Friday Fiction Feature


Hello and welcome back to the Friday Fiction Feature! Tabatha back again with part two of “That’s it I’m done with this job!” Today we have options for your more active fleeing academic. We know how it is, you are ready to burn your school/office/building down and run away, but that doesn’t mean you’re ready to just retire. So with the help of these books you can be ready to grab your cutlass, your magnifying glass, or your pocketful of explosives, and leave in a blaze/explosion/subtle prank of glory.

The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists by Gideon Defoe

The Pirates! In an Adventure with ScientistsOur first “I’m free! I’m free!” opportunity is also the most obvious. Who among us hasn’t been tempted to reduce all your office machines to a pile of plastic and silicone and become a pirate? Well dear readers we have the answer, you can pursue a lifelong (or possibly career-long) dream of fleeing to the high seas for romance and adventure and scurvy…wait, ignore that last bit…where was I, oh yes, excitement and scientific study! Who says you have to leave your academic interests behind? With The Pirates you can have it all (except scurvy) and a research paper to boot!

Not since Moby-Dick… No, not since Treasure Island… Actually, not since Jonah and the Whale has there been a sea saga to rival The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists, featuring the greatest sea-faring hero of all time, the immortal Pirate Captain, who, although he lives for months at a time at sea, somehow manages to keep his beard silky and in good condition.
pirateWorried that his pirates are growing bored with a life of winking at pretty native ladies and trying to stick enough jellyfish together to make a bouncy castle, the Pirate Captain decides it’s high time to spearhead an adventure.

While searching for some major pirate booty, he mistakenly attacks the young Charles Darwin’s Beagle and then leads his ragtag crew from the exotic Galapagos Islands to the fog-filled streets of Victorian London. There they encounter grisly murder, vanishing ladies, radioactive elephants, and the Holy Ghost himself. And that’s not even the half of it.

Rex Libris, Volume I: I, Librarian (Rex Libris #1-5) by by James Turner

Rex Libris, Volume I: I, Librarian (Rex Libris, #1-5)Now some of us want danger, excitement, a monster or two to kill (who doesn’t), but aren’t really into the hard sciences. I for one would love to battle the forces of the damned (provided they aren’t very well armed), but I couldn’t come up with the formula for the undead-killing chemical solution to save my life. So, for those of you in the same boat as me, don’t worry, you don’t need to be able to work an allotrope to kill a monster with multiple forms if you can follow in the footsteps of Rex Librislibrarian extraordinaire.

The astonishing story of the incomparable Rex Libris, Head Librarian at Middleton Public Library, and his unending struggle against the forces of ignorance and darkness. Rex travels to the farthest reaches of the galaxy in search of overdue books. Wearing his super thick bottle glasses, and armed with an arsenal of high technology weapons, he strikes fear into recalcitrant borrowers, and can take on virtually any foe from zombies to renegade literary characters. In this first collection of Librarian adventures, Rex must confront the powerful Space Warlord Vaglox and retrieve the overdue Principia Mathematica while an energy manifestation of blood thirsty Vandals attempt to burn down Middleton Library, and all within, to the ground.

The Extraordinary and Unusual Adventures of Horatio Lyle (Horatio Lyle #1) by Catherine Webb

The Extraordinary and Unusual Adventures of Horatio Lyle (Horatio Lyle, #1)These are some very nice options, certainly, but perhaps you are looking for less structure in your days. If you are escaping deadlines and department meetings, showing up to open the library on time may no longer be your cup of tea. Maybe you fancy an exciting life with Extraordinary and Unusual Adventures working freelance; traveling, choosing who you work for… Oooh, just think about that for a while: choosing your own boss in a job that lets you keep explosives on hand fill your pockets with things that explode…

In Victorian London at the height of the industrial revolution, Horatio Lyle is a former volunteer law enforcement officer with a passion for science and invention. He’s also an occasional, but reluctant, sleuth. The truth is that he’d rather be in his lab tinkering with dangerous chemicals and odd machinery than running around the cobbled streets of London trying to track down stolen goods. But when his government calls, Horatio swaps his microscope for a magnifying glass, fills his pockets with things that explode, and goes forth to unravel a mystery of a singularly extraordinary nature. Thrown together with a reformed—in other words “caught”—pickpocket named Tess, and a rebellious young gentleman named Thomas, Lyle and his faithful hound, Tate, find themselves pursuing an ancient Chinese plate, a conspiracy that reaches to the highest levels of polite society, and a dangerous enemy who may not even be human. Solving the crime will be hard enough—surviving would be a bonus.

Welcome to Tranquility, Vol. 1 by Gail Simone & Neil Googe

Welcome to Tranquility, Vol. 1But, maybe I’m wrong, maybe you all prefer the idea of a quiet move away from the office. Get away from all the meetings, from all the students, and from all the minor catastrophes of students, technology, and rogue fires set by the rest of the faculty when they leave. If so, we’ve still got the answer! (See, readers, I told you we know everything!) Now whether you want to go just to mingle or are a costumed crusader yourself, we recommend Tranquility for a nice, calm retirement secure in the knowledge that the next door neighbors can single-handedly take down world-conquering villains, to say nothing of burglars (though admittedly, they do so with a cane these days).

Tranquility is a small town like any other, except for one difference: It’s the place where super-powered beings go to retire from crimefighting. But when the town is turned upside down by a murder, it becomes evident that everything isn’t as quaint as it seems!

