This page and the next is for the impact of specific technological advances on society. The prior page talks about the general impact of new technology.


Eugenics is a set of beliefs and practices that aims at improving the genetic quality of the human population.

Obviously it is a hot-button issue. Most groups become hysterical when you suggest limiting their right to reproduce (especially if said group fears they will slip from being the majority to being the minority).

They get even more hysterical when they are prevented from reproducing by being put to death.

However there are other troubling questions. The main one is exactly what sort of measuring standard are you using to define "improved"? Almost as troubling is "who decides the measuring standards, and who does the measuring?" Obviously those in power can abuse this as a nasty form of ethnic cleansing.

More innocently, harm can mistakenly be done. For instance, sickle-cell anaemia is a genetically caused disease which occurs when the person inherits two allele of the sickle cell trait. People suffering from it rarely live past age 60. So that allele should be eugenically eliminated, right? Wrong! People with one allele are resistant to the even more deadly disease malaria. In this case, using eugenics would do more harm than good. The same holds true for the cystic fibrosis allele and cholera.

There is also the fear that such manipulation will reduce genetic diversity thus leading to inbreeding depression. In Beyond This Horizon by Robert Heinlein, genetic selection for increased health, longevity, and intelligence has become so widespread that the unmodified 'control naturals' are a carefully managed and protected minority.

Finally there is all those hideous overtones of Nazi Germany.

A milder form of eugenics is when the decision is made by the parents, not the government. You generally see this in science fiction with in vitro fertilization and a doctor giving the parents genetic counselling. The doctor gives the parents a list with check-boxes so the parents can chose what traits they want in their offspring, and advises them to omit obvious genetic diseases. The choices are fed into the machine, there is some quick genetic engineering on the zygote, then it is ready to be implanted (or popped into the artificial womb). See the movie Gattaca.

I don't trust people to genetically 'design' their child because I see what they do with character creation in games.

(ed note: see RPG MIN-MAXING, and imagine someone applying the techique to their offspring instead of to a game character)

From a thread in Reddit: Shower Thoughts by Slimebeast (2016)

There are many ways to implement eugenics.


After homo sapiens becomes a multi-planet species, the question becomes, would we remain a single species of humanity? Scott Solomon thinks a lot about this question in his new book Future Humans, which will be published by Yale Press in October. In it, he explores the future evolution of our species, including some musings on Mars.

“The general concept for the book is to ask about our ongoing evolution, from the perspective of a scientist who takes what we know about our past, what we know about today, and thinking about the long-term possibilities for our species,” Solomon, a biologist at Rice University in Houston, said. What, he wondered, would it take to lead to development of a new species? Put another way, how long would humans on Mars remain human?

Solomon explained that new species evolve most commonly when a barrier prevents a population from mating, such as on an island archipelago, so species on separate Galapagos islands evolve along separate lines. With modern humanity, of course, the trend is going in the opposite direction, as people move around the planet at a rate unprecedented in human history. “So on planet Earth it would take a major change to imagine us having populations isolated long enough to have distinct species,” he said.

The gulf between Earth and Mars might present such a barrier, if the Martian colony were self-sustaining and persistent. Through natural selection, humans and any organisms they bring with them, such as a plants, may evolve and adapt to Mars' harsh environment and low gravity, which is only a third of Earth's gravity.

Lacking a magnetosphere, Mars is bombarded by an increased rate of radiation, which also favors speciation. Ionizing radiation causes mutation in genes, which would provide a source of new genetic variations. That could accelerate the process of adaptation. On the downside, Solomon said, the higher radiation might just kill people. Or it might cause colonists to perpetually huddle inside small habitats and space suits, leading a Morlock-like existence and facing a similar evolutionary fate.

Ultimately it still may take a long time for speciation to occur. The one solid data point we have on Earth is the colonization of the Americas, which were settled by waves of people moving across the Bering Strait around the end of the last ice age. These populations were then isolated from the rest of world for about 10,000 years. When Europeans arrived they found a distinct population of native Americans, Solomon said, but certainly not a different species. That would suggest that, on a planet with a similar atmosphere and gravity as the Earth, it would take a human population more than 10,000 years to speciate. Mars is not that planet, of course.

