Why I dislike the use of period-specific gimmicks, redux

June 28, 2008

I just finished H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau, and it’s helped me realise why I dislike the use of narrative elements bound to a specific time period.

In The Island of Dr. Moreau, we’re given a very detailed view of some of the period’s ideas, but not through the inclusion of cultural or social ‘landmarks’, if you will. The very ideas that form the basis for the plot are enough to tell us that we’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.

For those of you who are unaware of the plot of this particular science fiction classic, I strongly suggest you don’t read on. There, that should constitute as fair warning. On we go.

Even I, as a mere student of English, know that it is impossible to create near-human creatures from animals using vivisection. In our modern day and age, this idea is so preposterous, that it simply isn’t viable as a premise for a science fiction story. Maybe with the right tweaking it could be used for fantasy, but sci fi? No. Way too implausible.

While working my way through this novel (which, despite the datedness of the ideas, was still an amazing read) I couldn’t help but marvel at how it showcased the ideas and sentiments of the time, while using a setting that could easily be adapted for a more modern tale.

Of course, this is just a pet hate of mine. I don’t mind historical settings. In fact, I quite like them, when they’re done properly. And I suppose you could see an MMORPG as a historical setting. It will be in 200 years’ time, after all.

Still, I vastly prefer the use of typically modern ideas rather than typically modern settings. Ideas are much less prone to dominating the plot and characters, sapping them of all life and interest.

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