Mary Shelley’s Handwritten Manuscript of Frankenstein: This Is “Ground Zero of Science Fiction,” Says William Gibson

Who invented cyberpunk, that vivid subgenre of science fiction at the intersection of "high tech and low life"? Some put forth the name of William Gibson, whose 1984 novel Neuromancer crystallized many of the elements of cyberpunk that still characterize it today, even if it wasn't the first example of all of them. And who, for that matter, invented science fiction? Brian Aldiss, a sci-fi writer and a respected scholar of the tradition, argued for Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein. "The seminal point about Frankenstein," Aldiss writes, "is that its central character makes a deliberate decision. He succeeds in creating life only when he throws away dusty old authorities and turns to modern experiments in the laboratory."

In other words, Victor Frankenstein uses science, which according to Aldiss had not propelled a narrative before Frankenstein's publication in 1818. The novel came out, in an edition of just 500 three-volume copies, under the full title Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, and without any author's name. Shelley's decision to publish her work anonymously, with a preface by her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley, led readers to assume that the poet himself had written the book. Though he hadn't, he had accompanied the then-18-year-old Mary Shelley on the trip to Switzerland where she came up with the story. There, kept indoors by foul weather at Lake Geneva's Villa Diodati, the couple and Lord Byron, whom they had come to visit, binge-read ghost stories to one another until they decided to each write an original one.




It took Shelley some time to come up with an idea, but when inspiration finally struck, it brought on an unignorable vision. "I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together," Shelley writes in her introduction to the non-anonymous 1831 edition of Frankenstein.  "I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion." She thus began to write her story, first in short form and later, with Percy's encouragement, expanding it into a novel. A few days ago, Gibson retweeted a page of one of Shelley's handwritten manuscripts, adding only, "This is, literally, ground zero of science fiction."

The original tweeter of the image, someone called Laura N, describes it as "the first page of Frankenstein," although its text page appears in the published book as the first page of its eighteenth chapter. She also links to the Shelley-Godwin Archive, home of digitized manuscripts of Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, her father William Godwin, and her mother Mary Wollstonecraft. There, as we've previously featured on Open Culture, you can trace the evolution of Frankenstein by viewing all the extant pages of all its extant manuscripts. A full two centuries after its publication, Shelley's novel continues to fascinate, and its central ideas and characters have become familiar to readers — and even non-readers — around the world. And in the view of Aldiss, Gibson, and many others besides, this story of a monster's creation also brought to life a whole new cultural universe.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

“The Long Tomorrow”: Discover Mœbius’ Hard-Boiled Detective Comic That Inspired Blade Runner (1975)

Alejandro Jodorowsky may never have made his film adaptation of Frank Herbert's Dune, but plenty came out of the attempt — including, one might well argue, Blade Runner. Making that still hugely influential adaptation of Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Ridley Scott and his collaborators looked to a few key visual sources, one of them a two-part short story in comic form called "The Long Tomorrow."

Illustrated by none other than French artist Mœbius, one of the richest visual imaginations of our time, it tells the futuristic hard-boiled story of a private detective in a dense, vertical underground city filled with androids, rowdy bars, assassins, and flying cars. "I'm a confidential nose," says the protagonist by way of introduction. "My office is on the 97th level. Club's the name, Pete Club."

Then comes the fateful piece of narration that begins any detective story worth its salt: "It started out a day like any other day." But by the end of that day, Club has taken a job from a classic dame in need, fended off both a four-armed thug and a hired assassin, slain an alien monster with whom he finds himself in bed, and recovered the president's missing brain.




The story was written written by Dan O'Bannon, then known mainly for the film Dark Star, a science-fiction comedy he'd made with his University of Southern California classmate John Carpenter. On the strength of that, Jodorowsky had brought him onto Dune to work on its special effects, just as he'd brought Mœbius on to create its storyboards and concept art. With nothing to do before shooting began — which it never did — O'Bannon first drew "The Long Tomorrow" himself as a way of keeping busy. Mœbius took one look at it and immediately saw its promise.

The French may have coined the term film noir, but this early work of future noir benefited from having an American writer. "When Europeans try this kind of parody, it is never entirely satisfactory," Mœbius writes in the introduction to the book version of "The Long Tomorrow." "The French are too French, the Italians are too Italian … so, under my nose was a pastiche that was more original than the originals." It also, with Mœbius' art, laid the visual groundwork for generations of sci-fi stories to come.

