Good transhumanist fiction?

post by NancyLebovitz · 2012-10-13T14:47:16.367Z · score: 11 (16 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 68 comments

I just watched this, a very pretty version of "don't try to make yourself different, just accept who you are", and I realized that self-directed change in fiction is a worthwhile topic.

What I'm looking for is stories where main characters change themselves in ways which are basically improvements-- getting beyond the usual human is a plus, but for purposes of this discussion I'm including any significant positive change.

Another big plus would be the character needing to learn which of their goals make sense, and which methods work.

**ETA:** That was a bit of a stub-- HPMOR is partly about Harry and Hermione changing themselves, generally for the better I think (I've only read it once). It would be interesting to see what happens if Quirrell decides he needs to upgrade himself.

*Stranger in a Strange Land* is an interesting partial example-- the Martian language is presumably an upgrade for the human race, but it was developed by and for Martians, and needs some modification.

A *lot* of relatively recent fiction has people learning martial arts. I think appearance makeovers (typically for women) have become less common. I don't think there's a lot of fiction about appearance makeovers for men-- *The Stars My Destination* has one, but it's offstage. It wouldn't surprise me if *The Count of Monte Cristo* (frequently referenced with TSMD) has one.

 

68 comments

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comment by Rain · 2012-10-13T16:20:49.908Z · score: 15 (15 votes) · LW · GW

I'll only list the items I consider 5/5 stars, and would be willing to reread or rewatch as many times as I feel like (and have done so for many), all dealing with transhumanist themes, self-improvement, or the challenges thereof.

Books:

  • Heart of the Comet, by David Brin and Gregory Benford. A story about the first humans who attempt to create a living society on a comet, encountering alien life forms, genetic self-modification, cloning, advanced robotics, AI, and uploads.
  • Armor, by John Steakley. A war story on foreign planets about a man who encounters intense pressures yet overcomes through mental transformation into someone who can handle it all, and more.
  • Aristoi, by Walter Jon Williams. A story about advanced humans dealing with multi-tiered society, near-gods at one end and unaltered humans at the other, and how they interact with each other.
  • After Life, by Simon Funk, free online. An exploration of the consequences of greater than human intelligence on human society as it progresses from the first upload to galactic civilization.
  • Dune, by Frank Herbert. A story about a very different society on far-off planets dealing with the philosophical and mental effects of a substance which alters reality in interesting ways.
  • Revelation Space, by Alastair Reynolds. A hard sci-fi look at human offspring, the separate formats they might take, and challenges they might encounter once they begin spreading throughout the galaxy.
  • Marooned in Realtime, by Vernor Vinge. A mystery novel about a small group who survived the Singularity, not knowing what happened to the rest of humanity, and having a range of technology and cultures from different time frames thanks to an impenetrable stasis field.
  • Neuromancer, by William Gibson. A sci-fi story which created the genre of cyberpunk, examining AI, body modification through technology, and greater than human intelligence.
  • I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov. One of the foundational (heh) novels regarding AI and how it might interact with humans, with many possible flaws and benefits.

Movies:

  • Colossus: The Forbin Project. A story about the first computer to gain intelligence, and how recursive self-improvement might play out.
  • Limitless. Follows the exploits of a man who finds a drug which improves his thought and motivation to superhuman levels, and what a normal person might accomplish with such a powerful benefit.
  • Dark City. An eccentric movie wondering what it means to be human, how different memories and pasts affect our present, and how the ability to reshape reality might play out.
  • Interview with the Vampire. A discourse on potential problems of long life and how it can be difficult to hold on to what it means to be human once you're truly different.
  • Groundhog Day. My favorite movie of all time, and likely the category winner for self-improvement. A humorous, sad, and poignant look at how one person might change after living decades or even centuries in a single city, going through the same day time and again, and how they might find happiness.
comment by [deleted] · 2012-11-03T17:35:52.791Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

stories where main characters change themselves in ways which are basically improvements-- getting beyond the usual human is a plus, but for purposes of this discussion I'm including any significant positive change.

I wouldn't consider Dune or Neuromancer to meet those criteria.

Dune is a retelling of a very old colonial myth, where the white man goes to live amongst the savages, and, being white, immediately becomes the best of them. He then realizes the deep wisdom they have, the value of their connection to their environment, and leads them against the rest of the white men to eventually be the leader of the savages and possibly also whites. This is Dune, but also Avatar, Dances with Wolves, Fern Gully (IIRC) and several others.

