This Friday marks the last day of my co-op job as Terrene’s Marketing Assistant. Because I've really enjoyed getting caught up in with the Terrene team's discussions of strange hypotheticals this term and because the Velocity Garage's gorgeous reading room played such a prominent role in my time here, I want to close out the term by recommending three of my favourite science fiction novels.
Frankenstein (Mary Shelley)
This October, I decided to get into the spooky spirit by listening to the audiobook of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Given how often this story is referenced in pop culture, I thought I knew roughly what to expect; after all, I was already aware that Frankenstein wasn't the name of the monster, a misconception that crops up so often it’s become a cliche.
However, as I began reading, I discovered that this correction is one of the most minor things wrong with the version of Frankenstein that exists in our collective consciousness. When Frankenstein's monster is created, he is a gentle creature with a great capacity for love who is devastated when his creator abandons him in horror. He then spends months secretly observing a poor family to learn about human culture and acquire the abilities to speak and read. His murderous streak emerges only once he grasps the concept of family and reasons that Dr. Frankenstein is the closest thing he has to a father. The violent attacks for which the character is known are actually a targeted campaign against his creator in retribution for what he perceives as neglect of Dr. Frankenstein's fatherly duties. Given the time I've spent immersed in technological culture this term, it was easy to perceive this story as a parable about the responsibility all kinds of creators have to assume accountability for their creations and ensure their impact on society is as positive as possible. Whether that theme is resonant for you or not, I recommend checking out this classic to discover the elements of the story that don't get represented in Hallowe'en decorations.
An Absolutely Remarkable Thing (Hank Green)
I'm a major fan of John Green's books--particularly the incredibly nuanced portrait of obsessive-compulsive disorder captured in his most recent release, Turtles All the Way Down--so my interest was piqued when I heard that his brother, Hank Green, was publishing his first novel this September. This book has very little in common with John's stories about teenagers undergoing highly personal emotional journeys; instead, it's a sweeping sci-fi novel about an event that affects everyone on earth.
The plot of An Absolutely Remarkable Thing involves a number of giant, immovable robots appearing in cities around the world; its main character is a New Yorker unexpectedly thrust into the spotlight when her YouTube video about the phenomenon sets her up as an unofficial spokesperson on the issue. While the novel certainly stands up as a sci-fi thriller, it also functions as an in-depth exploration of contemporary internet culture and the ways it affects people in ways that can be harmful and divisive as easily as they can be unifying. In interviews, Green has discussed how his experiences as a YouTube celebrity influenced this thematic element of the book, saying, "I think we’ve all experienced that malleability of self, where we realize that we’ve been pretending so long that we aren’t pretending anymore… we have become the image we are projecting. [In] a world where we share a significant portion of our lives through a curated feed delivered to whoever wants to look at it ... I think it’s more common." As someone who engages with social media in both a personal and professional capacity, the book's insight into internet culture resonated deeply with me. Unless if you somehow manage to exist separately from the connective technologies that increasingly infiltrate every element of our lives, you'll find An Absolutely Remarkable Thing a thought-provoking read.
Children of Men (P. D. James)
This 1992 book, written before the dystopian craze hit the publishing world, describes a world in which humans have seemingly lost the ability to conceive children, leading to twenty years of mounting despair and major societal restructuring. The protagonist, historian Theo Faron, gets swept up in a mission to protect a former student of his when he discovers she is pregnant. (The book was adapted into a fantastic movie in 2006, but the two stories are very different, to the point that the majority of the book's characters don't exist in the film and vice versa.)
Despite the extreme nature of its story, the book has a slow, meditative pace. James' extensive world-building invites the reader to consider complicated questions--for instance, what is the value of scholarship in a world where the human race is marching towards extinction? Who should hold power in this world and how can it be managed responsibly under such dire circumstances? What elements of everyday life no longer make sense if the Anthropocene has no future? Given the lofty and hypothetical nature of these questions, it's harder to make even a strained connection between the plot and my work at Terrene this term, but Children of Men is too compelling not to recommend.