"The way Neuromancer-the-novel 'looks' was influenced in large part by some of the artwork I saw in  Heavy Metal," said William Gibson, referring to the English version of Métal hurlant, the magazine that popularized Mœbius' work. (O'Bannon also worked on the animated Heavy Metal anthology film, released in 1981.) But perhaps Ridley Scott, who started working with the artist on 1979's O'Bannon-scripted Alien, described the influence of Mœbius' art on our visions of the future best: "You see it everywhere, it runs through so much you can’t get away from it." In a cultural sense, all of us live in Pete Club's city now.

via Dangerous Minds

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction: 17,500 Entries on All Things Sci-Fi Are Now Free Online

What turns people into science-fiction fans? Many enter through the gateway of Star Trek, an early 1960s television series "set on the worlds visited by a giant Spaceship, the U.S.S. Enterprise, and on the ship itself. Its crew is on a mission to explore new worlds and 'to boldly go where no man has gone before.'" Though "not particularly successful in the ratings," Star Trek nevertheless "attracted a hard core of devoted fans, 'Trekkies,' who made up in passionate enthusiasm what they lacked in numbers." Perhaps creator Gene Roddenberry's signature "blend of the mildly fantastic with the reassuringly familiar, and his use of an on the whole very likeable cast, attracted viewers precisely because its exoticism was manageable and unthreatening."

Those quotes come from The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, a free online resource featuring more than 17,500 entries explaining all things sci-fi, whether new or old, mainstream or obscure. Some of its pages deal with works of doubted status as science fiction at all: Star Wars, for example, "an entertaining pastiche that draws upon comic strips, old movie serials, Westerns, James Bond stories, The Wizard of Oz, Snow White, Errol Flynn swashbucklers and movies about World War Two" whose "gratifyingly spectacular – at the time – special effects and martial music hypnotized the audience into uncritical acceptance of the basically absurd, deliberately Pulp-magazine-style conflict between Good and Evil."




That sort of thing is a long way indeed from the work of, say, a science-fiction grandmaster like Isaac Asimov, who wrote prolifically in "the clear unerring voice of a man speaking reason, uttering tales about how to solve the true world." Some readers of Open Culture might well have found their way into science fiction through Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, which despite its "many narrative flaws" remains "one of the most important sf movies made," having showed "almost for the first time – though fans had spent years hoping – how visually sophisticated sf in film form can be."

Blade Runner's entry includes, of course, a reference to the script's basis on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, "a figure who helps define by contrast those identified in this Encyclopedia as Mainstream Writers of SF: writers, that is, whose comprehension of the significant literatures of the last century has sometimes seemed less than full. An author like Thomas Pynchon, who is not described in this encyclopedia as mainstream, will understand what he owes Dick; a mainstream author like Margaret Atwood has worked to make it clear that she does not."

Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, "the most ambitious sf film of the 1960s and perhaps ever," has also done its part to propagate a sci-fi way of looking at the world, exploring as it does "the idea of human deficiency in the twenty-first century." Kubrick developed it in collaboration with novelist Arthur C. Clarke, another of the genre's titans, indeed "the very personification of sf. Never a 'literary' author, he nonetheless always wrote with lucidity and candour, often with grace, sometimes with a cold, sharp evocativeness that produced some of the most memorable images in sf."

Other entries tell of writers not so closely associated with traditional science fiction but highly regarded and enduringly influential in the wider world of speculative literature: Jorge Luis Borges, for instance, with his "'sense of ecstatic enclosedness in the Word Incarnate' that may be uniquely intense in world literature," or J.G. Ballard, "revered (and detested) for the corrosively inescapable vision of the late twentieth-century world, which his stories seemed not so much to reflect in a distorting mirror as (alarmingly) to reflect, for the first time, without defensive evasions."

