Beyond Human: Trans-Humanism in Science-Fiction

Good science fiction is all about exploring the possibilities. A great sci-fi novel will not only plunge you into unfamiliar worlds but will ask you to answer the question: What could be in store for us? We live in a time when technology and genetics are making groundbreaking progress, and science fiction authors have started addressing the very real issues of how these, and other possible factors, might change the definition of what makes us human.  They also make for great fun reading, which is why the following titles might interest you.

Are our bodies and our minds what define us as human?  In The Host, by Stephenie Meyer, an alien race called the Souls has taken over the earth, commandeering human bodies and erasing the minds of the hosts. One of the few remaining free humans, Melanie has managed to survive the process and now shares her mind with the alien “Wanderer.”  The novel’s driving question is whether the alien can co-exist with Melanie in her body, as well as survive within her small group of human survivors.

The concept of merging humanity with technology has been around for decades but is becoming an increasingly real possibility. Can we be cyborgs and still be considered humans? The world in James Swallow’s Deus Ex  is in the throes of revolution as cybernetic augmentation is becoming mainstream and its potential uses, for good and ill, are being questioned. Do we lose what makes us human when we artificially redesign ourselves?

In the excellent graphic novel series Ex Machina, the hero is an ordinary engineer who has technology merged with him after a mysterious accident, giving him the ability to “talk to” and control machines.  But is he really in control of his new abilities or is he merely a cog in an inhuman machine?

Is being alive an intrinsic part of being human?  Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion puts us in the shoes of “R,” a zombie who is still self-aware, if unsure about who he used to be before zombification. “R” seeks to preserve what remains of his humanity and find love with the living survivors of a zombie apocalypse. Can an unlikely romance between living and undead have a happy ending?

Finally, does being human mean being the dominant species on the planet? If we ourselves play god and create non-human sentient life, can we co-exist with it or will we start a fight for hegemony? What happens when our drive toward scientific progress outstrips our wisdom and humanity has to fight for its very survival as a species?  Of course, the majority of literature tends to take a pessimistic approach to the question, but it is still good for a thrilling read.

For those interested in reading a classic of the genre, soon to get an updated movie treatment, Pierre Boulle’s Planet of the Apes is an excellent choice. If you’re yet unfamiliar with the story (for shame!),  astronauts land on a planet where intelligent apes are the dominant species and humans are hunted like animals. Are they on another planet or are they on what Earth is destined to become?     

 While the fear of machines/robots revolting and taking over the world is not exactly a new concept, Daniel H. Wilson’s Robopocalypse is a very entertaining and fresh (not to mention haunting) take on the genre. By showing how an artificial intelligence named Archos infects and transforms every piece of machinery containing a computer chip into a weapon in his global campaign against humanity, one truly sees how much we have made ourselves dependent on technology throughout our daily lives.

Anyone else have a good summer read about the future of humanity?


One response to “Beyond Human: Trans-Humanism in Science-Fiction

  1. Iain M Banks explores trans-humanism quite a bit in his Culture series novels. Any one of them are fantastic but Consider Plebas and Matter are two of my favorites.

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