We like being frightened. That’s why we go on roller coasters and that’s why we enjoy watching monsters. The ‘fight or flight’ response, evolved in our distant ancestors, is hardwired into our sympathetic nervous system. Thus when we are frightened our brains release the hormone Norepinephrine, which raises our heart rate and makes us more alert.
Science fiction didn’t invent monsters. They have always been part of the stories that we tell. The ancients Greeks had many fine examples, as did the Indian sub-continent. In fact science fiction has often turned to science to provide a gloss of explanation for the ‘classic’ monsters. Weird wolf-men become the victims of a disease known as lycanthropy. Zombies become the result of viruses escaped from the laboratory. Mother Nature herself becomes both a monster in the form of severe weather and a source of monsters. Thus we have giant apes scaling skyscrapers, ambulatory plants seeking to blind us and flocks of birds intent on revenge.
Yet it seems that science fiction reserves its greatest treatments of the monster for the definitive terror: ourselves. The monster that looks back out at us when we gaze into the mirror. It seems that our reputation as the predator par excellence is perhaps deserved after all. For what we do to ourselves is more horrifying than anything that can be done to us. The monster story becomes an allegory of our own fears and concerns over the world that we have created. Thus the rampaging giant Godzilla dominating downtown Tokyo is depicted as the result of radioactive mutation. Our own fear of fission wrought large in lizard- like form. Yet even then it stands on two legs, waving two arms.
There is nothing that is truly alien in science fiction. For to be alien is to be incomprehensible and how could we relate to that? So we ascribe to our monsters, if not human forms, then human desires and motivations. The monster, whether it be alien or killer android, is always a grotesque and warped version of our own debased intentions. We have dressed up those corrupt desires in the most elaborate of disguises. We have concealed them beneath layer upon layer of civility and custom until they become known by their present form – civilisation.
Science fiction reminds us that lurking beneath the mask waits the creature ready to erupt. Its many books and films remind us that the age of progress and civilsation that we have created is a fragile masquerade. Like a house of cards, our cunning construction could fall apart at a moment’s notice. So science fiction deploys armies of bug-eyed monsters from space, primeval monsters from below, and ancient horrors from within to tear down this precarious edifice.
Yet for every threat there is a response, and ours tend to come clad in spandex. Rippling muscles at the ready, the world of science fiction is protected by the superhero. Armed with laser vision, the power of flight, super-strength and gallons of righteous indignation, these pneumatic Narcissuses come to our aid. Whether benevolent mutants, aliens or accidental heroes, these monsters come not from the id but the ego. They stand as totems to our own ability to overcome obstacles and negotiate peril. Always at hand to deliver the obligatory lecture on how naughtiness never triumphs, the heroes most often conspire to allow the monster to defeat itself.
In the same manner, we too are most often the architects of our own destruction. Science fiction reminds us of the consequences of our actions. For whilst it may seem like a good idea to test out that new super-serum on yourself, Doctor X, you’ve only got yourself to blame when you turn into a flesh-devouring,maiden-despoiling fiend. To put it bluntly, just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.
So, within these web entries you will find some cautionary tales of science gone wrong and learn of some real-life developments that have worrying potential. You will find monsters that tower over us, making us realise just how insignificant we are. Yet just as unnerving is the minuscule mayhem caused by legions of microscopic and nano-scale beasties intent of turning our insides out. You will discover how some of the once seemingly far-fetched things that we do to ourselves today were anticipated. And still the relentless march of the monster continues. Whether it is lurking in some innocuous form ready to transform from your car into a towering oversize ogre, or carried in the viral-laden touch of a neighbour, these threats are here to stay.