Brenda Cooper

Human Selection

This is the second installment in a set of blog posts about my current science fiction series.  The first book, THE SILVER SHIP AND THE SEA, is now available in paperback.  The sequel, READING THE WIND, will be out on July 22nd.  Each post explores one way the books address a problem we are also affected by, or probably will be in the future.  I hope you enjoy this one:  Human Selection.

 

We evolved through the forces of nature acting on us.  Whether you believe evolution is about divine choice, the natural interplay of predator and prey, or maybe some combination, we have not been the primary actor own evolution. Perhaps we lost our full coat of hair when we learned to take shelter, but the decision we made was to take shelter and the loss of hair was an unintended consequence.

 

Now, we are poised at the edge of a cliff with the tools to become the force of our own evolution.  I believe that some of us will fall off of that cliff, plummeting to our own deaths, and maybe taking others with us.  And some will fly.

 

In THE SILVER SHIP AND THE SEA, I pit two civilizations against each other.  One wants to “stay human” and the other embraces both lasting and short-term change. 

 

In today’s society, we are having the same argument, only with ourselves.  For example, look at the stem cell battle.  Yes, its relevance for genetic engineering is tainted by the right to life issues that surround work on embryos.  But beyond both sides of that argument, stem cell research is about using genetic tools to fix disease.  We already test in utero for certain diseases, and often abort damaged fetuses.  While we aren’t yet publicly tinkering with creating humans that have different traits (smarter, stronger, faster, prettier, healthier), we are making glow in the dark fish for pets.   We are cloning cows and modifying corn and lawn grass.

 

Active political groups in many countries argue against all forms of genetically modified organisms, and influential people have written about the dangers of playing with the genome.

 

There is an entire movement of people that associate themselves with the words transhuman and posthuman.  Transhumanism is the point where we have seriously changed ourselves, but remain recognizable.  It assumes we’ve altered our species through a combination of genetic engineering, machine augmentation, nanotechnology, and other sciences.  To be post-human is to be unrecognizable, perhaps uploaded and bodiless.  While Larry Niven and I have written together about uploaded beings, in this series, I’m only addressing changed humans, or transhumans.

 

In the SILVER SHIP AND THE SEA, I explore the ways that a world containing both classic and augmented humans breeds new opportunities for fear and prejudice.  If we had trouble with different colors of skin (and in some ways, still do), how much more trouble will completely different subspecies of humans cause us?  In READING THE WIND, out July 22nd, I also begin to look at what a world full of changed humans might be like. 

 

Below are some interesting links if you want to explore this further.  As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback.

 

Website marketing glow in the dark fish:  http://www.glofish.com

 

Campaign against GMO’s: http://www.foei.org/en/campaigns/gmo

 

Reference material on the word posthuman: http://www.reference.com/search?r=13&q=Post%20human

 

Excellent article at Ray Kurzweil’s KurzweilAI site that explores posthumanism: http://www.kurzweilai.net/articles/art0611.html?printable=1

 

Some design ideas:  http://www.natasha.cc/primo.htm

2 Responses so far

  1. 1. Sandra Barret

    Fascinating stuff. I tried to touch on the two variants of posthuman in my own writing, where I have one branch taking the genetic alteration approach, and the other taking cyber enhancements. A major theme, as in yours, is the prejudice between the two groups. I’ll be adding your books to my ToBeRead pile!

    On thing if you can elaborate – how do the classic humans compete w/ altered humans? Most of the posthuman sites I’ve read bring up how these modified folks will leave the rest of us in the dust! 😉

  2. 2. brenda

    Hi Sandra,

    Thanks for the comment. I think the way you’re branching the river of us makes sense, and that those will be two common choices in our future. A third will be a hybrid human – part machine, part bioengineered.
    Anyway, to answer your question, in THE SILVER SHIP AND THE SEA, the classic humans vastly outnumber the genetically modified humans on a colony planet.