Science fiction is difficult to define. Experts of this genre take it as an object of study in order to understand its relationship with science, technology, politics, and culture at large. Its studies were started as a discipline with the publication of academic journals like Extrapolation (1959), Foundation – The International Review of Science Fiction (1972), and Science Fiction Studies (1973). In present times, this well-established genre of literature somehow lets us think about the world, as well as the universe where we live. In this regard, science plays an important role, as the writers of science fiction depend on the scientific aspects for their writings.
Science fiction is based on science, scientific technology, and scientism. Science is the sum of knowledge. Science fiction commonly uses techniques from the realistic as well as the fantastic tradition of narrative to tell a story which is relevant, implicit, or explicit in the mind, the content or the methods of science and technology.
However, science fiction is, sometimes, harshly critical of science; it abounds with cautionary parables of the misuse of technology, dangers of social and genetic engineering, and so forth. Whether the attitude is positive or negative makes no real difference. The mega-text is the same. Whether a story dwells on the wonders of exploring the universe or on the horrors of tampering with the universe, it is science fiction.
In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, science plays an important role. In Victor’s education as a man of science and his experimental creation of a synthetic human creature through the reanimation of desperate dead body parts, the novel establishes and assesses several distinct kinds of experimental investigation into the meaning of life, some associated with modern science, other with Renaissance alchemy and the occult. Maurice Hindle, in this regard, remarked that early 19th century science had much more of an impact on the genesis and substance of Frankenstein than is normally noticed or even followed by literary critics. Since then, some excellent works by scholars have broadened our understanding of how Shelley had an active interest in some important scientific debates of her time concerning electricity and the origin of life.
No doubt, Shelley had taken a keen interest in the representation of science in the composition and revision of her novel. In the years when the novel was in its formative stage (1815-1818), literary journals discussed a variety of scientific topics such as electricity and magnetism. From her diaries of 1816, we are able to know about her study of scientific works and her enthusiastic commentary on such issues. Frankenstein was based directly on the works of three scientists: Humphry Davy, Erasmus Darwin, and Luigi Galvani. From Davy’s pamphlet A Discourse: Introductory to the Lectures of Chemistry, and his textbook Elements of Chemical Philosophy, Shelley derived her portrait of Professor Waldman and her chemical terminology. From Darwin, Shelley derived her belief that a good scientist attempts not to alter the workings of Nature, but to observe her process closely in order to understand her. From Darwin’s theory, we see the pitfalls of Frankenstein’s science. Not only is he a bad scientist for tampering with Nature, but he also moves down the evolutionary ladder, suturing his creature from both human and animal body parts. From the work of Galvani, Shelley derived Victor Frankenstein’s scientific experiments. Galvani discovered animal bio-electricity. He observed that a stimulation of a frog’s nerve causes contraction of the muscles to which it is attached. The scientific community was excited by the potential use of this new force, and research was conducted throughout Europe on the application of electricity to induce and sustain life. Mary Shelley used this fact in her novel. Victor Frankenstein, as a young boy, becomes obsessed with studying theories about what gives humans their life spark, in this, he reflects the tendencies of the period. He starts experimenting on this fact, and, as a result, creates the monster. He experiments with electricity and uses amniotic liquid to give life to the monster.
Frankenstein is a powerful critique of the early modern science revolution: of scientific thinking as such, the psychology of the modern scientist and the commitment of science to discover the ‘objective truth’, whatever the consequence is. Further, Frankenstein shares with early modern science the assumption that Nature is the only matter that can be rearranged at the will of the scientist.
Victor Frankenstein’s experiment, as the world knows by now, doesn’t succeed. This is not merely because the creature turns on him, but also because Mother Nature fights back. She destroys Victor’s health. This is because Victor tries to go against the normal biological process of reproduction. He tries to usurp from Nature the female power of biological reproduction, to create a male womb. Therefore, he couldn’t succeed in his experiment for he was actually contesting God by trying to create a new creation myth.