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Tag Archive: Mary Shelley


Review by C.J. Bunce

Lists, and by extension, books with lists, are the stuff that sprout conversation.  Sometimes good conversation, sometimes knock-down-drag-outs, but always something to talk about.  We saw that last month in our look at Must-See Sci-Fi: 50 Movies that Are Out of This World, and it applies to Scott Christianson and Colin Salter’s new audacious work, 100 Books that Changed the World This book is not merely a list of books, but an argument supporting why the authors think each book merits recognition.  After all, with more than 2 million new books published each year (300,000 per year in the U.S. alone) and documented writings going back thousands of years, whittling them all down to 100 is a bit daunting at a minimum.  Grade schoolers, college liberal arts and sciences majors, and everyone else has probably encountered a list like this before, usually styled the “greatest,” “most influential,” or “most significant” books ever written.  Ultimately, readers may find the compilation of 100 books that “changed the world” results in a very similar set of books.

What would make your list?  You can probably list 20 included without much work.  The authors state in their preface that there are 50 books everyone would agree should be included.  Think religion and myths (the Torah, the Bible, the Quran), math and science (Euclid’s Elements of Geometry, Copernicus’s On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, Newton’s Philosophae Naturalis Principia Mathematica), philosophy and politics (Plato’s The Republic, Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man), works of fiction (Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings), classic children’s books (Aesop’s Fables, Grimm’s Fairy Tales), works of the often-disputed literary greats (I’m looking at you, James Joyce), and works of long undisputed literary masters like Homer and Shakespeare.  Yes, these are all “givens” for a list like this.  But noteworthy great additions I don’t recall seeing on a list like this before include Louis Braille’s Procedure for Writing Words, Music and Plainsong in Dots, Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat, and Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of TimeAnd no author made the list more than once, except the writers of the Bible, which appears on the list twice: for the Gutenberg Bible and the King James version.

The authors hope their book “makes you question your own choices or ours, or introduces you to a book.”  Criticisms of 100 Books that Changed the World aren’t going to be all that dire as much as simply topics for discussion.  They’re the same critiques of any list or book like this.  Thirty-seven books on the list were written by authors from England, removing the inclusion of any books from some countries.  The list is heavily back loaded, with 26 books from the 19th century and 35 books from the 20th century–explainable in part since the authors didn’t have a lot to select from the first 3,000 years covered.  The oldest book included is the I Ching, roughly 4,800 years old, and the most recent, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate by Naomi Klein, only four years old.  The late history scholar Robert E. Schofield postulated that historians cannot accurately assess the influence of a historical period unless at least 50 years has transpired, and consistent with that theory, nine books shouldn’t have made the cut, removing books like Salmon Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, Art Spiegleman’s graphic novel Maus, and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.  

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Any list of 10 or more items these days quickly becomes the stuff of argument.  But in the right context it can become the stuff of discussion and curiosity.  A list of 50 items takes some work to prepare and if that list accompanies a genre that has spanned more than a century, then it really invites discussion. Which brings us to Turner Classic Movies and Running Press’s new look at the science fiction genre in Sloan De Forest’s Must See Sci-Fi: 50 Movies That Are Out of This World This latest pop culture book to engage science fiction fans may show that, after all these years, the best and most important works of science fiction are not really all that controversial.  Yet it wouldn’t really be worth picking up if it only confirmed readers’ love for epic films.  Must-See Sci-Fi takes that next step and also serves that need of all fans of film to take another look at the classics and be open to those films we may have overlooked.

Consisting of 50 approximately 1,000 word essays on each film across 114 years, from 1902 to 2016, Must-See Sci-Fi covers the significance of each film selected in its 280 pages, including a plot overview, key memorable scenes, plus some good behind-the-scenes trivia, as well as plenty of color and black and white photographs.  From A Trip to the Moon in 1902 to Arrival in 2016, the book has a fairly consistent coverage (but weighted with more selections from the 1970s and 1980s, and the 1940s have no entries).  Most will agree with the films included from George Méliès’s groundbreaking beginning through the 1960 adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine. But controversial for one person may not be controversial for another.  De Forest presents her case for those films you might not find on other lists–many firsts of sci-fi emphasized instead of the definite look at a sub-genre, like Alphaville, Solaris, Sleeper, The Man Who Fell to Earth, THX 1138, The Brother From Another Planet, A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. One great feature is a recommendation of two “watch-alike” films after each section–If you loved a film, you have two more films to track down and compare, and if you missed a film but don’t like the two suggested films, the book may telegraph your level of enjoyment once you screen the entry.  Readers will also see the impact across a century of filmmaking from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the works of both H.G. Wells and Jules Verne on these selections.

