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Kelly Lagor

Fiction and Excerpts [1]
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Fiction and Excerpts [1]

On the Origins of Modern Biology and the Fantastic: Part 6 — John W. Campbell, James Watson, and Francis Crick

“This is a member of a supremely intelligent race, a race that has learned the deepest secrets of biology, and turned them to its use.” – Blair, Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell, Jr.

In Who Goes There? (1938) a group of scientists in an isolated Antarctica research station find a monstrous creature frozen in the ice which, when thawed, grows murderous while perfectly mimicking people down to their deepest of cellular structures. The isolated setting and ominous threat to humanity make it a deeply paranoid and claustrophobic story, in which the scientists must pool their collective expertise to save the world. It was the best thing John. W. Campbell ever wrote (and was later adapted for film as The Thing From Another Planet in 1951, then again as The Thing in 1982 and 2011), and the year of its publication marked a turning point in the history of science fiction—the start of the “Golden Age.”

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On the Origins of Modern Biology and the Fantastic: Part 5 — Olaf Stapledon and the Modern Synthesis

“It displayed the delicacy and brilliance, the intricacy and harmony of a live thing. Strange that in my remoteness I seemed to feel, as never before, the vital presence of Earth as of a creature alive but tranced and obscurely yearning to wake.” —Olaf Stapledon, Star Maker (1937)

William Olaf Stapledon’s Star Maker is a novel about perspective. It opens with a nameless narrator standing upon a hill, gazing up at the stars, when he is astral projected to another world where he encounters a new race of beings. In learning about their history, he merges with one of their consciousnesses, then flits to another world, then another, becoming a veritable Katamari Damacy of perspectives, growing ever larger, until the universe becomes a single awareness turning its perspective towards its maker. The book blends pulp space opera sensibilities and telepathy with a Modernist slant, written by a social worker, an educator, an activist and a philosopher, who turned to science fiction to bring his visionary ideas to a larger audience—albeit one who didn’t quite yet know what they held in their hands.

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A Scientist Explains What Happens After the Ending to Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

When Michael Crichton wrote Jurassic Park in the late ’80s, he pulled from a wide range of biological knowledge at the time to envision a (surprisingly) realistic picture of what bringing back an extinct species, like a dinosaur, might look like. To bring one back from the dead would require methods from genetics, molecular biology, genomics, and cell biology (to name a few), and to set them up to survive would require knowledge of ecology and evolution. On top of that, creating a suitable habitat would require numerous other disciplines including botany, paleontology, mathematics and computer science. Finally, if one adds in the additional complications of turning the whole thing into an amusement park to generate enough funds to keep the whole thing going, it’s no wonder Dr. Malcolm kept going on and on about the danger of inherent instabilities in complex systems. In the end, Dr. Malcolm turned out to be right, and the smart money was absolutely on life finding a way.

[Warning: contains spoilers for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom]

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On the Origins of Modern Biology and the Fantastic: Part 4 — Edgar Rice Burroughs and Theodosius Dobzhansky

Science and science fiction are indelibly intertwined, each inspiring the other since their modern birth in the Victorian Era. Good science fiction, like a sound scientific theory, involves thorough worldbuilding, avoids logical inconsistencies, and progressively deeper interrogations reveal further harmonies. This series explores the connection between the evolution of biology and science fiction into the modern era.

“I have ever been prone to seek adventure and to investigate and experiment where wiser men would have left well enough alone.” —John Carter, A Princess of Mars

Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom is a dying world, where competition for diminishing resources has encouraged the devolution of the surviving species into a hardened and warlike state. John Carter, a cavalry officer who falls asleep in a cave in Arizona and is astral projected to Barsoom, must fight for what he thinks is is right, sometimes save the world, and always get the girl. From 1912 to 1941, readers of the pulp magazines followed John Carter, his descendants, and various other characters through alien landscapes filled with romance and danger, peppered with plant monsters, brain creatures, and 15-foot-tall telepathic four-armed martians with radium guns riding atop galloping lizard dogs—a world where men were strong, women were prone to fainting, and the bad guys’ mustaches itched for a good twirling.

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On the Origins of Modern Biology and the Fantastic: Part 3 — Aldous Huxley and Thomas Hunt Morgan

Science and science fiction are indelibly intertwined, each inspiring the other since their modern birth in the Victorian Era. Good science fiction, like a sound scientific theory, involves thorough worldbuilding, avoids logical inconsistencies, and progressively deeper interrogations reveal further harmonies. This series explores the connection between the evolution of biology and science fiction into the modern era.

“It isn’t only art that is incompatible with happiness, it’s also science. Science is dangerous, we have to keep it most carefully chained and muzzled.” —Mustapha Mond, Brave New World

Brave New World (1932) is set in a world that is built with, dependent upon, and terrified of science. Humans are manufactured on assembly lines. The shape of their lives and their intelligence are determined through the addition of mutagens during in vitro fetal development. During childhood, their personalities, likes and dislikes are conditioned during sleep with subliminal messaging to produce a perfect and completely replaceable cog that knows only work and pleasure in a utopia of the unquestioning. It is a science fictional dystopia, written by the grandson of Darwin’s bulldog, with a title drawn from a line in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, partly inspired by the British scientist J.B.S. Haldane’s 1926 lecture, Daedalus; or, Science and the Future, and a response to industrial and political totalitarianism. As a piece of literature, it is a mash-up of legacies—of Wells and science fiction, of Darwin and Mendel and biology, of Henry Ford and Sigmund Freud, of the Victorian era itself—which perfectly captures the the complex feelings of hope and anxiety that marked the time between the turn of the 20th century and the start of the second World War.

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On the Origins of Modern Biology and the Fantastic: Part 2 – Wells and Mendel

Science and science fiction are indelibly intertwined, each inspiring the other since their modern birth in the Victorian Era. Good science fiction, like a sound scientific theory, involves thorough worldbuilding avoids logical inconsistencies, and progressively deeper interrogations reveal further harmonies. This series explores the connection between the evolution of biology and science fiction into the modern era.

“For I, in my own part, cannot think that these latter days of weak experiment, fragmentary theory, and mutual discord are indeed man’s culminating time.” –H.G. Wells, The Time Machine

At the end of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine (1895), the nameless time traveler stands alone on a beach at the end of the world, watching the sun go out. re escaped thirty million years into the future from the effete Eloi and cannibalistic Morlocks of the year 802,701 only to find their descendants—pale butterflies and giant crab-monsters – still locked in their hopeless predator-prey struggle on this terminal beach. Wells conjured this broken utopia through the evolutionary extrapolation of the class struggle he experienced firsthand growing up in order to tell an extraordinary story about time, consequence, and inevitability.

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On the Origins of Modern Biology and the Fantastic: Part 1 – Verne and Darwin

“We may brave human laws, but we cannot resist natural ones.” –Captain Nemo in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea

Science and science fiction are indelibly intertwined, each inspiring the other since their modern birth in the Victorian Era. Both employ similar feats of the imagination—to hold an idea of a world in your mind, and test the boundaries of that world through experimentation. In the case of science, you formulate a theory and conduct a series of tests against that theory to see if it can be disproved by the results. In the case of science fiction, you formulate a reality, and conduct characters through the logical implications of that reality. Good science fiction, like a sound scientific theory, involves thorough worldbuilding, avoids logical inconsistencies, and progressively deeper interrogations reveal further harmonies. This series will explore the connection between the evolution of biology and science fiction into the modern era.

[Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea starts with a mystery.]

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