Steampunk, Scientists, and the Soulless

by syaffolee

In Gail Carriger‘s fantasy horror novel Soulless, Alexia Tarabotti–a soulless spinster–is rudely attacked by a vampire which is against the rules of etiquette in this alternate Victorian England.  She accidentally kills the vampire which prompts an investigation from Lord Maccon, werewolf and the head of the Bureau of Unnatural Registry.  But as Alexia and Maccon delve into the origin of the misbehaving vampire, they discover that strange vampires are appearing while known vampires are disappearing. Something more sinister is at work than just a couple of forgotten manners.

I enjoyed reading Soulless.  It’s an engaging cross-genre romp featuring supernatural creatures operating under Victorian strictures.  And it featured an original conceit for the existence of werewolves, vampires, ghosts, and other types of undead: that some people have an excess of soul so that under certain circumstances, they just won’t die.  This notion, it seems, eludes the antagonists who seek a more scientific explanation.

However, one thing that really bothered me about this book, and most other stories with scientist characters, is that the author failed to deviate from the stereotype when depicting scientists.  Like the virgin/whore dichotomy that feminists lament, there is also a scientist dichotomy in genre fiction, too.  Fictional scientists are either evil, mad, and amoral or brainy wimps with absolutely no common sense.

While it may be difficult to visualize people resembling Britney Spears, the elderly organist at the local church, or a champion skier as scientists, one should note that scientists are human, not cardboard cutouts.  Some scientists are brilliant, others not so much.  Some are photogenic while others need their teeth straightened.  Personalities can range from the grumpy and megalomaniacal to the sweet and quirky to the downright “normal” (whatever that is).  I am tired of authors taking the lazy way out or getting all their information from cartoons and fantasy notions of an ivory tower hermit who hasn’t changed his wardrobe since 1962.

Am I asking for too much? I hope not.

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