Pest Control by Bill Fitzhugh

Pest ControlJust remember, dear readers, to be careful in your new professions. Sure you may start out with the best of intentions, but as Bob the exterminator learns in Pest Control, the best laid plans of mice and cockroaches often end on sticky paper.

Bob Dillon can’t get a break. A down-on-his-luck exterminator, all he wants is his own truck with a big fiberglass bug on top — and success with his radical new, environmentally friendly pest-killing technique. So Bob decides to advertise.
Unfortunately, one of his flyers falls into the wrong hands. Marcel, a shady Frenchman, needs an assassin to handle a million-dollar hit, and he figures that Bob Dillon is his man. Through no fault — or participation — of his own, this unwitting pest controller from Queens has become a major player in the dangerous world of contract murder.
And now Bob’s running for his life through the wormiest sections of the Big Apple — one step ahead of a Bolivian executioner, a homicidal transvestite dwarf, meatheaded CIA agents, cabbies packing serious heat … and the world’s number-one hit man, who might just turn out to be the best friend Bob’s got.

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MedHum Monday Presents: The Power of Story

DailyDose_darkstrokeThe language of logical arguments, of proofs, is the language of the limited self we know and can manipulate. But the language of parable and poetry, of storytelling, moves from the imprisoned language of the provable into the freed language of what I must, for lack of another word, continue to call faith. —Madeleine L’Engle

Story is far older than the art of science and psychology, and will always be the elder in the equation no matter how much time passes. —Clarissa Pinkola Estes

What makes story so powerful to us? Why do we retell and retell them? Look back upon your life, and know that even our histories are revisionist. With each new addition to our lives, the backstory shifts to accommodate. Write it down and record it all you like, we have far more in common with the bards who tailored and expanded their tales in the telling than we do with mere mechanical memory. It’s little wonder that stories help us understand ourselves, our time, and the history that came before us.

I teach a class called Gothic Science: Discovery and Dread in the 18th century. As I work in a medical history museum, I have access–and can give students access–to all manner of wondrous texts and artifacts. But I begin the semester by having them read a novel, and not even a period novel. It’s Lazarus Curse by Tessa Harris (she’s appeared on this blog’s counterpart, the Fiction Reboot). Surely this is misleading, some might suggest; why not start with some 18th century novel, if you plan to discuss fiction at all… Well, I do that, too. We end the semester by reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. But entering into a course of complicated historical science readings requires some preparation. Before launching them into Sloane, Willis, and Locke–or Hunter, Smellie, and the anatomists–or Galvani and Volta–I want them to “see” and “feel” the era we’re about to study. What better way than through the historical mystery presented by Harris? Jamaican slaves end up on dissection tables, botanical explorers go missing, and a dangerous plant seems to have the power to resurrect the dead… And along the way, the students see the social, cultural, and scientific world of eighteenth century England.

It moves them, the students. They come with questions–why sail to far away places and risk danger just for plants? How did class and race affect who was treated (medically) and by whom? What did this mean for our understanding of humanity? That is, who counts? And most importantly, how did the desire for discovery lead so often to dread (and the repercussions of fearing the “other”)? We move on to non-fiction from there, and the science finds a foothold because the story teaches us to care.

This is true in other ways, as well. I write both fiction and non-fiction, myself. I’ve worked on the history of disease and how syphilis may have influenced the vampire mythology as it emerged in Dracula (see podcast–or Unnatural Reproductions). I also write a middle-grade series from the opposite perspective: what if vampirism was, itself, a disease… a disorder of the blood? In the Jacob Maresbeth Chronicles (High Stakes, Villagers, and The Vatican), the titular character faces off to something even more frightening than stake-wielding Van Helsings: a medical establishment dedicated to funding pharma at any cost. We tend to villanize the ill, to make monsters out of those things we don’t understand. It’s not always easy to see that in the midst, say, of a newscast on the Ebola outbreak… but the distance, perspective, and empathy that fiction provides can help us see ourselves, and our fears, with fresh eyes.

It moves us, as L’Engle explains, beyond the limits of self. This is the power of story. May we remember that today and everyday.


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Friday Fiction Feature

FictionReboot2Hello and welcome to the Friday Fiction Feature! Tabatha here again with some practical planning advice.  Whether you’re finishing up school or just looking to change jobs, this is a good time to be thinking about the future: the careers you might want to pursue, the spouses you might want to murder…oops getting ahead of myself. Anyways, today we’ll be discussing career options for the academic looking for a change.

Some of you, like me, have been living in academia so long you forgot there are jobs other than teaching. I know, I know, strange new thoughts, but if you’ll bear with me, we can explore a few alternatives that offer thrills, chills, and complete freedom from departmental meetings.

Murder on the Lusitania (George Porter Dillman & Genevieve Masefield #1) by Conrad Allen

Murder on the Lusitania (George Porter Dillman & Genevieve Masefield, #1)With these qualifications in mind, I’d like to start with one of my favorite job possibilities: detective to the idle rich. Just think of it, going undercover means fancy clothes, delicious food, expensive entertainment, and all of it on someone else’s bill! I know this sounds a little out of the academic skill set but think about it; your finely honed critical thinking skills will help you find and explain clues, your extensive reading background will dazzle anyone who tries to question your credentials as an over-educated rich person, and your experience controlling classrooms full of freshmen will leave you more than prepared for the dangerous side. With experience like that you’ll be ready to solve Murder on the Lusitania.

