|Mary Shelley's 1818 novel Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, is generally considered the first work of science fiction. It explores, in scientific terms, the notion of synthetic life: Dr. Victor Frankenstein studies the chemical breakdown that occurs after death so he can reverse it to animate nonliving matter. Like so many other works of science fiction that followed, Shelley's story is a cautionary tale: It raises profound questions about who should have the right to create living things and what responsibility the creators should have to their creations and to society. |
Think about that: Mary Shelley put these questions on the table almost two centuries ago—41 years before Darwin published The Origin of Species and 135 years before Crick and Watson figured out the structure of DNA. Is it any wonder that Alvin Toffler, one of the first futurists, called reading science fiction the only preventive medicine for future shock?
Isaac Asimov, the great American science fiction writer, defined the genre thus: "Science fiction is the branch of literature that deals with the responses of human beings to changes in science and technology." The societal impact of what is being cooked up in labs is always foremost in the science fiction writer's mind. H.G. Wells grappled with creating chimera life forms in The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896), Aldous Huxley gave us a heads-up on modified humans in Brave New World (1932), and Michael Crichton's final science-fiction novel, Next (2006), brought the issues of gene splicing and recombinant DNA to a mass audience.