Biofiction: Research Ethics Edition


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 research ethics 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


Research Ethics

  • 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. 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)
  • Berry, Max. Machine Man (Vintage, 2011)
    • When a scientist becomes the victim of an industrial accident, he reasons that improved prosthetics can free him from the limitations of his physical body. Transhuman science fiction exploring the implications of the human body as the original prosthetic. (Topics: Artificial Intelligence, Cyborg, Human-Computer Interface, Human Enhancement, Research Ethics, Transhumanism)
  • Bova, Ben. The Immortality Factor (Tor, 2009)
    • Researcher Arthur Marshak has developed a potential means to cure spinal cord injuries and regenerate limbs and organs. The novel follows the personal and public firestorm that erupts when Marshak submits his ideas for scrutiny before a court of science. (Topics: Regenerative Medicine, Stem Cell Research, Research Ethics, Global Healthcare Access and Disparities, Biotechnology and Politics)
  • Morgan, Kass. The 100 Trilogy
    • The 100 (Little, Brown, and Co., 2013)
    • Day 21 (Little, Brown, and Co., 2014)
    • Several centuries after nuclear war has ravaged the planet, the human race is surviving on an aging orbital colony. With resources scarce, the governing council decides to send a group of100 teenage criminals to Earth to investigate whether radiation has dissipated enough for the earth to again be habitable. The 100 work to rebuild some semblance of society in a radically new environment, meanwhile several of their leaders struggle to come to grips with their past. After a series of mysterious murders, the 100 come to the startling realization that they are not the only survivors on the planet. (Topics: Euthanasia, Research Ethics)
  • 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)
  • 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)
  • 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)



Updated December 2016