Key to the fun of delving into science fiction film history is understanding the roots of science fiction–how modern science fiction 99% of the time derives (or combines) its story elements from key benchmarks from stories or films of the past.  As the book progresses readers can see author De Forest frequently referring back to those sources, and after 1977’s Star Wars the remaining 16 entries all seem to rely significantly on films of the past–sometimes they even appear to be merely another twist on one of the films in the first half of the book.  And yes, readers will find new discussion topics.  La Jetée may be an incredibly fascinating short film, but is it more of a “must-see” than Terry Gilliam’s update 12 Monkeys?  And how did a Woody Allen movie ever make the cut?

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First premiering at a film festival in Toronto last September, a new costume drama biopic will be slipping into theaters in the U.S. next month and UK theaters in July.  Mary Shelley is a film from a story by Emma Jensen, looking at Frankenstein author Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s romance with poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, including the famous contest in which Shelley would write in the year 1816 what has been called the most influential science fiction and horror story of all time.  Saudi Arabia’s first woman filmmaker, Haifaa al-Mansour, is directing, with Elle Fanning in the lead role.

The first trailer for the film unveils a historical drama, presenting a young cast for a new generation of Regency romance moviegoers.  Portraying 16 to 18-year-old Shelley is 18-year-old Elle Fanning (as of filming), who has impressed audiences in her short career with star roles in films Super 8, Maleficent, and the remake of The Beguiled.  Co-star Maisie Williams will be familiar to Game of Thrones and Doctor Who fans.  Mary Shelley has the look of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but without the fantasy and horror elements.  That may be thanks in part to co-star Douglas Booth as Percy Shelley, who appeared in both films, as well as Jupiter Ascending and a few historical TV dramas.  Mary Shelley also features Tom Sturridge (Far from the Madding Crowd) as Lord Byron, and Ben Hardy (X-Men: Apocalypse).

Actor Amelia Warner (Aeon Flux, Mansfield Park) composed the film’s musical score.  Kevin Downey, who worked in the art department on The Terror, Ripper Street, Little Women, and Penny Dreadful, is the film’s set decorator.  Caroline Koener is costume designer.

Here is the first trailer for Mary Shelley:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Much of the best science fiction doesn’t leave us with memorable or lovable characters so much as incredible, imaginative ideas, and prescient or prophetic visions.  When you look to science fiction’s past, examples can be found throughout the works of H.G. Wells, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Philip K. Dick, and Ray Bradbury.  Great concepts abound, like Wells’ time travel, Mary Shelley stretching the bounds–and horrors–of medical science, Dick always wrestling with the perils and annoyances of technology, and Michael Crichton finding ways to use science to change the future.  Robert J. Sawyer is a current science fiction author building on the ideas of the past, and like all of the above writers who researched the real science behind their characters, he delves deep into his subjects.  In his novel Quantum Night, now available in paperback, he has with surgical precision stitched together a tale of modern truths and horrors, bundled in a story pressing the bounds of psychology and quantum theory to explain why the world may seem to be falling apart, and offering one way to try to repair it.

In a very educational way, Quantum Night is also a refresher in Psychology 101.  Sawyer, one of only three science fiction writers ever to have won the trifecta of writing awards (the Hugo, the Nebula, and the Campbell), references every major theory and experiment from college days along with enough background in quantum theory to support a compelling thriller.  By book’s end you may find yourself staring at strangers and questioning their level of consciousness, conscience, and psychopathy.  You may be sitting next to a psychopathic individual right now, or someone with a mind that may be even more gut-wrenching to discover.  Written in 2015 and taking place in the not-so-distant future, Russian President Vladimir Putin readies to fire nuclear weapons on the United States.  A future U.S. President gets Roe v. Wade overturned, has gotten his country to turn on immigrants and then invades Canada, led by its first Muslim prime minister (here Sawyer predicts the future of the current real-life Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi), purportedly so the U.S. can secure Canada’s cities when the country no longer is able to control the flow of terrorists.

