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Story of the first GMO's

The Island of Dr. Moreau - H.G. Wells

An 1896 book which seems like it is a cautionary tale about genetic engineering but was actually written in protest of vivisection. Wells' idea of vivisection is a bit off though- he's got it as a sort of modification of an organism, instead of the dissection of a live animal for the purposes of observing live functioning organs. Close enough for the Victorian Era, I suppose. The tale fits right in there with other Victorian science-angst fare such as Frankenstein, The Invisible Man and The Tale of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.


The idea is interesting enough, but the execution not so much. Neither Dr. Moreau, his right-hand man Montgomery, the narrator, or any of the "manamals" are very engaging, complex, or nuanced. The work is pretty much premise-driven... maybe a bit of a cautionary tale, but light on the cautioning and heavy on the wonderment of all the weird perversions which the new sciences of Wells' day put within mankind's grasp.  It's short enough; I would say read it for the literary historical interest, and the book's role as inspiration for a lot of works which followed (Jurassic Park comes to mind). 


According to Wikipedia, H.G. Wells called this story "an exercise in youthful blasphemy". Very interesting, and not at all surprising...  later in life, he fell in with a circle of ardent eugenicists, including Julian Huxley, the Fords, Carnegies, and Rockefellers. I'm sure they would have had no argument with Dr. Moreau's tinkering, and Wells probably had to distance himself from the book's moralizing tone against tampering with Mother Nature, to stay in their good graces. Too bad, because with all the scientific advances this past century has seen, Nature is still far too complex to be predictable, and the danger of unintended consequences looms larger than ever in applied Biotechnology.


The 1996 Marlon Brando/Val Kilmer film adaptation was pretty severely beaten up by critics, but I don't care. I kind of liked it.