Another factor to consider as humans contemplate colonizing other worlds, Solomon said, is the “founder effect,” which simply means that when a small number of people establish a new population from a larger population, the genes of the founders will have a huge influence on that population moving forward. This occurred with the small bands of humans spreading out from Africa.

“I’m thinking about what the long-term fate of our species may be,” Solomon said. “When selecting colonists I don’t believe we should be trying to select what attributes we want in a new species of humans. But it’s interesting to think that if you were to take only people from certain populations, or try to include a diversity of all of humanity, how those outcomes would be very different for the potential of what might become a new species of humans.”


Quote Brain Wave has been moved here.


Nothing to do with corn

“Ladies, Lords.

Today, with the advent of cheaply available nanomutagens, we are seeing an explosion in human genetic alteration ranging from pre-natal to geriatric–and from targeted risk factor reduction to wholesale alteration of secondary sexual characteristics. The government does not possess any agency for regulating such operations, and the recent passage of court bill 2301AP-8903 legally binds it to inaction. I believe this is a failure on the part of this committee, inasmuch as we are obligated to also advise policy.

The problem is that legalization of all such genetic engineering doesn’t merely pass the burden of inevitable failures onto the expectant parents or individual requesting the treatment (as the legislature appears to have concluded); it also creates a sociogenetic debt.

True, we have overseen the almost complete eradication of the more common genetically linked susceptibilities–as well as single-gene genetic disorders proper, such as CF and TS in the last decade alone. In the case of the former, we can all agree that eliminating the most common ΔF508 mutation was a triumph of science and humanity.

But what about myopia? If present trends continue, genes for imperfect eyesight will be ruthlessly bred out until no human wears eyeglasses. Gone will be the bespectacled academic, the horn-rimmed librarian, the bookish teen. This correction of a genetic fault will thereby alter our culture.

People have preferences for hair, eye color, and so on. So far, diversity has been preserved only by the presence of differing racial and societal expectations of attractiveness. But already we see evidence of women crippled by their parents’ absurdly idealized notions of beauty, especially body weight, and men too Hellenistically sculpted to fit into standard space suits. We’re at an inflection point where an entire generation could be born blond if some hypothetical singer with sandy hair became sufficiently popular.”

TS [2301-05-22 13:28, 2301-05-22 13:33]


Just now, he was reading up on Vivers. Kelly could find little in the ship’s library on the strange creatures. He asked Torwald, and the older spacer gave him a microfilm monograph, written by none other than one Torwald Raffen, that contained more accurate information than any “official” document about the secretive subspecies.

Kelly learned that in the last century, a few decades after the first interstellar drive was perfected, a group of geneticists got together and decided, after the fashion of scientists, that the human race could stand some improvement. They were going to create the Future Man. It was decided that humans were good mainly for surviving and that the new human race would have to be even better at it in order to be equal to the unknown exigencies of new worlds. It was agreed that the upright, bipedal, digit-handed human form could scarcely be improved upon for generalized capability, but that little improvements could be added here and there, specialties without specialization, as it were. Onto this they grafted a mentality obsessively concerned with survival. The result was the Viver, though it was not quite what they had planned. The fear that Vivers generated in ordinary humans was sufficient to get genetic engineering of humans banned forever. Kelly scratched Teddy’s ears and pondered that. The pseudobear had become a close friend, for it seemed to be the only life form on board that didn’t give him orders, chew him out, or think up unpleasant jobs for him to perform.

The typical Viver, Kelly read, was between six and seven feet tall and covered with horny, articulated plates of chitin that roughly followed the lines of human musculature. The hands were human in design but much larger, the knuckles covered with a spiked band of bone. The fingertips were equipped with inch-long retractile claws that did not interfere with ordinary use of the fingers when sheathed. Elbows and knees were heavily knobbed and bore large spikes. The feet had no toes, the foot being equipped with a club of bone and chitin where the toes should be. At the back of the leg, just below the calf, was a protrusion somewhat like a horse’s fetlock that concealed a seven-inch razor-sharp spur, perhaps the deadliest of the Viver’s natural weapons.

