Enter BBC America’s Orphan Black, a show so chock full of such goodness that it’s almost impossible to not get sucked down the rabbit hole of its complex world of genetics and cloning and the overlapping ethical issues that surround these highly controversial topics of science nerdom. Happily, Gregory Pence, real-life PhD and expert in “ethics of human cloning,” professor of Bioethics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and self-professed avid Orphan Black fan, has mapped out a comprehensive journey through the science (real and not so real) and ethics found in this groundbreaking show.
For the uninitiated, Orphan Black is the story of Sarah Manning, played by Tatiana Maslany, and her discovery that she has multiple clones, each also brilliantly played by Tatiana Maslany. I could spend paragraphs and paragraphs here extolling the virtues of the series, from the riveting characters, dazzling performances, solid writing, shocking plot developments, never-ending tension, amazing visuals, and so on. I will tear myself away from a never-ending stream of fan-girling, however, and move right on to Pence’s What We Talk about When We Talk about Clone Club, or, for purposes of saving my typing fingers, hereafter referred to as Clone Club.
Pence sets out on this journey by exploring the concepts in Bioethics (the exploration of ethics in medicine and science) that reside at the core of Orphan Black. Cloning, eugenics, medical experimentation, personal identity, human rights and legalities, ownership, sexual orientation, unfounded fears, and myths…the list of topics is nearly endless. Along the way, he provides a succinct history of cloning throughout history and in popular culture and the fear (founded and unfounded) of the topic that pervades both.
Pence does not take his audience by the hand when it comes to familiarity with Orphan Black, so it is somewhat necessary to actually watch the show to follow along with his discussion. He does refer repeatedly back to plot points, characters, and entities from the show, examining and validating their relationship to today’s science (or science soon to come). In one section I found particularly interesting, he analyzes the motivations of various characters and factions in the story against various philosophical approaches to Bioethics: Naturalism, Globalism, Transhumanism, and Egalitarianism.
At the heart of all this serious analysis of the show is the realization that its writers have created a world worthy of such minute study. Orphan Black doesn’t treat its science with kid gloves. It digs in and addresses every angle of every topic it presents. The writers understand what is actually going on in the complex field of genetics in today’s world and represent that reality thoroughly and carefully in the fictional world they are constructing.
Throughout all of this complex science and history, Pence achieves an extremely readable text that challenges but doesn’t overwhelm the reader with its technical detail. I’ll likely read Clone Club over and over as I seek to unpack and understand new developments in the series and the many ethical implications in its text and subtext. It will also be a wonderful refresher course to help me understand new discoveries in these fields of study and research.
In addition to this title, Smart Pop Books has a wonderful selection of non-fiction books and essays taking on themes from science fiction and fantasy in TV, film, and literature. I’ve already picked up my next reading selection, a collection of essays called (bet you couldn’t see this coming!) “Fringe Science: Parallel Universes, White Tulips, and Mad Scientists”…all about that other favorite sci-fi show of mine, Fringe. I’ll likely be re-reading this one frequently, as well!
Bioethics and Philosophy in Orphan Black Giveaway
For those individuals in geekdom who are unfamiliar with Smart Pop Books, please allow your friends at Fanbase Press to provide a formal introduction! Smart Pop Books is the pop culture imprint of independent publisher BenBella Books and offers a variety of engaging and thought-provoking non-fiction titles focused on the discussion and exploration of the best of pop culture TV, books, and film. They have tackled Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Ender's Game, The Hunger Games, Dexter, Divergent, Veronica Mars, and many, many more. We highly recommend stopping by their website (link provided above) and checking out some of the amazing products and free essays that Smart Pop has to offer.
The awesome people at Smart Pop Books and BenBella Books have generously provided us with a copy of Bioethics and Philosophy in Orphan Black to give away to our readers!
What can you do to claim this awesome prize? All interested fans should enter by retweeting the following when you see it posted on the Fanbase Press (@Fanbase_Press) Twitter account:
Win a copy of #BioethicsAndPhilosophyIn #OrphanBlack from @SmartPopBooks #CloneClubGiveaway - RT to enter!
We will be tweeting this message all week, so keep your eyes peeled! Multiple entries are permitted, so retweet away! The contest will officially close on Tuesday, May 24, 2016, at 5:00 p.m./PST.
At the end of the giveaway, the Fanbase Press staff will choose one lucky winner. The winner will be announced on the Fanbase Press website on Wednesday, May 25, 2016, along with being notified through Twitter. (Entries will be accepted from the U.S. and Canada only for this contest.)
*Congratulations to the following winner: