MUTANTS
   The idea of "mutation" as a concept for use in understanding biological EVOLUTION was popularized by Hugo de Vries (1848-1935) in Die Mutationstheorie (1901-3); he related it to gross hereditary variations - the freakish "sports" which occasionally turn up in animal populations. Such sports are usually short-lived and sterile, and Charles Darwin(1809-1882) had rejected the notion that they might play a key part; the concept of mutation as an evolutionary factor was eventually modified to refer to relatively slight modifications of individual genes. In 1927 the US geneticist H.J. Muller (1890-1967) succeeded in inducing mutations infruit flies by irradiation, and this success captivated the imagination of many speculative writers. One of the first to take up the notion was John TAINE, who wrote several extravagant "mutational romances". In TheGreatest Adventure (1929) the corpses of giant saurians, no two alike, begin floating up from the ocean depths and are traced to a LOST WORLD in Antarctica where experiments in mutation were once carried out. In TheIron Star (1930) a mutagenic meteor transforms a region in Africa, causing local wildlife to undergo exotic metamorphoses. In Seeds of Life (1931; 1951) an irradiated man becomes a SUPERMAN, but does not realize thedamage done to the genes which he transfers to the next generation. Stories like these, which attribute magical metamorphic qualities toradiation, owe far more to de Vries than to orthodox mutation theory, and yet they have remained commonplace throughout the history of sf. Mutational romance has been a staple of PULP MAGAZINES, COMICS and sfCINEMA, with the irradiation of various creatures frequently producing giant MONSTERS and the irradiation of people causing metamorphoses into supermen (many - possibly most - SUPERHEROES have this type of genesis) or subhumans. Examples from the early pulps include Jack WILLIAMSON's "The Metal Man" (1928) and Edmond HAMILTON's "The Man who Evolved" (1931).Hamilton went on to write many further mutational romances, notably The Star of Life (1947; rev 1959). He habitually featured developmental metamorphoses, and wrote an early story in which a mutant child is born to irradiated parents, "He that Hath Wings" (1938). Another author who made prolific use of mutational romance during the 1940s was Henry KUTTNER, in such stories as "I am Eden" (1946) and "Atomic!" (1947), where the magical transmogrifications are spread over several generations. Kuttner and C.L. MOORE, collaborating as Lewis Padgett, introduced into the sf pulps thesympathetic mutant superman, unjustly persecuted by "normal" humans, in the Baldy series - assembled as MUTANT (1945-53; fixup 1953) - and made comic use of the notion in the Hogben series.UK SCIENTIFIC ROMANCE of the 1930s frequently looked to mutational miracles to produce a better andsaner breed of humans; even H.G. WELLS - who knew better - toyed halfheartedly with the idea in Star-Begotten (1937). The idea that mutation is a necessary part of the process of EVOLUTION led many serious sf writers to treat freakish human mutants sympathetically. Robert A. HEINLEIN did so, in "Universe" (1941), as did Isaac ASIMOV in Foundationand Empire (fixup 1952), the central character of which is "The Mule", a mutant whose advent had been unforeseeable by PSYCHOHISTORY. Frequently populations of persecuted mutants were used as a metaphor for real-life oppressed minorities. The explosion of the atom bomb in 1945 gave a great stimulus to mutational romance, and, although the wildest variants of the concept became scarcer in written sf, the logically absurd notion of clutches of similar superhuman mutants arising simultaneously as a result of nuclear accidents remains commonplace. The most notable example is perhaps Wilmar H. SHIRAS's Children of the Atom (1948-50; fixup 1953); a more recent one is Aubade for Ganelon (1984) by John Willett (1932-). Post- HOLOCAUST stories frequently feature several subspecies of mutants,and often show the "normal" survivors of the atomic war persecuting the mutants - usually unwisely, as it is from the ranks of the mutants that a new species of humanity, better than the old model, is scheduled to appear; examples include Twilight World (1947; fixup 1961) by Poul ANDERSON and F.N. Waldrop, John WYNDHAM's The Chrysalids (1955; vtRe-Birth), Walter M. MILLER's A CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ (1955-7; fixup 1960), Fritz LEIBER's "Night of the Long Knives" (1960; vt "The Wolf Pair") and Edgar PANGBORN's DAVY (1964). It was in this period that the cinema made most of its mutational romances; notably the giant-ant story THEM! (1954).Variants on the post-holocaust mutant theme include LesterDEL REY's The Eleventh Commandment (1962; rev 1970), in which a post-war Church encourages limitless reproduction in order to fight the lethal effects of the mutation rate; and Samuel R. DELANY's vivid romance of a social world which has undergone total mutational metamorphosis, THE EINSTEIN INTERSECTION (1967). Post-holocaust PARANOIA about mutants isused in Norman SPINRAD's The Iron Dream (1972) as an analogue for Hitler's attitude to the Jews. More recent examples of post-holocaust mutational romance include Stuart GORDON's One-Eye (1973) and its sequels, and Hiero's Journey (1973) by Sterling LANIER. A more original story ofmutant-persecution is J.G. BALLARD's "Low-Flying Aircraft" (1975), and the ambitious thread of THE EINSTEIN INTERSECTION has been taken up by A.A. ATTANASIO in Radix (1981) and its sequels. Sf stories dealing sensiblywith the idea of mutation remain rare but, now that the mutational miracle story has been taken to its ultimate extreme in Greg BEAR's BLOOD MUSIC (1985), writers may be forced to become more ingenious in mining themelodramatic potential of the notion.
   BS

Science Fiction and Fantasy Encyclopedia. . 2011.

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