Other Ten Percent 3/28/14

Mar 28 2014

I’ve come here today to speak about a topic that is near and dear to all of our hearts: what time period should fictional immortal mad scientists whose long games are only become clear in the present day come from? For a while around 2000 we were very adamant about brilliant Renaissance painters but no we seem to have settled into a rut of early 20th century inventors who are all either Nikola Tesla or might as well be Nikola Tesla. Not pretending like I’m not guilty of this myself mind you but I’m thinking maybe it’s time to move on so I’ve compiled a few useful periods of history you might want to consider the next time you’re creating an evil scientist mastermind that’s been manipulating all of history to, I dunno, create some crazy utopia by killing off 90% of mankind or something.
13th Century Monastic Culture
If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a hundred times: If you want to create a passable excuse for history to have totally failed to notice the creation of an immortal genius you gotta do it at a time when history was ignoring just a whole heap of stuff. That’s the problem with all the early enlightenment immortal inventors in fiction: people couldn’t STOP paying attention to those dudes. You really think one of them could just turn immortal without somebody noticing? (Okay one of them could but we’ll get to that.) No no no, you want an insane immortal European genius you gotta go dark ages. Go for Albertus Magnus. Mentor to St. Thomas Aquinas, natural philosopher who investigated chemistry and metallurgy, creator of a creepy talking automaton head that freaked Thomas Aquinas out so bad he isntantly destroyed, supposed alchemist. We’re talking about  a scientist whose investigation into immortality and life beyond death made him canonically an influence on Victor Frankenstein and yet nobody’s got him wandering around as a modern day immortal?
Early Soviet Russia
Everybody makes a big thing about how weird and kinda awesome and terrifying state control of every aspect of life made early soviet art but nobody talks about how weird and kinda awesome and terrifying it made early soviet science. Sputnik gets all the glory for freaking out Americans during the cold war but Russia also had dudes who transplanted dog heads onto the bodies of other dogs and kept the dog alive after. That’s not even the insane scientist I want to talk about though because why talk about him when you’ve got Alexander Bogdanov who’s basically an evil Isaac Asimov that killed himself (OR DID HE?) trying to make himself immortal through blood transfusions. He was a darling of the communist party when it rose to power from writing sci-fi where all labor was performed by robots but he then fell out of favor by essentially inventing the concept of psychohistory while doing work on what we’d now think of as systems theory and was so radically communist the communists arrested him for it (though, admittedly at the time that wasn’t that hard). Even if you don’t want to go with literally Bogdanov that whole period of Russian history has tons of insane brilliant people slipping through the cracks who could potentially have made some breakthrough in life extension though.
9th Century China
Gunpowder was literally invented by brilliant Chinese Alchemists who were looking for a serum for Immortality. Read that sentence again and tell me it doesn’t sound like something a pulp adventure comic made up to justify a dude that looks like this trying to take over the world using Zeppelins or something. It’s actually true though and if somebody wanted to write a Chinese villain that WASN’T a horrible racist stereotype could probably do something interesting with an immortal alchemist who’s had 1200 years to bend human history to their whims.
Early Enlightenment Germany
Listen. I get it. Isaac Newton may well have been the smartest human being ever to live and he was also a complete and total douche so the idea that he’s somehow made himself immortal and is trying to, I dunno, return the world to one of orthodox christian piety after foreseeing the secular world he himself would usher in, makes a lot of sense. But, as always with Newton you actually want to go with Leibniz. Dude spent most of his late life traveling around Europe and inventing weird variations on the mechanical calculator that would later (OR WAS IT LATER?) lead to the development of the computer. Dude was an obsessive to the degree most of his patrons hated him because he would travel around gathering ALL the information he required for a thing before he wrote it which meant he took decades to write things his patrons had commissioned him for which sounds like an immortal playing the long game already. Best of all dude “died” so completely unpopular (because Isaac Newton was a dick) that barely anybody showed up to his funeral and he was buried in an unmarked grave and oh my God that’s such an easy death for an immortal genius to fake I can’t believe I even have to spell this out for you. Leibniz is still alive and is determined to convert all matter on earth into perfect calculating nano-machines.

One response so far

  1. Sweet post! I definitely agree. There are many more “genres” of mad scientists out there than stock Tesla-esque inventors. I think dark hippie scientists represent another subgenre. You typically think of hippies as having utopian ideals anyway so it’s not a stretch to imagine one taking their vision a little too far. Take Bart Huges, he was convinced that trepanation (i.e. drilling a hole in your skull), was the key to spiritual enlightenment, and had concocted some b.s. scientific scroll to support his hypothesis. He ultimately did drill a hole in his own head and claimed it had fantastic effects. He even lobbied to have the procedure covered by health care. Imagine a future where everyone had to have their skulls drilled?

Leave a Reply