The head, set on a long flexible neck, was the least human feature of a Viver. The eyes were huge, taking up most of the skull’s interior. They were covered with a transparent plate and could swivel independently of one another. There were several, smaller apertures around the skull for the eyes to peer through. The beings had no true teeth, just serrated chitin.

Internally, Vivers difiered even more radically from the human parent stock. The brain was distributed throughout the body in tiny nodes, and the heart was likewise decentralized, being a series of small pumps distributed throughout the circulatory system. Practically the only way to kill a Viver was to cut him up into very small pieces. All parts, including brain tissue, were regenerative. It had been speculated that if a Viver were split in two down the middle, two complete Vivers would be the eventual result. So far no one had had the nerve to try that particular experiment.

Psychologically, all else was subordinate to the survival imperative. A Viver concerned himself with the survival of his race, his clan, his family, and himself. There were no political loyalties, only biological ones. They were smugglers because they had no respect whatever for ordinary human laws. They would have made invincible soldiers, but they saw war as a threat to their survival and studiously ignored conflicts between ordinary humans.

However, there was one exception. Young Vivers, before being judged fit to reproduce, had to undergo a period of exile during which they were expected to take part in wars and other adventures of a violent sort. It was for this last reason that the Space Angel was calling upon the good ship K’Tchak.

The Viver ship resembled a collection of buildings held together with tubes and braces, and, essentially, that was what it was. Built in space, it was never intended to land. The craft had to be big, for it contained almost all of the clan K’Tchak, and additions were made as the clan expanded. Despite their horrible tempers, Vivers liked the company of their own kind and ran to large families. It was all part of their obsession with survival.

As she approached, the Angel had about a fleet’s worth of armament trained on her. This was not because of her new weaponry; lifeboats received the same treatment from a Viver clan ship. Torwald gave a few passwords over the ship-to-ship and obtained grudging permission to go aboard, alone. As a security precaution, the skipper insisted that Torwald carry a scanner giving full aural and visual communication with those aboard the Angel. The Vivers did not object to the procedure; Vivers understood all about security precautions.

From SPACE ANGEL by John Maddox Roberts (1979)

End of Natural Selection

A concept that appears in science fiction once or twice is that "humans have stopped evolving", specifically technology and medical science have drastically hindered the process of natural selection. For instance, in primitive times a person with the genetic disease Phenylketonuria probably would not be able to survive long enough to reproduce (natural selection will prevent passing on the genetic disease). But currently modern medicine can detect the disease in newborns, and treat it with a special diet. In other words the person would survive long enough to pass it on to their offspring, thus thwarting natural selection.

Sir David Attenborough stated "We stopped natural selection as soon as we started being able to rear 95–99 percent of our babies that are born." Others have pointed out that while that might be true of 1st world countries, it is far from being true for the entire world.

In the Alan E. Nourse novel The Bladerunner (no relation to the movie of the same name) the world of the future has free, comprehensive medical treatment is available for anyone so long as they qualify for treatment under the Eugenics Laws. Preconditions for medical care include sterilization, and no legitimate medical care is available for anyone who does not qualify or does not wish to undergo the sterilization procedure (including children over the age of five). The ideas is to stop thwarting natural selection.

Others say humans are indeed still evolving, all we have done is shifted a large number of selective forces. While modern medicine has averted many biological cause of natural selection, one can see many new versions of natural selection by just perusing the Darwin Awards. In other words: deadly diseases has been replaced by Jackass.

A tangentially related concept appears in the Cyril Kornbluth short story The Marching Morons (which later inspired the movie Idiocracy). In the story, married couples who are intelligent tend not to have children, while unintelligent couples breed like cockroaches. After several hundred years of this, the average intelligence is what we would currently call an IQ of 45. The few intelligent people have no idea how to stop the collapse of society, but lucky for them a con artist who had been in suspended animation for 300 years has an answer that is effective (abet draconian).