September 1907. George Porter Dillman sets sail from Liverpool on the Lusitania’s maiden voyage. Hired by the ship’s captain to pose as a passenger, George is in fact a private detective for the Cunard Line. In the first days of his voyage, George only has to deal with a few petty crimes. But then an expensive piece of jewelry is reported stolen and a body is found. Working quickly to solve both crimes, George makes an unusual friend, Genevieve Masefield, and the two uncover secrets aboard the ship that prove explosive.

Room with a Clue (Pennyfoot Hotel Mysteries #1) by Kate Kingsbury

Room with a Clue (Pennyfoot Hotel Mystery, #1)If active detective work seems a little too dangerous, there is always the option of letting the work come to you. You could settle down like the protagonist of Room with a Clue to a life of quite business. Run a nice hotel where your biggest problem is stolen towels, and then, when calm turns to boredom, just emulate the successful Cecily and invite more…interesting guests from time to time, just to keep things lively you know.

Beginning a new series set in a seaside hotel in Edwardian England, Room with a Clue shows that murder never needs a reservation at the Pennyfoot Hotel. Owner Cecily Sinclair runs a smooth hotel, but the death of an offensive snob could kill her business.

Now, when planning for the future, it is always wise to consider all options. Even if something seems unlikely, it would be foolhardy to write off a viable option before you have definitely settled on an alternative. And so it seems only prudent to include an option which is designed to have the highest possible work/income ratio: trophy spouse. Now there are a few things to consider before setting your sights on this particular career path. First you have to find an appropriate, and appropriately rich spouse, woo them, secure your millions, and get out. Now strategies for finding and wooing a millionaire is going to be different in every instance, so we’ll leave that to the experts. However, getting out with your millions intact is a much simpler endeavor.

Malice Aforethought by Francis Iles

Malice AforethoughtLet’s say you’ve settled on a life as trophy spouse, found and married your Mr/Mrs Moneybags, but now you need to leave. You weren’t able to avoid the dreaded “prenup,”  and now you’ve got to find another way out, millions intact. Well have no fear, just turn to Malice Aforethought for a handy exit strategy (alibis not included).

On a balmy summer’s day in 1930 the great and the good of the county are out in force for the annual, much-anticipated tennis party at the Bickleighs, although not everyone has much enthusiasm for the game. The tennis party exists for other reasons – and charmingly mannered infidelity is now the most popular pastime in the small but exclusive Devonshire hamlet of Wyvern’s Cross. Which is why, in his own garden, the host, Dr Edmund Bickleigh, is desperately fighting to conceal the two things on his mind: a mounting passion for Gwynfryd Rattery – and the certain conviction that he is going to kill his wife …

Anything Goes (Grace & Favor #1) by Jill Churchill

Anything Goes (Grace & Favor, #1)Unfortunately, I don’t see much of a future in the trophy-spouse racket, at least for me. Call me a defeatist, but something tells me this Midwestern girl with a significant other and no skills in baseless flattery is not cut out to be someone’s trophy wife. Oh well, I’ll just have to search elsewhere for my millions. Fortunately Anything Goes has given me an idea for another way to become one of the idle rich; it’s very simple, all you have to do is inherit a fortune. Such a simple solution, and probably much easier than marrying for money! Now all I have to do is acquire a few rich relatives… Hmm… maybe convince an uncle to marry rich…

They Have Inherited a Lovely Upstate Mansion. . .
The crash of 1929 has ended the party for high-living New Yorkers Lily Brewster and her brother Robert and takes them from the upper echelons of the idle rich and deposits them to the lowly depths of the disillusioned poor. However, rescue arrives in the form of their recently deceased great-uncle Horation who bequeaths to them Grace and Favor “Cottage” which is really a great sprawling mansion. And there’s a fortune to go with it, but only if they reside there for ten years.
And an Inconvenient Corpse
With no other alternative, the spirited Manhattanites move to a quiet and quaint Hudson River community and try to fit in. But they soon find out that great-uncle Horatio didn’t die peacefully. He was murdered while on an elaborate sailing party on the Hudson River aboard his yacht — and Lily and Robert are suspects. But when another corpse appears in the kitchen of the mansion, the siblings are determined to clear themselves. Without a clue how to begin, Lily and Robert start snooping, unaware that their savvy sleuthing could make them the killer’s next targets.

Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix

HorrorstörOf course, these are just a few options for how you can put those degrees to some interesting use, and I’m sure we’ll come back to the subject later on but before we go, it seems prudent to include one last type of career path. You see, all the jobs listed above are what you might call terminal: eventually you have to stop doing them. But what if you’re the kind of person who just has to keep on working, you go crazy without something to do? Well we’ve got just the answer for you, a job you can’t get too old for, that you can keep forever. Thanks to Horrorstör we now know that even in our modern world, there will always be a place for the really industrious to go on haunting working.

Something strange is happening at the Orsk furniture superstore in Cleveland, Ohio. Every morning, employees arrive to find broken Kjerring bookshelves, shattered Glans water goblets, and smashed Liripip wardrobes. Sales are down, security cameras reveal nothing, and store managers are panicking.
To unravel the mystery, three employees volunteer to work a nine-hour dusk-till-dawn shift. In the dead of the night, they’ll patrol the empty showroom floor, investigate strange sights and sounds, and encounter horrors that defy the imagination.
A traditional haunted house story in a thoroughly contemporary setting, Horrorstör comes packaged in the form of a glossy mail order catalog, complete with product illustrations, a home delivery order form, and a map of Orsk’s labyrinthine showroom.


