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5 Reasons Why "House, M.D." Is Science Fiction

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Popular medical forensics drama House is about science, and it's quite obviously fiction, but is it science fiction? Absolutely. And here's why.

1. It contains speculative science.
Stanley Schmidt, editor of venerable hard science fiction magazine Analog, offered his definition of science fiction at WorldCon earlier this month. He said that SF puts equal emphasis on "the science and the fiction;" and contains "an element of speculative science or technology" while remaining plausible. He said the story "Flowers for Algernon," about a medical experiment that makes a mentally disabled man into a genius, is a perfect example of science fiction.


Schmidt's definition clarifies why House can qualify as SF. Nearly every episode centers on a compelling medical mystery that must be solved using relatively plausible science. And yet medicine we see is often speculative – in fact, speculative medicine is essentially Dr. House's specialty. He has to come up with solutions to novel ailments that nobody has really dealt with before.


Sure, House has never elevated anyone's IQ by 100 points in just a few weeks, but he has done things that were just as speculative. The episode where he figured out that a woman who is an incredibly patient, kind teacher is actually suffering from a brain ailment that makes her more forgiving than ordinary people? Where he diagnosed breast cancer in a woman's knee? Where House convinced everybody that a woman had gotten herself pregnant via parthenogenesis? Where House figured out what was wrong with a woman who'd lapsed into a coma in the Antarctic by asking her boyfriend to drink her urine, then drill a hole in her skull?

Let's just say those episodes were speculative science, shall we?

2. House contains an iconic science fiction subplot.
Now that House has a "Head Amber" he's become like Battlestar Galactica's Baltar with his "Head Six." Or maybe like Farscape's Crichton with his Head Scorpius. For some reason, SF shows love to create Head Versions of bad guys, and House, M.D. is no different. The woman House once knew only by the nickname Cutthroat Bitch (and as the girlfriend of his buddy Wilson) now lives in his head, and she's scarier and bitchier than ever.

3. All mysteries require lab work to solve.
Many people claim that House is more like a detective series than a science fiction series, but actually detectives are common in the annals of science fiction. Asimov wrote a series about a police detective and his robot sidekick; China Mieville's latest novel The City & The City is a detective novel. And these are just a few of many. What makes House more of a science fiction detective than your typical gumshoe is that all his mysteries require laboratories to solve.


This also begs the question of whether CSI is a science fiction show. No, it isn't.

4. The human relationships on the show seem to illustrate scientific principles, and vice versa.
One of the things that House does exceptionally and even painfully well is lay bare the ugly side of human relationships as often as it lays bare the body of someone who is losing her skin, or who is barfing something grosser than blood. This is, as Schmidt said, a hallmark of good science fiction.


Quite often, the characters' conflicts echo those of their patients: The prickly House has to cure a woman whose ailment makes her too nice; an episode about a priest dying of a disease that mimics the symptoms of AIDS becomes a strange meditation on the child molestation scandals in the Catholic Church. And of course, all the bloody, agonizing relationships suffered by the characters are mirrored in every episode by the broken, convulsing bodies they must treat.


5. The hero is a mad scientist.
We always knew House was mad as in pissed-off, angry, growling, nasty, and cruel. But now he's gone stark, raving bonkers - he's been hallucinating for an entire season, and the visions are only getting weirder. First he had Head Amber, who was not only a sign of House's madness, but also a representation of his genius. His conversations with her, as he points during one such exchange, are literal versions of what he does when puzzling out a problem and looking at it from many angles. So he's the perfect embodiment of a mad scientist, the person whose mania is inseparable from brilliance. And now he's gone to a mental hospital, where hopefully he'll be operating on his fellow patients and diagnosing the nurses with pregnant knees and environmental toxin-induced fainting.