Science fiction and being human

MarketIn my last blog I discussed the science of science fiction and how as writers we deal with it or don’t deal with it.  Bottom line?  I know how to use my HD TV, my pc, mobile phone and digital camera.  I might have some very basic idea how they work, but that’s it.  So I think it’ll be the same in the future, we’ll know how to use all that incredible technology, but as today you don’t have to understand it.

One thing that’s for certain is that technology is going to evolve and advance in ways that even the best science fiction writers can’t predict.  But what about us humans?

If you believe Darwin (which I do – he’s one of my all-time heros), then all creatures change in response to changes in their environment.  They must adapt to survive.  The changes arise slowly through random mutations.  Most of those mutations are of no benefit and are lost from the population, but some will confer an advantage.  Those survive and spread.  So it goes on and species evolve.  The key is that species are adapting to a constantly changing environment.  However, for the first time, in man there is a species that changes and adapts its environment to suit its needs.  We cloth ourselves, build shelters and through the use of technology are able to survive where otherwise we would perish.

As it is today, so this persists in science fiction with the use of space craft, environmental domes, the terraforming of planets etc.  All devices that I use in my own books.  So what does that mean for the humans?  Do we stay the same as we are now?  In some science fiction I’ve read people living on Mars grow taller and less robust due to the lesser gravity, but this is not evolution.  If the offspring of those people grew up back on earth they’d be no different from the rest of us.

The difference now of course is that we are entering an age when we have the ability to change ourselves.  Where we have the potential to redesign the human body.  At the moment this is about ridding ourselves of certain genetic diseases, correcting “errors” in the genetic code.  However, it doesn’t take much imagination to see where this might lead.  There is already talk of designer babies and the possibility of human clones.  All this is a potential rich area (and perhaps relatively unexplored area for writers).  In my book ‘Bleak’, I delve into a world where human closes are used and changed to become the ultimate spies (shapeshifters, or as I call them manipulents).

So in the future will we tweak of even completely redesign the human body to enable or aid survival in what had previously been uninhabitable environments?  It seems completely possible we might do this to animals that are a food source e.g. enabling them to survive in low oxygen atmospheres or tolerate alien plant life that might otherwise be toxic.  So why not us humans?  The question might be how far do you take that?  However, if you’ve already started down that road (which perhaps we have) there is always that next step, so where do you stop and why?

computer eye_edited-1Now add into this mix technology and there is no end to the possibilities.  We already replace joints and limbs.  There are cochlea implants and retinal implants to aid hearing and vision.  For the latter it is early days, but how long before vision can be completely restored, or improved upon?  Work is ongoing on heart valves and fully artificial hearts.  Cast your mind forward hundreds or thousands of years and perhaps it will raise the question of what it actually means to be human (something again I explore a little in ‘Bleak’).  A subject perhaps for another blog.

Ultimately, I believe we humans will be much more diverse than we are now in ways that will be of our own making and choosing.

As always comments are welcome.

Ian Martyn

My book ‘Bleak’ raises some of these issues as to what it means to be human.  Follow this link or find the free 10,000 word prequel on Smashwords via the link on this page

Author: Ian Martyn

Science Fiction Writer

4 thoughts on “Science fiction and being human”

  1. All great points, a few I hadn’t considered before, especially the question of whether we will continue without evolving in the usual fashion as we gain more and more control of our environment.
    My recent short story about genetic manipulation (my scientific background includes genetics in animal breeding for production), came about because I think it is an area very worthy of exploration, both out of interest of where we might take it, and also as warning of where we should beware of venturing.

    1. Thanks the comment as always. I think the cat is out of the bag. As more and more becomes possible we will use that technology. It’s only short step between replacing defective hearts, eyes etc. to improving the human body.

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