Paul doesn't improve -- he is a superhero whose power is privilege. Since he never has to confront the privilege of being a colonial, I would say Paul never grows in any substantial way.

Neuromancer is a fun cyberpunk story, and definitely worth reading, but the main characters don't really improve. They have incredible experiences, but the bleakness of cyberpunk means that these experiences are quickly ground to dust by the world they live in. I think the epilogue was pretty clear on that.

Dark City and Limitless are also basically superhero movies, except in Limitless the superpower is Adderall.

I'd be interested to see how any of the above display themes of characters improving themselves by figuring out what self-improvement tactics work or don't work -- they're all fantastic stories and movies (Dune is a bit tired, but builds an evocative world at least), and I'd like to be able to go back to them and have something new to experience.

comment by maya · 2013-03-10T06:33:53.339Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What if we were to look at an alternative approach to Transhumanism? A non nano tech approach towards singularity. In keeping with the request of the thread, may I mention "Memories With Maya". This is a story (fiction novel) that looks at emerging technology and how it's affecting personal human relationships, even in death.

More on the science and the book at Memories With Maya

comment by maya · 2013-03-10T06:26:43.442Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What if we were to look at an alternative approach to Transhumanism? A non nano tech approach towards singularity. In keeping with the OP thread, may I mention "Memories With Maya". This is a story (fiction novel) that looks at emerging technology and how it's affecting personal human relationships, even in death

More on the science and the book at Memories With Maya

comment by advancedatheist · 2012-10-13T14:58:05.983Z · score: 13 (15 votes) · LW · GW

"Understand," by Ted Chiang (circa 1990):

http://www.infinityplus.co.uk/stories/under.htm

I've also heard that the enhanced character in the film Limitless turns out well instead of the usual cliches where he either becomes evil, goes insane or winds up dumber than before. I haven't seen that film yet, however.

comment by Rain · 2012-10-13T16:06:51.762Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Limitless is an excellent portrayal of transhuman benefits, and I've previously recommended it in the media thread.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-10-14T15:35:18.567Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think "Understand" meets the "would be a good thing" requirement. It would be fun to be that smart-- if superintelligent people were even as capable of cooperating as ordinary people.

comment by advancedatheist · 2012-10-13T16:06:31.270Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Back in the late 1990's the A&E Channel ran a series titled The Unexplained. Most episodes dealt with woo like ghosts, flying saucers and bigfoot. But one episode explored "human transformations." It portrayed a guy who had become totally obsessed with the Star Trek universe and wanted to try to live in it as much as possible. So he rebuilt the interior of his house to resemble the sets from The Next Generation, wore reproduction Trek costumes, attended the conventions and pretty much adopted the stereotypical Trekkie loser lifestyle. As I recall, the show says that his wife wound up leaving him. (Apparently a Trek obsession can have the effect of lowering a man's status.)

But that episode also profiled Cindy Jackson, who grew up as a plain-looking farm girl in Ohio yet aspired to try to look like her Barbie doll, and to try to live like a real-life Barbie. So when she came of age, she moved to London (and why wouldn't Barbie live in London instead of a small town in Ohio?) and made a living there somehow as a rock musician. (That raises questions about the UK's immigration laws. Can you get permission to live in the UK as an irregularly employed bohemian?) When her father died, she inherited some money and spent it on cosmetic procedures. She then capitalized on her improved appearance to move into more fashionable British social circles (I suspect as a kind of escort or courtesan, but the show didn't say), somehow made more money, had more work done and eventually used her experiences with this branch of medicine to start a consulting business for other women who want cosmetic procedures:

http://www.cindyjackson.com/

Both of these individuals seem to have emotional problems they probably could have dealt with in more constructive ways. But I came away from watching that episode respecting Cindy a lot more than the Trekkie. You wouldn't think so at first, but Cindy articulated feasible goals starting from an imaginary premise, then took practical steps to get from here to there. The Trekkie, by contrast, couldn't get a job on a Federation starship no matter what he did. At best he could have pursued an education and training in a STEM field and gotten a job related to aerospace. Otherwise he had nowhere to go outside of the fantasy life he borrowed from Gene Roddenberry.

