Writing About Mad Scientists

Writing About Mad Scientists

My fiction writing has been temporarily put on hold as I make a concerted push to finish up a book chapter about the evolution of the female mad scientist, with special attention paid to her portrayal in steampunk webcomics.

….Why yes, I do love being a tenured professor and researching whatever the heck I want…!

At any rate, there’s so much that can be said about mad scientists, male or female, read as straight or gay,  in literature, in cinema, in comics, white or of color, tragic or megalomaniac, with or without prosthetics, serious or satirical,  intellectual or anti-intellectual, and so forth, that my manuscript has become an  thrashing hydra of conflicting ideas that needs to be tamed and chained to one central theme. And that despite the fact that I’m completely ignoring mad scientists on TV; I don’t have the time to survey them, and my sense is that they won’t differ significantly from mad scientists in cinema, although I imagine I’d find more women among their number. I’m also ignoring manga, cartoons, and anime for various time, space and linguistic reasons.

At any rate … if female mad scientists appeal to you, here’s a very brief list of resources that make good starting points. None of them are affiliate links, so click away without fear that I might be profiting thereof…! And of course my chapter will be invaluable once it’s finished… 😉

Webcomics with Female Mad Scientists:

Narbonic: I’m paying particular attention to its steampunk miniseries, but the entirety of the strip is delightful, with two central female mad scientists: Helen B. Narbon and her mother. The series ran from 2000-2006 and is now archived; I recommend the director’s cut.

2D Goggles, Or the Thrilling Adventure of Lovelace and Babbage:  Although Lovelace isn’t quite a mad scientist, she has her moments. I am eagerly awaiting Padua’s book of Lovelace & Babbage adventures, which her blog says is due out in 2015.

Next Town Over: I’m nominating Vane Black as a mad scientist. A lot of her history remains to be revealed, but she shows most of the warning signs….

Girl Genius: Of course!

Useful Starting Material:

Nevins, Jess, “From Alexander Pope to Splice: A Short History of the Female Mad Scientist” (i09): This article mentions some early versions of the female mad scientist. A great start, and while I wasn’t convinced by all the examples, I appreciated the heads-up. If you want to read the Victorian novels yourself, two are free and one very inexpensive on iTunes and much more expensive on Amazon.

What was it about the ’90s and mad scientists? We need some more new books on the subject, especially since some of these can no longer be easily purchased! Note that references to female mad scientists in these books are almost nonexistent; they are included here as references to the stereotype as a whole.

Haynes, Roslynn (1994) From Faust to Strangelove: Representations of the Scientist in Western Literature:  This book provides the groundwork for understanding why the stereotype of the “mad scientist” evolved alongside the scientist-hero, eccentric tinkerer, etc. Use it as background material.

Skal, David (1998) Screams of Reason: Mad Science and Modern Culture: A broad overview of the mad scientist’s development; it briefly skims over historical antecedents and development covered more in depth by Haynes and then moves into cinema, particularly.

Tudor, Andrew (1991) Monsters and Mad Scientists: A Cultural History of the Horror Movie: Although this book goes beyond mad science in its analysis, it provides useful information about the evolution of mad science in horror and science fiction from early cinema to the 1970s; I’ve read other, newer articles making the same arguments that Tudor makes here; he got there first.

It’s a fun subject, but with the new academic semester and the manuscript deadline casting their shadows over me, I’m becoming a little frantic! So why am I blogging? Good question. Time to work!

Image Credit: Madblood and Narbon debate counter-conquering the Venusians. Shaenon K. Garrity, The Astonishing Excursions of Helen Narbon & Co., Chapter 7.

I read, write, roleplay, travel, teach, and occasionally do research. I am a lizard, a warrior, a minimalist, and a scholar.
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