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MedHum Monday Presents: A Little Drop of Poison

DailyDose_PosterTo those of you who follow my various twitter or visit the Dittrick Museum blog, twitter and instagram,  my preoccupation with toxicology will not come as a surprise. Over the past year, I have been researching the archive of John George Spenzer in advance of my next book project, and along the way I’ve discovered not only a fabulous and strange series of crimes–but also a unique relationship between medicine and forensics. In many ways, the field of forensic science owes its birth to practices of medicine… and on the other hand, many medicines really were but a “little drop of poison.”

Deborah Blum’s Poisoner’s Handbook reminds us that until the late 19-teens and twenties, coroners were elected officials rather than medical doctors. And yet, poisons can only be traced through a series of lab tests, themselves difficult to perform. Catching clever poisoners, however, requires clever specialists. In a post for the Dittrick, I wrote about some of those early practitioners, including James Marsh and Mathieu Orfila.

L0057809 Blue ridged glass bottle for arsenic, Europe, 1701-1935In 1836, James Marsh would develop a test that could determine if arsenic was present. He had been called in to the Bodle Case, where a whole family became ill from tainted coffee (though only the elderly George Bodle died). His grandson John Bodle was brought to trial for murder, but Marsh was unable to convince the jury and set about inventing a new and better test. He constructed a simple glass apparatus capable of detecting minute traces of arsenic and measuring its quantity.  Adding a sample of tissue or body fluid to a glass vessel with zinc and acid would produce arsine gas, which would oxidize when ignited, producing a silver-black metallic glaze. Young Bodle went free, though he later confessed to the crime [3]. The Marsh test was not in vain, however.

In 1840, Mathieu Orfila, was summoned to the Lafarge murder trial in Paris (Madame Lafarge was accused of poisoning her husband). The Marsh test had proven inconclusive due to improper handling, and prosecution sought an expert. What made Orfila different? His methods. Piece by piece, he put the case together, eliminating all other possibilities. Orfila is also credited as one of the first to use a microscope to assess stains of blood and bodily fluids. His work refined forensics as a science.

Patient and meticulous, Orfila worked to make chemical analysis part of forensic medicine. He also made careful studies of asphyxiation, the decomposition of bodies, and exhumation. Orfila’s first treatise, Traité des poisons, greatly enhanced and built upon the work of other toxicologists (and quickly surpassed them). Published in 1813, the treatise earned him the title Father of Forensics. By the time he was called to the Lafarge case, Orfila was considered the greatest toxicologist in the world… and all of this well before Charles Norris, Alexander Gettler (the forensic team in NYC) were established [see Poisoner’s Handbook, Blum]. And–incidentally–the Spenzer archive also covers the era before Norris, showing that physicians and chemists had started working on forensics in their own way before the establishment of official crime labs.

salvarsanAt the same time, however, the poison is often the cure. Take the compound mentioned above: arsenic. Dangerous. Deadly. But believe it or not, arsenic also became a valuable medicine. In 1906 Paul Ehrlich, the famous German physician, discovered Salvarsan 606 and Neosalvarsan 614, the world’s first chemotherapeutic agents for systemic treatment of a micro-organism. Sahachiro Hata and Paul Ehrlich discovered the compound in 1909. Ehrlich’s team was the first organized team effort to optimize the biological activity of a lead compound through systematic chemical modifications. They first studied the reaction on animals, particularly mice and rats. Wilhelm compiled his findings in The Treatment of Syphilis with Salvarsan (which had an introduction by Ehrlich) and provides many cases of healing where erosive chancres recede within forty-eight hours. As the author explains:

As a result of these and similar observations, the superiority of the new remedy over those hitherto known was fully demonstrated and I therefore felt justified in assuming the risk that naturally attached to any new remedy. [Wechselmann. The Treatment of Syphilis with Salvarsan.]

Sometimes we forget how fine the line between poison and medicine–but as with all chemotheraputic remedies, the killer is sometimes the cure. And, as the progenitor of forensic science, those who sought to cure (such as Marsh and Orfila) sometimes helped to catch a killer.

[1] Deborah Blum. The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York. New York: Penguin, 2011.

[2] Spenzer Archive, Dittrick Museum of Medical History, Cleveland Ohio [book research, Brandy Schillace]

[3] Wilhelm Wechselmann. The Treatment of Syphilis with Salvarsan. New York Rebman Company 1911

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Friday Fiction Feature

FictionReboot2Hello all and welcome back to the Friday Fiction Feature with series editor Tabatha Hanly! It’s a busy time here at FFF headquarters. Winter has just decided to kick itself into full-gear, I’ve barely finished with Christmas, classes start again in less than a week! I’m going to need a sick day on the first day back, and I’m becoming more and more sure the correct solution to all of these problems is hiding under the covers! So for your perusal, here’s a stack of books on the weather, romance, sick days, dinosaurs, and monsters which just might join me in my totally-grown-up blanket fort until I give in and go back to work.