The main flaw with the story is that the possibility of genetically breeding for stupidity is unproven.


"When did mankind lose touch with natural selection? No matter how inferior a human's genes are, that person is protected by laws, and can't be killed. Even those incapacitated in accidents or stricken with a serious illness are needlessly kept alive. What a drawn out, wasteful existence. It's this divorce from natural selection that has caused mankind to stop evolving. It's a step down. The devolution of mankind. But I intend to accelerate the culling of genetically inferior humans. To rekindle the refining fire of natural selection!" — Hans Davis, Metal Gear Ac!d

Some evil mad scientists use their twisted intellect solely for personal gain. This particular villain is not so provincial. His genius and his motives go hand in hand, and his concerns are (he thinks) with the welfare of the human species. Simply put, to the Evilutionary Biologist, humanity is stuck in an evolutionary rut, and it's up to him to put us back on the proper path so we can continue to evolve.

Why the Evilutionary Biologist believes this is necessary varies, as do his methods. Some Evilutionary Biologists simply believe that humanity has erred in its domination of the environment, and thus our very survival as a species is threatened unless they force us to continue evolving. Others see change and so-called improvement as goals in and of themselves, and resolve to use scientific advancement to cause them. Still others seek to create a new race of biologically superior transhumans or just the Ultimate Life Form with the power of science, either because they see humans as having outlived their time on the planet or because of a genuine desire to improve the human condition. They often subscribe to the philosophies of Social Darwinism and "The Ends Justify the Means". It's not uncommon for them to practice what they preach and marry a woman they see as fit and worthy for them and father a Mad Scientist's Beautiful Daughter.

Regardless, because of his dedication, the Evilutionary Biologist is willing to break laws, engage in experimental alterations upon other human beings, and ruin lives for the higher goal. Their creations are no less exempt; whether they're Replacement Goldfish, with the Cloning Blues, or genetically "programmed" to have evil In the Blood, their "children" are doomed to live sad, short, rebellious lives, unless they really do feel parental. They will never realize that Evil Evolves, and will never be able to identify themselves as the villains.

Evilutionary Biologists often create inhuman monsters and artificial humans to serve as minions and Mooks, as well as to populate their extensive Garden of Evil. They themselves may even be willing to suffer the fruits of their experimentation, often resulting in a monstrous, inhuman new body.

Whenever an Evilutionary Biologist appears on the scene — they are the most common form of villainous biologist in many games and Speculative Fiction media — be on guard for a Science Is Bad aesop to rear its ugly head.

This is especially ironic because in real biology, one of the core precepts of the theory of evolution is that it does not "improve" a species, because there is no such thing as an ideal form for a species — only what is best* at surviving and reproducing in current conditions. If the environment changes, the species must adapt all over again, which is why genetic diversity (Nature's way of "hedging her bets") is usually a good thing. Moreover, assuming that a species must evolve if subjected to imposed selection pressures (or Phlebotinum-induced mutations) overlooks the harsh fact that most organisms don't adapt in the face of such challenges: they simply go extinct, which is why we're not rubbing elbows with mammoths, sauropods and trilobites today. Deliberately applying such selective forces to humans may let us join them in extinction, not improve upon our current state. Finally, evolution is conservative, and a species which is thriving (you know, like Homo sapiens) is unlikely to evolve new traits, because it's doing fine the way it is. Sharks, for example, haven't changed much since before the first dinosaurs appeared, and they're just as successful as ever...making the entire mania of the Evilutionary Biologist suspect at best.

Even so, Goal-Oriented Evolution was taken dead seriously by many in the heyday of the Eugenics Movement, and still gets cited by people who really ought to know better (Singularitarians are frequently guilty of it).

Examples of this trope will probably be German, and possibly one of Those Wacky Nazis, if we want to be really obvious.

Compare Designer Babies.

