Of Growth and Development: Appropriating the Pedagogical Significance of Science Fiction- A Case Study of H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine and Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park

Goutam Karmakar

Dr Goutam Karmakar is an Assistant Professor of English at Barabazar Bikram Tudu Memorial College, Sidho-Kanho-Birsha University, West Bengal. He has completed his Ph.D. from the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, National Institute of Technology Durgapur (NITD), West Bengal.


Rather than an alternative to ‘high culture’ and a simple example of ‘popular culture’, science fiction can be taken as a discourse of multiple questions, new challenges, assumptions, invention and intervention, criticism, scepticism and new insights. While maintaining a certain peculiar and particular sense of wonder and excitement, this ‘speculative fiction’ remains true to scientific discoveries and principles and can be used as an amazingly powerful tool by the students to understand how the study of science can not only alter the voices of the world but also can enhance the collective capacity to change the visions of it. By taking H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine and Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park as the point of departure, this paper attempts to show the ways by which science fiction courses can be evaluated, furnished and integrated prolifically to teach scientific facts.

Keywords: Science fiction, Pedagogy, Knowledge, Experience, Students                                                     


Science fiction is often politically charged and its frequent extrapolation of current scientific trends can ignite debate among students about scientific ethics, application and advocacy. The traffic between science fiction and science fact is growing and, with the proliferation of this genre in mainstream film, television and even computer gaming, it seems that, for a number of students, an interest in science may have been inspired by science fiction. To me, it makes sense to use science fiction as a tool in the teaching of science and […] to foster student engagement and reflection.  (Bowater et al 15)

Being one of the most popular literary and cultural genres, Science fiction (hereafter as SF) fascinates readers and viewers around the world. For diffusing the fear of the future and stimulating imagination and creative faculty, SF carries special importance as this medium not only generates students’ alternative thinking capacity but also works as evaluating tools through which students’ thinking patterns of alternative conception are addressed. While in the textbook-heavy classrooms, students should be encouraged to read science fictions to acquire confidence in science and the capability to explore scientific facts from those, in the lecture-centric classrooms teachers can engage reluctant learners also by using Sci-Fi narratives to raise students’ science-related critical thinking, critical and cognitive awareness, positive stances towards science, civic and environmental sensitivity, understanding the interconnections between technology, environment, society, culture and science and teachers can also make them think about the possible alternatives of society and future. By taking Hugo Gernsback’s definition of SF as “a charming romance intermingled with scientific fact and prophetic vision” (qtd. in Westfahl 38-39) three elements can be derived namely, a thrilling or charming adventure which attracts the students to read SF, a scientific fact which allows students to acquire recent developments in science and lastly, the prophetic vision which helps the students to imagine a future by using the scientific knowledge that they get from SF. At the same time, Ken McLeod shows how despite some of the glaring implausibility and errors, questionable explanations and speculative passages, SF makes students feel at home in scientific facts. He says:

The very minimum that written sf does is to popularize the rhetoric of science, and make the language of science familiar to the reader. It valorises and validates interest in science, and stimulates thought about the consequences of new discoveries and of new applications of science. But I would go further than that, and claim that science fiction is the only form of literature that takes seriously, and communicates in a popular form, the greatest scientific discovery of all: that the universe we inhabit is vast, ancient, and indifferent. (174-175)