It’s So Cold in Minnesota… by Bonnie Stewart and Cathy McGlynn

1385618As you know, I’m stuck in the frozen tundra of MN which, after a few (relatively) warm weeks, has refrozen itself and me in the process. And so I have (like any sensible Minnesotan) chosen to deal with this by hiding under the covers in my warmest pjs because  anything short of rolling yourself into a blanket burrito with a mug of hot chocolate is too cold. Some similarly-minded authors have recognized this and written It’s So Cold in Minnesota to share our…wonderful season with the rest of you who don’t consider snow pants a normal winter fashion.

Minnesota is known for its cold winters. To stay warm, two women compiled some of their favorite quips and quotes. They wanted to share with the world the crazy, wacky things people do and say when the temperature is -208 F for weeks at a time.


A Timeless Romance Anthology: Winter Collection by Sarah M. Eden, Heidi Ashworth, Annette Lyon, Joyce DiPastena, Donna Hatch, and Heather B. Moore

A Timeless Romance Anthology: Winter CollectionTo contrast It’s So Cold in Minnesota’s vision of a northern winter, we’ve got the Winter Collection to put on a more romantic spin. In these stories the winter tends to be just a lovely, or inconvenient, backdrop to the story. A blizzard traps a couple-to-be together, there are beautifully wrapped presents, and the snow is always lovely and you can see your sweetheart’s breath as s/he says something romantic. Well, the I-hate-the-cold-grinch (me) is here to tell you: Bunkum! Being trapped in a blizzard with your sweetie means you get to play rock-paper-scissors to see who has to shovel a way out through the snow, and while it may sound nice to say something lovely about the snow on your sweetie’s eyelashes, I promise you the most romantic thing you can say when your breath is visible is “There’s a mug of hot coco in front of the big warm fire, all for you.” But in case you want to pretend winter isn’t just awful, I offer up this collection of the nicer side of sub-zero temperatures (see, you can’t even make that sound nice when you’re trying!).

Six Award-Winning Authors have contributed brand new stories to A Timeless Romance Anthology: Winter Collection. A collection unlike any other, readers will love this compilation of six sweet historical romance novellas, set in varying eras, yet all with one thing in common: Romance.

The Sick Day Handbook: Strategies And Techniques for Faking It by Ellie Bishop

The Sick Day Handbook: Strategies and Techniques for Faking ItAs much as I like to complain about the cold, there are more things afoot in this small town. For example, a quick glance at my calendar revealed that the week and a half I believed were left before I had to go back to school is actually a short five days. Aaaaaah! This startling development (also a real cold) has led to one pressing question: can the teacher take a sick day on the first day of class?

We’ve all been there. The alarm goes off, and the thought of your morning commute, a buttoned-up shirt, and e-mail makes you want to cry. You don’t want to go to work—YOU CAN’T. So what’s a 9-to-5er to do? KISS: Keep it Simple, Sickie. “I’m (sniffle) not feeling well, got this scratchy feeling in my throat (cough), think it’d be best for me to sit this one out, boss.” Click. Congratulations, you just called in sick and were lying through your down comforter about it. Ahh, the thrill of deceit! Let’s be honest—at least briefly. Sometimes you just need a day. The Sick Day Handbook is your guide to freedom. In Ellie’s words, “This is a course in manipulation . . . This is about lying.” Anyone who reads to “the end” and follows Bishop’s creative instructions will have earned their DDD: Doctor of Downright Devious. Filled with symptoms and prescriptions for common illnesses and proper stage-setting techniques to pull off the previously unthinkable Tuesday-after-a-long-weekend call-in (your pregnant friend had the baby!), you’ll have a pool of credible excuses just waiting to be used (scripts included). If you thought it couldn’t get any better—well, read on. Your boss will think you are such a moral person (what a doll . . . taking care of your elderly neighbor and her 3-legged cat all the while suffering from Vertigo and an IBS flare-up) he’ll practically beg you to take a day off! So what are you waiting for, nervous dialers? Get your slippers on—daytime television awaits you. Learn our tricks and no one will ever doubt your “flu” again!

(P.S. To any 111 students reading this: Don’t even think about it. Hookey is for teachers only!)

PhD: Phantasy Degree, Vol. 1 by Son Hee-Joon

PhD: Phantasy Degree, Vol. 1 (PhD: Phantasy Degree #1)While I have no immediate plans to get a PhD, the challenge of doing something awesome (like a nobel prize or world domination) still beckons, and leads us to today’s final contribution: PhD: Phantasy Degree. I know most of the FFF’s how-to-do-something-awesome days have tended towards monster slaying, but it’s important to remember that every story has two sides, and that learning to be a monster sounds really cool! The market for advanced degrees seems to be thinning in recent years, but I put it to you that maybe this is simply because most PhD & Master’s programs are woefully lacking in supernatural hijinks. (I might even be willing to overlook that spelling error if it means I get to reprimand a demon for cutting class).

Sang is a fearlessly spunky young girl in search of the Demon School Hades. Fortunately for her, she comes across a group of misfit monsters that are ditching class from the Demon school. She convinces them to sneak her into the class that normally only allows monsters to attend. Mystery, intrigue and high jinks unfold as Sang finds a way to become a monster–and begins a fantastic adventure in a devilish domain!

