We don’t create in a vacuum. Everything we read and everything we watch contributes to our own fiction. And the more we understand what was created before us, the more we can create original work – an interesting idea isn’t it? Know what went before, it will help you right now.
Mary Shelly wrote the first science fiction novel. She was influenced by peer pressure – to prove to her future husband and his friend that she could write up a scary story – and she was influenced by the scientific discoveries at the time, like Electricity. Experiments were being done to re-animate body parts using electrical currents,In 1803 Giovanni Aldini (Galvani`s nephew) performed experiments, in public, upon the severed heads of “malefactors” despatched in Bologna and at Newgate, London. A few accounts of these horrific demonstrations –
A very ample series of experiments were made by Professor Aldini which show the eminent and superior power of galvanism beyond any other stimulant in nature. In the months of January and February last, he had the courage to apply it at Bologna to the bodies of various criminals who had suffered death at that place, and by means of the pile he excited the remaining vital forces in a most astonishing manner. This stimulus produced the most horrible contortions and grimaces by the motions of the muscles of the head and face; and an hour and a quarter after death, the arm of one of the bodies was elevated eight inches from the table on which it was supported, and this even when a considerable weight was placed in the hand.
– gruesome stuff, and Shelly took those ideas to the next level – reanimating a whole person. Then writing about what happened next.
The one feature that struck me in Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward (1888) is what he got terribly right:
The records of the period show that the outcry against the concentration of capital was furious. Men believed that it threatened society with a form of tyranny more abhorrent than it had ever endured. The believed that the great corporations were preparing for them the yoke of a baser servitude than had ever been imposed on the race, servitude not to men but to soulless machines incapable of any motive but insatiable greed. Looking back, we cannot wonder at their desperation, for certainly humanity was never confronted with a fate more sordid and hideous than would have be the era of corporate tyranny which they anticipated. – p 35
However, much as I admired what he got right, one detail nagged at me. Even in his perfect Utopia (set in 2000), women were still dressed in long skirts and corsets. A small detail in the face of his clear repudiation of corporate greed, but an interesting one – obviously the male writer hadn’t asked his women friends what their future would look like. If he had, a more equitable future would have certainly certainly included comfortable clothes for both sexes. At the time women were experimenting with bloomers – a more practical garment for bicycle riding – so where was the natural progression for this idea? No where in Bellamy’s future.
That is the charm and the challenge of predicting the future. Sometimes you miss something, sometimes you get it wrong, and sometimes, you get it horribly right.
Wells was influenced by Gulliver’s Travels – which was not time travel, but a parody of Pilgrims Progress. Author builds on another author. Wells time machine shoots his narrator far into the future, which is a safe place to work from since who can refute it? I did the same with Future Girls, working from 2145 to 2045. While Wells catapulted his character into 802,701 AD, Planet of the Apes style, I took my character “back” in time.
The thing about time machines is they don’t exist and the science is not in place for a time machine to exist at all – Dr. Who aside. The one feature of time travel that does exist is you can travel back in time a few seconds, but not forward. The key is to create a fantasy time machine, then stick to the physics you created in your own book.
Orwell was terrified by the triumph of communism and what that could mean for the future. He reversed 1948 which was when he write the book to 1984 and projected out the very worst things that could happen if the projected trajectory of communism and the idea of total control was played out and inflicted on men and women.
Orwell was also highly sensitive to language and the abuses there in, mostly by government. He was quite right to be paranoid. Contemporary corporate speak and the obscuring advertising language isn’t too far from what Orwell so depressingly visualized.
What influenced you? What books were so riveting that even if you don’t realize it, you were influenced. It wasn’t until I started creating a dystopian world that I remembered how many science fiction books, films and television shows I had consumed. Who knew? What do you know?
Catharine Bramkamp is the author of Future Girls
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