The story follows a professor of psychology who also serves as an expert witness to defend criminals who have proven to be psychopathic on both established and modern psychopathy tests.  In the latest case he is reminded of his own past on cross-examination–a past he refuses to believe.  As he re-traces his memories he learns his volunteering for psychology experiments in college resulted in six months of erased memories.  And it gets worse–his mind was altered.  Readers encounter a pair of scientists in the past, trying to hone in on those elements of the mind that shape how we think.  The protagonist encounters a lover from his college days who is also in the field, and their relationship and her relationship with her daughter and her brother (now 20 years in a coma), could dictate the fate of everyone’s future with a high-tech tuning fork “sonic screwdriver”-inspired device and one of the 40 giant, real-world synchrotrons.

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Probably no other visionary from the 19th century except Mary Shelley and Jules Verne is as synonymous with the genre of science fiction as H.G. Wells.  How many science fiction works did Wells inspire with his stories, with elements infused into books, television series, and movies–120 years later and never going out of print?  Only hours ago the BBC announced a new three-part series adapting The War of the Worlds will be arriving later this year, starring Rafe Spall (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Shaun of the Dead), Eleanor Tomlinson (Jack the Giant Slayer, Alice in Wonderland), Robert Carlyle (28 Weeks Later, Once Upon a Time), and Krypton and Sherlock’s Rupert Graves.  The War of the Worlds.  The Time Machine.  The Invisible Man.  The Island of Dr. Moreau.  A new series of graphic novels from Insight Comics is adapting all four of Wells’ classics.  These go beyond the old Illustrated Classics editions, taking on several science fiction paradigms: warnings of the dangers of new technologies, the cost of hubris, and the adventures and trials that come from the unknown worlds of the future.

First in the new series is an action-packed adaptation of The War of the Worlds.   Tailored from the original 1897 tale of freakish alien tripod alien invaders annihilating parts of England, the writer known as Dobbs provides a faithful take on Wells’s work.  It’s always interesting to see new interpretations of the look of Wells’ invaders, and artist Vicente Cifuentes (best known for his DC Comics art) provides a visually striking view of the varying appearances of the invaders as well as an authentic and engaging feel for the 19th century setting of the original novel.

Scientist Dr. Robert H. Goddard referenced The War of the Worlds as an influence for creating the real-world liquid-fueled rocket that would later take humans to the Moon.

Take a look at these sample pages from the first book in the new H.G. Wells series from Insight Comics, courtesy of the publisher:

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With all the modern blockbusters celebrating anniversaries, we often forget about the classic genre films.  Modern science fiction owes the most to a handful of early 20th century films, namely, the early adaptations of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, George Méliès’s 1902 film A Trip to the Moon, and Fritz Lang’s 1927 dystopian vision, Metropolis, which turned 90 this year.  To celebrate its 90th anniversary, this weekend Eureka Entertainment is releasing its definitive version of Metropolis for audiences in the UK and Ireland in a Special Edition Boxed Set, containing the 150-minute reconstructed and restored version of the film.  Drawing on–and defining–dystopian sci-fi themes, Metropolis depicts a dark future where society is divided between an underground, browbeaten working class, and the ruling class, which enjoys a decadent life of luxury and leisure.

When Freder (Gustav Fröhlich) ventures into the depths in search of a woman named Maria (Brigitte Helm), plans of rebellion are revealed and a Maria-replica robot is programmed by mad scientist named Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) and the Master of Metropolis Joh Fredersen (Alfred Abel) to incite the workers into a self-destructive riot.  With its futuristic cityscape (that cinema would one day translate into the world of Blade Runner and other films) and an attractive female robot (that would inspire the entire lineage of cinema’s robots, borgs, androids, and more), Metropolis is considered among the most famous of all German films.

In addition to the Special Edition Boxed Set, Eureka, which owns the UK and Ireland rights to the film (it’s in the public domain in the U.S.)., is also bringing the 2010 reconstructed and restored Metropolis to the big screen later this year.  Don’t miss the excellent trailer they made for the film below.

Metropolis will be screening at the following venues throughout the remainder of 2017, with more expected to be announced:

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An encore presentation of the National Theatre’s presentation of Danny Boyle’s production of Nick Dear’s adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Frankenstein’s monster and Jonny Lee Miller as Dr. Victor Frankenstein, is coming to theaters in time for Halloween.  Fathom Events and National Theatre Live has partnered to create the next Halloween event for your calendar–a new Halloween tradition with one of England’s best known and most popular actors.