Perhaps we can make a distinction between Cindy Jackson-like transhumanist goals and Trekkie-like transhumanist goals, where the former fall into the realm of current practicality.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-10-13T16:59:26.471Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think the Trek guy could have developed a business based on Trekifying your home if he was interested and if he didn't run afoul of copyright doing it.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-03-18T12:16:46.258Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

As I recall, the show says that his wife wound up leaving him. (Apparently a Trek obsession can have the effect of lowering a man's status.)

This is part of what I was trying to talk about http://lesswrong.com/lw/lt0/towards_a_theory_of_nerds_who_suffer/

The core idea is that such obsessions with fantasy mean hating your own life or self. It is not simply a hobby but escapism from reality.

comment by Dr_Manhattan · 2012-10-14T16:58:45.709Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watchmen

The comic book is superb and contains significant examination of some transhumanist issues, with especially good description of Dr. Manhattan's value drift. The movie is a very suitable substitute IMO, due to largely sticking to the comic and an awesome visual effects and soundtrack.

Besides transhumanism other favorite LW issues are in play, e.g. utilitarianism vs. deontology and free will.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-10-14T22:10:46.972Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Definitely a matter of point of view-- I thought the portrayal of Ozymandias was a way of saying that being ambitious about improving oneself is yucky.

comment by khafra · 2012-10-15T11:54:00.537Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Really? If he'd been set up as a villain, I would have thought that--but he wasn't. The only judgements explicitly passed on him are "without condoning, or condemning, I understand;" and "nothing ever ends, Adrian." Even before reading OB/LW, I read that as saying Ozymandias had taken on a larger moral responsibility; one that couldn't be met just by doing his best--if he was going to go "full consequentialist," he needed to make sure he would actually succeed.

comment by Dr_Manhattan · 2012-10-15T20:16:24.353Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

There is something to what Nancy is saying. I would say the authors, while reserving judgement, were highly suspicious of high motives (though I wouldn't call it self-improvement). Being suspicious of high motives is an LW theme in itself. The self-aggrandizement, callousness etc. were skillfully inserted to prevent the viewer/reader from making a black and white conclusion without thinking. Another reason I love this work :)

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-10-14T13:29:04.923Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Some more: "The Gentle Seduction" by Mark Steigler is definitely pro-tranhumanism. It avoids one of the hard questions (portraying one transhuman is hard enough, portraying a transhuman society is much harder) by making the main character pretty much solitary.

"No Woman Born" by C.L. Moore is marginal-- a woman who's been badly burned has a whole body replacement (I'm not sure whether her brain is replaced), and I take the end of the story to be "she's not human any more, but it might be worth it".

The latter is an edge case in another way, too-- does the transhumanist start from an average or better human baseline, or is the improvement start with a desire to make up for a deficiency?

Non-choice transhumanism: Brain Wave by Poul Anderson. The human race had been in a region of the galaxy which suppressed certain electro-magnetic effects. Species normally evolve to average IQs of 100-- that's good enough. As a result of the earth moving out of the suppressor field, people and animals quickly become four or five times as smart. This is presented as a good thing.

comment by Nornagest · 2012-10-14T06:58:54.367Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think there's a lot of fiction about appearance makeovers for men [...] It wouldn't surprise me if The Count of Monte Cristo (frequently referenced with TSMD) has one.

Not so much, if I'm reading it right. The Count persona is definitely striking, dresses very well, and has exceptional social competence, all of which Dantes lacked -- but he's also a lot older and I don't recall him getting a lot of comments on physical beauty. It's implied that he looks off-puttingly pale and intense, actually -- there's a running joke about him being a vampire. (One of his in-story nicknames, dropped in a lot of adaptations, is "Lord Ruthven)".)

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-10-14T13:35:55.013Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I needed something more exact than appearance makeover, I think. For men, the point wouldn't necessarily be to look better/younger as to learn the clothing and manners of the class they want to move into.

Gully Foyle (The Stars My Destination) is a marginal case. He has facial tattoos removed, but scars remain. As a result, he has to learn to regulate his blood pressure so that the scars don't show up red when he feels a strong emotion. I'm not sure this makes any scientific sense (the book was written before lasers), but it's one hell of a metaphor.

comment by Nornagest · 2012-10-14T20:24:36.627Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Ah. In that case, yeah, The Count of Monte Cristo qualifies -- though we don't see much of the learning process. The closest female equivalent seems to be Pygmalion and its many imitators.

comment by CronoDAS · 2012-10-14T00:55:45.548Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress.

comment by Eudoxia · 2012-10-14T16:23:10.043Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I cannot believe nobody has recommended David Zindell yet! His work is a masterpiece of transhumanist fiction.