"Originally published in physical form in 1979," writes Lithub's MH Rowe, "the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction won a Hugo award for best nonfiction book in 1980. A second edition followed in 1993, with a CD-ROM supplement a few years later. The encyclopedia won another Hugo in 1994, and a decade later began its migration online, where it launched in 2011 as a precursor to its current digital form" — albeit a far cry from a crowdsourced, objectivity-oriented resource like Wikipedia. "Making no effort to avoid the partisanship that’s a hallmark of being a fan, the SFE possesses the kind of purity you can only get from corrupt endeavors. It’s by turns cranky, self-doubting, and ultra-confident, but it couldn’t be more deeply engaged with the genre of science fiction." And if anything characterizes science-fiction fandom more than deep engagement, even the genre's most powerful imaginations haven't dreamed of it.

via Lithub

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Aldous Huxley to George Orwell: My Hellish Vision of the Future is Better Than Yours (1949)

orwell huxley

In 1949, George Orwell received a curious letter from his former high school French teacher.

Orwell had just published his groundbreaking book Nineteen Eighty-Four, which received glowing reviews from just about every corner of the English-speaking world. His French teacher, as it happens, was none other than Aldous Huxley who taught at Eton for a spell before writing Brave New World (1931), the other great 20th century dystopian novel.

Huxley starts off the letter praising the book, describing it as “profoundly important.” He continues, “The philosophy of the ruling minority in Nineteen Eighty-Four is a sadism which has been carried to its logical conclusion by going beyond sex and denying it.”




Then Huxley switches gears and criticizes the book, writing, “Whether in actual fact the policy of the boot-on-the-face can go on indefinitely seems doubtful. My own belief is that the ruling oligarchy will find less arduous and wasteful ways of governing and of satisfying its lust for power, and these ways will resemble those which I described in Brave New World.” (Listen to him read a dramatized version of the book here.)

Basically while praising Nineteen Eighty-Four, Huxley argues that his version of the future was more likely to come to pass.

In Huxley's seemingly dystopic World State, the elite amuse the masses into submission with a mind-numbing drug called Soma and an endless buffet of casual sex. Orwell’s Oceania, on the other hand, keeps the masses in check with fear thanks to an endless war and a hyper-competent surveillance state. At first blush, they might seem like they are diametrically opposed but, in fact, an Orwellian world and a Huxleyan one are simply two different modes of oppression.

Obviously we are nowhere near either dystopic vision but the power of both books is that they tap into our fears of the state. While Huxley might make you look askance at The Bachelor or Facebook, Orwell makes you recoil in horror at the government throwing around phrases like "enhanced interrogation" and "surgical drone strikes."

You can read Huxley’s full letter below.

Wrightwood. Cal.

21 October, 1949

Dear Mr. Orwell,

It was very kind of you to tell your publishers to send me a copy of your book. It arrived as I was in the midst of a piece of work that required much reading and consulting of references; and since poor sight makes it necessary for me to ration my reading, I had to wait a long time before being able to embark on Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Agreeing with all that the critics have written of it, I need not tell you, yet once more, how fine and how profoundly important the book is. May I speak instead of the thing with which the book deals — the ultimate revolution? The first hints of a philosophy of the ultimate revolution — the revolution which lies beyond politics and economics, and which aims at total subversion of the individual's psychology and physiology — are to be found in the Marquis de Sade, who regarded himself as the continuator, the consummator, of Robespierre and Babeuf. The philosophy of the ruling minority in Nineteen Eighty-Four is a sadism which has been carried to its logical conclusion by going beyond sex and denying it. Whether in actual fact the policy of the boot-on-the-face can go on indefinitely seems doubtful. My own belief is that the ruling oligarchy will find less arduous and wasteful ways of governing and of satisfying its lust for power, and these ways will resemble those which I described in Brave New World. I have had occasion recently to look into the history of animal magnetism and hypnotism, and have been greatly struck by the way in which, for a hundred and fifty years, the world has refused to take serious cognizance of the discoveries of Mesmer, Braid, Esdaile, and the rest.

Partly because of the prevailing materialism and partly because of prevailing respectability, nineteenth-century philosophers and men of science were not willing to investigate the odder facts of psychology for practical men, such as politicians, soldiers and policemen, to apply in the field of government. Thanks to the voluntary ignorance of our fathers, the advent of the ultimate revolution was delayed for five or six generations. Another lucky accident was Freud's inability to hypnotize successfully and his consequent disparagement of hypnotism. This delayed the general application of hypnotism to psychiatry for at least forty years. But now psycho-analysis is being combined with hypnosis; and hypnosis has been made easy and indefinitely extensible through the use of barbiturates, which induce a hypnoid and suggestible state in even the most recalcitrant subjects.