Recorded from a live stage production of the National Theatre in 2011, U.S. audiences have one opportunity this year to see the production on the big screen.  Directed by Academy Award-winner Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire), the production features Jonny Lee Miller (CBS’s Elementary, Trainspotting) and Benedict Cumberbatch (BBC’s Sherlock, Star Trek Into Darkness, The Hobbit, Doctor Strange, The Imitation Game).  The adaptation was written by Nick Dear.

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The original production featured two performances with Miller and Cumberbatch switching roles.  The production was a sell-out hit at the National Theatre, and the broadcast has since become an international sensation, viewed by over half a million people in cinemas around the world.

Here is a preview of the Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein:

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Castle Frankenstein 2015

As to sheer volume of remakes, via books, film, or other media, Sherlock Holmes and Frankenstein have gone head to head for decades.  Why not another remake of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the original seed of the science fiction genre and the original cyborg?  Our only question is: Why wait for Thanksgiving when it is such an obvious draw for the box office at Halloween?

The latest incarnation, the big screen’s Victor Frankenstein, stars X-Men’s James McAvoy as the Doctor opposite Harry Potter’s Daniel Radcliffe as assistant Igor.  It’s directed by frequent BBC Sherlock director Paul McGuigan.  From the first trailer released this week, this new film has all the requirements of the Gothic horror tale–a slightly mad doctor, his quirky minion, some steampunk techno-machinery, a creepy castle, storms and lightning, and, of course, the Doctor’s latest creation.

It must be better than last year’s I, Frankenstein, right?

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No doubt the most fun likely will be the banter between the popular British leads.  check out this first trailer for Victor Frankenstein:

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Shelley handwriting banner The earliest modern source for what it means to be “borg” is no doubt Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, perhaps the most famous and widely reproduced work of fiction–and certainly the most adapted over the past 200 years in books, plays, television, and movies.  Originally titled Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus, Shelley wrote her book in a series of notebooks from an idea she had from a dream while pondering what to write for a competition to write a “frightening tale”.

Frankenstein first edition 1818

Published first in 1818 with a run of 500 copies, her original manuscript notebooks survived. If you happen to be more than a few decades old, you remember the days of pages of handwriting, before word processors and PCs, and long before the days when schools stopped teaching handwriting.  Tasks we can perform quickly today only years ago took far greater effort, and the thought of writing something as lengthy as an entire book long-hand seems so very archaic in 2013.  And exhausting.

Page from Shelley's Frankenstein

Original handwritten page from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein manuscript.

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By Elizabeth C. Bunce

This week the Science Channel, part of the Discovery family of networks, premiered a new series, helmed by producer Ridley Scott (Aliens, Blade Runner), celebrating the scientific foresight of masters of classic science fiction literature.  Prophets of Science Fiction will explore both the literary accomplishments of authors such as Mary Shelley, H.G. Wells, Isaac Asimov, and Philip K. Dick, as well as their influence on ongoing scientific advancement.  Here is the trailer for the show:

The series begins with a profile of Mary Shelley (Frankenstein), credited with creating the science fiction genre as a whole.  With commentary from Shelley scholars and historians, the series premiere offers parallel storylines of Shelley’s life and literary career, the plot and themes of her seminal novel, and the scientific underpinnings that inspired her immortal work.  Interviews with scientists on the cutting edge of electrical medicine, genetics, and artificial intelligence round out the episode, with Shelley’s tale of science-without-responsibility providing the cautionary undercurrent.

A centerpiece of Science Channel’s rare original programming, Prophets of Science Fiction is getting due attention on their website.  Check out interviews with contributors including Ridley Scott, historical notes on the authors, and an episode guide, showing eight episodes that will air at least through February.

Future episodes will profile Jules Verne, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, and borg.com favorite George Lucas.  Although the series begins with genre progenitor Mary Shelley, Episode 2 will feature Philip K. Dick, so it appears the series creators don’t plan a chronological exploration of their subject.  Watch on Science Channel Wednesdays at 10 pm (Yes, borg.com is aware this is the same time as Psych.  That’s why you have a DVR.).

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