Archive for January, 2018

A friend of the site recently speculated on what visionary science fiction might look like today. Discussion was raised about those creatives who had appeared to be ahead of their time in the past; Alfred Bester, Philip K Dick and Samuel Delaney were all name-checked. This then led to reference of the cabal of writers who were there at the birth of cyberpunk in the early 1980s, and then, unsurprisingly, onto the topic of Richard K Morgan’s Altered Carbon – adapted as a new Netflix series launching 2nd February 2018 (see above).

First published in 2002 Morgan’s book didn’t arrive with the birth of the internet, nor the novels that riffed off the incredible advances in computer technology which arrived at the end of the 20th Century. It did, however, fall within the Cyberpunk genre while also promoting the notion of consciousness being encoded and transmitted between host bodies. As a visionary piece though, the technology it presents is still very much a problematic and contentious pipe dream – even with Elon Musk’s recent kick start of a human/machine interface.

Robin Andrews over at IFL Science tackles the problem head-on. In his article he describes the complexity and vulnerability of encoding the 86 billion neurons that spark away in an average cranium. Even if you ignore the sheer vastness of data capture required, you then run into the next hurdle of timing. There’s little benefit in encoding the mind when it’s in a downward spiral of dotage. Better to capture yourself at the height of your capabilities while in the prime of your life. But what then? Is the digital construct still you? Do the divergent experiences – you running in biological isolation, while it’s fully connected to the internet – mean you end up with two entities? Perhaps you want to indulge in some well-intentioned editing and get rid of all that disruptive behaviour that’s hampered your corporeal form? If you do, are you then removing self determination from another sentient being?

The other core premise of Altered Carbon is the ability of the protagonists to upload into host bodies. While cloning nudges the boundaries of what is and isn’t acceptable increasingly towards the realms of science fiction, it still remains an emotive minefield. Just look at the fresh controversy surrounding China’s advances in monkey cloning and it’s obvious that the passage towards digital and biological immortality isn’t going to be resolved anytime soon.

Perhaps then Morgan’s Altered Carbon is indeed visionary, but only in relation to some far-flung time when all these problems have been surmounted – definitely not the near future as posited in both the book and the TV show. Until that distant horizon, when there is no division between the human and machine consciousness, we’ll just have to make the most of our short-lived, limited and yet wonderfully complex brains.

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If there ever could be a patron saint of this website, it would be Mary Shelley.

Many have speculated on the influences that led to the conjuration of Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus and the birth of modern science fiction. Perhaps the author was influenced by tales of the experiments of Luigi Galvani, or the work of the “thunder and lightning man” Andrew Crosse. Or perhaps she did encounter reports of Jaques-Droz’s clockwork automaton in her childhood – a favourite theory of Drozbot, naturally.

Now there are ample chances to ponder the story’s origin in conjunction with a host of Mary Shelley related publications and activities planned for 2018.

A fully illustrated version of the tale is now available from Rockport Publisher with David Plunkert bringing his visionary style to the text. Or, if you’re more fleet of foot than the monster itself, you could nip down to Bournemouth University this February. Here you’ll find Professor Christopher Frailing kicking off the 2018 Shelly Frankenstein Festival with a lecture exploring how this massively influential novel has evolved into modern myth.

If all that has whetted your appetite for a more in-depth examination of the tale and it’s creator, Lucy Todd over at the BBC has pulled together an exemplary overview of Frankenstein, alongside a great collection of its many adaptations. Within this there’s also the welcome news that Universal Studios are filming a remake of the fan classic Bride of Frankenstein with director Bill Condon at the helm after his live action version of Beauty and the Beast. Hopefully, this adaptation will dig back into the pathos of the 1935 film and not be overly comedic – Mel Brooks has already been there and done that most excellently.

Whatever the inspiration for the novel, Frankenstein’s bicentenary underlines the importance of its themes in contemporary society. On a macro scale, we see the increased responsibility that comes as a result of stealing fire from the gods, while down in the microcosm of the everyday, there’s an increasing urgency concerning our attitudes towards our machine creations and how their introduction will affect humanity.

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