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Learning episode 2:

 

Purpose and use of this learning episode: a few monsters, genetic engineering short stories and Frankenstein's monster


On the myclasses portal where this learning episode was found there were links to the four short stories, found on the web in text format, as well as a link to the first two parts of the podcast for this 'brave new world' theme area. Some of the actual short stories noted here are removed from this version but citations are included for these very well-known texts, in the Readings and links section of this page. The following text with links were offered to the students, excluding the short stories and some images from broadcast films, due to copyright reasons.

 

Students attending a face-to-face class for this study watched the DVD version of the film in class with computer and overhead projector, while students studying as flexible learning were offered a copy of the film on CD-ROM, copied under the special provisions of local Copyright laws.

 

Image for learning episode two of the brave new world theme area of the mySF ProjectIndex:

Forum topics for discussion
Notes on the Forum responses for this theme area
Using the Forum for discussion in this theme area
An introduction to the brave new world theme area
The arrival of Frankenstein, the world most famous monster
Short stories: 'It' by Theodore Sturgeon, 'The Dead Man' by Fritz Leiber, 'The Furniture of Life's Ambition' by Brian Stableford, and 'Blood Music' by Greg Bear
Two short podcasts to support your learning
Resource list
Further reading and links

 

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The points at the start of these notes are to be discussed in the Forum area. You are asked to jump to the Forum area, using the link here and making a comment in the appropriate Forum thread. Please remember, your participation in discussions is expected in this study, as part of your overall participation.

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Forum topics for discussion:

In Theodore Sturgeon's story 'It', what does the creature know about its surroundings, itself, and it's actions?

 

In Fritz Leiber's story 'The Dead Man', what does the author tell the reader about the role of the responsible scientist?

 

In the two podcasts for learning episode 2, what is meant by "aspiring to God-like qualities"?

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Notes on the Forum responses for this theme area

 

In the mySF Project there are several, different theme areas. The theme areas cover different areas of content, like aliens in SF, views on genetic engineering in SF (this one!), time travel narratives and artificial intelligence, as examples. Here we are in the brave new world theme area, looking at genetic engineering in SF.

 

Each theme area has a special name to describe the main focus of the theme and all theme areas have learning episodes running from one to ten for that theme area.

 

In the learning episodes there are links to further readings, notes on the texts covered in that learning episode, and discussion points. These discussion points occur in a myclasses property called the Forum.

 

When you open a learning episode, say learning episode two for the brave new world theme area (you are here now!), the text in that episode will ask you right at the top of the page to go into the Forum area and make some comments about the topics that are found in the learning area notes.

 

It is very important that you read the notes on the page for that learning episode before you jump into the Forum and make comments. The notes are designed to give you some background to the points discussed.

 

When you are ready to go into the Forum and discuss the points in a particular learning episode, you should take care to write formally and correctly.

 

Your participation in the Forum areas is assessed and part of assessing your comments will be to look at the spelling, grammar and overall expression. The teacher who gives you a grade for your Forum comments will also be looking for thoughtful and careful comments on the points related to the stories or films we are covering in that learning episode.

 

You can read a full description of the way your participation in the Forum will be assessed in the section called 'Using the Forum'.

 

If you have any questions about this part of your assessment, please talk the matter over with your teacher or send an email.

 

Thank you and have a strong and valuable discussion of the points in the learning episodes in your Forum area.

 

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Using the Forum

 

mySF Project

 

Brave new world theme portal

 

Participation in the Forum Task

 

In the mySF Project there are several, different theme areas. The theme areas cover different areas of content, like aliens in SF, views on genetic engineering, time travel narratives and artificial intellgience, as examples.

Each theme area has a special name to describe the main focus of the theme and all theme areas have learning episodes running from 1 to 10 for that theme area.

 

In the learning episodes there are links to further readings, notes on the texts covered in that learning episode, and discussion points. These discussion points occur in a myclasses property called the Forum.

 

When you open a learning episode, say learning episode 2 for the brave new world theme area, the text in that episode will ask you right at the top of the page to go into the Forum area and make some comments about the topics that are found in the learning area notes.