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

Jurassic Park (Jurassic Park, #1)Now, after the realization that I have to go back to school (way too) soon, I was going to (try to) say something deep about finishing up my last semester, getting this second degree, etc. And as I was searching for a book to illustrate these (probably) deep and insightful thoughts, the website spat out a pile of textbooks, and Jurassic Park. Now some people might see this and move on (quitters), but I prefer to see this unexpected result as a challenge! If one  scientist (huge team of scientists) with advanced degrees could make Jurassic Park, then just think what I can do with my advanced degree! Now, unfortunately my English Lit & Lang program did not really prepare me for reviving entire terrifying species, building doomsday devices, or taking over the world via traditional means (tsk tsk WSU), So I’ll just have to get more creative.

An astonishing technique for recovering and cloning dinosaur DNA has been discovered. Creatures once extinct now roam Jurassic Park, soon-to-be opened as a theme park. Until something goes wrong…and science proves a dangerous toy.

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MedHum Monday Presents: Can we Colonize Other Planets?

DailyDose_PosterWelcome back to the Daily Dose and our first MedHum Monday of 2015! Medical humanities does find itself, now and then, at the curious intersection between science fact and science fiction. After all, many of medicine’s advances began as the near-fictional dreams of innovators. Imagine telling someone from the early 19th century that you planned to replace their heart–or grow them a new organ from stem cells. They would suppose you had been reading Frankenstein. There are plenty of scientific achievements that would once have been well beyond our reach, but interestingly, today’s rapid advances leave us with a different sort of fiction. In 2015, and in the wake of the Mars landing and movies like Interstellar, there is a rising curiosity–and certainty–about our ability to colonize other worlds. Is it really possible? What might be the medical ramifications if it were? Today I have asked Dr. Richard L. Currier to speculate about just how possible it really is to leave this little blue world behind.

Can We Colonize Other Planets? Science Fiction and Scientific Fact

Richard L. Currier, PhD

This new year of 2015 marks the 150th anniversary of one of the first works of modern science fiction, a novel entitled From the Earth to the Moon (1865) by the French novelist Jules Verne, in which three people, traveling in an aluminum capsule shaped like a bullet, were launched into space by being fired from an immense cannon nine hundred feet long.

While Verne’s novel may have ignored some important scientific facts (for example, the acceleration required to blast a capsule into space from a cannon would have subjected the passengers to 22,000 times the force of gravity, killing them instantly), this book—and the numerous works of science fiction that followed—did inspire generations of scientists and adventurers to pursue the goal of traveling through space and visiting other heavenly bodies. In fact, it was scarcely more than a century after the publication of Verne’ s prophetic book that the Apollo Mission succeeded in landing three American astronauts on the surface of the moon.

After the Second World War, a vigorous literature of science fiction emerged, and Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and many other gifted writers produced a vibrant literary genre in which the recurring theme of space travel and life on other planets was typically portrayed as an exciting, even glamorous alternative to life on Earth.

This important body of literature doubtless played a significant role in inspiring the world’s nations to employ the thousands of scientists and engineers that have made space travel and extraterrestrial exploration a reality during the past fifty years. And among the most popular themes in the literature of modern science fiction is the idea that humans might someday colonize other planets.

At first, the notion of establishing human colonies on other worlds was portrayed as an expression of humanity’s pioneering spirit, but more recently this concept has been suggested as a solution to the looming planetary crisis that now threatens our world. If we are destroying the earth, the theory goes, we should simply move on to other planets, where we can make a new start and ensure the survival of the human species.

unnamedUnfortunately, this is where fiction and fantasy run up against the realities of scientific fact. In an excerpt entitled “Can We Colonize Other Planets” from my forthcoming book, UNBOUND: How Eight Technologies Made Us Human, Transformed Society, and Brought Our World to the Brink, I reviewed the many reasons why none of the other heavenly bodies in our own solar system would be capable of supporting human life.

Our moon is a dry, airless world of rock and dust, with temperatures that range from over 250 degrees Fahrenheit during the two-week lunar “day” to nearly 400 degrees below zero during the two-week lunar “night.” Mercury is an airless ball of iron and rock, with surface temperatures that range from 650 degrees Fahrenheit during its month-long “day” to 274 degrees below zero during its month-long “night.” Venus is smothered in rolling clouds of sulphuric acid, with an atmospheric pressure 92 times greater than that of the Earth at sea level and a surface temperature hot enough to melt most soft metals, including lead and zinc. Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, and Uranus are Earth-sized cores of ice and rock buried under immense oceans of liquefied hydrogen and helium thousands of miles deep, with “surfaces” hidden in total and perpetual darkness.

An article published last month in the New York Times reviews a recent surge in enthusiasm for a mission to Mars, the “least hostile” planet for human colonization. At least 600 people have already signed up for a trip to Mars, even though they would never be able to return to Earth.


Image of the Viking 2 landing site on Mars, Wikimedia Commons

Yet Mars is a also frozen wasteland of rocks and dust, where surface temperatures average 80 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, the sky is black even when the sun is shining; its unbreathable atmosphere, 100 times thinner than the atmosphere of Earth, consists mainly of carbon dioxide. And to make matters worse, Mars is regularly pounded by gigantic dust storms which can grow large enough to envelop the entire planet and may last for months.

Surely it would be far more practical—and pleasant—to colonize the vast, uninhabited continent of Antarctica, where temperatures average only between 20 and 50 degrees below zero, the air is eminently breathable and rich with oxygen, and the skies are blue. But lacking the fictional romance of the Red Planet, there has been no general stampede to colonize the earth’s fifth largest continent.

