Biofiction: Neuroethics 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 neuroethics 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.

 

Neuroethics

  • 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)
  • Asimov, Isaac. Pebble in the Sky (1950; repr., Tor, 2008)
    • The first novel from the sci-fi legend lays the groundwork for what Asimov later developed into the Empire Series and the subsequent Foundation Series. Pebble in the Sky follows Joseph Schwartz, a 20th century retired tailor who inexplicably finds himself living some 50,000 years in the future. Schwartz becomes the unwitting subject of a neuroenhancement research trial and is embroiled in an intra-galactic bioterrorism plot to bring an end to the reign of the Galactic Empire. (Topics: Biotechnology, Bioterrorism, Euthanasia, Human Enhancement, Neuroethics, Research Ethics)
  • Atwood, Margaret. The Heart Goes Last (Nan A. Talese, 2015)
    • Topics: (Autonomy, Free Will, Human-Robot Interactions, Neuroethics, Organ Trafficking, Robot Ethics)
  • 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)
  • 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)
  • Naam, Ramez. Crux (Angry Robot, 2013)
    • In this sequel to Nexus, Kaden Lane, creator of the Neural-linking software Nexus, evades governments and covert organizations that are set on gaining access to the back doors in software that would allow for total neural control. As Nexus goes viral around the world, Lane desperately tries to locate his associates and thwart the rising threat of Nexus from being exploited as a tool of terrorists. Naam expertly explores a range of emerging technologies and the prospects, technical challenges, and societal implications that each may face. (Topics: Cognitive Uploading, Cyborgs, Human Enhancement, Nanotechnology, Neuroethics, Research Ethics, Transhumanism/Posthumanism)
  • 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)
  • Perry, Steve. The Ramal Extraction: Cutter's Wars (Ace, 2012)
    • A sci-fi action novel chronicling the hostage rescue of the captured daughter of one of New Mumbai's most important leaders. The mercenary extraction team sport a wealth of biological enhancement and technological augmentation, demonstrating the prospects and challenges of military deployment of human enhancement technologies. (Topics: Cybernetic Augmentation, Human Enhancement, Neuroethics)
  • 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)
  • Richards, Douglas. Wired (Paragon, 2012)
    • Former special forces officer David Desh is recruited for a black ops mission turned conspiracy theory. His target, Kira Miller, is a brilliant genetic engineer suspected by the U.S. government to be involved in a bioterror plot with global implications as she seeks to explore breakthroughs at any cost in cognitive enhancement and longevity research. (Topics: Bioterrorism, Genetic Engineering, Human Enhancement, Neuroethics, Posthuman, Radical Life Extension, Research Ethics)
  • Roth, Veronica. The Divergent Trilogy (Series)
    • Divergent (Katherine Tegen Books, 2011)
    • Insurgent (Katherine Tegen Books, 2012)
    • Allegiant (Katherine Tegen Books, 2013)
    • In Divergent, the opening volume of the Divergent trilogy, Beatrice/Tris Prior faces a crucial decision during the annual rite of passage. The choosing ceremony of a post-apocalyptic Chicago presents teens with one of five tribal factions that uphold a single virtue of humanity. Will she choose the selfless faction Abnegation of her family, or the brave protectors of society, the Dauntless? The choosing ceremony leads to an unexpected revelation. Beatrice/Tris is divergent. But what does this mean? And, why is she able to control the neurostimulation of simulations and the fear landscape? (Topics: Neuroethics) In Insurgent, Tris Prior and other survivors of the simulation war struggle to resist the growing dominance of the Erudite faction and their Dauntless supporters. Meanwhile Tris uncovers a secret that others are dying to protect - a secret that may change the future of the factions and the basis of their whole society in post-apocalyptic Chicago - and may expose the true nature of what it means to be divergent. (Topics: Emerging Technology, Human Enhancement, Neuroethics, Research Ethics) Allegiant, the final volume of the Divergent trilogy, follows Tris Prior as she leads a band of former faction members outside of the city walls to learn more about the nature of the divergent and the city's original development. What she finds instead is a government operated facility, the primary purpose of which is to facilitate massive social engineering experiments. (Topics: Emerging Technology, Human Enhancement, Informed Consent, Neuroethics, Research Ethics)
  • Shusterman, Neal. Unwind (Simon and Schuster, 2007)
    • Unwind follows four teens fighting for their lives in a future America in which 13- to 19-year-olds can be “unwound”—a process of harvesting organs and body tissue for the use of others. The country has suffered through a Second Civil War pitting pro-life and pro-choice groups in combat over abortion. The passage of the “Bill of Life” along with a dramatic advance in organ transplantation capabilities by means of the development of “neurografting” (a procedure that makes use of 99.4% of the human body) have restored social order and begun to remedy cultural divisions that plagued the country by promoting human health. The Bill of Life offered a compromise by prohibiting abortion, but parents may retroactively abort their teen-aged children by “unwinding” them—harvesting all of their useful organs and tissues such that the children were said to not die, but physically live on. The teens in the story recognize their vulnerability and dispensability to their parents and society as a whole that results from this policy. The Bill of Life feigns preserving human life and dignity, but commodifies a demographic desired only for their tissues and organs. Unwind (and its sequels in the Unwind Dystology series UnWholly, UnSouled, and UnDivided) follows the teens and their resistance against forces promoting a casual view of human life and an expanding role for government and commercial power over the nation. How far should organ transplantation go? How does a nation slide into indifference toward its youth for personal, national, and commercial gains? Unwind is a tense read intended for a young adult audience, graphically exposing the possibilities of biomedical technology and the importance of a moral framework as necessary to keep safeguards on the advance of technology and medicine. (Review by Marie Butson, MDIV, MA) (Topics: Neuroscience, Organ Procurement and Transplantation, Reproductive Technologies)
  • Stephenson, Neal. Diamond Crash: Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer (Bantam Spectra, 1995)
    • Labelled a postcyberpunk novel, the author of Snow Crash revisits a technologically advanced future now revolutionized by nanotechnology. As the narrator poignantly notes early in the narrative, "Now nanotechnology had made nearly everything possible, and so the cultural role in deciding what should be done with it had become far more important than imagining what could be done with it." The plot follows a coming-of-age narrative of two young girls who receive stolen copies of a digital interactive book (Young Lady's Illustrated Primer) that lead them from modest beginnings to navigate the sociopolitical realities of the global tribalism of their day. Prescient in its anticipation of e-books, telepresence, and 3D printing, the novel explores the social impact of emerging technologies and their potential to be transformative influences on individuals. (Topics: Nanotechnology, Neuroethics)
  • Stephenson, Neal. Snow Crash (Bantam Spectra, 1992)
    • Classic Cyberpunk novel located in a futuristic Los Angeles that is now governed by multinational corporations and private investor empires. Stephenson first coined the notion of a virtual reality "metaverse" in this sci-fi classic, which is being threatened by a cyber-drug referred to as "Snow Crash" that impacts reality as well. Hacker Hiro Protagonist uncovers this conspiracy that weaves together a literary tour de force drawing from archeology, computer science, cryptography, history, linguistics, philosophy, and religion. (Topics: Artificial Intelligence, Neuroethics, Human Enhancement, Virtual Reality)
  • 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. 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