His Requiem for Homo Sapiens series is preceded by a short story Shanidar, you should read it first to get a taste of what's next. If you want more, then the next four books are:

  • Neverness
  • The Broken God (My personal favorite)
  • The Wild (IMHO the worst of the series, but Nikolos Daru Ede is just lovable)
  • War in Heaven

I'll second After Life, it's very short but definitely one of my favorite pieces of h+ fiction. The work of Cordwainer Smith (He only wrote a novel and a few short stories) could also be considered transhumanist fiction, as it includes genetically-engineered super-furries.

Sirius, by Olaf Stapledon, is also a very, very good (And rather depressing) novel about an uplifted dog. In the short story deparment, my personal favorite (Even better than Shanidar) is Fermi's Urbex Paradox, a real must-read about a posthuman who travels around the galaxy investigating the remains of civilizations and provides an answer for the Fermi Paradox. Crystal Nights, by Greg Egan, is also good.

Full list

comment by Dreaded_Anomaly · 2012-10-14T07:01:57.520Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Replay, by Ken Grimwood - A man dies and then gets to relive his life, again and again. It's sometimes cited as the inspiration for the movie Groundhog Day, which has already been mentioned. This is one of my all-time favorite novels, definitely worth reading.

Also check out Peter F. Hamilton. He writes space opera, some of the most explicitly and matter-of-factly transhuman series that I've seen. His books explore immortality as well as biological and technological upgrades. I would recommend the Commonwealth Saga/Void Trilogy over the Night's Dawn trilogy, but both series are good.

Dan Simmons' Hyperion Cantos, another space opera, reveals some transhumanist themes as the series progresses through the branch of humanity called Ousters.

comment by taelor · 2012-10-14T15:35:01.806Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I've only read the first Hyperion book, but it also featured an unfriendly AI.

comment by Morendil · 2012-10-13T17:06:53.735Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I have a soft spot for Haldeman: The Long Habit of Living and The Forever Peace both feature interesting H+ twists. I've reread both several times.

TLHoL has a male appearance makeover, which includes the following dialogue:

"You want a new dick?"

"What?"

"Blade, dork, penis. One-eyed trouser mouse. It's as individual as the face. You can imagine circumstances where a man might want it disguised." Deadpan. "Give me a first. Say you want it shortened."

comment by drethelin · 2012-10-14T17:32:36.798Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I enjoyed the long habit of living (though I read it under the name buying time). It's horribly dated in that charming way old scifi sometimes is, but its got solid world building.

comment by MileyCyrus · 2012-10-13T14:51:37.977Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Superhero comics?

comment by DanArmak · 2012-10-13T17:08:06.911Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Most superheros spend their lives fighting evil transhumanist villains. They don't tend to be transhumanist themselves, and their superpowers are (in Western tradition) gained by a nonreproducible accident. There's even a trope where having superpowers is a burden.

comment by Dolores1984 · 2012-10-13T19:00:19.340Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

The obvious counter-example is iron man, especially in the films.

comment by knb · 2012-10-13T20:46:40.033Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

More in the comics, I would say. In the films he only has one self-modification: the fusion device in his chest, and that is more of a medical device required to keep him alive than an actual transhumanist augmentation. In the comics, Stark has to continually modify his biology to keep up with the enhancements to his armor/fight more powerful villains.

Actually Captain America is perhaps a better example. He becomes a super soldier not by accident, but by volunteering for an experimental human-enhancement procedure.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-10-14T02:17:25.229Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

In the comics, Stark has to continually modify his biology to keep up with the enhancements to his armor/fight more powerful villains.

I like the comics already. That heart magnet thing just seemed so contrived.

comment by Randaly · 2012-10-14T04:32:52.911Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Not really; in the films he is constantly upgrading his suits, and has gone through 7 (IIRC). We almost always see some improvement from suit to suit (ability to fold up into a portable suitcase; improved firepower; resistance to cold; etc.). In addition, per Wikipedia, in Iron Man 3 Stark will be injected with a supersoldier virus, called Extremis.

comment by Dolores1984 · 2012-10-13T21:09:37.038Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think the suit definitely counts as human augmentation. Plus, he designs his augmentations himself. Captain America just used the technology of some guy who then promptly proceeded to die, making the process unrepeatable for some reason. Stark is constantly refining his stuff.

comment by knb · 2012-10-14T03:13:15.837Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Saying the suit makes Stark a transhuman is like saying my car makes me a transhuman. One of the characters even flies away with one of Stark's suits in the second movie, so it isn't really a part of him in any sense. Yes Iron Man's technology progresses, but so does Batman's.