 

It is very important that you read the notes on the page for that learning episode before you jump into the Forum and make comments. The notes are designed to give you some background to the points discussed.

 

When you are ready to go into the Forum and discuss the points in a particular learning episode, you should take care to write formally and correctly.

 

Your participation in the Forum areas is assessed and part of assessing your comments will be to look at the spelling, grammar and overall expression. The teacher who gives you a grade for your Forum comments will also be looking for thoughtful and careful comments on the points related to the stories or films we are covering in that learning episode.

 

You can read a full description of the way your participation in the Forum will be assessed in a Word document to be found in the Files Area property for this theme area.

 

If you have any questions about this part of your assessment, please talk the matter over with your teacher or send an email.

 

Thank you and have a strong and valuable discussion of the points in the learning episodes in your Forum area.

 

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An introduction to the brave new world theme area on genetic engineering

 

The name of this theme area in the mySF Project is the brave new world theme area. The myclasses area where linked files and the assessment tasks can be found is called the brave new world theme area, right here!.

 

This theme area is called 'brave new world' because this title relates to a novel written by Aldous Huxley in 1932, called Brave New World. This is a great novel that is often studied in Year 12 at the college level in the Australian Capital Territory. Huxley grabbed the title of his novel from a speech in Shakespeare's The Tempest. Act V, Scene I, where Miranda says, "Oh, brave new world, that has such people in it!'

 

Huxley's Brave New World (1932) imagined a terrible but static society that controlled many aspects of life in a future world, using technology. This future society used drugs extensively to keep the population happy, used propaganda and advertising extensively to control the population and also bred special classes or castes of people using artificial gestation and birth techniques to rigidly control the society.

 

Even though Huxley's novel did not speak of genetic engineering, Brave New World did focus on the use of the selective breeding of people and so the title is used for this theme area. Huxley's Brave New World of 1932 is considered a major literary SF novel and has been very influential on other writers and film makers, as seen in some of the texts used for this unit.

 

In the introductory podcasts found on the whole mySF Project students heard that many critics believe that Science or Speculative Fiction (SF) is focused on stories about people confronting the 'Other', or 'alterity', as noted by Roberts (2001). This means narratives can have people confronting very different creatures, very different worlds, and very different futures. Many texts within the SF genre use the idea of genetic engineering to explore the Other or alterity and that is why it has a special focus in the mySF Project.

 

If you looked up 'genetic engineering' in Wikipedia you would find a definition that would not be very helpful in your studies in the brave new world theme area, although it would be clear that this technology allows life-forms to be changed dramatically by actual manipulation of genetic material and this is certainly seen in several texts in this theme area.

 

The use of the term 'genetic engineering' is much wider in this study for the mySF Project. Some of the stories here come from writers who did not know about DNA and genetics, but there is a clear focus on changing life-forms artificially, as an experiment or to improve that life-form - even people! This theme area does not enter into the current debates about genetic engineering, either. These debates will certainly be found in Social Studies and in Religious Education studies but students are welcome to explore ideas in the Forum areas where they relate to texts and ideas studied.

 

The exploration of the Other or alterity seen in the brave new world theme area presents a very wide range of texts, some with much more to do with magic and the horror genre than with SF and modern ideas of genetic engineering. However, they all share important elements, such as a confrontation between a 'normal' humanity and another life-form that has arisen due to artificial or unnatural causes, such as tinkering with the link between body and mind in Leiber's 'The Dead Man' to introducing an intelligent virus into the bloodstream in Bear's 'Blood Music'.

 

The encounter with the Other comes in many forms in the Brave New World theme area. This might be seen in encounters with animated corpses, with the evil resident in the human soul unleashed, as animals with human characteristics, future societies organised by genetic traits, genetics used as Weapons of Mass Destruction, and artificial people. While the Other in these stories can be very different there are strong similarities in the themes, explored further in Podcast I as well as Podcast II.

 

Starting with the earliest and perhaps the most important SF text, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1831), there does seem to be a clear theme that humans should not meddle with nature. Even if humans are trying to improve the world, most of the texts seem to argue through their themes that science should not fool around with genetics, or the result might destroy us all.

