(Don’t) Ask a Scientist!: The Good, the Bad, and the Accuracy

Originally posted: May 2016Frau_Im_Mond_940

At the end of March 2016 I went to my first science fiction convention: EasterCon. Also known as the British National Science Fiction Convention, now in its 67th year, the convention is given a name that reflects its location or theme each year and for the Manchester EasterCon we had Mancunicon. The convention, which is primarily literary, was drastically different from my convention expectations of cosplayers and comic books. It was a serious and engaging event where, as a SF researcher, it was great to speak to a huge range of writers, fans, and commentators. Audience questions were perceptive and revealing and I found the entire experience very rewarding. Continue reading “(Don’t) Ask a Scientist!: The Good, the Bad, and the Accuracy”

SF Suggestions (2016 edition)

Originally posted: May 2016Orphan-Black-Cosima-1434649070.gif

When I started as a postdoc on the Unsettling Scientific Stories project in 2016 I was asked to produce a ‘top ten’ list of SF texts that were favourites, inspiration, and the types of works that I hoped to look at as part of the project.

This is mine: Continue reading “SF Suggestions (2016 edition)”

Amazing Stories, Amazing Art: SF Magazine Cover Art

Originally posted: April 2016


Screen-Shot-2016-04-13-at-13.35.53The cover art for the Unsettling Scientific Stories project is taken from original cover art created by Arnold Kohn for the August 1947 edition of Amazing Stories (vol.21, iss.8). I proposed it as a suitable image to represent the project as it communicates the awesome power of science. The figure is both frightened and in awe of the power he holds in his hand: the potential of science, and specifically in this cover, the potential that atomic science has in the hands of humanity. Trying to find an image to represent a project that spans more than 100 years is not an easy task. But the idea that science has been looked upon, feared, respected, and misused is one that weaves its way throughout the project. Kohn’s art for Amazing Stories communicated an idea rather than a story. Unsettling Scientific Stories is of course about stories, and some very specific stories but it is also about how ideas about science were communicated through text and image. Continue reading “Amazing Stories, Amazing Art: SF Magazine Cover Art”

You gotta make way for the Homo Superior: Mutation, Evolution, and Super Powers on Screen

Originally posted: February 2015

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Detail from the title sequence from X-Men: First Class

Recently I went to a fascinating research seminar on the history of the theory of mass extinction and the human fears of and impact on extinction given by historian of biology, Dr David Sepkoski (Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin) at the Centre for the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine (University of Manchester). It got me thinking about not only imagined extinction in fiction (I’ve researched/written about Planet of the Apes’ and its post-human/post-apocalyptic worlds), but also about how some recent science fiction shows, predominately in the Marvel (MCU) and DC storyworlds, have drawn upon human fears of extinction and being replaced (and thus super threatened) by another human race (or more specifically, a secondarily evolving hominin species). The fear isn’t of an invading species of aliens, or the rise of intelligent apes – but a threat that is much closer to home, a threat from within human DNA (what Kirby [2007] refers to as ‘the Devil in our DNA’). Continue reading “You gotta make way for the Homo Superior: Mutation, Evolution, and Super Powers on Screen”

The Skriker: Global Warming, Eco-fairytales, and Science on the Stage

Originally posted: July 2015

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‘It’s a clarion call …Maybe it will make people look at what we’re doing on a global scale and how wrong it is.’  Maxine Peake

Caryl Churchill’s postmodern play The Skriker is just about to begin its final week of a sold-out run at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre and its environmentalist message is as worryingly relevant today as when it premièred at the National Theatre twenty-one years ago. This has been a summer of headlines about record-breaking temperatures; according to scientists the Earth as a whole has experienced its hottest June and the hottest first half of the year since records began. The current climate crisis is entwined with a lengthy history of industrialisation, reckless ecological practices, and the environmental movement has been blighted by financial crisis, austerity, and a political and corporate denial of this global catastrophe. Global warming and climate change are unavoidable issues that permeate news media and increasingly fictional media. Continue reading “The Skriker: Global Warming, Eco-fairytales, and Science on the Stage”

What Entertainment Can do for Science, and Vice Versa

Originally posted: August 2015

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One of the plausible zombies from The Last of Us (2013) – in the game the zombie infection is a fungus that kills and transforms its hosts

We are experiencing a golden age for the fusion of science and entertainment. Oscar-winning films such as Gravity and The Theory of Everything, television ratings titans like The Big Bang Theory, video games including The Last of Us (2013), and high-traffic web-comics like XKCD have shown that science-based entertainment products can be both critically and financially successful. Continue reading “What Entertainment Can do for Science, and Vice Versa”

Jessica Jones: Science, Realism, & Netflix

Originally posted: December 2015395696_1280x960.jpg

In the Netflix’s Marvel comic book adaptations the superheroes and their powers can be explained by science – medical/scientific experiments (e.g. Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Kilgrave) and a childhood accident with radioactive toxic waste (Daredevil/Murdoch) – even if the explanations aren’t exactly entirely ‘accurate’. The active incorporation of science allows these small-screen Marvel adaptations to achieve a greater sense of verisimilitude and also tap into contemporary concerns about viruses, medical experimentation (specifically in relation to genetics), and uncontrolled science/scientists, alongside serious responses to addiction, rape, neglect, PTSD, and mental illness. Continue reading “Jessica Jones: Science, Realism, & Netflix”

Stories about Science: Communicating Science Through Entertainment Media

Originally posted: June 2015 – co-written with Ray MacauleyScreen Shot 2018-05-29 at 23.32.08.png

We are now in a golden age of science-based entertainment media.

Every science-based entertainment product is a unique and complex cultural artefact created for a specific audience, format, and purpose. It would be difficult to come up with a template or set of generic rules that could be applied by practitioners in all science communication projects or encompass all forms of entertainment media. Continue reading “Stories about Science: Communicating Science Through Entertainment Media”

‘You’re Blind, But You See So Much’: Netflix’s Daredevil and Blindness

Originally posted: 20th April 2015

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Netflix recently released its most recent original series, an adaptation of Marvel’s Daredevil. It joins Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and Agent Carter’s focus upon the more human characters of the Marvel Universe. Agent Phil Coulson, Agent Peggy Carter, and Daredevil/Matt Murdock are all human and definitely distinct from the god, the genetically enhanced super-soldier, the angry green scientist, and even the genius (billionaire playboy philanthropist) and his super-suit of armour. Unlike Agents of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and Agent Carter that were produced for weekly broadcast on television, the newest addition to the Marvel franchise has been released in a 13-episode load. This gives the audience the option to binge-watch the entire series, space it over a few days, or (if you have the willpower) over a few weeks. I have taken a break from my viewing marathon to think about a few things that came up during the first half of the series relating to the way the series communicates Murdock’s blindness and how this sensory deprivation makes him a super (human) hero. Continue reading “‘You’re Blind, But You See So Much’: Netflix’s Daredevil and Blindness”

Welcome back to humanity. Now you get to die: Vampires and… Science?

Originally posted: September 2014

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From the slayer to the scientist. From slaying to saving.

Do vampire narratives become science fiction when vampirism is created or/and ‘cured’ by science? Whether benevolent, malicious, or uncontrolled, science is rivalling if not, in some cases, entirely replacing the supernatural as the most prevalent component of recent vampire narratives. Where once there was a vampire slayer and her pointy stick there are now scientists armed with vaccines and syringes. Continue reading “Welcome back to humanity. Now you get to die: Vampires and… Science?”