By taking references to “anchored instruction” and “situated learning”, SF can be presented in such a way where various scientific problem-solving situations are handled authentically and realistically and by using SF as a pedagogical tool in a logical way, thought experiments and imagination of students’ can certainly formulate practically safe and reasonably engaging and authentic virtual learning environment. SF can make a fruitful bonding between popular science and scientific research where non-experts can also debate. At the same time, “the construction of new knowledge in scientific laboratories leads to popular science and meditation, an in-between space in which experts and the general public can debate about science and society” (Thévenon 3). While Terence Cavanaugh and Catherine Cavanaugh (1996 15) in Learning Science with Science Fiction Films show how SF allows students to visualize and connect abstract concepts of science in various disciplines and Dubeck (1993 47) depicts the discovery process and pseudoscientific themes of science when SF is used as a pedagogical tool, Brake and Thornton (2003 32-33) talk about the process of creating scientifically literate citizens through incorporating SF in an undergraduate program as an applied science degree and Allday (2003 27-28) asks for a useful website where SF can be vividly explored as a pedagogical tool to explicate the wonders of science along with its physical impossibilities and glaring errors. At the same time, Hunter (1980 10) and Cacha (1977 21) show how SF as a pedagogical tool develop students’ creative work and imagination through which content knowledge and scientific concepts are communicated. Furthermore, SF also deals with certain engineering concepts which allow students to think about the numerous possibilities of technology and design. Regarding the use of SF as a pedagogical tool in the Engineering classroom, Albert E. Segall aptly says:

Sci-fi can and should be used to convey a wide range of concepts from basic mechanics all the way up to advanced design and analysis. For a number of reasons, the importance of this potential enhancement cannot be overstated. First, “sci fi’s” creation of lasting images to the underlying theory can only help students through the seemingly abstract core classes of physics and mechanics. It is also hoped that a potent combination of theory and visual imagery may ultimately provide a critical nudge to help many students to “get it”. Another advantage is that a visual and fun connection between concept and application may also help avoid the “disconnect” that often occurs as the curriculum initially plunges into math, physics and chemistry without a clear linkage to the vision that guided students towards engineering in the first place. (419)

The interdisciplinary approach should be taken in the classroom to show how the works of Mary Shelley, H. G. Wells, Douglas Adam, Michael Crichton and many others contain certain scientific information that can lead to latest scientific discoveries and even students from humanities background can be benefitted as Negrete and Lartigue observe: “in particular, [the results of the study] suggest that narrative information is retained for lengthier periods than factual information and that narratives constitute an important means for science communication to transmit information in an accurate, memorable and enjoyable way” (104). Furthermore, non-fiction books can also help students to acquire certain scientific facts. Here a suggested list of fiction and non-fiction books is given along with the possible research topics:



Potential research topics

A Swiftly Tilting Planet

L’Engle, M.

Nuclear development, telepathy, time travel

Digital Fortress

Brown, D.

Cryptography, software development, computer operating systems, cellular communications

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Stevenson, R. L.

Pharmaceutical development, mental disorder, bipolar disorder

Ender’s Game

Card, O. S.

Space travel, virtual reality, video gaming

I am Legend

Matheson, R.

Viruses, vaccine development, immunity and immunological disorders, parasitism

Journey to the Center of the Earth

Verne, J.

Geology, volcanoes, palaeontology, biomes

Maximum Ride

Patterson, J.

Genetic coding, mutation, global warming


Westerfield, S.

Ecosystems, migraines, plastic surgery

The Andromeda Stain

Crichton, M.

Pandemics, bacteria and disease development

The Host

Meyer, S.

Parasitism, viruses, surgery

The Invisible Man

Wells, H. G.

Refractive index, invisibility, cloaking devices


Hersey, J.

Nuclear development, nuclear power, radiation disease

Rocket Boys*

Hickam, H. S.

Space travel, Newton’s laws, rocks and minerals

Silent Spring*

Carson, R.

Ecology, adaptation, global warming, greenhouse gases, pollution

This assignment can be reworked to allow students to also read nonfiction books [marked by an *] and develop scientific research projects (Goodwin 61).