 

It is very unusual to have so many texts that warn against a particular technology, in this case genetic engineering in its wider sense, and part of our studies will be to examine how and why this warning is delivered through the narrative. Discussion in the Forum areas and in the reflective Journal (to check these items out look in the eLF area in the myclasses brave new world portal) will focus on issues presented in the different texts and their relevance to your lives and beliefs.

 

So, now that you have an idea of what will be presented in the brave new world theme area, why not jump down to the next section that introduces one of the most famous of all horror monsters, Frankenstein's reanimated creature.

 

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Mary Shelley and the arrival of the world's most famous monster

 

I think many know the story of the scientist Frankenstein and his creation, the monster composed of parts of corpses. The original silent film (available from your teacher, directed by James Whale in 1932) is the story that most people know, but this is very different from the original narrative by Mary Shelley. The original novel, first published in 1818 as Frankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus was revised in 1831 and it is available here. A great background article on Frankenstein is  available on Wikipedia, accessed here.

 

There is a great story about how Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley came to write Frankenstein and you can find this at the beginning of the novel in the myclasses site as well as linked through Wikipedia. The most important thing to remember is that at the time scientists had just discovered or recorded that a frog's dissected legs will still twitch when a small electric current touches its nerves. This, to Shelley and others, seemed to indicate that life could be kick-started by artificial means.

 

For the study of SF, Frankenstein has been called one of the first great novels in this genre. Others who write about the SF genre do not see Frankenstein as Science Fiction but instead see it as an early, important Gothic horror novel.

 

Instead of describing what happens in the Frankenstein film (Connor, 2003) we study, this section talks about what critics have said about Frankenstein and its role in SF exploring ideas and themes that become central to the genre.

 

Frankenstein talks about the nature of humanity

 

Philosophy professor Mark Rowlands notes that the Frankenstein story is often taken as a way to criticise scientists for their arrogance, for playing God. Rowlands adds that the story is also about human "uniqueness - we are more than just body parts, we are special, and have a soul" (Rowlands, 2003:8-9). These are easy messages that can be found in the novel and film, but Rowlands adds that the most important ideas of the novel are actually about the monster itself, about the way it thinks and perceives itself and its surroundings. Frankenstein's monster shows the reader and viewer what it is to be human, sometimes by comparing what it is to look human but not be human.

 

A better human

 

Alsford (2000) believes that Frankenstein's monster shows a consistent fear held by mankind. This is seen where Frankenstein the brilliant scientist and surgeon refuses to make a mate for the Frankenstein monster. Alsford says that by denying the creature a mate, Frankenstein "exhibits a fear that has echoed throughout SF ever since, the fear that we might be replaced, destroyed or dominated by alien competitors in the Dawinian life-or-death struggle" (Alsford, 2000:50).

 

Alsford says that at present humans are the most evolved species on the planet, but a created being with superior strength, superior intelligence and almost impossible to kill would be a more highly evolved species. This superior species could dominate or destroy humans according to evolutionary theory.

 

Scientific progress is accompanied by disaster

 

SF critic Roberts (2000) believes that the Frankenstein story describes the way many people view scientific progress. In the novel and the film the scientist Frankenstein has made a scientific breakthrough. Even though no-one else believes in him, he finds a way to actually create life artificially. Frankenstein the scientist is working for the best motives, to discover the basis for all life and through this to save many lives and advance medicine as a whole.

 

Frankenstein the scientist is brilliant and obsessive and totally self-centred. He cares about little else than his quest to find the secret of life itself. This image of the obsessed and dangerous scientist is repeated through many different narratives to the present day, all established here by Shelley's portrait of Frankenstein the scientist.

 

Roberts (2000) also shows that the view of scientific research itself is established in Frankenstein. The images of the film made in 1932 have bubbling flasks of different coloured liquids, parts of humans floating in other jars, electricity arcing between metal rods and dark, cluttered laboratories with machinery that seems to be charged by the power of evil itself. This image of scientific research is highly inaccurate, of course, but it has remained through the twentieth and twenty-first centuries and has recurred in countless films.

