Biofiction: Human Dignity Edition

Issues: 

 

CBHD often receives requests from educators and other individuals for popular resources that engage bioethics through various media (fiction, film, and television). In this resource, we offer an overview of materials relevant to human dignity and personhood in fictional books and series. Readers are cautioned that these works represent a wide variety of genres and may not be appropriate for all audiences. If there is a work you think we missed, email us at info@cbhd.org.

 

Human Dignity / Personhood

  • Asimov, Isaac. The Foundation Series.
    • Foundation and Empire (1952; repr., Bantam Spectra, 2004)
    • Second Foundation (1953; repr., Bantam Spectra, 2004)
    • Foundation's Edge (1982; repr., Bantam Spectra, 1991)
    • Foundation and Earth (1986; repr., Bantam Spectra, 2004)
    • Prelude to Foundation (1988; repr., Bantam, 1989)
    • Asimov continues his famed Foundations Series, charting the emergence of the Mule, a human mutant with enhanced mental capabilities, who wreaks havoc with the carefully scripted Seldon Plan in his pursuit of galactic domination. The Second Foundation is forced to actively intervene in the galactic affairs of the First Foundation, threatening to expose its secretive existence. While the First Foundation emphasized the advances of the physical sciences, the Second Foundation has focused its energies on cultivating the cognitive and psychological sciences. With the fate of the galaxy at stake, the series climactically turns to a search for the mythical origin of planet "Earth" and the future of the human species. (Topics: Artificial Intelligence, Human Enhancement, Neuroethics, Personhood, Robotics)
  • Atwood, Margaret. MaddAddam Trilogy (Series)
    • Oryx and Crake (Anchor, 2004)
    • The Year of the flood (2010)
    • MaddAddam (2013)
    • The trilogy explores the aftermath of a cataclysmic bioterror pandemic that eradicates most of the human species. In the first volume, the main character Jimmy is the unwitting accomplice to the bioterror event for which his friend Crake/Glen is responsible. As Jimmy realizes the scope of what has happened he seeks to protect a humanoid species (the Crakes) that Crake has genetically-engineered, with a group of friends referred to as the MaddAddamites. The second volume follows an environmental cult, God's Gardeners, and two of their members - Toby and Ren - as they seek to survive in the aftermath of a landscape infested with genetically-engineered intelligent creatures. The final volume brings the survivors together as they seek to rebuild some semblance of civilization in the midst of threats from other humans who have seemingly lost their humanity. (Topics: Animal-Human Hybrids, Bioterrorism, Biotechnology, Egg Donation, Euthanasia, Genetic Engineering, Human Enhancement, Personhood, Posthuman, Research Ethics)
  • Baciagalupi, Paolo. The Windup Girl (Nightshade Books, 2010)
    • In the wake of environmental disasters and industrial bioterrorism, Thailand has survived as a refuge from the global influence of multinational bioengineering firms in high stakes pursuit of gene patents. Culturally resistant to genetically reengineered material, the streets of Bangkok are the home to Emiko, a discarded Windup Girl, the product of Japanese genetic engineering to create New People. (Topics: Genetic Engineering, Human-Animal Hybrids, Human Enhancement/ Remaking Humanity, Personhood, Transhumanism)
  • Bova, Ben and Eric Choi, eds. Carbide Tipped Pens: Seventeen Tales of Hard Science Fiction (Tor, 2014)
    • Carbide Tipped Pens is an anthology of seventeen short stories in the sub-genre of ‘hard science fiction,’ described by the editors as a “literature of change . . . that examines the implications—both beneficial and dangerous—of new science and technologies” (11-12).  Together with tales of outer space, aliens, and the survival of human beings, advancements in biotechnology likewise are creatively explored in the narratives. “Old Timer’s Game” imagines sports medicine’s transformation into performance enhancement that alters not only the players, but the popular world of professional sports. Meanwhile, “Skin Deep” envisions biomedical advancements through a custom-designed medical tattoo that shifts medicine from healing into more nefarious purposes. Without shying away from the technical aspects, these short stories intelligently explore the impact of advancing technology upon individuals and culture while making the ‘science’ in ‘sci-fi’ very practical and accessible to the reader. (Review written by Marie Butson, MDIV, MA) (Topics: Artificial Intelligence, Biotechnology, Genomics, Human Enhancement, Personhood)
  • Card, Orson Scott. The Ender Saga (Series, also referred to as the Ender's Game Series)