Plus, he designs his augmentations himself. Captain America just used the technology of some guy who then promptly proceeded to die

Ok, that might make Iron Man a better or more interesting character, but Tony Stark is not actually an augmented person in the movies. (Again, except for his fusion device thing, but that's the equivalent of a pacemaker, it restores normal mobility but doesn't augment his abilities).

comment by Dolores1984 · 2012-10-14T03:28:55.322Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

How about a cyborg whose arm unscrews? Is he not augmented? Most of a cochlear implant can be removed. Nothing about trans-humanism says your augmentations have to be permanently attached to your body. You need only want to improve yourself and your abilities, which a robot suit of that caliber definitely accomplishes.

And, yes, obviously transhumanism is defined relative to historical context. If everyone's doing it, you don't need to have a word for it. That we have a word implies that transhumanists are looking ahead, and looking for things that not everyone has yet. So, no, your car doesn't make you a trans-humanist, but a robotic exoskeleton might be evidence of that philosophy.

comment by knb · 2012-10-14T05:46:10.125Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

How about a cyborg whose arm unscrews?

It depends. If a person loses an arm and gets a mechanical prosthesis to restore normal functioning, that isn't transhumanist. If they get a prosthesis because they want to be super strong (or whatever), that is transhumanist.

That we have a word implies that transhumanists are looking ahead, and looking for things that not everyone has yet.

Transhumanism isn't about any technology, it specifically refers to augmentation of humans themselves.

comment by chaosmosis · 2012-10-14T06:07:26.836Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If it functions normally then it's a little bit transhumanist, because there might be advantages to having limbs you can detach if you want to. Also, mechanical limbs are more easily replaced and wouldn't require food to maintain.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-10-14T13:17:26.365Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This is reminding me of Manny's assortment of arms for different purposes in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress-- they aren't the center of the story, they're almost a cool background detail.

And then there's the waldos in Heinlein's "Waldo"-- arms of various sizes which mimic the movements of the user. I'm a bit surprised that they don't exist already, but a casual search suggests that they don't.

comment by Nectanebo · 2012-10-14T04:58:21.843Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This conversation sounds a little bit to me like the conversation in disputing definitions.

Taboo transhumanism or something, perhaps? I think that these superheroes count as significant positive change at least, one of the things NancyLebovitz described in the title post.

comment by Dolores1984 · 2012-10-14T07:15:50.373Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Sure. I think we just have different definitions of the term. Not much to be gained here.

comment by Randaly · 2012-10-14T04:45:30.895Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The OP asked for transhumanist fiction, not for fiction about transhumans; these are different things. A story by cavemen about a society with cars would be an example of transhumanist fiction.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-10-14T00:14:22.044Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Most superheros spend their lives fighting evil transhumanist villains. They don't tend to be transhumanist themselves, and their superpowers are (in Western tradition) gained by a nonreproducible accident.

Except the archetypal superhero, "superman", whose powers are reproducible in the literal sense, including to a significant degree with humans. (It is notable that Clark himself doesn't go out of his way to reproduce half-superbabies. In fact that sounds like something a villain might do and so is quite likely the plot of a comic somewhere.)

The next most famous superhero "Batman" also has powers that are reproducible. He has ridiculous amounts of money, a ridiculous amount of training and practice, an engineering department and brilliant foresight and planning. All of these are 'just' hard work and so are reproducible. In fact "The Batman" role even changes hands at times, which means it could be reproduced.

The instantiation of The Hulk I'm most familiar with quite possibly could be considered a transhumanist. Sure, he got his Hulk powers through an accident but that was an accident while actively trying to make himself transhuman through his genetic engineering.

Iron man. That's not just reproducible. That's mass-reproducible. In fact the most irritating thing about "The Avengers" is that Stark isn't going to take the obvious next step: Make a goddam suit for Scarlett Johansson! Her agility and combat prowess would be perfect for controlling a suitably remodeled Iron Man suit---where that suit would offset her vulnerability and relative weakness.

