3/25/2010

It's still Ada Lovelace Day somewhere!


I'm late in posting my Ada Lovelace Day post, but I've managed it in the end.

To celebrate Ada Lovelace Day, which draws attention to the contributions of women to the fields of science and technology, I chose to read Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley, and comment thereupon. Confession: I've only managed to get about halfway through the book. It's not that it isn't interesting, mind you. There's a lot to think about when you're reading it: symbolism (oy, such symbolism, symbolism for everybody, step right up and get your symbolism), theme, plot, characterization, setting, and oh did I mention symbolism? It's just that tastes have changed, and the leisurely pace of plot developments and the endless paragraphs of lush (even, dare I say it, turgid) description tend to make it heavy going. You should give it a go, if only to say you were brave enough and principled enough to read for yourself something that most people only know about. (Don't expect a ripping read, though.)

However, despite the fact that the book is not exactly entertaining, it is real speculative fiction, real science fiction, in exactly the same way that anything by Asimov or Clarke or Heinlein is. But it was written in the early 1800s (published in 1818, specifically). By a woman. Who was also a social outcast, at a time when that was a genuine hardship. (It's no fun now, but at least you can earn a living, and, thanks to the Internet, find friends amongst the other outcasts.) She ignored the expectations, even pressures, that kept women from admitting they were interested in science, or acknowledging, even to themselves, that they were capable of thinking about it in any worthwhile way.

The book's great strength is, in fact, that it isn't afraid to grab hold of its characters' real conflicts about science and technology — conflicts that are part of what we have all become. She was there when the Industrial Revolution was changing everything, everything. She watched the rise of those who benefitted, and the fall of those who could not, for one reason or another. What would she write about now, when the powers of scientists seem even more huge and creepy than they did two hundred years ago? Victor Frankenstein would not have stitched his monster together from spare parts; rather, he would have cultured the tissues from genetically modified cells and created God only knows what. But the fears would be the same, wouldn't they? Can we control what we've done? Can we, flawed beings, make things more perfect than ourselves, or are our efforts doomed to yield only warped mockeries and demons? Should we even try?

Shelley had a remarkable and mainly painful life — is it that writers have more painful lives than, say, plumbers, or just that we hear about it more because they write about it?

On what's left of Ada Lovelace Day, or in retrospect, spare a thought for Mary Shelley, the first published woman spec-fic author (as far as I know).

(For more about Ada Lovelace Day, go to http://findingada.com/.)

1 Comments:

At 10:17 PM, Blogger Houston said...

ht, but there were a few female Gothic writers (do they count as Spec Fic if they write horror?) who seem to predate Mary Shelley (1797 – 1851)

Eliza Parsons (1739 – 1811)

Ann Radcliffe (1764 – 1823)

Parsons had a rough life too: her husband died in 1790 after suffering a stroke, her second eldest died in the military, one of her daughters died in 1803 and her youngest son in 1804 passed. She began to write novels in order to support her large family.

Radcliffe, on the other hand, turned her hand to writing because she was bored. Unusually for the time, her husband encouraged her. He was a journalist.

There have always been brave and talented and brave women - a fine tradition you belong to, Laura :-)

 

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