) - Re: recommending an anthology
It's a revelation for those who think that 19th century science fiction begins and ends with Verne and Wells.

That Lewontin book will be added to my acquisition list. Along with stack of other books that I have no idea how I'm going to pay for!
9th-Apr-2006 04:41 pm (UTC) - Re: recommending an anthology
It's a revelation for those who think that 19th century science fiction begins and ends with Verne and Wells.

Well, it also depends upon how you define the genre. Hawthorne and Shelley might have written things that one could argue is sci-fi, but you aren't going to find the average modern fan picking up those titles as beach reads today! ^^;;; More's the pity, I suppose.

That Lewontin book will be added to my acquisition list.

Oh, yeah, and he's also the one responsible for the "race as social construction" line of thought (which, if you've been reading the papers, is being contested these days...one step forward, two steps back...).
9th-Apr-2006 04:46 pm (UTC) - Re: recommending an anthology
Well, it also depends upon how you define the genre.

One of the good things about 19th century science fiction writers was that they didn't know they were writing science fiction!
28th-Apr-2006 11:08 am (UTC)
Review archived.
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