SF helps students to question science and examine communities and individuals in terms of identity, technological system and consciousness and as a pedagogical tool, it enables students to know beyond the limits of known facts through inventive and imaginative experimentation and observation. Joanna Russ aptly says in this context when she says that science fiction “attempts to assimilate imaginatively scientific knowledge about reality and the scientific method, as distinct from the merely practical changes sciences has made in our lives” (7). SF with its capability to dramatize and project generates thoughts and concern for moral, philosophical, social and cultural implications of scientific progress. It helps students to understand the pluralistic and dynamic nature and evaluation of science and it also enables students to challenge the ‘two culture myth’ by making a close connection between humanities and science. At the same time, Patrick Parrinder suggests that “up to the present, SF has continued to be moulded and shaped by scientific thought, even in its moments of rebellion against it” (67). Taking Gernsback’s definition of the term “scientification”, it can be noted that SF provides romantic stories where prophetic vision and scientific fact intermingle and these stories instruct and educate students and here Gary Raham’s observation is worth mentioning:

Today’s student can and must learn both the laws of nature already revealed by scientists and the scientific mode of thinking that will reveal new ones to survive and prosper in a future of our collective making whose borders will be staked at the limits of our imaginations. Science fiction can allow students to test those borders and, as several fictional starship captains have said, “boldly go where no one has gone before”. (xiv-xv)

Before going to show the pedagogical significance of H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine, and Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park, it is needed to depict how the teaching of SF in the classroom creates an internal sphere where science and learning intermingle and here SF and domain of knowledge create a space as shown by Fries.




Fig.1- Fries’s Different spheres of scientific discourse (qtd. in Thévenon 3)



Teaching H. G. Wells’s The Time Machine

Science fiction should be regarded as a literary medium akin to science itself. Scientific methodology involves the proposition that a well-considered theory will not only explain away known phenomena but will also predict new and still undiscovered phenomena. Science fiction tries to do much the same-and write up in story form, what the result looks like when applied not only to machines but human society as well. (qtd. in Gunn 3)

Taking John W. Campbell’s views on the impact on SF on society and J. O. Bailey’s definition of science fiction as “a narrative of an imaginary invention or discovery in the natural sciences and consequent adventures and experiences” (10) as the point of departure, H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine (1895) comes up with scientific and human developments through his hero’s travelling of 800,000 years into the future to discover Eloi and Morlocks, two distinguishable populations of human descendants. While the people are in Eloi group are fun-loving, pretty, small, stupid in disposition and child-like in appearance, people in Morlocks are more intelligent, look like scary white apes, eat peoples from Eloi, technologically sharp and live underground. A close reading of this SF can throw light on a few issues like time, the concept of biological species, living mechanism of those two groups, ecological and horticultural dimensions. Here students can learn the ideas of Aristotelian time, prediction and extrapolation, scientific and personal perspectives of time, and current models of stellar evolution. The story enables students to raise questions on Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection as the story does not depict the future as either “grey with evolutionary perspectives” or “gay with ingenuous fore-glimpses of a renewed golden age of socialism and sentimentality” (Zangwill 40). Offering a scientific and several forms of prophecy, Wells’s sophisticated vision of the future of humanity urges students to criticise the modalities of science popularisation in the late Victorian period and they can find the distance between the text and the readers created by Wells through his incorporation of the narrative of a time traveller and ultimately, the students can create a space where they critically discuss the issues related to cultural authority where the knowledge of science ascribed to proficient scientists can be communicated. Furthermore, the narrator’s description in the very beginning of the book reminds the students that it is very much needed that scientific topics should be handled in a zestful way. Regarding the narrator, Wells opines: “He did not confine himself to abstract science. Several ingenious, and one or two profitable, patents were his: very profitable they were, these last, as his handsome house in Richmond testified” (1).

