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Exploring the scientific side of Fringe.

Book Review: Fringe Science: Parallel Universes, White Tulips, and Mad Scientists, edited by Kevin Grazier

During seasonal breaks, fans of shows can be seen doing many things to get over the emptiness of their weekly television slot.  And while many fans hate them, I for one love hiatuses because they give me a chance to touch base with fellow fans to discuss in more depth than usual the different themes, concepts, storylines and, of course, theories. And hiatuses are usually when I get the time to catch up on reading, some of which has to do with the shows I watch.

After finishing Welcome to Wisteria Lane: On America’s Favorite Desperate Housewives (you can find the review here), I immediately picked up Fringe Science: Parallel Universes, White Tulips, and Mad Scientists. I only had one review of Fringe left (episode seven of season four) and I think it hit me, that it was the hiatus, and due to hectic, 60-hour work weeks, I had not had the time to geek out as much as I would have wanted to with the likes of Lola, Ana and Bastian. For shame!

Thanks to this book, which should grace the shelves of all Fringe fans, I caught up somewhat with my geeking out. Despite the weight of the geek factor, a chorus of light and often entertaining voices meticulously yet not overwhelmingly deconstruct the scientific aspects of the show, such as time travelling, parallel universes, neurotechnology, infectious diseases and so on.

Although every single chapter was a wonderful source of information I poured over, no chapter could beat that of Amy Berner, entitled “Moo”. Just the introduction itself was worthy of a good laugh: “…before we stampede headlong into the next serious topic… Amy has an important moosage she’d like to ensure doesn’t slip pasture attention, one regarding Walter Bishop’s brown-eyed assistant. Not Astrid, the udder one: Gene the cow! I’d lay steak that you, too, will find her essay udderly delightful.” Don’t get me wrong; the essay is not a strictly humourous one, as it focused on the many reasons why Gene plays such an important role in Fringe. Rather, it is the one that, in my mind, struck the balance between tongue-in-cheek humour and scientific inquiry the best. In fact, it reflected beautifully some of the subtly hilarious scenes from the show which fans still quote years later.

Being a huge, unabashed X-Files fan, it will come to no surprise that my second favourite chapter was David Dylan Thomas’ “Paranormal is the new normal”, which included a comparison of Fringe and The X-Files. Actually, it’s more of a comparison of spooky story telling in 1993 and in 2008, which in turn reflects how much society has changed in the last 15 years (oh wow, has it really been that long?).

Before, as Thomas explains it, monsters were monsters, whereas now, monsters such as vampires and zombies are part of regular pop culture. In fact, they are so much part of regular pop culture that some of these characters have become sought after, adulated heroes of shows like Vampire Diaries and movies such as, yes, Twilight. How did they reach this status? By being humanized, which makes them a lot less frightening. There is also the fact that fear of monsters was related to fear of the unknown other.

As the world has been relatively decreasing in size, with the emergence of new telecommunication and transportation methods, the other has become less mysterious, and we are understanding the other as being just as human as we are. And, as this awareness increases, we have also come to understand that things are not as black and white as we used to think they were. And this translates in storytelling by an exploration of the reasons why a so-called monster came to be thus, and the imagining of possibilities that make them so much more human than before. The sequel to Dracula, although not nearly as acclaimed as the original, is an interesting reflection of the advances humanity has made since 1897.

As these fears slowly fall away, what scares us is something new, something that, ironically enough perhaps, played an important role in alleviating our previous collective fear of the unknown other. Thomas explains that the explosion in technological advances witnessed in recent years has increased the speed of new technology integrated in our day to day lives to dizzying speeds. Consequently, our relationship with technology is both one of awe and discomfort.

Furthermore, the fact that the world is smaller now (ready for more irony? Thanks to these new technologies!) makes us more vulnerable to threats that before, were far away. The spread of diseases, both benign or not, and both natural or not, is one of them. And of course, nothing scares us more than a lack of security, i.e. knowing that the enemy might just be next door. You thought Fox Mulder was paranoid? Fringe’s shapeshifters are the perfect infiltrators, making our innermost sanctums where we used to seek safety impossible to keep safe.

Fringe Science: Parallel Universes, White Tulips, and Mad Scientists was a fascinating read. So much so that I just might be looking forward to the next hiatus to crack it open again. I certainly hope that, as Fringe delves into other various fringe sciences, we will be treated by a second edition to this book by Smart Pop Books (hint, hint).

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