No Cure for the Future: Disease and Medicine in Science Fiction and Fantasy

No Cure for the Future: Disease and Medicine in Science Fiction and Fantasy

No Cure for the Future: Disease and Medicine in Science Fiction and Fantasy

No Cure for the Future: Disease and Medicine in Science Fiction and Fantasy

Synopsis

Offers a broad study of the history of medicine in science fiction and fantasy literature and film as well as detailed examinations of some of the field's greatest works.

Excerpt

Gary Westfahl

By most accounts, science fiction is a literature that began with a novel, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus (1818), describing a projected medical breakthrough, the creation of an artificial human being. Other nineteenthcentury authors celebrated as science fiction pioneers contributed visions of doctors engaged in fantastic work: a dead man is kept alive by hypnosis in Edgar Allan Poe's “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” (1845); a doctor transforms the people of a Flemish town with a mysterious gas in Jules Verne's “Doctor Ox's Experiment” (1874); the evil memories of patients are scientifically removed in Edward Bellamy's Dr. Heidenhoff's Process (1880); and secret operations turn beasts into men in H. G. Wells's The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896).

While such portrayals of isolated, individual researchers have lingered on in twentieth-century film portrayals of “mad doctors,” the actual field of medicine has evolved into a collective, bureaucratic, and scientifically sophisticated system, so that now, for most individuals, the nearest equivalent to traveling through time into the distant future is becoming a patient at a modern hospital. Suddenly, one is whisked away from her familiar environment into a stark, sterile room, where she is attached to various pieces of machinery that mysteriously flicker and hum while intravenous sedative drugs dull her mind and alter her perceptions as she overhears people whispering in incomprehensible jargon. It is little wonder that, as I once opined, popular images of hospitals, and popular images of the future, seem inextricably intertwined.

Due to both distinguished literary ancestry and contemporary experience, then, one would expect science fiction to deal with disease and medicine frequently and conspicuously, making medical science fiction one of the field's most important subgenres. Yet as contributors to this volume have discovered, this is manifestly not the case. In contrast to the numbers of stories dealing with topics like the colonization of space, contact with alien life, travel through time, and futuristic cities, stories focusing on physicians or improvements in medical care are fewer in number. There exists, as H. Bruce Franklin will remind us, a long tradition of . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.