Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Using Medicine in Science Fiction

Most of you, polling has demonstrated, come to this blog to read about science and SF. How not, then, to review here (from the Springer Books "Science and Fiction" series) the recently published Using Medicine in Science Fiction: The SF Writer's Guide to Human Biology, by H. G. Stratmann?(*)

(*) How recent? Available since September 2015, despite the 2016 copyright date. Of course, we SF aficionados are more open than most to the possibility of time travel :-) And to further muddy the temporal waters, this book would have had a place in my 2015 best reads summary if I hadn't wanted to post recommendations early within the recently concluded holiday shopping season. Of course there are still post-holiday clearance sales and (in theory) unspent gift cards ...

Stratmann is a cardiologist and an SF author, supremely qualified to have authored such a book. (Full disclosure: Henry and I are friends -- but that's not the reason for the rave review that follows.)

Check it out on Amazon
Science fiction is replete, overtly or otherwise, with medicine and biology. Astronauts adapting -- for better or worse -- to micro gravity. Colonists on the Moon assailed by solar and cosmic radiation. Pioneers in suspended animation for a centuries-long interstellar crossing. Gengineered human beings. Immortals. Medical nanobots. Human-machine hybrids. Clones. Uploads  ...

All too often, the medical and biological content in science fiction is seriously incomplete or, worse, flat-out wrong. (There's also more than enough questionable physics, chemistry, and engineering in the genre, but, sometimes those do come out right. Historically, many more physicists and engineers than biologists and doctors have written SF.) If unrealistic portrayals of biology and medicine are the disease, then Using Medicine in Science Fiction is the cure.

The little molecule that could
Wonder about the possible science behind suspended animation? Want to know how the human body adapts (or fails to adapt) to micro-gravity conditions? Plan to include in your writing a robotic cure-all, a Nivenesque "autodoc?" Need to know what medicines and medical gear are stocked on the International Space Station? Curious how off-Earth conditions will affect sex (admit it: you are) and reproduction? The book offers plenty of insight into these topics, and much, much more.

Using Medicine in Science Fiction is a meticulously researched book, one that you can't read without learning a great deal about a great many topics. It's also richly leavened with wry asides and sly genre references. SF fans will appreciate how it is liberally endowed with examples of medical topics as used (and abused) in a plethora of genre books, stories, comics, TV shows, and movies. (Another disclosure: a few of those references are to novels by Your Humble Blogger.) And if you're left wanting to know more, each chapter concludes with an extensive set of citations.

In summary: Using Medicine in Science Fiction: The SF Writer's Guide to Human Biology immediately earned a place of honor on my use-all-the-time reference shelf. Whether you read, view, or write SF -- or "merely" want better to understand the capabilities and limitations of the intricate mechanism that is (or could be) the human body -- this is a book well worth your attention.


Keith Kenny said...

Ed, thanks for the review and recommendation. I've noted the gap in the availability of this sort of information. The survival question is often skipped in SF, although it is a major effort at NASA as you know. I've pondered whether a child born and raised in zero- would even develop a skeletal system that we would recognize? Would our Earth-formed structures adapt? I'll add this book to my resources.

Edward M. Lerner said...

My pleasure, Keith. There's a lot modern medicine doesn't yet understand about how our bodies behave under the conditions in which we evolved -- much less under wildly different conditions. So: Using Medicine in SF was an educational read aside from its (significant) value as a writing resource.

jaguar said...

Happy new year, Sir.
I too thank you for your recommendation. Looks very impressive.
I hope it is written in plain enough to me.

Could I ask you if you know Japanese SF author Sakyo Komatsu' s "Day of Resurrection" a pandemic novel? (or digest movie "Virus")
It is old, addresses viroids before its discovery, but I love it very much.

Edward M. Lerner said...

Jaguar, thank you for your note. I hope you enjoy Using SF in Medicine. As for the novel and movie you named, I am not familiar with either.

jaguar said...

Thank you very much, Sir.
I'm trying to purchase "Using Medicine in Science Fiction" on kindle,
but haven't complete yet. I continue.

unknowing said...

Debating whether to make the purchase. Unfortunately, a number of inaccuracies and inapt metaphors in the sample (first) chapter left me dubious as to the overall value of the work. I'm hopeful that later chapters are better aligned to the author's expertise.