Regarding the concepts of morphological and biological species, students can ponder upon the questions about the productivity and crossbreeding of Morlocks and Eloi, the biological divergence between these two groups and they can do a conjectural breeding programme to get ethical yet scientific explanations and answers. Students can be asked about the isolating mechanisms that may stop hybridization between Eloi and Morlocks and here students after applying behavioural, habitat, temporal and other isolating mechanisms like their difference in size, their nocturnal and diurnal time zone, their differences in activities and intelligence, can guess the reason behind the isolation. While doing all these, students’ performance can be measured in multifarious ways and assessment can be done “on whether they provide the requested three different reproductive isolating mechanisms and how well they relate the “data” from the book plot to the scientific concepts of habitat, circadian rhythms, courtship behaviour, and morphology” (Bixler 338). Furthermore, The Time Machine offers opportunities to the students for interdisciplinary studies like the speculations on the class system of Victorian England during the Industrial Revolution and social Darwinism. Wells’s description of the “withered flowers” can ask the students to envision the flora of the future and thus, predictions can be done on hybridization and horticultural ameliorative practices of a stilted selection in the nineteenth-century. Students can work on how by fully transforming human desires and need, plants in the future will create a perfect harmony with other species in this ecosystem. Thus, students can work on how plants can be ameliorated and propagated and here students may pay their attention to John Lindley’s ethics on horticulture. The following passage from The Time Machine can potentially trigger students’ interest in botanical studies:

Our agriculture and horticulture destroy a weed just here and there and cultivate perhaps a score or so of wholesome plants, leaving the greater number to fight out a balance as they can. We improve our favourite plants and animals-and how few they are-gradually by selective breeding; now a new and better peach, now a seedless grape, now a sweeter and larger flower, now a more convenient breed of cattle. We improve them gradually, because our ideals are vague and tentative, and our knowledge is very limited; because Nature, too, is shy and slow in our clumsy hands. Someday all this will be better organized, and still better. That is the drift of the current in spite of the eddies. The whole world will be intelligent, educated, and cooperating; things will move faster and faster towards the subjugation of Nature. In the end, wisely and carefully we shall readjust the balance of animal and vegetable life to suit our human needs. (90-91)

So, a close reading of the text will initiate understanding among students about the resilience of plants and the ecological agency of natural environment which in turn outcompete the text’s human plot. Students can exercise on the symbiotic relationship between human and non-human agencies and they can also explicate horticultural implications of a human-engineered nature, future of plants and humans relationship and explores how “the novel’s plants and people compete for narrative and readerly attention, in a narrative model that suggests competition within the narrative environment reflects competition in the natural world” and “in what ways the relative agency of humans and nonhumans can be parsed through a competitive narrative system” (Bowden 606-622).

Teaching Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park

Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park introduces the concept of genetic engineering, biotechnology and chaos theory which symbolise the materialistic enthusiasm for creating dinosaurs and commercialisation of science. While the bioethics of Jurassic Park depicts how the scientists want to create a theme park of cloned dinosaurs by collecting DNA of dinosaur found in the blood of fossilized mosquitoes, gnats and ticks, the story throws lights on the cutting-edge theories in palaeontology and thus, discusses the advance research in molecular biology. So, cloning is one of the major scientific issues that students can get exposed to through the narrative because Crichton talks on this vividly throughout the story as opined by Becker: “Long before there was a real clone, however, there were dozens of fictional clones cranked out in dozens of novels […] perhaps the most famous are the dinosaurs in Michael Crichton’s 1990 novel Jurassic Park” (69). At the same time, the scientists’ filling in the dinosaur DNA gaps with that of frog’s to intentionally create all female dinosaurs to curb the reproductive process signify the basic lack of knowledge on the part of the scientists. They failed to realise the consequences of using frog DNA that rendered engineered dinosaurs the ability of amphibians to change their sex and reproduce. Furthermore, scientists also altered and modified the dinosaur DNA to prevent them from making lysine, an essential amino acid needed as a daily supplement for them. But all these alteration and modification failed to prevent the catastrophe as the dinosaurs took over the park, typically reacting to their basic animalistic instinct as shown in the story:

The park is becoming a real Jurassic world. The animals are behaving as they did millions of years ago. The meat-eaters are killing the plant-eaters. I think the last raptors from the enclosure are in the park with the raptors who were born there. One video screen showed a group of raptors chasing some hypsilophodontids. On another screen, six raptors had jumped on a huge hadrosaur. They were biting it and cutting it with their sharp claws. The young tyrannosaur was hunting a stegosaur. The triceratops were fighting each other. Everyone in the Control Room watched silently. (Crichton 100-101)

