A Future for Hopeful Monsters: Gender, Disability, Race, and Embodiment in Science Fiction Restricted; Files Only

Li, Amy (Spring 2020)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/v692t725x?locale=en


This dissertation explores representations of bodies and identity in science fiction literature and media. The introductory chapter and first section of Chapter 1 on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) outline shifting theories and conceptions of monstrosity. From medieval interpretations of monsters as omens, to anatomical texts that categorized genetically “deformed” babies as “monsters,” and finally to Frankenstein’s creature, I analyze how representations of monstrosity parallel contemporary discourses about disability.

Chapter 2 presents variations on the female monster, analyzing how representations of female bodies in science fiction media demonstrate patriarchal assumptions, allowing men to declare women “monsters.” There is power in monstrosity, however, and depictions of the gynoid (female robot) Ex Machina (2014) and female clone Orphan Black (2013-2017) illuminate male anxieties about being left behind and surpassed by female monsters.

Chapter 3 focuses on disability and technology in William Gibson’s cyberpunk short stories “The Winter Market” (1986) and “Burning Chrome” (1982). Lise and Automatic Jack are “crip cyborgs” who demonstrate the stigmatization of disabled bodies but counter normativity by using technologies in “stigmaphilic” ways, highlighting exclusionary spaces—including outerspace and cyberspace—and reveling in the contingent nature of disabled experience.

Chapter 4 explores race and technology in relation to power structures and the racist ideology of colorblindness, drawing on the work of scholars like W. E. B. Du Bois and Frantz Fanon. In Transfer (2010) and Get Out (2017), speculative technologies enable white characters to gain physical control over black bodies through mind transfer. The Black protagonists fight back to varying degrees of success, demonstrating that the most powerful tool is community.

The conclusion describes hopeful futures in Black Mirror’s “Black Museum” (2017) and Xia Jia’s “Tongtong’s Summer” (2014). In “Black Museum,” Rolo Haynes buys the rights to a Black man’s consciousness, updating slavery for the digital age. “Black Museum” provides hope in the form of a Black woman who outwits and out-empathizes the oppressor. “Tongtong’s Summer” also explores cross-generational issues related to technology and aging. Tongtong, a young Chinese girl, must care for her ailing grandfather. Their use of speculative technologies enables them to overcome isolation, rebuilding a better community.

Table of Contents


A History of Hopeful Monsters


Chapter 1

The Making of a Monster: Scientific and Social Construction of Monstrosity in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein


Chapter 2

The Female Monster: Gender and Subhuman Status in Ex Machina and Orphan Black


Chapter 3

Pure Information vs Meat Suits: (Cyber)Space, Tryborgs, and the Crip Cyborg in William Gibson's “The Winter Market” and “Burning Chrome”


Chapter 4

The Race for Immortality: The Nastiness of Whiteness and Colorblind Racism in Transfer and Get Out


Chapter 5

Conclusion; or, A Future for Hopeful Monsters




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