But what—you might ask—about the “earth-like planets” that astronomers have been discovering in other, nearby solar systems? Could one of them provide a second home for humanity?

Unfortunately, even the closest of these planets is almost inconceivably distant. The passengers on a spaceship capable of travelling fast enough to reach the moon in 30 minutes would have to survive for nearly 24,000 years within an artificial environment before arriving at one of the nearest and most promising earth-like planets.

It is difficult to imagine how a small group of humans could survive inside the confines of a spaceship for roughly five times longer than the entire history of human civilization. It is even more difficult to imagine what the tiny population of such a spaceship would look like after more than seven hundred generations of inbreeding.

Wiki bio2 sunset 001 by Johndedios.  Wikimedia Commons.

Wiki bio2 sunset 001 by Johndedios. Wikimedia Commons.

To date, there has been only one serious attempt to create an artificial environment that could sustain human life: the Biosphere 2 experiment of the 1990s. The spectacular failure of that experiment revealed the extreme difficulty of creating a self-sustaining environment, even for as little as the 24 months that was the mission’s original goal.

From the outset, the gardens inside Biosphere 2 failed to provide sufficient food for the crew. All of the pollinating insects died out, leaving essential plant species unable to reproduce. Oxygen levels declined dramatically, forcing project administrators to pump oxygen into the enclosure from the outside, and the atmosphere of Biosphere 2 eventually became permeated with dangerous levels of nitrous oxide. Three-quarters of the animal species in the enclosure went extinct within 24 months, while cockroaches and ants multiplied into vast swarms, and morning glory vines grew wildly, smothering most of the other plants and trees. In a sobering report on the Biosphere experiment, scientists concluded that our present scientific knowledge and technological expertise is simply unable to create artificial life-support systems that can replace natural ecosystems.


Interstellar; release date Nov 7, 2014. IMDB.

Nevertheless, respected scientists, including Steven Hawking and Hakeem Oluseyi, curiously ignoring these facts, have endorsed the notion of extraterrestrial colonization as a solution to the problems of our man-made planetary crisis. It is a tempting notion, perhaps. But in a recent op-ed piece in The New York Times, Jason Mark reviewed the recent science fiction movies based on extraterrestrial colonization—including Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar”—and concluded by quoting a placard often seen at climate change demonstrations: “There Is No Planet B.” It’s a refrain we would do well to remember.

Unless a society of the future can produce an artificial environment capable of sustaining human life indefinitely, the idea of colonizing other planets will remain a modern myth that will provide entertaining works of science fiction but will not square with the scientific facts. For now, there is no alternative to the task of protecting Mother Nature from the destructive effects of modern civilization. For the foreseeable future, the best place to experience the perils and pleasures of extraterrestrial colonization—outside the pages of a book—will continue to be your local movie theater.


unnamedRichard L. Currier earned his BA and PhD in Social and Cultural Anthropology at the  University of California, Berkeley, and he taught anthropology at Berkeley, the University of Minnesota, and the State University of New York. The author of feature articles, book reviews, and a ten-volume archeology series for young adults, Currier recently completed UNBOUND: How Eight Technologies Made Us Human,
Transformed Society, and Brought Our World to the Brink (Arcade Publishing, in press). He lives in Oceanside, California.

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Friday Fiction Feature

FictionReboot2Hello and welcome back to the Friday Fiction Feature. Sorry about the hiatus folks, but Tabatha has been bogged down with a lot of work planning her class, preparing for one more semester of school, and other important endeavors like waking up in the mid-afternoon. Mostly that last one. (It’s a commonly known fact –among students–that one’s last Winter Break must be recognized by never seeing the light of 10am).
Anyways, I have found a break in my rigorous sleeping schedule long enough to renew the Friday Fiction Feature for the new year! Yeah, yeah, I know New Year’s Day was yesterday, but as I have yet to be formally recognized as Supreme Ruler of the Universe (by anyone but my brother anyways) I was unable to shift the calendar to fit the Feature. Until then, I’ve selected some handy manuals and informational guides to help you as you get started on those New Year Resolutions.

Forbidden Knowledge: 101 Things NOT Everyone Should Know How to Do
by Michael Powel

Forbidden Knowledge: 101 Things NOT Everyone Should Know How to DoFirst on our list is a general things-you-should-know as you set about planning your new year. I know at least a few of you are planning some kind of world-takeover (and if not, I believe Brandy’s always recruiting minions), and before you set out to work on those plans, you had better have a few pieces of information no one else has. A how-to guide on all the things you probably shouldn’t be doing like Forbidden Knowledge sounds like the perfect manual…to give to your minions. 

Could you use a little more danger in your life? A little more edge? A little more fun? With Forbidden Knowledge you get it all. From crashing a wedding to starting a riot or stealing a car. Michael Powell has always been interested in doing things he shouldn’t. His hobbies include looking gift horses in the mouth, staring directly at solar eclipses, and blowing past speed traps up and down route 66.

