Tag Archives: Mary Shelley

Nature publishes instructions on how to make a Frankenstein monster

My doctoral dissertation addressed what I called the “Frankenstein Complex.” So guess why this story bothers me.

Today, a scientific journal published a study that some people thought might never be made public at all.

The paper describes experiments that suggest just a few genetic changes could potentially make a bird flu virus capable of becoming contagious in humans, and causing a dangerous pandemic. Continue reading Nature publishes instructions on how to make a Frankenstein monster

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Mary Shelley LIVES! (Romantics, Luddites, runaway technology, science fiction and the persistence of the Frankenstein Complex)

Oh, yeah. Oooh, ahhh, that’s how it always starts. Then later there’s running and screaming. – Dr. Ian Malcolm

Mary Shelley spent the summer of 1816 at the Villa Diodati near Lake Geneva, Switzerland with her husband, poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, and their close friend Lord Byron “watching the rain come down, while they all told each other ghost stories.” Thomas Pynchon says that by that December Mary Shelley was working on Chapter Four of her famous novel Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus.

It was the challenge of writing ghost stories to amuse each other that set Mary upon the idea of a different kind of horror story – one not based in the supernatural, but in science.

I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. Continue reading Mary Shelley LIVES! (Romantics, Luddites, runaway technology, science fiction and the persistence of the Frankenstein Complex)

Is your house haunted?

Horror of the “gothic” variety that occupied so much of the conversation between Byron and the Shelleys (these would be the conversations that ultimately gave rise to Frankenstein) has traditionally traded in some easily recognizable tropes. Among the most common are your haunted places. Swamps and moors are always a little scary. Graveyards and crypts, of course. Transylvania.

And then there’s haunted houses. Dark mansions, castles on top of hills. Abandoned homes where terrible things once happened. Subdivisions built on top of Indian burial grounds. And so on. Continue reading Is your house haunted?

Reality is making us sick, and fantasy can’t cure us

You’re honey child to a swarm of bees
Gonna blow right through you like a breeze
Give me one last dance
Well slide down the surface of things

You’re the real thing
Yeah the real thing
You’re the real thing
Even better than the real thing

– U2

Fantasy stories, myths, legends, tall tales, fairy tales, horror, all these have been with us for a very long time. Science fiction, as well, has been with us since Mary Shelley found herself in a bet with Lord Byron about the possibility of writing a new kind of horror, one not grounded in the gothic.* So the presence in our popular culture of stories based in unreality of one form or another is certainly nothing new.

It seems to me that there’s been a lot more of it lately, though. Continue reading Reality is making us sick, and fantasy can’t cure us

ArtSunday: Microsoft and the end of culture

Verily, we have arrived at the end of all culture. Perhaps predictably, the culprit is technology. Or, to be a bit more specific, the culprit is Microsoft, which has now infused the art of songwriting with the same kind of magic and warmth you’ve come to expect from Excel.

Microsoft is pitching software designed for you, no musical training required. You sing the words as best you can, and its Songsmith software supplies computer-matched musical accompaniment.

Words … fail. Continue reading ArtSunday: Microsoft and the end of culture

WordsDay contest: you all lose

When we created the new WordsDay graphic above a few weeks back we challenged everybody to name all the authors. Some of you took a shot, and I think the best set of guesses got about 10 of 15 right.

So, for those of you who have been dying of curiosity, here are the answers. Left to right:

  1. William Butler Yeats
  2. Audre Lorde
  3. Bill Shakespeare Continue reading WordsDay contest: you all lose

The ethics of cloning a caveman

Errrmmm, we can do that?

The full genome of the Neanderthal, an ancient human species probably driven to extinction by the first modern humans that entered Europe some 45,000 years ago, is expected to be recovered shortly. If the mammoth can be resurrected, the same would be technically possible for Neanderthals.

In fact, Wade points out, there are good reasons to re-create a Neanderthal: “No one knows if Neanderthals could speak. A living one would answer that question and many others.”

Whoa there, says Richard Doerflinger of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops: Continue reading The ethics of cloning a caveman

My god – it’s full of stars: 2001, Frankenstein and autonomous technology

I used to work with a HAL 9000. Back when I was at US West in the late ’90s we had a voice system into which we would record the day’s company news so that employees without Internet access could dial in and keep up with the latest events. As with any such system there was a dial-in sequence, buttons that had to be pressed in a certain order, etc.

One day, as I was working through the first stage of the sequence, our phone system apparently achieved sentience. For reasons that I still can’t explain, a decade later, and that nobody at the time had any clue about, the machine sort of … intuited what I was about to do. It performed an action or two that, put simply, it could not do. Continue reading My god – it’s full of stars: 2001, Frankenstein and autonomous technology

War and Postwar: a look at LIFE and technology

Part three in a series.

In an age and a culture dominated by scientism, the word “sample” tends to invoke the adjectival “representative,” and I cannot begin to imagine culling a meaningful representative sample from LIFE’s 400-plus issues. Still, it seems important to devote a few pages to what happened with LIFE and technology between the Fort Peck Dam and Apollo 17. I will center this discussion on innovations and events that, from our perspective here at the end of the century, appear to have left significant marks on history.

The Medical Morality Play

LIFE’s coverage of medical technology began early and covered, through the decades, the research, development, and application of treatments for a variety of diseases and disorders afflicting humanity. Continue reading War and Postwar: a look at LIFE and technology

ArtSunday: “…to see and be amazed”: The LIFE and times of technology in America, 11/23/36-12/29/72

Part one in a series.

During its 36-year run, LIFE Magazine traversed a period of technological innovation and peril unsurpassed in the recorded history of humanity. As the first issue was released in November of 1936, a resurgent Germany was constructing the most awesome war machine the world had yet seen, a development that literally threatened the very future of the hemisphere. LIFE’s final issue went to press at the end of 1972, roughly three weeks after NASA’s last manned mission to the moon, Apollo 17, closed the books on a program that proved — theoretically, at least — that humanity was not inevitably bound to this planet.

The technological distance between these two moments is mind-boggling. Continue reading ArtSunday: “…to see and be amazed”: The LIFE and times of technology in America, 11/23/36-12/29/72