Frankenstein and progress

Posted: November 1, 2013 in cultural commentary, reading
Tags: , , , , ,

This morning I caught up with recent episodes of Thug Notes, including an episode on Frankenstein. It’s years since I’ve read Frankenstein, but it still gave me fresh food for thought just by bouncing my brain back towards Shelley’s classic.

Frankenstein remains a powerful story for me. It shows a difficult journey for both the monster and his creator, and I like a rich seam of darkness in my culture. Some people talk about how dark science fiction has become in recent years. Where’s the optimism, they ask? Where’s the light? And that’s fair enough, but for a genre that arguably started with Shelley’s bleak book, is it really so weird that we sometimes get brooding?

The light in the monster's life?

The light in the monster’s life?

But the thing this really made me think about is progress. Not so much the story’s own reflections on progress and its flaws, though it’s an interesting theme. But rather how writing has progressed in the past couple of hundred years. However much Frankenstein might be a powerful work of genius, the writing and plotting can seem clumsy by modern standards. And I don’t think this is just a matter of shifting tastes, or of our sensibilities being worn down to blandness by popular culture. I think that, as a culture, we’ve learned how better to excite readers, how to play more vigorously on their heartstrings and imaginations.

Not all change in culture is progress. Variety and loving the old is great. But the progress is there. New techniques are there. We are learning.

The reasons I’m not likely to re-read Frankenstein are the same reasons why I gave up on listening to an Arthur C Clarke book – the writing style just isn’t as engaging as most modern writing. Those old books just can’t hook me in as well. And you know what? That’s a great thing. We’re progressing. We’re getting better at what we do. Because human beings are awesome, and that’s where I see the light in science fiction.

Any thoughts? Am I right? Am I ignorant? Does Frankenstein bring the monster in you to life? Let me know, leave a comment.

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