Within the next generation I believe that the world's rulers will discover that infant conditioning and narco-hypnosis are more efficient, as instruments of government, than clubs and prisons, and that the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging and kicking them into obedience. In other words, I feel that the nightmare of Nineteen Eighty-Four is destined to modulate into the nightmare of a world having more resemblance to that which I imagined in Brave New World. The change will be brought about as a result of a felt need for increased efficiency. Meanwhile, of course, there may be a large scale biological and atomic war — in which case we shall have nightmares of other and scarcely imaginable kinds.

Thank you once again for the book.

Yours sincerely,

Aldous Huxley

via Letters of Note

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in March, 2015.

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Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring lots of pictures of badgers and even more pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads.  The Veeptopus store is here.

An Asbestos-Bound, Fireproof Edition of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (1953)

Even by the extreme standards of dystopian fiction, the premise of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 can seem a little absurd. Firemen whose job is to set fires? A society that bans all books? Written less than a decade after the fall of the Third Reich, which announced its evil intentions with book burnings, the novel explicitly evokes the kind of totalitarianism that seeks to destroy culture—and whole peoples—with fire. But not even the Nazis banned all books. Not a few academics and writers survived or thrived in Nazi Germany by hewing to the ideological orthodoxy (or at least not challenging it), which, for all its terrifying irrationalism, kept up some semblance of an intellectual veneer.

The novel also recalls the Soviet variety of state repression. But the Party apparatus also allowed a publishing industry to operate, under its strict constraints. Nonetheless, Soviet censorship is legendary, as is the survival of banned literature through self-publishing and memorization, vividly represented by the famous line in Mikhail Bulgokov’s The Master and Margarita, “Manuscripts don’t burn.”




Bulgakov, writes Nathaniel Rich at Guernica, is saying that “great literature… is fireproof. It survives its critics, its censors, and even the passage of time.” Bulgakov wrote from painful experience. When his diary was discovered by the NKVD in 1929, then returned to him, he “promptly burned it.” Sometime afterward, during the long composition of his posthumously published novel, he burned the manuscript, then later reconstructed it from memory.

These examples bring to mind the exiled intellectuals in Bradbury’s novel, who have memorized whole books in order to one day reconstruct literary culture. Europe’s totalitarian regimes provide essential background for the novel’s plot and imagery, but its key context, Bradbury himself noted in a 1956 radio interview, was the anti-Communist paranoia of the U.S. in the early 1950s. “Too many people were afraid of their shadows,” he said, “there was a threat of book burning. Many of the books were being taken off the shelves at that time.” Reading the novel as a chilling vision of a future when all books are banned and burned makes the artifact pictured above particularly poignant—an edition of Fahrenheit 451 bound in fireproof asbestos.

Released in 1953 by Ballantine in a limited run of two-hundred signed copies, the books were “bound in Johns-Manville Qinterra,” notes Lauren Davis at io9, “a chrysolite asbestos material.” Now the fireproof covers, with their “exceptional resistance to pyrolysis,” are “much sought after by collectors” and go for upwards of $20,000. A fireproof Fahrenheit 451, on the one hand, can seem a little gimmicky (its pages still burn, after all). But it’s also the perfect manifestation of a literal interpretation of the novel as a story about banning and book burning. All of us who have read the novel have likely read it this way, as a vision of a repressive totalitarian nightmare. As such, it feels like a product of mid-twentieth century fears.

Rather than fearing mass book burnings, we seem, in the 21st century, on the verge of being washed away in a sea of information (and dis- and mis-information). We are inundated with writing—in print and online—such that some of us despair of ever finding time to read the accumulating piles of books and articles that daily surround us, physically and virtually. But although books are still published in the millions, with sales rising, falling, then rising again, the number of people who actually read seems in danger of rapidly diminishing. And this, Bradbury also said, was his real fear. “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture,” he claimed, “just get people to stop reading them.”

