Monday, April 28, 2014

What Is the Monster of the Twenty-First Century?-Part Two

Monsters in an Age of Science

About half of the stories from Fritz Leiber's book Night's Black Agents (Berkley, 1978) were first published more than seventy years ago, and all but one are from the 1940s. The world in which he and his monsters lived is now mostly in ruins, the ruins mostly swept away and forgotten. If we in the twenty-first century are to have our monsters, they must be monsters for our time, just as Leiber's monsters were the embodiments of the terrors and anxieties of his own time. So if the monsters of a given age embody the spirit of that age, what then is the spirit of our age? That's not an easy question, and I won't hazard an answer just yet. It might be easier to make a list of candidates for monsters of the twenty-first century.

The supernatural monster is a thing of the past. It can't survive in world in which Scientism is the prevailing belief (1) unless it is given a scientific explanation. If that's the case, then our twenty-first century monsters must have scientific origins. (2) The scientific monster goes back as far as Mary Shelley's Gothic romance Frankenstein (1818) and perhaps a little before that, but only so far as the origins of what we call science. Monsters first imagined or encountered in the nineteenth century--robots, androids, cryptozoological creatures (or cryptids), invisible creatures, aliens from other planets--are all scientific in origin. (3) There are at least two other types of monsters made possible by science and by the developments of the nineteenth century. Both are still with us. Both are candidates for the monster of the twenty-first century.

First, the psychopathic killer.

To be continued . . .

(1) A belief of religious scope and intensity. I have written before about the natural vs. the supernatural and the material vs. the mystical. See my postings on Richard Matheson and Fritz Leiber, Jr.
(2) I'm not sure that is the case, but for the sake of argument, I will just assume that it is.
(3) There were monsters of this type before the nineteenth century to be sure. After all, mechanical monsters appeared as early as the Classical era. However, without science, there can't be a scientific monster, and without a world steeped in science and Scientism, the scientific monster can't displace the supernatural monster.

Copyright 2014 Terence E. Hanley

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