Tuesday, 17 April 2018

SF Cliches And Poul Anderson

The mad scientist and his beautiful daughter.
Other individual inventors, not necessarily insane, e.g., Frankenstein, the Time Traveler, Cavor, the Invisible Man.
The artificial intelligence that threatens or even destroys its human creator.
Hostile green humanoid aliens.

This line of thinking was occasioned by the fact that the mad scientist in Leslie Charteris' "The Man Who Liked Ants" (see here) has a beautiful - wait for it - niece!

Frankenstein and its theme of the social role of scientists were, of course, not a cliche but the beginning of modern science fiction. In Poul Anderson's Genesis, not only do post-organic intelligences succeed humanity but one such intelligence even emulates Frankenstein by recreating humanity.

Individual inventors were a nineteenth century phenomenon but Poul Anderson probably has one or two in his short stories.

Anderson's space opera included FTL interstellar travel via hyperspace and green Merseian antagonists of the Terran Empire. His History of Technic Civilization transforms these cliches into an original "quantum jumps" rationale for "hyperspace" and an analysis of the decline and fall of civilizations.


Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

An evil or mad scientist with a beautiful niece is a change from the more customary beautiful daughter! (Smiles)

I KNOW Poul Anderson wrote some stories featuring scientists, not necessarily mad or even bad, independently making discoveries. I simply have to recall some. "Night Piece" is one example. The non-human alien humanoid stranded on Earth as an infant in "Earthman, Beware" is another example. I've also thought of "The Little Monster," where the Spanish scientist running a lab working on a device which send people 1.5 years into the past has a NEPHEW.

I'm sure more examples can be found from the works of Anderson if I made a detailed scrutiny.


S.M. Stirling said...

SF as a commercial genre arose at about the same time that the "individual inventor" was supplanted to a degree by organized R&D. Most of the great 19th century scientists and technologists were loners - certainly plugged into a community of ideas, but working mostly on their own. Watt, Darwin, Brunel, Maxwell, Lord Kelvin and so forth.

With Edison, you see a transition -- he organized the first "invention factory", the Menlo Park labs that were set up to systematically produce inventions to order when he decided to tackle a problem. Edison was brilliant, but largely self-educated; he hired men with formal training to fill in his gaps.

Not that it's either-or. You still get basement (or garage) geniuses upending things. But as science has developed, the answers get harder and harder and require more and more organized effort and equipment. Nobody's going to build a particle accelerator or a deep-space telescope in their garage.

Though the -patrons- of inventors and researchers are often individuals with driven, individual motivations; Elon Musk comes to mind. He's an entrepreneur, like Edison, but his -motivations- are extra-economic. The money is a means, not an end -- there are far easier ways to pile up cash than trying to make Mars rockets.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Dear Mr. Stirling,

I agree with the examples you listed. I would have included Louis Pasteur and Abbot Gregor Mendel as well, because of their pioneering, groundbreaking work in chemistry and genetics. Albeit it took time for Mendel's work to be grasped.

Well, I kinda hope somebody will invent a FTL drive in his garage! (Smiles)

And I'm glad we have somebody like Elon Musk, using great wealth as a means of achieving far greater things than merely getting rich. I hope so much he succeeds in his efforts to reach Mars!