A social science fiction of fevers, delirium and discovery: The Calcutta Chromosome, the colonial laboratory, and the postcolonial new human
Using critical studes of technology, medicine, and empire to analyze Europe's colonies as laboratories of modernity where both work (labor) and slippage (labi) occur, this essay explores the phenomenon of social science fiction by examining the novel The Calcutta Chromosome, written by social scientist Amitav Ghosh. The Calcutta Chromosome is a mystery thriller in the guise of sf and alternative history that explores a range of human/technology interfaces, from railroads, computers, and bureaucracies to genetic engineering and the mysterious workings of the malaria plasmodium. The eponymous chromosome is a form of transmission that shapes the human through books, whispered secrets, and email messages as surely as through genetic transfers, disease vectors, and medical contagion. The essay follows Ghosh in linking malaria (which is less a disease than a classic network of actants) with colonial tropes (ways of knowing) and troops (the militarized aspects of science) in order to imagine a new human entity arising from the "counterscience" devised in such laboratories.
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