Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Transcript: "Steampunk Mad Scientists: Exclamation, Effect, Affect" @ ICFA 36

Recently I had the chance to present a paper at the International Conference of the Fantastic in the Arts, which is like a major East Coast Science Fiction conference, and rather than save myself some trouble and present a paper I'd already written, I decided to write a whole new thing! Because after all this could get folded into my dissertation project and get me thinking about more coherently. This was the abstract I submitted:
In steampunk, the figure of the mad scientist looms in the background, either benign inventors who enable the technofantastical imagined setting, amoral villains threatening the world, or the space in between as morally-ambiguous sympathetic enactors of change with questionable methods. Literarily, they provide an avenue to explore the darker side of human choices; theatrically, they offer a chance to chew the furniture. This paper will survey how the figure of the mad scientist has been taken up in various steampunk media—Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan series, music by steampunk bands Vernian Process and The Clockwork Quartet, and the webcomic Girl Genius. Though the narratives and the scientist figures are wide-ranging, they retain similarities in the depictions of their methods and psychological profiles even as they are deployed self-reflexively. The paper will then compare these mad scientists with one of the original mad scientists, Mary Shelley’s Victor Frankenstein and evaluate the influence of the trope on the steampunk subcultural values and aesthetic.

However, as I developed the paper, I realized that this abstract was full of lies and I didn't actually want to do a survey of steampunk mad scientists, because that sounded totally boring! I betook myself to the databases to learn everything I could about mad scientists (which was, actually, a lot of fun, will post my annotated bibliography if anyone is interested) but just couldn't figure out an angle with which to tackle the subject.

Then I had to fix something in my apartment, and it needed some problem-solving skills and some other knowledge, and when I was done, I threw my hands in the air and shouted, "SCIENCE!" I am sure everyone in this room has done this. If you have not, I 100% recommend this experience.