A theme I’ve noticed is common in my work is transhumanism. For those of you who aren’t familiar and don’t want to fall down the Wikipedia Rabbit Hole, transhumanism is the idea that we will use technology to improve our lives and overcome the inherent limits of the human condition.
In a lot of ways, we’ve already begun the moment into transhuman space. These days almost all of us carry a smartphone. A device that allows us access to near infinite knowledge and instant communication across vast distances. But really, that’s just the first step. Wearable tech like smartwatches are still in their infancy, but eventually, they’ll become as ubiquitous as the smartphone.
All of that’s nice, and can lead to a lot of really interesting conversations about the pros and cons of the always on communication that comes with that level of technology, but I want to leave that behind for a bit, and look at the future of transhumanism, why it appeals to me, and how in shows up in my work.
My first exposure to transhumanist ideas was in the cyberpunk genre. Growing up, I was really into role playing games, but it was never really Dungeons and Dragons for me. I mean, yes, I have spent a lot of hours as an Elf wondering around the various DnD worlds, but Robotech, Star Wars and World of Darkness were a much bigger deal for me. But the game that took the cake, the one that I played more of than any other game was Cyberpunk 2020.
Cyberpunk 2020 is the table top role playing game CD Projekt Red’s Cyberpunk 2077 is based on, and I’ll be honest, I have mixed feelings about it. I spent hundreds, if not thousands of hours in that world, and I loved a lot of it, and hated a lot of it. I hated the grimness, the pessimism, the surety that humanity had reached its peak and was in an unstoppable moral and social decline. I much preferred a more hopeful take on the future.
But, and this is a big ‘but’, I loved the idea of a world where humanity and technology blended together. I loved the idea of being able to fixe lost and broken body parts by going and getting replacements. I loved the idea of being able to reshape your body into what you wanted it to be.
I had problems with the ideas as presented. There was a mechanic in the game that insisted that replacing part of your body with technology would inherently rob you of your humanity. I never liked that idea, because it never felt right or true. I think a large part of that was because I despised my body the way only a trans kid can. The idea of being able to just go down to the local body shop on the corner and buy myself an entirely new body, one that felt right, that reflected who I was, had an enormous appeal. I have long, detailed arguments on why cybernetics could actually increase a person’s connection to their humanity.
I’ll spare you the rambling, because it would be rambling. There’s a lot of personal things in those arguments. But the ideas stuck with me, and they’ve become a recurrent theme in my work. Particularly in my science fiction.
In Mail Order Bride, Sam, the main character, has to receive a number of cybernetic implants in order to live on the planet Talamh. Talamh is a heavy world with a high metal content, so same needs muscle and bone implants to tolerate the higher gravity, and she needs implants in her respiratory and digestive system in order to filter out environmental contaminants that would slowly kill her without the implants.
She also gets a device installed in her head that serves the same function as a smart phone. The device, called an Augmented Reality Implant is an incredibly sophisticated computer wired directly into her brain that can talk to her, overlay sensory input to let her see, hear, touch, taste and smell things that aren’t there, and can record and play back her experiences. Sam takes it a bit further than most, and installs an AI which she names Pixel in her Aug, and Pixel becomes one of her closest friends though the course of the store.
Why is this important? Because it goes back to why transhumanist ideas appeal to me so much. I’m a disabled trans woman who has spent her whole life being socially awkward and isolated. The goal of transhumanism is to use technology to overcome limitations, and to improve our lives.
Is it any wonder that in Mail Order Bride, I created a protagonist who needs technology just to survive in her new home, and who finds one of her closest friends though that same technology? A friend who only exists because of that technology?
I don’t think it is, and I can tell you now, as I work on other books, that Mail Order Bride won’t be the only book I write where people use technology to step beyond their limits.