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Blinded Me With Sci-Fi: Ridley Scott’s “Prophets of Science Fiction”

What It Is…
That today’s science and medical technologies were once only figments in the realm of the fantastic is something we all know but often take for granted. For instance, everyone knows the name “Frankenstein”, the doctor and the cadaverous namesake it represents, but details of the idea’s inception are lost in time to the public at large. Science Channel remedies that with a new series focusing specifically on the writers who imagined a future that in many instances has come to pass. “Prophets of Science Fiction” is presented by producer/director Ridley Scott who, as the creator of such modern Sci-Fi classics as “Alien” and “Blade Runner”, is totally at home in the genre. He uses his on-screen time to tie the strands of biographical and technological information – presented by numerous interviewees and graphic sources – into a cohesive package. The format has the feel of two of my favorite BBC series James Burke’s “Connections” and “The Day The Universe Changed”. Those shows presented the lineage of invention through seemingly disparate thought threads and varied serendipities which rendered unexpected and ingenious outcomes.

Episode 1 Preview – Mary Shelly
As the de facto mother of science fiction literature Mary Shelly is the natural subject of the premiere episode. Only a teenager in 1816 when she began her novel as a challenge to out scare her husband Percy and their summer companions Dr. John Polidori and Lord Byron, Mary imagined the story which became “Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus” when completed two years later.

At first published anonymously, Shelly went on to embrace her authorship and bid her “hideous progeny go forth and prosper”. Prosper it did with multiple editions in her lifetime and innumerable adaptations and co-optings in the nearly two centuries since. Even the story’s genesis during that “haunted summer” at Lake Geneva has been explored on film as the stylish Victorian prologue to James Whale’s 1935 “Bride of Frankenstein and the psychosis of Ken Russell’s “Gothic”.

As prescient as she was it’s unlikely Mrs. Shelly could have foreseen Frankenberry breakfast cereal or Herman Munster as she formulated her tale of science gone wrong cloaked in the stench of the charnel house.

The episode explores the science fact of “Frankenstein” from the early electrical experiments of Luigi Galvani to Dr. Reggie Edgerton’s spinal cord research and looks at the work of the Human Genome Project and genetic cartographers, as well as those on a quest to create artificial intelligence. L.A. Chief Coroner Harvey describes the “gray area” between somatic death and molecular death and the harvesting of tissue and organs for transplant.

On the creative side Shelly biographers relate how the teenager’s personal experiences; her mother’s death after her birth; familial alienation; and the loss of her own first born, filter their way into the story, often in the personality of “the monster”. The subtext being a tale of parental abandonment.

The series premieres tonight (Nov 9, 2011) on Science Channel @ 10PM EST.

SkeletonPete Says…
Ahh, a series after my own heart. Something to truly relish. I am and have always been fascinated with process vs. product, often more interested in reading the biography of an author than their actual works. “Prophets of Science Fiction” brings to light the personal and contemporaneous catalysts of these visionary creators and nicely interpolates the historical and fictional with the latter day science they prognosticated. I’m very much looking forward to upcoming episodes highlighting H.G. Wells, Isac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Philip K. Dick, Robert Heinlein, Jules Verne, and even “newbie” George Lucas.

How about a similar spin on horror writers like Lovecraft, Poe, Bierce, Blackwood and King hosted by the likes of John Carpenter, Wes Craven or George Romero.

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