    • Ender's Game (1985)
    • Speaker for the Dead (1986)
    • Xenocide (1991)
    • Children of the Mind (1996)
    • Ender in Exile (2008)
    • A sci-fi series for young adults. Amidst the evolving storyline the series raises a number of issues related to technology and the complexities of their personal and societal implications. (Topics: Reproductive Technology, Genetic Engineering, Human Enhancement, Artificial Intelligence and Personhood, Radical Life Extension)
  • Card, Orson Scott. The Homecoming Saga (Tor Books) (Series)
    • The Memory of Earth (1992)
    • The Call of Earth (1992)
    • The Ships of Earth (1994)
    • Earthfall (1995)
    • Earthborn (1995)
    • This science fiction series picks up the narrative of the exiled human race 40 million years after its departure from a devastated planet earth. To prevent a recurrence, humans were enhanced to allow the subtle guidance of an artificial intelligence to protect them from developing advanced technologies that could again threaten destruction. The series follows their return to a revived Earth, where they encounter other sentient creatures that have developed during the human exile. (Topics: Artificial Intelligence, Genetic Engineering, Human Enhancement, Neuroenhancement, Personhood)
  • Card, Orson Scott and Kathryn Kidd. Lovelock (Tor Books, 2001)
    • (Topics: Enhancement, Genetic Engineering, Personhood)
  • Card, Orson Scott. The Shadow Saga (Series)
    • Ender's Shadow (1999)
    • Shadow of the Hegemon (2001)
    • Shadow Puppets (2002)
    • Shadow of the Giant (2005)
    • Shadows in Flight (2012)
    • A sci-fi series for young adults. Amidst the evolving storyline the series raises a number of issues related to technology and the complexities of their personal and societal implications. (Topics: Reproductive Technology, Genetic Engineering, Human Enhancement, Artificial Intelligence and Personhood, Radical Life Extension)
  • Lowry, Louis. The Giver (Houghton Mifflin, 1993)
    • (Topics: Designer Babies, Eugenics, Euthanasia, Genetic Engineering, Neuroethics, Personhood, Reproductive Technology, Surrogacy)
  • McCarthy, T. C. The Subterrene War (Series)
    • Germline (2011)
    • Exogene (2012)
    • Chimera (2012)
    • Graphic Futuristic Wartime trilogy. Global super-powers have exhausted conventional and nuclear warfare options in pursuit of rare metals and turned to an escalating arms race of human enhancement and re-engineering. Each volume of the trilogy is told from a different perspective. Germline begins the series following an embedded military reporter who is the first to be permitted on the frontlines, where he encounters "genetics" (re-engineered female soldiers) and struggles to come to terms with their "personhood." Exogene picks up the narrative a few years later from the perspective of a female "genetic" grappling with her nature and purpose, while at the same time uncovering evidence of further attempts to develop the ultimate soldier. Chimera, the conclusion of the trilogy, resumes the story some years later with a human soldier wrestling with the need to embrace "genetics" as they face new generations of even more radically remade enemies. (Topics: Artificial Intelligence, Genetic Engineering, Human-Computer Interface, Human Enhancement/Remaking Humanity, Neuroenhancement, Personhood)
  • Pearson, Mary. The Adoration of Jenna Fox (Square Fish, 2009)
    • From all appearances Jenna Fox is your typical teenage girl, except that she cannot remember anything about her past prior to the coma from which she has recently awoken. Something is off. Her legs and hands just do not seem right. When she accidentally cuts herself in the kitchen with a knife, it is clear she is not the same Jenna Fix as before the terrible car accident that caused her to be in a coma. In this first volume of the Jenna Fox Chronicles, Mary Pearson masterfully explores the personal and societal implications when parental desires to protect their children collide with vitalism and biotechnology. (Topics: Biotechnology, Cognitive Uploading, Nanotechnology, Neuroethics, Personhood, Vitalism)
  • Polansky, Stephen. The Bradbury Report: A Novel (Weinstein, 2010)
    • Pseudonymous chronicle of Raymond Bradbury, a retired teacher in New England, who encounters his copy (Alan) - A human clone who has been created as part of the U.S. government's solution to the developing healthcare crisis by creating a ready supply of spare organs. Ray's copy is the first known escape from the heavily guarded government cloning farms, and Ray is brought into a conspiracy to help Alan evade government capture. (Topics: Euthanasia/Assisted Suicide, Healthcare Ethics, Human Cloning, Organ Trafficking, Personhood)
  • Reeve, Philip. Fever Crumb Series
    • Fever Crumb (Scholastic, 2009)
