For our 1951 pick, we have the work of one of the great British writers of sci-fi’s Golden Age. In The Day of the Triffids, John Wyndham presents a horror story of giant, ambulatory, flesh-eating plants that topple humans from their dominance of a world they thought they had tamed. The theme is common to other post-apocalyptic stories of the 1950’s: we may tame nature with our technological wizardry, but our undoing is our inability to tame ourselves. We take our dominance of the planet for granted – and it wouldn’t take much to find ourselves in a relentlessly hostile world where we have compete as a species with a new top dog.
What does our obsession with End of the World scenarios say about our relationship with science?
As I wrote about here, I’ve embarked on a post-apocalyptic reading project, to survey 60 years of post-Hiroshima End of the World science fiction, essentially the road to The Road.
Science is a mediator between humans and nature. This mediating role rests on the ability science gives us to predict, control and manipulate nature. Even science done out of pure curiosity is based on control: in order to obtain scientific knowledge, we manipulate nature by doing experiments. The prime test of our scientific theories is how predictive they are, how well they enable us to manipulate nature with predictable results. From a scientific perspective, it is impossible to understand nature without controlling it. Post-apocalyptic science fiction describes situations in which our ability to predict and control fails catastrophically. Nature escapes our control, through world-wide plagues, collisions with asteroids, or invasions by alien species; or else we’re done in by our own efforts at control, by nuclear war or human-induced ecological catastrophe. Continue reading “What the End of the World says about science”
Remember that Golden Era, when war was all about hacking bits off each other from high-five range? Well those days are gone. Stupid technology. Takes the fun out of everything. I was reminded of technology’s curse – the efficient maiming and killing of each other fro a distance, as opposed to the inefficient maiming and killing of each other with manual implements – by the most recent episode (“Drone”) of the excellent My History Can Beat Up Your Politics podcast. In the episode, Bruce Carlson discusses the history of armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and potential ramifications of their use.
I love this map by Haisam Hussein tracking the evolution of four stories (Pygmalion, Leviathan, Faust, and Oedipus) through history and geography.
Not only does this speak about how we reuse and reinterpret the same myths throughout history, but also struck a few personal chords. First, the night before I saw Hussein’s map, my Sky TV Guide described She’s All That as a reimagining of Pygmalion, not My Fair Lady, which stood out in my mind. Second, I had never considered Jaws as a retelling of the Leviathan legend before, but now cannot get over the casting of Roy Schneider in the role of Jehovah (aka, Chief Brody).