 

It seems clear from Frankenstein that there are some things scientists should not do, such as obtaining God-like powers to create life from death. The scientific progess that results from Frankenstein's research must invariably lead to disaster, not just for Frankenstein himself but for many others. Frankenstein can also be seen as a warning against trying to gain God-like powers. Scientific progress is closely linked to disaster (Roberts, 2000:59).

 

Other critics agree with Roberts, such as Telotte (2001) who says that Frankenstein shows our distrust for science and technology. Telotte says that so much of our modern age is influenced by science but films and stories like Frankenstein can show us our fears of "entering the 'brave new world' of science and technology" (Telotte, 2001:90).

 

Frankenstein sells his soul for knowledge

 

Frankenstein the scientist seeks prohibited knowledge and uses science to conquer all obstacles on his way to finding the secret of the creation of artificial life. He is willing to do anything to achieve this goal. Although there is no bargain with the Devil to achieve his aims, Frankenstein the scientist clearly breaks all social and moral guidelines to accomplish his end of being the greatest scientist of all time, with God-like powers.

This desire for greatness by gaining God-like power and knowledge relates very closely to an earlier story by Christopher Marlowe, called The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, written in 1604. This was a well known story of a brilliant doctor who made a deal with Satan for knowledge, trading his soul for God-like understanding. The knowledge is found in a technological device and in Frankenstein this is the machine and the scientific process that brings the creature to life. From the moment the scientist Frankenstein brings the creature to life, it is as if he has forfeited his soul to the devil. He is to be punished by having all that he loves destroyed and then losing his own life. This is the penalty for Frankenstein and Dr Faustus, alike.

 

If you would like to read the parallels between Frankenstein and The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, you can read a strong Wikipedia article on Marlowe's story by clicking here.

 

There is a focus question for the novel and film of Frankenstein in the Forum question at the top of this page. Please watch the film or read the novel or both and then take part in a discussion around this topic.

 

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Short stories for Learning Episode 2:

 

We start this mySF unit of work with four SF short stories, from Theodore Sturgeon, Fritz Leiber, Brian Stableford and Greg Bear. The links on the writers' names jump down to some short notes on these stories, below.

 

Firstly, please read the Sturgeon story, 'It'. After that comes Leiber's 'The Dead Man', then Stableford's 'The Furniture of Life's Ambitions' and then finally Bear's 'Blood Music'.

 

In this learning episode Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is also made available, though this text is not compulsory. It is offered for those students who would like to return to the original source of the Frankenstein stories and films, one of which we study with the film Frankenstein (2004) (Connor, 2006). As this theme area starts with some classics in the horror and SF genre, a second novel, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (Stevenson, 1886) is offered in learning episode three where a digital video version of the film is available.

 

The electronic version of HG Wells' The Island of Doctor Moreau (Wells, 1896) in learning episode four, making this theme area the most text-based (especially with novels) of all in the mySF Project. However, don't be scared! The novels are offered for those students who want to follow different pathways within the brave new world theme area and are not compulsory. Only the short stories listed below are compulsory, as well as the last in learning episode seven, when the final short story is brought in, 'Soft Blows', by David Rade. The podcasts with this theme area also offer more comment on the short stories to assist your study in this field.

 

The concept behind the learning episodes in the brave new world theme area is that they become increasingly more complex, sophisticated and perhaps even difficult. That is not to say that the early short stories and films studied in the first few learning episodes are simple and straight forward - in fact, they are powerful and very important, as you can see by the notes on the authors, below.

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'It' by Theodore Sturgeon

 

The first story, 'It' is closely related to the major text studied in learning episode two, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. This narrative is situated in a strange location, part of a wilderness area where a family runs a farm on marginal land. There are two brothers and one wife, with a new baby. Both brothers love the same woman, but this is not central to the story. What is more important is that one brother is a great hunter who can hit almost anything in the forest with his rifle. He has a dog that accompanies him on his hunting trip and it is the dog that discovers the creature, first.

