My Favorite Bit: The Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke
I absolutely loved The Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke. It’s a science fiction novel that is about a young girl who is raised with an android for a tutor. What I find remarkable about the book is that the story stays intimate and never veers into The Fate of the World. In many ways, it feels more like mainstream women’s fiction than classic SF. At the same time, it uses the SF lens to explore real issues of self and personhood in ways that I don’t think would be possible without the science-fictional concepts in it.
By focusing so tightly on one person and her journey, it gave a real sense of the wider world. Plus, I thought the language was hypnotic, which is always welcome. It just pulled me through the book.
So what’s her Favorite Bit?
CASSANDRA ROSE CLARKE:
I enjoy dancing. I’m probably not particularly good at it (I’ve attempted enough team sports in my life to understand that my coordination skills are… poor, to put it mildly), but if there’s music playing, I’m probably moving. Or at least suppressing movement.
Unfortunately, my circle of friends is made up largely of people who find the existence of night clubs both baffling and terrifying — and while I don’t hold it against them, their aversion has resulted in me funneling my dance-related urges into Zumba classes and, weirdly, my writing. For example, The Assassin’s Curse, my YA novel, contains a bit of dancing on board a pirate ship, and another as-yet-unreleased novel features a dancer as the main character.
The Mad Scientist’s Daughter is no exception to this unusual rule.
Dancing isn’t a common thread throughout the novel, but it does play a role in a pivotal scene early on. The main character, Cat, takes Finn, who is an android, to a rent party. Things progress as you might expect:
They danced for two hours. The party filled up the house and once people got drunk enough the band started playing and everyone danced, flailing around arrhythmically. Someone took the doors off the hinges and created an uninterrupted passageway between the inside of the house and the backyard, a corridor of sweat and music and flushed fevered bodies. Finn danced better than Cat expected, and she realized, drunk though she was, that he was copying the movements of the people around him, combining them to create something new. This was always how Cat danced as well. He did it more efficiently.
I love this scene for a couple of reasons. First of all, it was fun to think about how an android would approach dancing. Fiction often presents dancing as something inherently human, a reflection of our being alive (I’m looking at you, Matrix Reloaded) but the truth is, like most physical activities, it’s a series of movements, arranged in such way as to create beauty. I saw no reason why Finn’s more mechanical approach to dancing wouldn’t be successful, nor why Cat wouldn’t recognize her own human actions in it. I mean, we can program robots to dance now. (Seriously, go to Youtube and search for “dancing robots.” My post can wait.)
Another thing I love about this scene is the way the physical intensity of Cat and Finn’s dancing reflects a moment of emotional intensity that occurs a little later on. Going into too much detail would be a bit spoilery, but I will tell you this: in that scene, as music plays in the background, Cat learns a truth about Finn’s nature. She chooses in that moment to interpret the truth in a particular (and ultimately catastrophic) way, but the reality is much closer to Finn’s dancing: just how Cat does it, only more efficient.
Finally, there’s one other important aspect of this scene that I’d be loath to neglect — the music. After all, have you ever tried dancing without music? It’s difficult. In the text, I never specifically mention which song Finn and Cat are dancing to, but I always imagined it something similar to “Venus in Furs,” by the Velvet Underground. Not in terms of subject matter, but rather in terms of the sound of the song, which has always struck me as wild and desperate, even when you ignore the lyrics. It’s not an easy song to dance to, but if anyone would try, it’d be Cat and Finn.
Cassandra Rose Clarke is a speculative fiction writer living amongst the beige stucco and overgrown pecan trees of Houston, Texas. She graduated in 2006 from The University of St. Thomas with a bachelor’s degree in English, and in 2008 she completed her master’s degree in creative writing at The University of Texas at Austin. Both of these degrees have served her surprisingly well.
During the summer of 2010, she attended the Clarion West Writers Workshop in Seattle. She was also a recipient of the 2010 Susan C. Petrey Clarion Scholarship Fund.
Her first novel, a YA fantasy called The Assassin’s Curse, was released in October 2012.