Then there is "Captain America". Wasn't the "accident" there that the super-soldier enhancement program was destroyed, leaving only one? He was actively created as part of a (military run) 'transhumanist' research program.

Then, again on the 'anti-reproducible status quo preservation' side of things there is "X-Men" where one of the movies has trying to reproduce superpowers as the plot by the Villain that needs to be thwarted.

comment by Dreaded_Anomaly · 2012-10-14T04:53:14.865Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

In fact the most irritating thing about "The Avengers" is that Stark isn't going to take the obvious next step: Make a goddam suit for Scarlett Johansson!

This actually happened in the Ultimates comic, an alternate version of the Avengers.

comment by ChrisHallquist · 2012-10-14T07:09:58.164Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That and equip all of SHIELD with suits--that kinda happened in The Ultimates too, but it's stated that Tony only allowed it with an older form of the Iron Man technology. Selfish bastard.

Actually, while The Ultimates got kinda weird as time went on (especially with Ultimate Avengers), it does a good job on the difficulty of keeping technological genies in their bottles.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-10-14T07:19:11.589Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This actually happened in the Ultimates comic, an alternate version of the Avengers.

I was going to applaud Stark for not failing at rudimentary strategic thinking... but it sounds like this Stark is actually just a sappy romantic trying to woo Natasha with gifts. Oh well, that works too.

comment by Rain · 2012-10-13T16:52:53.909Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Supervillains are often better role models, aside from their improper values.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-10-14T15:33:28.615Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

The Incredibiles is especially annoying that way-- innate talents = virtue. Trying to acquire ability = being a pain in the ass and deserving humiliation.

comment by Risto_Saarelma · 2012-10-15T12:39:03.589Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Alan Moore's Miracleman reboot from the 80s actually does go all out with superpowers as the onset of a transhuman era instead of fancy professional wrestling with a painstakingly maintained present day status quo.

The trade paperbacks are out of print due to byzantine copyright shenanigans, so getting a copy requires a bit of creativity.

comment by taelor · 2012-10-14T15:40:12.501Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The Engineer from The Authority. I think I remember reading somewhere that Warren Ellis is a transhumanist.

comment by Nornagest · 2012-10-15T07:51:39.530Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It's not a superhero comic unless "being a thinly veiled Hunter S. Thompson analogue" counts as a superpower, but Ellis's Transmetropolitan regularly uses low-grade transhumanism as a backdrop to its core story of political journalism. It starts out being mainly a shock-value thing -- the first few panels in its core setting mention or depict advanced information warfare leading to autocannibalism, a guy selling his skin for ad space, and a subculture whose adherents splice alien DNA into their own to express a type of species dysphoria -- but later it evolves into a more nuanced approach.

By the end of the series the message seems to be that no matter how we permute our cultures or our bodies, human value systems will end up leading to largely the same types of conflicts. Which seems like a fairly realistic approach, given that strongly transhuman intelligence is absent from the setting.

Ellis's Black Summer also depicts an explicitly transhuman version of what's essentially DC Comics' Justice League, but that's a more obscure series and the morality in it is a lot murkier.

comment by Risto_Saarelma · 2012-10-15T11:58:11.999Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Bruce Sterling's Schismatrix and Holy Fire both have the protagonist breaking out of the traditional human life narrative as they grow older and get neater augmentation tech. Schismatrix is earlier and space operatic. Holy Fire is 90s post-cyberpunk and is more about biotech and radical life extension.

I read both 10+ years ago, so my memories are a bit hazy by now. Then I went and read Zeitgeist and haven't touched a Bruce Sterling book since.

comment by Spinning_Sandwich · 2012-10-18T02:02:50.528Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'll second Schismatrix and emphasize that it has a particular focus on whether it's better to extend human life by purely organic/biological means or to use mechanical/technological enhancements.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-10-18T15:41:49.085Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

When I read Schismatrix I was distracted by the question of why people didn't use a combined approach.

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2012-10-15T10:05:23.670Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Schild's Ladder, by Greg Egan

comment by Baughn · 2012-10-15T18:25:00.623Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I have to question this.

Greg Egan's novels are all worth reading, but his characters are essentially human, and don't much break that mold. In particular, change over the course of a novel is.. well, I can't think of any examples. The characters may start off transhuman, but they pretty much stick to what they were, mentally.

The one exception to this would be his newest, the Orthogonal trilogy, though I should probably note that those characters were never human in the first place. Even then, it's mostly echoing our own renaissance shifts.