    • Web of Air (Scholastic, 2011)
    • Scrivener's Moon (Scholastic, 2012)
    • An expected tetralogy, the first three volumes follow Fever Crumb, a once-thought orphan who is trained as the first female engineer in a far distant post-apocalyptic, steampunk future. The novels are set some thousands of years after nuclear war has reshaped the physical world and destroyed human civilization, a world in which 21st century technology has become "old tech" that exists only through the maintenance of the pseudo-scientist guild of engineers and the less scientifically inclined technomancers. The protagonist, Fever Crumb, finds herself on a journey of self-discovery as she learns of her half-Scriven ancestry, and realizes that she is the sole remaining descendant of an enhanced humanoid race. Her journey woven through the sociopolitical conflicts that result from an immense technological undertaking, leads her beyond the biotechnological inventions of her grandfather Auric Godshawk to the origins of the Scriven as a race. (Topics: Genetic Engineering, Human Enhancement, Nanotechnology, Neuroethics, Personhood)
  • Wells, Dan. Partials Sequence Series
    • Partials (Balzer & Bray, 2013).
    • Fragments (Balzer & Bray, 2014).
    • Ruins (Balzer & Bray, 2014).
    • The trilogy follows Kira Walker, a young medic in a post-apocalyptic U.S. Genetically enhanced humans known as Partials were developed by the U.S. government and the biotech firm ParaGen as a final military solution to the ongoing crises of global wars. After successfully completing their military campaigns, Partials returned to the U.S. in a failed attempt to integrate into society. Civil war broke out, and a genetically modified pathogen (the RM virus) was released, decimating human civilization. The remaining human population has been sequestered in East Meadow, New York as they seek to find a cure for RM—a virus that has prevented a human baby from surviving more than a few days in over 13 years. Kira Walker sets out to find a cure in a bold move that leads her to encounter the Partials directly, and learns a disturbing truth. The Partials are built with a biological time clock that causes them to expire after 20 years, and many of them are quickly approaching the deadline. Is there a solution that can benefit humans and Partials alike? (Topics: Bioterrorism, Genetic Engineering, Human Enhancement, Neuroethics, Personhood, Posthuman, Research Ethics)
  • Wilson, Daniel. Amped (Vintage, 2013)
    • The author of Robopocalypse returns with a sci-fi thriller from the not-too-distant future. The novel opens with a breaking decision from the U.S. Supreme Court: amplified human beings (amps) are no longer deemed a protected class of human beings. Their sheer existence, it is ruled, creates inequality with the general population. Immediately, hundreds of thousands who had received neuro-implants through government programs to address poverty and cognitive impairments are relegated to a persecuted underclass. Owen Grey, a history teacher, and recipient of an implant to control his epilepsy, finds himself at the center of a wide-ranging conspiracy with one faction seeking to inaugurate a posthuman future and another seeking to eliminate all humans that have been unnaturally enhanced. The novel explores the potential social and legal concerns at the limits of neuro-enhancement and the limits of human use of emerging technologies. (Topics: Cognitive Enhancement, Neuroethics, Personhood, Posthuman)
  • Wilson, Daniel. Robogenesis (Doubleday, 2014)
    • In this sequel to Robopocalypse, humanity is picking up the pieces in the wake of the robot/AI rebellion known as the New War that nearly destroyed the human race. Beyond the sheer devastation and loss, all types of atrocities are coming to light from the robotic augmentation experiments that the AI Archos R-14 directed during the New War. As humanity and the free-born robots that joined in their defense are reestablishing pockets of civilization, a new AI threat emerges desiring to conquer humanity and the world. (Topics: Artificial Intelligence, Cyborgs, Human Enhancement, Neuroethics, Personhood, Robotics, Posthuman/Transhumanism)
  • Wilson, Daniel. Robopocalypse: A Novel (New York: Doubleday, 2011) [Interested readers who enjoy this volume may also like Daniel Wilson, How to Survive a Robot Uprising: Tips on Defending Yourself Against the Coming Rebellion. (New York: Bloomsbury, 2005).]
    • Robopocalypse chronicles the birth and escape of an artificial intelligence named Archos on through the robot uprising at zero hour and to humanity's passionate fight for liberation from the ensuing robotic oppression. (Topics: Artificial Intelligence, Cyborgs, Human-Computer Interface, Human Enhancement, Neuroethics, Personhood, Transhumanism)

 

Updated August 2016