The Anthill Podcast: Science by the seaside (British Science Festival 2017)

Originally posted: September 2017British-Science-Festival-2017-1i1mqxl.png

At the end of summer 2017 I was in Brighton for the annual British Science Festival having organised an event for the History of Science Section of the British Science Festival. I sang at the science festival, because of course I did, and The Conversation featured us on their podcast. They described our contribution like this: Continue reading “The Anthill Podcast: Science by the seaside (British Science Festival 2017)”

Sisters in Science: Ghostbusters Answers the Call

Originally posted: August 2017GhostbustersFeat2.jpg

We need women of science on screen – in major summer blockbusters working together to discover, empower, and save the world. As Ghostbusters’ male ‘evil scientist’ exclaims “do it in the right place, with enough power, and there goes the barrier!” – he’s talking about releasing supernatural creatures on New York but it works for Ghostbusters too as it pushes at the gender barrier. It puts at least a small crack in the glass ceiling by showing that these “sisters in science” are what scientists can and do look like. By normalising women of science on screen and by having them as lead characters rather than sci-candy sidekicks the film industry can show that being a scientist is an entirely achievable goal for the young woman looking to her future career. Continue reading “Sisters in Science: Ghostbusters Answers the Call”

Westworld: Imagined Futures and Re/imagined Pasts

Originally posted: January 20171_lMW0qUD1hgQlnCABnQgkhw.jpeg

Westworld was my favourite series of 2016. It presented a rich science fiction future that managed to be fresh and exciting despite being a remake based upon a 1973 movie by the same title. It had and continues to have lots of opportunities for developing exciting and prescient narrative that can be explored in what I hope will be a long running series. I was mesmerised from the opening credits, which I wrote about hereWestworld played around with time and I will have to rewatch all ten episodes as I attempt to distinguish between ‘fact’ and ‘fiction’, and past, present and/or future. Continue reading “Westworld: Imagined Futures and Re/imagined Pasts”

Science & Future World Building in Westworld’s Credit Sequence

Originally posted: October 2016westworld-sun2.gif

Westworld finally got its UK premier last night. It seemed like an eternity between the US release and our chance to explore, and I successfully navigated the minefield of avoiding spoilers and opinions on the first episode that might interfere with my own initial response (and enjoyment). The first episode wasn’t perfect – I wanted more, but it was necessary to give over time and space for worldbuilding (both the Western theme-park and the futuristic workplace) and introducing the basic concept of the show. It’s based on the 1973 SF-Western movie Westworld written and directed by science fiction writer Michael Crichton (Jurassic ParkAndromeda StrainDisclosure), it was Crichton’s first foray in directing, and it famously stars Yul Brynner as a killer-robot called ‘The Gunslinger’. The film and now the HBO TV series is set in a near-future adult amusement park where the super-rich can pay ($40,000/day) for an immersive storyworld ‘holiday’ where they can do use the robots as they please to act out their wildest Wild West fantasies. Continue reading “Science & Future World Building in Westworld’s Credit Sequence”

(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)”

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”