Ah, the mad scientist. Where would horror be without Dr. Frankenstein, Jekyll, Sardonicus, and the countless other souls who pushed the bounds of science into God’s domain, only to perish for their efforts? Of course, there aren’t any real mad scientists out there… are there?
Well, Tesla’s neighbors might have argued. Besides his somewhat fanciful claims that he could split the Earth with a few well timed explosions, his experiments in broadcast power resulted in massive Tesla coils, hundreds of feet tall, that drew down lightning on the land around them. Of course, then he told his backer that he was planning on offering electricity to the world for free. Yeah, guess how quickly those checks stopped being signed.
And, of course, one could easily list Oppenheimer and the other men behind the Manhattan Project as mad scientists, albeit rather more successful ones. Oppenheimer even had the necessary flair for the dramatic. “I am become Death, destroyer of worlds,” anyone?
Even the fictional mad scientists aren’t necessarily that out there, in the long run. Dr. Jekyll’s mysterious salts and ethers that warped the physical form and drove men mad? Well, what would you say cocaine and other exotic drugs are? It seems the good doctor accidentally may have created one of the first designer drugs. And even Baron Doctor Victor von Frankenstein, who raised the dead, seems to have had a real-life counterpart.
But, of course, there aren’t any real mad scientists around today. Tesla and the like… they were from an era when science was expanding so rapidly that anything seemed possible. These days, we’ve got a better grasp on things.
And then you hear about DARPA, and their efforts to make cyborg insects, and maybe it’s not so far-fetched after all. The mad scientists just have the government signing their checks now.
Mad science. Is it really a bad thing? Is there a boundary beyond which man wasn’t meant to explore? That’s one of the hardest questions, and one that’s inspired an entire field of study (scientific ethics). Some people have very strong opinions that scientists go too far, too fast – people like Mary Shelley and Michael Crichton. Other people think that science isn’t going far enough fast enough, that it’s being held back unfairly by people’s fears. What’s the answer? Really, it’s rather hard to find one. The only answer everybody seems to agree on is that if something goes wrong, you can blame the scientists.
Is it any wonder that some of them go a little mad?
Speaking of returning unholy, cobbled together bits of the dead and buried to animate mockeries of life, take a look at http://darklylit.wordpress.com, or search for DarklyLit on iTunes and take a listen. It’s a new podcast I’m working on, where I’ll be doing free readings of public domain dark fiction, and discussing it on alternate weeks. I’ve got the permission of Nox Arcana to use their music on the podcast (go listen to them now – www.noxarcana.com – they’re great), and I hope to help bring some of the classics back to the public eye. This week, I pretty well just introduce the podcast. If you’d rather wait until I’m in the thick of things, then tune in next week for my reading of The Tell-Tale Heart.
Just in time for Halloween.