I'm pretty sure most of those reading this would enjoy them anyhow, though. There's quite a bit on his website. :-)

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2012-10-15T19:48:35.170Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It's not a book about becoming transhuman, that's for sure. It just happens to be predominantly populated with transhuman characters, and has persistence through transformation as a theme.

comment by BrassLion · 2012-10-28T03:28:48.245Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It just hit me that Bora Horza Gorbuchul is himself deeply transhuman, even if he scorns the Culture for relying on AI.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-10-15T00:08:34.835Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Shaw's Back to Methuselah is one of the most pro-transhumanist pieces of fiction I can think of. People can live much longer if they set their minds to it, and they lose interest in the repetitive behaviors that people generally think of as normal. This is presented as a good thing.

Stapledon's Last and First Men and Last and First Men in London presents the human race's self improvement as a good thing, but unfortunately it's ground down by entropy.

comment by advancedatheist · 2012-10-13T15:15:47.265Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

In that long-ago decade of the 1980's, Saul Kent and Mike Darwin in two separate reviews make the case that Woody Allen's film The Purple Rose of Cairo has a transhumanist message:

http://www.alcor.org/cryonics/cryonics8506.txt

Basically the film explores the idea of what you would do if you had the opportunity to instantiate your dream, like the character played by Mia Farrow in the film. Would you really want to abandon this world, if given the chance, and enter one where people substantially more attractive and functional than us live, and where they don't grow old or suffer from poverty or die? (Notice the resemblance to the assumptions made by the cryonics argument.)

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2012-10-16T03:44:14.023Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Deus Ex: Human Revolution is very good fiction, but is only contingently pro-transhumanist. The choices of the player can make the protagonist (who is involuntarily made into a transhuman by his employer following a catastrophic "workplace accident") appear more or less friendly to different factions (some of which are "pro-human", transhumanist, or neutral).

comment by BrassLion · 2012-10-28T03:26:48.426Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Human Revolution focuses explicity on the social effects of uneven distrubution of augmentations. The poor - even much of the middle class - don't and can't get augmentations in HR unless they commit crimes to raise the funds or live with incredibly inferior augmentations, and the augmentations also require regular doses of an expensive drug to avoid rejection. There's a lot going on in HR to make the argument against augmentations plausible, some of which doesn't map well onto any real-world transhumanist stuff that's brewing.

comment by Bugmaster · 2012-10-15T21:03:52.921Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Existence by David Brin lists several possible failure modes for transhumanist societies, focusing on one particularly tricky failure mode as the main plot device. It is not entirely obvious at first what the failure mode is and whether one exists at all. I enjoyed the story a great deal.

comment by Bugmaster · 2012-10-15T20:57:53.501Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Help me, Less Wrong, you're my only hope !

A very long time ago, I'd read a transhumanist story somewhere on the Internet, and now I can't find it. Which is a shame, because it was quite enjoyable. Can someone else help me track it down ?

WARNING: possible spoilers below, for a work of fiction whose name I do not know, so these are spoilers of the worst kind.

The story begins with the invention of a crude form of mind uploading (one's body must still be alive for one's mind to function). The researcher whose mind is uploaded into a simulation ends up spending a much larger period of subjective time there than he expected, because the simulation allows him to think much faster.

The technology is improved upon and perfected, and the subjective time acceleration increases by orders of magnitude. People end up spending more and more time online, as their physical bodies lie at home, hooked up to IVs. Many scientific advances are made during this time, including strong nano; these advances are immediately utilized to increase the efficiency of mental processing nodes even further.

Unfortunately, the mini-society of these uploads pulls ahead too fast and too dramatically. They are noticed by various organizations and agencies, then ruthlessly hunted down and captured; as it turns out, being able to think incredibly quickly is not much of an asset when one's body lies immobile, embedded in a world of hostile humans.

Final spoiler warning !

The story -- what little I remember of it -- concludes with the accelerated humans uploading their minds into fully independent nodes, then launching themselves on a mini-spaceprobe, away from Earth.

comment by Kutta · 2012-10-15T12:38:20.236Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Luminosity, Radiance and Flashes by Alicorn.

comment by ChrisHallquist · 2012-10-14T07:05:38.119Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This fits better with the title of the post than the body text, but I recently read and really enjoyed The Rapture of the Nerds by Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross. It's probably the most plausible vision of the future I've ever seen in science fiction, if you ignore the possibility of uFAI and the possibility that aliens will decide to wipe us out without a second thought because we don't eat babies.

