Science Fiction and the Medical Humanities Research Assistant, Anna McFarlane

Today our new research assistant, Anna McFarlane, introduces herself. You may see Anna tweeting about the project from our account, @scifimedhums, or as herself (@mariettarosetta). She’ll also be visible on our Facebook group, and on this very blog. Take it away, Anna!

Greetings fellow Earthicans! I’m very happy to be the research assistant on the Science Fiction and the Medical Humanities project. I’ve come to Glasgow fresh from my PhD at the University of St Andrews where I wrote my thesis on William Gibson, who you may know from his seminal cyberpunk novel, Neuromancer (1984). My PhD project took shape when I realised that Gibson, and many other cyberpunk authors, were using the German term ‘gestalt’ which comes to English through gestalt psychology. In my thesis I argue that considering the ideas of gestalt psychology alongside cyberpunk offers new ways to think about identity, politics, and the use of language in William Gibson’s novels. Although I didn’t think of what I was doing in my thesis as ‘medical humanities’ I was taking my first steps in the field, thinking about how a medical approach can help us to better understand literature, while at the same time thinking about how literature can help us approach medicine.

While working on my thesis I became the co-editor of Vector: The Critical Journal of the British Science Fiction and the Greek playwright and founder of the Stage the Future conferences, Christos Callow, invited me to join him in editing Adam Roberts: Critical Essays for the Gylphi Contemporary Writers Series. This essay collection engages with the work of Adam Roberts who has considered medical themes in his science fiction novels. For example, in By Light Alone (2012) human society is changed forever by the development of nanotechnology that allows humans to photosynthesise through their hair. This breakthrough eradicates hunger, but allows global inequality to grow exponentially. Editing these essays with Christos gave me an insight into some of the ways that contemporary science fiction writers are engaging with debates about medicine and with the future of the human body in general.

In addition to writing my thesis and editing, I always do my best to make time for sharing my ideas. I’ve spoken about my thesis on the Viva Survivors podcast, and in 2013 I delivered a public talk as part of Dundee University’s Café Science programme. My talk was entitled ‘The Scientific Imagination: Science Fiction and Innovation’ and in this talk I considered some of the ways that science fiction has influenced science in general and medicine more specifically. I was particularly happy to give a local spin on the topic since Dundee University have developed a ‘sonic screwdriver’ with applications in surgery which garnered many headlines in the press thanks to its association with Doctor Who.

As you can probably tell from my past interests, I’m delighted to be joining the Science Fiction and the Medical Humanities project and I hope you will join us (online, in person, or both!) as we set off on this intellectual journey.

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