So, the experiment which fails and eventually causes havoc questions the bioethics of the ecosystem and the students can realise the adverse effects of scientific experiments which try to disrupt the basic order of life. They understand Chaos theory as described by Ian Malcolm in the story as some changes that are unpredictable, overtly chaotic and that bring drastic changes in complex systems. Here the novelist shows how the experiments on dinosaurs crumble their perceived order of the whole programme and here students can locate the commercialization of the chaos theory, adverse effects of creating a pure simulation or hyperreal world of lost species and flaws in Malcolm’s methods as “Malcolm’s insight is vindicated by subsequent events and the commercial greed that has helped to build the Jurassic Park is condemned, not simply morally, but also scientifically” (Stern 358). For saving money and increasing efficiency, Hammond depends solely on a huge computer system that automates functions and systems of that park but the significant bugs in that system symbolise the potential dangers of technology. Malcolm’s mathematical calculation to depict fancy-sounding scientific lingo and his chaotic theory again indicates human’s dependence on technology and students will learn that it is extremely difficult to comprehend and decipher a complex and long strand of DNA by computers. At the same time, after reading the story students have to understand the bioethical issues found in Jurassic Park like - should scientists manipulate, alter and create DNA to bioengineer altered organism? Should people attempt to reform extinct species? How will people survive from the evil consequences of genetic engineering and what are the possible measures scientists have to prepare to control disasters and finally, what are the guidelines of an ethical scientific action? The students must be aware of the possibility of being perished before the annihilation of the universe. The conversation between Malcolm and Hammond in Jurassic Park highlights the necessity to realise the consequences of any extraordinary scientific venture and also focuses on mercenary scientists who wish to utilize their scientific skills for their materialistic gains:

‘I told you that things would go wrong,’ Malcolm said, ‘This is a disaster’. ‘There was a time when a problem like this couldn’t have happened,’ he continued. ‘Scientists worked slowly and carefully. They learnt to be careful and make sensible decisions. Now anyone can buy powerful scientific knowledge and use it quickly and easily. And look at the disaster you have caused.’ ‘I only wanted to make an animal park,’ said Hammond. ‘You wanted to make money,’ said Malcolm. ‘And disasters happen if people want to get rich by using science… Don’t you understand? It’s possible that none of you will leave this island alive.’ […] We don’t have the power to destroy the Earth or to save it. But can we save ourselves?’ Malcolm smiled. (Crichton 91)


Apart from being scientifically literate, students can develop an alternative conception of science through the reading and watching of science fictions because “the foremost reality that science fiction deals with is change, which could be the reason for the growing interest in the genre in the twentieth century” (Pohl 61). The students can learn scientific facts laid in the narrative structure of SF and they may get inspired for further research works and explorations on those facts. They gain knowledge about simple scientific facts even without elaborate scientific experiences and students can relate to the matter of SF and thus, stories in SF can also provide a gateway to know the present and future issues of ethical and social relevance. At the same time, SF enables students to read and think critically and as a pedagogical tool, “it is a given that the science postulated in science fiction can be a source of lessons and discussions in Science classes” (MLS 64) and a close reading of H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine and Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park prove the fact that in a classroom, SF allows students to question, criticize, extend, formulate, invent and revise static scientific paradigms and changes in society and science. Thus, its goal is to bring out new ideas that will be true to nature and bringing SF into the curriculum, awards and degrees should be given to make students more interested in this genre and in scientific initiatives, as Mark Brake and Neil Hook aptly opine:

The intention was to inculcate in students a critical understanding of the social development of science and science fiction, as well as examining the nature of science and its relationship with science fiction. The use of science fiction on the award should also lead to a greater understanding of issues related to the public understanding of science, particularly the social implications of science and technology, and the way in which they are represented within various forms of media and culture. (206)

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