Mental Floss Presents Be Amazing: Glow in the Dark, Control the Weather, Perform Your Own Surgery, Get Out of Jury Duty, Identify a Witch, Colonize a Nation, Impress a Girl, Make a Zombie, Start Your Own Religion by Maggie Koerth-Baker, Will Pearson & Mangesh Hattikudur

Mental Floss Presents Be Amazing: Glow in the Dark, Control the Weather, Perform Your Own Surgery, Get Out of Jury Duty, Identify a Witch, Colonize a Nation, ... Girl, Make a Zombie, Start Your Own ReligionWhile your minions are busy studying up on the dangerous and inadvisable in Forbidden Knowledge, why don’t you sit back and crack open Be Amazing! for a handy how-to on all the basic steps to, really any New Year’s Resolution.

Be amazing
Who says you can’t? It’s time to get off the couch and take your life to the next level.
Step one: stand on the shoulders of geniuses
What good are the world’s greatest geniuses if you can’t muddy their shoulder pads and use their accomplishments as a step stool? mental_floss has combed through every success story in history to deliver this ultimate how-to guide for climbing your way to greatness.
Step two: bask in the glow of admiring fans
Whether you want to glow in the dark, swallow a sword, quit smoking, find Atlantis, live forever, get out of jury duty, buy the Moon, sink a battleship, stop global warming, become a ninja, or simply be the center of the universe, Be Amazing covers all the essential life skills. Just absorb a few pages, then let the hero worship begin!

You will need:                               You May Want:
A hunger for greatness                Sidekicks and/or minions
Some duct tape                             An impressive nickname
This book                                       An amazing outfit

HELP! A Bear is Eating Me! by Mykle Hansen

HELP!  A Bear is Eating Me!Now this particular selection may seem a bit out of place, but if taken in the right light, I think it can be a very useful guide. If you want to get ahead as a sibling, an editor, a student, a CEO, anyone with a cubicle, (insert other business-world-y jargon here) there is one (generally untaught) skill you’ll need to master: Blaming everyone else. Help! A Bear is Eating Me! is a thorough learn-by-example tutorial on how to make sure nothing is ever your fault, thereby clearing the path to the coveted state of being Always Right.

Trapped in a remote Alaskan forest, pinned under his own SUV, gnawed upon by nature’s finest predators, Marv Pushkin — Corporate Warrior, Positive Thinker, Esquire subscriber — waits impatiently for an ambulance and explains in detail the many reasons why this unfolding tragedy is everyone’s fault but his own.

How to Be a Villain: Evil Laughs, Secret Lairs, Master Plans, and More!!! by Neil Zawacki, James Dignan 

How to Be a Villain: Evil Laughs, Secret Lairs, Master Plans, and More!!!Now, Be Amazing is really more of your general do-awesome-stuff guide. However, for our more discerning, and…specific audiences, we also offer How to be a VillainNow I know at least a few of you are renewing the old resolution to Take Over the World Mwahahahahaa! and the way I see it, you have a few options in how you go about this. You can work your way up through academeia or business, you can try being the Queen/King’s long-lost daughter/son and reclaim your right to rule through some amazing heroics, or, you can pick the more fun and reliable option:

A delightfully evil gift, How to Be a Villain is a step-by-step guide to joining the forces of darkness. Because, though villains may never win, they sure have more fun, hatching master plans for world domination, smoothing their dastardly tights. Neil Zawacki answers all the most urgent questions: Should I go with a black or red theme? Do I invest in an army of winged monkeys or ninja warriors? And just where will I put the evil hideout? Whether readers choose to pursue a career as a Criminal Mastermind, Mad Scientist, Corporate Bastard, or just a Wanna-be Evil Genius, they are sure to find plenty of tips for jumpstarting any evil enterprise. Cheaper than attending the annual bad guy conference and way more fun than being good, How to Be a Villain is guaranteed to elicit deep-throated evil laughs across the land.

The Action Hero’s Handbook: How to Catch a Great White Shark, Perform the Vulcan Nerve Pinch, Track a Fugitive, and Dozens of Other TV and Movie Skills by David Borgenicht & Joe Borgenicht

The Action Hero's Handbook: How to Catch a Great White Shark, Perform the Vulcan Nerve Pinch, Track a Fugitive, and Dozens of Other TV and Movie SkillsOf course, some of our good readers really are good readers, and blush at the idea of taking over the world via violence, mass hypnosis, alien-assisted takeover, usurping royalties (oops, better stop now, giving away all my plans). Well never fear, here at the Friday Fiction Feature we do try to include all our readers, so for those who favor a world-ruling approach that involves considerably less maniacal laughter, we also offer The Action Hero’s Handbook

The Ultimate Guide to Keeping Up with the Indiana Joneses
For everyone who’s ever wanted to be as smooth as James Bond, as clever as Captain Kirk, or as tough as Charlie’s Angels, The Action Hero’s Handbook is the ultimate guide to the essential skills every action hero needs to survive and thrive in this dangerous but exciting world.
This book features dozens of real-life action hero techniques, directly from experts in the subjects at hand: FBI agents, sexologists, stuntmen, hypnotists, karate masters, criminologists, detectives, and many others. Learn how to:
•  Catch a great white shark
•  Deliver the Vulcan Nerve Pinch
•  Spyproof your hotel room
•  Win a fight when outnumbered
•  Climb down Mount Rushmore National Monument
And dozens of other Good Guy Skills, Paranormal Skills, Fighting Skills, and Escape Skills. With meticulously researched step-by-step instructions and easy-to-follow illustrations, The Action Hero’s Handbook will get you ready for anything. Good luck—we’re all counting on you. 

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