We’ve misread Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury told us in his later years. It is an allegory, a symbolic representation of a grossly dumbed-down society, hugely oppressive and destructive in its own way. The firemen are not literal government agents but symbolic of the forces of mass distraction, which disseminate "factoids," lies, and half-truths as substitutes for knowledge. The novel, he said, is actually about people “being turned into morons by TV.” Add to this the proliferating amusements of the online world, video games, etc. and we can see Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 not as a dated representation of 40s fascism or 50s repression, but as a too-relevant warning to a distractible society that devalues and destroys education and factual knowledge even as we have more access than ever to literature of every kind.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Stanley Kubrick Explains the Mysterious Ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey in a Newly Unearthed Interview

During the making of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, "the film’s narrative trajectory pointed inexorably toward a big ending, even a revelation, but Kubrick kept changing his mind about what that ending would be — and nobody who saw the film knew quite what to make of the one he finally chose." Those words come from a piece by The New Yorker's Dan Chiasson, published to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the film's release. Since then, generations of viewers have interpreted 2001, and especially its ending, in their own way. But these debates over meaning may all change now that Kubrick's own interpretation seems to have surfaced.

Not only that, it turns out to differ markedly from most of the ones in circulation. "I’ve tried to avoid doing this ever since the picture came out," Kubrick tells journalist Junichi Yaoi when the latter asks what 2001's ending means.




"When you just say the ideas they sound foolish, whereas if they’re dramatized one feels it, but I’ll try." He then reveals his view of the concept behind it:

The idea was supposed to be that he is taken in by god-like entities, creatures of pure energy and intelligence with no shape or form. They put him in what I suppose you could describe as a human zoo to study him, and his whole life passes from that point on in that room. And he has no sense of time. It just seems to happen as it does in the film. 

They choose this room, which is a very inaccurate replica of French architecture (deliberately so, inaccurate) because one was suggesting that they had some idea of something that he might think was pretty, but wasn’t quite sure. Just as we’re not quite sure what do in zoos with animals to try to give them what they think is their natural environment.

Anyway, when they get finished with him, as happens in so many myths of all cultures in the world, he is transformed into some kind of super being and sent back to Earth, transformed and made some kind of superman. We have to only guess what happens when he goes back. It is the pattern of a great deal of mythology, and that is what we were trying to suggest.

This makes sense, or at least as much sense as any of the better interpretations of 2001's ending out there. Drawing explicitly on ancient mythology has become standard practice for big-budget spectacles, especially after Star Wars did it to much greater commercial success almost a decade later, but in development the idea must have seemed radical. Some will take Kubrick's explanation as definitive, and others, subscribing to a different philosophy of artistic creation, will show no more interest in it than they do in Ridley Scott's personal views on whether Deckard is a replicant.

The mysterious nature of the interview clip itself, a piece of the footage gathered in 1980 for a never-released Japanese documentary, suits the nature of the revelation. We see only Yaoi as he interviews Kubrick over the phone, but not, according to Pixar director and Kubrick superfan Lee Unkrich, because the director wasn't there. Unkrich posted to Reddit that, as the Warner Brothers publicist who toured the Japanese crew around told him, "Stanley was actually at the studio that day, but didn’t want to meet with the crew and be interviewed on camera." So even though we hear his voice on the phone, "he’s actually just in another office!"

But then, nobody ever accused Kubrick of possessing conventional habits, personal or professional. Not that a conventional mind could ever have directed the film that 2001: A Space Odyssey turned out to be, one that, in Chiasson's words, "took for granted a broad cultural tolerance, if not an appetite, for enigma, as well as the time and inclination for parsing interpretive mysteries." Kubrick might have completed the film with his own ideas about the meaning of everything in it, but he surely knew, and respected, that everyone who saw it would also come out of the theater with their own.

via Metafilter

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Watch the Winners of the 48 Hour Science Fiction Film Challenge: The 2018 Edition

Writes Metafilter: "Every year, as part of their science fiction film festival, Sci-Fi London organise a challenge in which entrants are given a title, line of dialogue and description of a prop, and then have 48 hours to turn in a completed 5 minute film or piece of flash fiction. The winning films and flash fiction stories from the SciFi London 48 Hour Challenge are now available to watch and read." The first place film winner you can view above. Find other winning entries via the links below:

THE FILM CHALLENGE:

THE FLASH FICTION CHALLENGE:

Enjoy.

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