It's set in a world where many (most?) people have been uploaded, and those who haven't typically use other transhuman tech. The protagonist, though, starts out trying very hard to reject all of that (while making a couple exceptions), but over the course of the story ends up using quite a bit of transhuman tech out of necessity and finally coming to accept it.

comment by moreati · 2012-10-14T08:35:06.951Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If you've not already, you'll probably enjoy Accelerando, also by Charles Stross.

comment by Ahuizotl · 2012-10-17T02:27:56.963Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Fallout: New Vegas has points where you can improve yourself with cybernetic implants and there are various Super Mutants and Ghouls (humans altered via radiation or mutatgenic viruses) along with robots or brains in jars. Though any transhumanism takes a backseat to the post-apocolyptic setting.

Fallout Equestria is a crossover fanfiction between the Fallout universe and My Little Pony: Friendship is magic. Likewise, thoughts of transhumanism is rather incidental to the post-apocalyptic setting but the protagonist does undergo some changes that result in a prolonged lifespan near the end of the story.

Though for stories where transumanism is more the focus... I can think of Wil McCarthys books, The Collapsium and The Wellstone. These stories take place in a setting where programmable matter and nano-tech fabricators called fax machines have radically altered the world. In particular, the fax machines can copy any object, including the human body and mind, and create copies of it or alter them to remove injuries, disease, or the effects of aging.

The Collapsium series take on immortality via the fax machines is interesting in that pretty much everyone seems to understand that the machine destroys the origional when the object is scanned (which technically means that everyone who goes through a fax dies) but since the fax can transmit the persons data and rebuild them on the other end... even curing all their injuries, making them better in some way, or even making multiple copies who can later be re-integrated into a single person with all their individual memories, then the technology is seen as too useful to really avoid.

As such, people in this society have taken on the term 'immorbid', they can die or suffer grievous injuries, but the technology exists to quickly 'repair' them, or just create an exact copy of that person from a backup. There was one case (I think) where a character fell off the side of a ship and was lost into the depths of space... but they had his backup on file so they just printed out a copy of him and all was considered well. Another time it was revealed that a villain had been hacking into the fax network and making copies of various people (ie, someone would use the network to go from point A to point B, the villain intercepted the signal and created a second copy at point C in his lair while another copy appeared at B thinking it all went as normal) he'd then torture or modify them in ways... including making copies of himself to interrogate or abuse.

Its a rather interesting and slightly morbid take on transhumanism and mind uploading but I found it rather a nice read.

comment by advancedatheist · 2012-10-13T15:33:11.429Z · score: -2 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Does the James Bond genre promote a transhumanist message? You could interpret this essay as arguing yes, in that Bond does many things which you can learn to do in real life which make you more capable than most people, starting with the fact that he went to real places instead of science-fictional places. Like Bond, you can condition yourself physically, learn martial arts, develop proficiency in the use of firearms, study foreign languages, dress well, drive cool cars, play baccarat and so forth. I don't know the part about hooking up with beautiful women you've just met in luxury hotels, however. Apparently you can't even try to pick up ordinary women at atheist conventions, despite all the christian propaganda about atheists' promiscuity, without causing unedifying scandals and the creation of new atheist factions like Atheism+.

Why James Bond Fans Are Better Than Sci-Fi Geeks

http://pjmedia.com/lifestyle/2012/09/13/why-james-bond-fans-are-better-than-sci-fi-geeks/?singlepage=true

comment by Risto_Saarelma · 2012-10-15T12:14:25.289Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The argument is fun, but I'm not sure how well it pans out. Most fans of anything probably don't end up amounting to much. Competent SF fans won't end up piloting spaceships, but they may end up with a career at NASA Jet Propulsion Lab.

The general good point is that being an espionage geek will get you obsessed over history, politics, psychology and linguistics trivia, which is all applicable in many real life areas, while getting immersed in fantasy fiction has you learning lots of stuff that doesn't tie into the real world in any particular way.

The James Bond fiction isn't really about improvement though, Bond is just another face in the long lineage of pulp fiction competent men, who already are implausibly good at everything when the story starts.

comment by ewang · 2012-10-13T16:01:57.154Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'd say that the article is arguing, if it is at all about transhumanism, that James Bond is "transhumanizing", rather than transhumanist in itself.