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Orphan Black: Sestras, Scorpions, and Crazy Science

June 30, 2016
full name / name of organization:
Janet Brennan Croft and Alyson Buckman, eds.
contact email:

ORPHAN BLACK: Sestras, Scorpions, and Crazy  Science

Edited by Janet Brennan Croft and Alyson Buckman


The BBC America television series Orphan Black (2013- ) has been widely praised for its compelling writing, resonant themes, and innovative special effects, as well as  the bravura acting of Tatiana Maslany, who plays an ever-growing number of clones drawn into an increasingly dangerous world of cutting-edge science, corporate espionage, military secrets, and religious fanaticism. The series is a strong example of our current golden age of serial-form story-telling, and heir to pioneering shows centered on strong female characters, such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dollhouse, Lost, and Xena. Themes of identity, bodily autonomy, gender, and sexuality play off against corporate greed and its co-option of science, family dynamics complicated by religion and politics, and shifting alliances formed by love, hate, and the need for survival. The show is notable for the centrality of this strong group of female clones, who are astonishingly diverse and remarkably strong characters. This book is under contract with McFarland.


Deadline for abstracts: after Season 4 ends, estimated end of June 2016

Deadline for finished paper drafts: early September 2016

Manuscript to publisher: November 2016, with a goal of publishing shortly before or coinciding with the beginning of Season 5, likely to be April 2017

Other circumstances: If we learn that Season 5 is to be the final season, we may consider extending this project one year.

Please send abstracts of 250-1000 words to


Potential Topics:

  • Gender: how do the different clones perform gender and what are the consequences of this?
  • Sexuality: what are the consequences to thinking about sexuality in that the different clones pursue differing models of sexuality? What questions does this varied sexuality raise about nature vs. nurture?
  • Identity: how does cloning complicate contemporary ideas about identity formation? What are the identity politics of the series?
  • Parenting: how does the series interrogate parenting, including fostering and adoption, mothering and fathering, healthful and pathological?
  • Science and religion: contrasting the rejection or co-option of science in service of the religious vision of the Prolethian sects and the Neolutionists.
  • Copyright/patents/ownership: what are the implications of medical technology and legal questions raised in the show for self-identity and body integrity?
  • Meta-representations of science: the phenomenon of Orphan Black science explainer blogs on io9, The Mary Sue, and elsewhere, and the highly visible role of the show’s science consultant (the “real Cosima”).
  • Other meta-approaches: fan interactions with the show; technical study of the special effects and the acting techniques needed for clone interactions; comic book tie-ins.
  • The “Bechdel Test” and its obverse: the role and performance of the male presence in a female-centric series, and how it has changed over the seasons.
  • Reproduction: the focus of the show on fertility and its control; weaponized breeding and sterility as military tactics.
  • Character studies: Sarah’s mothering instinct, Alison’s moral relativity, Helena’s hunger for family, and so on.
  • Infiltrating the soulless corporation: Dyad/Topside and the theme of the individual versus the corporation.
  • Mythological and literary references: both overt (Leda, Castor, Alice in Wonderland,sources of episode titles,etc.) and in the deeper structure (heroine journey; twins; mothers and children)


About the Editors:

Janet Brennan Croft is Head of Access Services and Associate Professor at the Rutgers University libraries.  She is the author of War in the Works of J.R.R. Tolkien (Praeger, 2004; winner of the Mythopoeic Society Award for Inklings Studies) and several book chapters on the Peter Jackson films; has published articles on J.R.R. Tolkien, J.K. Rowling, Terry Pratchett, Buffy and Angel, and other topics in Mythlore, Mallorn, Tolkien Studies, Slayage, and Seven; and is editor or co-editor of several collections of essays, including Tolkien on Film: Essays on Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings (Mythopoeic Press, 2004), Tolkien and Shakespeare: Essays on Shared Themes and Language(McFarland, 2006), Lois McMaster Bujold: Essays on a Modern Master of Science Fiction(McFarland, 2012) and Author of the New Century: T.A. Shippey and the Creation of the Next Canon (McFarland, 2013). She edits the refereed scholarly journal Mythlore. Her most recent publications are Perilous and Fair: Women in the Works and Life of J.R.R. Tolkien and Baptism of Fire: The Birth of British Fantasy in World War I, both edited collections for Mythopoeic Press.


Alyson Buckman is a professor in the Humanities and Religious Studies Department at California State University, Sacramento. She teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in popular culture, multiculturalism, film, the body, and American culture. She earned her M.A. and Ph.D. in American Studies at Purdue University.  She is the author of multiple essays on the work of Joss Whedon, Alice Walker, and Octavia Butler. She also is co-editor of Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse: Confounding Purpose, Confusing Identity(2014). Her most recent project is a book on the construction of history in the worlds of Joss Whedon.