Monday, November 21, 2016


We got together a couple of weeks ago to talk about prosthetics. There are more prosthetic things than you might expect, of course, starting with the pirate's peg leg and the Captain's hook. If you define a prosthetic as any artificial addition to the body, that covers quite a lot. People have prosthetic teeth, or insulin pumps, or cochlear implants, chemo pumps or glass eyes.

"Prosthetic" in the context of movies or theater can also refer to makeup that significantly alters facial features. In fact, in Star Trek, there were a number of instances when the crew got their faces surgically modified so they could hide amid an alien population distinguished by its facial shape.

In our real lives, we run into prosthetics more than we realize. A lot of them are low-profile. Che told us about meeting people with prosthetics at the gym and at a writing retreat. I first met a man with an artificial leg when I was a kid. I also had a friend who used prosthetic hands. Artificial joints are now more and more common, and they also count as prosthetics. Here is a video with an animated sequence showing how knee replacements work.

You may also remember the Bionic Man and Bionic Woman. Both of them had superpowers given to them by their artificial (prosthetic) parts. Ghost in the Shell involves someone with a total body replacement. Darth Vader also is largely defined by his prosthetics.

In our real world there was a controversy surrounding runner Oscar Pistorius, who was given extra height and bounce by the running blades he wore in place of feet.

What can be offered will depend on the technology level. Who makes your prosthetic? Is it the saddle-maker? If you have an amputation, who has done the amputation? Do people have the ability to take a mold of your leg, for example?

An episode of Copper featured someone who had lost a leg in the Civil War.
Star Trek Deep Space 9 had an episode where a man had a partial, and then total, brain replacement.
Ann Leckie's Ancillary Mercy has a prosthetic leg in it, but that prosthetic is worn only so long as the person has not yet grown their leg back.

Our current technology allows us to use biological scaffolding to grow bone, and also organs. Also, rather than a doctor or other special manufacturer being the sole source for a prosthetic, there are instances of people 3D printing their own prosthetic limbs, particularly in the case of children who will outgrown those limbs.

There was a recent video in which Robert Downey, Jr. delivered an Iron Man-style prosthetic hand to a little boy. A lot depends on what you can afford.

The cutting edge of current prosthetics is controlling them with brain waves. This would mean, ideally, that the prosthetic was rendered invisible... but while it's good to be able to manipulate a false limb in the same way that you manipulate your other limbs, it's not necessarily good to have it be invisible. Websites like have beautiful prosthetic limbs that are more about being visible and interesting/beautiful than invisible.

One of the critical questions to answer is how to reduce the burden of an injury or birth defect both psychologically and physically.

Artificial limbs can be normalized by having people who use them present and visible in society. Tammy Duckworth is an example of a high-profile woman (now a Senator!) who uses prosthetics because of her war injuries.

People don't always use prosthetics in response to injuries. Sometimes they use wheelchairs. Sometimes people keep service dogs to help them also.

Morgan mentioned a science fiction novel where a surgeon amputated his forearms to use his phantom limbs in surgery. The book was called Flesh and Silver by Stephen L Burns. Almost Human also featured a character with an artificial leg. I heard a story from real life about a man who was placed on house arrest with a GPS ankle bracelet but was then discovered at a robbery... because the GPS ankle bracelet had unwittingly been placed on his artificial leg, and he had left it at home.

Thanks to Che and Morgan for a really interesting discussion. Again, Dive into Worldbuilding will not meet this Wednesday (the day before Thanksgiving) but we will resume again November 30th with a discussion of Friendship. I hope to see you there!

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