 

The 'It' of this story is not the same as Frankenstein's monster and I will not go into how it comes to be created here but leave it for discovery through reading the story.

 

We study 'It' not because it is a great story, but more because it is a representative of a larger set, copying the great Frankenstein story. In this story the beast in the forest is not human, but it has human qualities. It is immensely powerful and very difficult to kill  but it does not intend to kill. Instead, it explores its environment and applies amazing intelligence for one newly 'born'. The results of its actions are not pretty, but it would be impossible to say that the creature 'It' chose evil actions. These points are also to be seen in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. As in the very popular novel Frankenstein the creature seeks to destroy a child, or perhaps 'It' seeks just to examine it molecule by molecule.

 

The focus for the short story 'It' by Sturgeon is not the creation of the creature but the way the creature sees the world. There is a Forum question at the top of this page that looks at 'It' and you are asked to take part in a discussion around this topic after you have read the story.

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'The Dead Man' by Fritz Leiber

 

The second story, 'The Dead Man' by Leiber is also closely related to the major text studied in learning episode two, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. However, in this story there is no creature let loose on the villagers by a fanatical scientist, slouching around in the darkness pulling people apart. But there is a fanatical scientist in the story and there is a shambling creature/thing that arises from the dead, so there are close similarities with the Frankenstein theme, at least.

 

This short story could be said to be closer to writings by Edgar Allen Poe. Poe is said to be an early Science Fiction writer, but is much better known for his horror stories, even down to the poem 'The Raven' that figures in a major Simpsons' episode.

 

Leiber is a very well-known SF writer but this short story has little science or technology, apart from the science of psychology. The focus of the story is on the connection between body and mind. Leiber proposes an extraordinary idea: that mind can control all aspects of the body, even reanimating a corpse.

 

The story 'The Dead Man' is offered here as an entertaining and old-fashioned short story. It shows the very close link between SF and horror at times, and this relates directly to the use of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein as an important SF text, even though most people would believe it was an early horror novel, in the Gothic genre of horror writing, like several of Poe's short stories. 

 

For 'The Dead Man' the class will discuss the idea of the mind and body seen in this story. This will link to the mind of Frankenstein's monster from birth to apparent death. There is a Forum question at the top of this page that looks at 'The Dead Man' and you are asked to take part in a discussion around this topic after you have read the story.

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'The Furniture of Life's Ambition' by Brian Stableford

 

Stableford's short story is from the modern era, much more recent than either 'It' or 'The Dead Man'. It may be easier for some students to read as a result. Unlike the first two stories, this one, 'The Furniture of Life's Ambition', has a strong use of technology. One of the main characters is a fanatical and brilliant scientist, so this is again a link with Frankenstein and this time the science involves direct manipulation of genetic materials to create products to help humans.

 

The time is the near future and science has managed to make huge steaks, eggs and other food-stuffs to feed the poor through genetic engineering. One scientist can see an opportunity for more and by the end of this story he has created something very different, indeed.

 

Like 'It' by Sturgeon, there is another love triangle in 'The Furniture of Life's Ambition' and the result of the adulterous affair between the scientist's wife and the financial backer for the inventions is horrifying and strange.

 

While there are similarities with Frankenstein and 'The Dead Man', there is one major difference with 'The Furniture of Life's Ambition' and that is the essential nature of this short story. It is intended as a comedy, called a 'sardonic tale' of the genetic revolution. If you would like to look up what the word 'sardonic' means you can click on the word in this sentence.

 

The short story 'The Furniture of Life's Ambition' will be discussed in Forum discussions in later learning episodes.

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'Blood Music' by Greg Bear

T

he last story of the four introduced in this learning episode is the most recent and may be the easiest to read for some students. This story 'Blood Music' was so popular after it appears that Greg Bear expanded it into a novel and it was later made into a one-hour drama for the modern television SF series The Twilight Zone. It was also voted one of the most important SF stories of the last century.

 

The technology in this story is very important and again, as with Stableford, there is a strong focus on the science of the story to create the 'Other' that we meet near the end of the story.

