Monday, January 5th, 2015 12:07 pm
I'm not sure if I've talked about this before but: every time I encounter Magical Healing/Health machines in speculative fiction (eg the sarcophagi in Stargate, the med bay in Star Trek, the machine that turned Steve into Captain America) I think about how they decide what counts as an illness/injury, and how they decide what Ideal Healthy State to go for. The line between "sick" and "healthy" is to some extent socially mandated and arbitrary, and an optimally "healthy" human population requires variation amongst the individuals. To maximise everything is impossible. You have to make choices.

If it's accelerating/helping the natural healing proceses of the body it should reverse any surgeries to fix genetic problems, remove tattoos or piercings, undo sex reassignment etc. And it certainly won't fix any genetic problems. Probably not epigenetic ones either. Wisdom teeth in bad places for everyone!

If it's working towards some Ideal Template, how is that template chosen? Why, for example, does Steve get taller? Being short isn't an illness. In some situations it's an advantage. If he had 6 fingers, would one go away? Red hair increases your risk of skin cancer, is that an illness?

And there's a lot about us that is decided by our environment. What muscles we've exercised, where our callouses are. Are callouses a good thing or bad thing?

In Copper Rose we decided the vampire healing worked off your mental model of yourself. Thus trans characters get to avoid dysphoria, people get to keep their tattoos etc. We've avoided depicting the ways this could go terribly wrong with people whose body image makes them unhappy (because we didn't feel able to approach it in a thoughtful enough way), but it would probably be a thing. And a story utilising this approach could go to a gross "you just have to think yourself well" place with character who is unhappily chronically ill when they get turned. We do give a disabled character the option of getting turned, but she is 100% happy staying disabled and does so. We also have someone with a theoretically temporary but life threatening illness who gets turned and gets better. (nb these aren't spoilers cos pretty much every major character is/has the option to become a vampire in one path or another)

Soemthing I found interesting in Mass Effect 2 is that your character comes out of being ~magically healed~ with all their old scars gone and new, weird ones in their place.

A while ago I pondered a Stargate story where a team ends up injured on a planet with a ~magical healing machine~ of the first type and some of the characters have to choose between staying injured and losing their tattoos/regaining a congenital defect that had been fixed at birth etc. And the society is neither better or worse than ours, just different in what disabilities and illnesses are treated as normal, fixable, or doomed. But then I realised I had no plot or characters so it shall stay a thought experiment :)

Anyway. Those are my thoughts! I am curious to hear other people's thoughts. I'm sure I've missed some really obvious things, but this has been noodling around in my head for years and doesn't seem to be getting any clearer. I was actually inspired to post by a post on tumblr about Steve Rogers walking out of the machine and thinking "I'm still bisexual, I guess it wasn't an illness", I have regardless ignored the mental illness aspect entirely in this post because that gets EVEN MORE COMPLICATED but it's certainly a prime example of the arbitrary line between illness and "healthy" variation.

nb: I'm not saying there's not such thing as being unambiguously sick. Despite my issues with the way Magical Healing Machines imply that "healthy" is a simple and unambiguous thing, as long as I didn't end up looking like Steve Rogers I would sign up for one in a heartbeat. I can always get my ears pierced again ;)


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