How does author Sharon Shinn translate Bronte’s Jane Eyre into a sci fi setting? Here are some examples from her novel Jenna Starborn:
The Helen Burns character is not killed by consumption, but by radiation exposure from a machine she is working on. So in both cases, there is the implication that this girl’s life could have been saved if the people in charge took better care of their students.
The Mr. Rochester character does not dress up as a gypsy, but uses an electronic fortunetelling program to manipulate his guests.
The wife in the attic is not a madwoman, she is a malfunctioning cyborg. And the question in the sci fi setting, as in Bronte’s day, is how human is she? If you are insane, are you a full person? This was a hot topic of the 1800s. And of course sci fi has long debated what defines personhood. Is Data, my favorite android from Star Trek the Next Generation, a person? What about all those machines in the blockbuster Matrix films? Are members of an alien race people? Jane Eyre is primarily about identity, and sci fi loves debating identity.
Endemic to this debate is Jenna herself. She is a test tube creation, ordered by a childless woman to her preferred genetic retail specifications. A bit of this DNA, a bit of that DNA. Whatever the buyer wants. However, when the woman is able to give birth to her own biological child, she loses all affection for Jenna. She is unable to love her, this artificially cobbled-together specimen of chromosomes. So Jenna, like the cyborg wife, must face questions of true personhood. Jenna must discover she is equal to everyone else on a cosmic level, just as Bronte’s Jane Eyre tells Rochester, “I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, or even of mortal flesh. It is my spirit that addresses your spirit, just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood equal at God’s feet, equal—as we are!”
Sharon Shinn carries out the Jane Eyre parallels convincingly in her created sci fi space world. Check out Jenna Starborn: