FROM FRANKENSTEIN TO ALGERNON: on Gary Wolfe’s How Great Science Fiction Works

This audio course is an interesting and enjoyable listen. It gives us a useful basic history of the field and overview of important themes. The treatment is synthetic and unified and much ground is covered. It made me discover new aspects of the past history of the genre and did a good job on recent and contemporary trends. The danger in this sort of survey is in getting bogged down in simply summarising a lot of material rather than analysing it. This is my only regret, that the proportion of analysis to summary was too low. However, given the ambitious scope of the course, this was perhaps inevitable. The 24 lectures amount to 12 hours of listening, and more analysis would have doubled the duration. It is a merit of the course that it leaves us eager for more.

Gary Wolfe sees in Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN as the precursor of modern science fiction in its abandon of all supernaturalism. This emphasis on naturalistic explanation is associated with another contemporary theme, that of the divorce between science and conscience. He ends with a discussion of FLOWERS OF ALGERNON as an example of how a work can unite both science fictional and literary worlds, both speculation and aethetics, and so open up new possibilities for thought and feeling.

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