Why is Frankenstein SF?

In class, Professor Sample suggested that science fiction (SF) is often about voyages, both literal and metaphorical. It’s easy to see why this might be the case: if humans possess a primal urge to venture into the unknown, science—and its handmaiden, technology—has been, and is still, essential to fueling that drive. However, the voyage narrative is not exclusive to SF. So if it isn’t just the voyage in Frankenstein that makes it SF, what does? It can’t really be Mary Shelley’s rigorous application of scientific principles to advance her story because she doesn’t. As the editors point out, James Rieger once remarked that “[T]he technological plausibility that is essential to science fiction is not even pretended here” (p. 17). I was especially surprised at how little time Shelley spent on the process of creating the monster. So why do scholars point to this novel as one of the earliest examples of a SF novel?

I think it has to do with one of the central themes in the book, namely, the dangers of unbridled ambition. I haven’t read the whole book yet, but I wonder if Shelley’s Frankenstein isn’t a cautionary tale about the unintended consequences of scientific progress—a theme that has resurfaced in many SF classics since (esp. dystopian ones). I wish I had more to substantiate that thought, but as I’m only half way through the book, I can’t be sure. What do you think? Why is this novel considered SF?



One Response to “Why is Frankenstein SF?”

  1. Josh Ambrose wrote::

    I think this is a great question and like you, I share many of your observations (re voyages, technology, etc).

    I really like the idea of “unbridled ambition” being a hallmark of science fiction. Can you think of any counter-examples?

    Maybe it’s a sum of parts equation, where all of the elements don’t equate science fiction on their own, but when combined, they do.

    Thursday, September 8, 2011 at 1:09 pm #    Reply