What is science fiction? Today my first thought of sci-fi usually involves some combination of fast flying vehicles in outer space, crazy non human or super human characters, a couple of light sabers with a touch of fantasy or romance. It’s not real. At least not in the world I live. Both Shelley and Joy’s works have led me to believe something. That the science fiction section in libraries and bookstores should be located in close proximity to the science and technology area. This not only brings to light the possibilities of the science field against what has already been accomplished but also allows for the ease of transition. Technology is ever changing step by step, and at a rapid pace in our world. We, as normal citizens, enjoying the fruits of scientist’s labor, hardly notice these changes. We may simply become excited at the news of an upgrade to our latest gadget or momentarily intrigued by a breakthrough discovery in one of the sciences. Such events are normal. It is when science attempts to skip too many steps to get to the next stage of evolution that it becomes fiction. Even as reading the enlightenment of Victor in Shelley’s novel as he decides to take the natural sciences to twist death itself, I thought, ‘It’s the 18th century, people don’t even know what dying is yet and you’re already trying to reverse its results.’ I know the statement sounds silly but it proves a point. That fiction involves science outside or ahead of its time.
That being said, what makes Joy’s essay non-fiction and Shelley’s novel fiction? Joy does in fact spend a great portion of his essay discussing possible futures of the human race either being closely intertwined with that of robotic beings or becoming extinct at the hands of its own creation. Yet this is not fact. It is speculation. Joy makes convincing arguments, tossing theories around but supporting them with not only the existence of current sciences but suggesting a timeline. It is a rather broad timeline ranging from millions of years in the future to just over a decade in the future but it is a timeline. This is where speculation turns into believability. Believability combined with just enough truth places Joy’s arguments as an essay in the non-fiction genre. Why not Frankenstein?
Shelley is in effect, making a similar argument to Joy. An argument accompanied by a vivid account of a young fictional scientist. She was simply lacking in the believability aspect, taking science far beyond that of an 18th century context. The argument is the key though. Shelley explores the consequence of scientific expansion as her character Victor toils over a lifeless body expecting to reverse the effects of death. He does this without any thought to its consequences, at least none of the negative ones. This is evident when his mindset changes and he realizes a little too late that what had become his life, his child was now simply a wretched monster in his eyes. One could “cough” that mistake up to youthful ignorance, but what he did next was completely irresponsible in terms of scientific exploration. He left his experiment to roam free. It was an uncontrolled experiment that would cost him dearly. When he had the chance to stop this mistake he didn’t take it and it inevitably destroyed him, mentally and emotionally. Joy expresses this same concern. That we could be blindly throwing ourselves into science and technology exploration that could very well be our demise.
With this information acknowledged, how can we not accept Shelley’s novel as more than just literature? Strip Shelley’s novel of sub plots and characters and we have Joy’s arguments and concerns 200 years early. Add the first self replicating robot to Joy’s essay and we have the 21st century Frankenstein. It is as if they are interchangeable yet we have the natural tendency to consider one work more seriously over the other. If by changing this mindset can we learn to appreciate information, warnings, and insights from all venues of literature?