 

Bear's use of genetic engineering again derives from a fanatical scientist breaking moral and scientific codes to experiment with dangerous processes. These processes in 'Blood Music' could even mean the end of the world and the creation of a new, superior species.

 

As can be seen by the very brief summary, above, the story 'Blood Music' has a great deal in common with some of the other stories and certainly with Shelley's Frankenstein, but the technology, the roles of the two scientists in the stories and the final outcomes are very different.

 

The short story 'Blood Music' will be discussed in Forum discussions in later learning episodes. It is strongly recommended for your enjoyment and is essential reading for this brave new world theme area.

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Two short podcasts to support studies

 

Two, short podcast (about 3 minutes each) discussing some views on genetic engineering in SF can also be downloaded from the Resources list, below. Students are advised to download this file and listen to it. This is part of your background 'reading' for the mySF Project.

 

Be warned! The two podcasts are nearly 5M in size so it may take some time to download and play. The podcasts will launch Windows Media Player on a recent Windows computer and start to play the sound file after it has buffered for a while. Of course, you can also download the file to your iPod or other mp3 player and listen to it at home, at school, on the bus, cycling to school - everywhere!

 

The podcasts covers some of the points for the first four or five weeks as well as giving a focus for the theme area from several perspectives. The second podcast in learning episode eight will have more detail on all the stories, including the works by Stableford, Rade and Bear. These podcasts contain important information for the test in learning episode nine.

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Resource list:

 

Aldiss, B. & Wingrove, D. (2001). Trillion Year Spree: the History of Science Fiction. Second edition. Thirsk, North Yorkshire: House of Stratus.

 

Alsford, M.   (2000). What If?: Religious Themes in Science Fiction. London: Darton, Longman & Todd.

 

Bear, G. (1995). ‘Blood Music’. From Nanodreams, edited by Elton Elliott. New York: Baen Books.

 

Connor, K. (Director). (2003). Frankenstein (2004). Lionsgate Films. DVD Version, 2006.

 

Huxley, A. (1932). Brave New World. London: Chatto and Windus.

 

Leiber, F. (1977). ‘The Dead Man’. From The Rivals of Frankenstein. Edited by Michael Parry. London: Corgi Books.

 

Roberts, A. (2000). Science Fiction: the new critical idiom. Routledge: London.

 

Rowlands, M. (2003). ‘Chapter 1 – Frankenstein: Philosophy and the Meaning of Life’. The Philosopher at the End of the Universe: Philosophy Explained through Science Fiction Films. ISBN 0 091903882. Ebury Press: London.

 

Shelley, M (1831). Frankenstein. Electronic version from the University of Virginia. First published 1818. Electronic version revised 1994. Retrieved 12 August, 2006 from http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/

 

Stableford, B. (1991). ‘The Furniture of Life’s Ambition’. From Sexual Chemistry: Sardonic Tales of the Genetic Revolution. Sydney: Pocket Books.

 

Stevenson, RL (1886). The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. University of Virginia Library, E-Text Centre. Retrieved 15 September, 2006 from http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/SteJekl.html

 

Sturgeon, T. (1967). ‘It”. From The Dark Side. Edited by Damon Knight. London: Corgi Books.

 

Telotte, J. (2001). Science Fiction Film. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

 

Wells, H. (1896). The Island of Doctor Moreau. Retrieved 22 May, 2006 from http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/etcbin/ot2www-ebooks?specfile=/texts/english/ebooks/ebooks.o2w&act=text&offset=284945801&textreg=2&query=wells&id=WelIsla

 

 

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Further reading and links

 

 

Short story 'It' by Theodore Sturgeon

 

Short story 'The Dead Man' by Fritz Leiber

 

Short story 'The Furniture of Life's Ambitions' by Brian Stableford

 

Short story 'Blood Music' by Greg Bear

 

Novel, in electronic format, 'Frankenstein' by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

 

Brave new world theme area podcast 1a - an introduction to genetic engineering in SF

 

Brave new world theme area podcast 1b - an introduction to genetic engineering in SF

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ends

 

Michael Sisley

 

 

 

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