Medicine and Healing in SFF

Hattip to Michael Kabongo for the topic suggestion. After three(ish) days sick now, this is a timely topic. One of my favorite SF series on this topic is James White’s Sector General books. White’s stories center on the classification of species of aliens, inter-species relationships, and the psychology of the doctors and nurses tending them. Truly wonderful examples of medical science fiction.

But how about more recent science fiction? I can’t, off the top of my head, think of a medically-based SF story that also features healing. Sure, John Ringo’s zombies are solidly science-based medical fiction, on one level, but not healing at all. I’ve seen a whole bunch of plague and pandemic fiction while trolling the web for reading material while I was sick (I read when I’m in too much pain to sleep and can’t work). I’m leaving fantasy largely out of this discussion because, well, magic.

Medicine, like many other realms of technology, has been proceeding at an amazing rate. It’s only been two hundred years since Leeuwenhoek and his animalacules which cavorted so gaily in front of the simple lens. Today, we can image down to the atomic level, and I can buy (have put in my wishlist, anyway) a microscope beyond his wildest dreams for relatively little money. A mere hundred years ago, antibiotics were unheard of. Now, we are almost at the point of moving beyond them.

Science fiction is becoming science fact daily. Star Trek’s tricorder? On the way. A handheld DNA sequencer? Yep, we got that. Telomere therapy for lengthening lifespans? Not far behind.

Really, the challenge right now is to project far enough ahead that the story isn’t outdated by the time the reader has it in their hands. I learned last week that a synthetic microorganism has been created by replicating the world’s smallest known genome. The technology may not exist for replication as some writers have envisioned it, but there is a big YET coming. And then we have to redefine ‘human’ yet again.

If controlling and preventing biofilms can be cracked, then cyber implants are right around the corner. Did you know bacteria can behave like a multi-cellular organism in a biofilm? How’s that for a scary alien right among us story?

It’s time for me to wrap this up and prepare for microbiology lab. I promise, nothing advanced. Just, you know, growing tiny organisms and seeing how many of them I can cultivate. No evil mad scientist laugh, or anything. I’m still only a larval mad scientist.