* Or rather "good enough". Products of evolution are often The Alleged Car of the natural world. Go figure

(ed note: see TV Trope page for list of examples)


(ed note: The first part of this science essay was about the second law of thermodynamics, entropy and Maxwell's demon; which I have omitted. The important point is that the Maxwell's demon thought experiment does not disprove the second law of thermodynamics, since the demon has to be included as part of the system. The second law says that entropy always increases, and there ain't no way to stop it.

But then Asimov noted that others were under the misapprehension that the evolution of living organisms also disproved the second law. The Good Doctor pointed out that this is bovine excreta. )

      Another example of what appears to be steadily decreasing entropy on a grand scale lies in the evolution of living organisms.

     I don't mean by this the fact that organisms build up complex compounds from simple ones or that they grow and proliferate. This is done at the expense of solar energy and it is no trick at all to show that an over-all entropy increase is involved.
     There is a somewhat more subtle point to be made. The specific characteristics of living cells (and therefore of living multicellular organisms, too, by way of the sex cells) are passed on from generation to generation by duplication of genes. The genes are immensely complicated compounds and, ideally, the duplication should be perfect.
     But where are ideals fulfilled in this imperfect Universe of ours? Errors will slip in and these departures from perfection in duplication are called mutations. Since the errors are random and since there are many more ways in which a very complex chemical can lose complexity rather than gain it, the large majority of mutations are for the worse in the sense that the cell or organism loses a capacity that its parent possessed.
     (By analogy, there are many more ways in which a hard jar is likely to damage the workings of a delicate watch than to improve them. For that reason do not hit a stopped watch with a hammer and expect it to start again.)
     This mutation-for-the-worse is in accord with the notion of increasing entropy. From generation to generation, the original gene pattern fuzzes out. There is an increase of disorder, each new organism loses something in the translation, and life degenerates to death. This should inevitably happen if only mutations are involved.

     Yet this does not happen.

     Not only does it not happen, but the reverse does happen. On the whole, living organisms have grown more complex and more specialized over the eons. Out of unicellular creatures came multicellular ones. Out of two germ-layers came three. Out of a two-chambered heart came a four-chambered one.
     This form of apparent entropy-decrease cannot be explained by bringing in solar energy. To be sure, an input of energy in reasonable amounts (short of the lethal level, that is) will increase the mutation rate. But it will not change the ratio of unfavorable to favorable changes. Energy input would simply drive life into genetic chaos all the faster.
     The only possible way out is to have recourse to a demon (after the fashion of Maxwell) which is capable of picking and choosing among mutations, allowing some to pass and others not.

     There is such a demon in actual fact, though, as far as I know, I am the only one who has called it that and drawn the analogy with Maxwell's demon. The English naturalist, Charles Robert Darwin, discovered the demon, so we can call it "Darwin's demon" even though Darwin himself called, it "natural selection."
     Those mutations which render a creature less fit to compete with other organisms for food, for mating or for self-defense, are likely to cause that creature to come to an untimely end. Those mutations which improve the creature's competing ability are likely to cause that creature to flourish. And, to be sure, fitness or lack of it relates only to the particular environment in which the creature finds itself. The best fins in the world would do a camel no good.
     The effect of mutation in the presence of natural selection, then, is to improve continually the adjustment of a particular creature to its particular environment and that is the direction of increasing entropy.

     This may sound like arbitrarily defining entropy increase as the opposite of what it is usually taken to be—allowing entropy increase to signify increased order rather than increased disorder. This, however, is not so. I will explain by analogy.
     Suppose you had a number of small figurines of various shapes and sizes lined up in orderly rank and file in the center of a large tray. If you shake the tray, the figurines will move out of place and become steadily more disordered.
     This is analogous to the process of mutation without natural selection. Entropy obviously increases.
     But suppose that the bottom of the tray possessed depressions into which the various figurines would just fit. If the figurines were placed higgledy-piggledy on the tray with not one figurine within a matching depression, then shaking the tray would allow each figurine to find its own niche and settle down into it.
     Once a figurine found its niche through random motion, it would take a hard shake to throw it out.
     This is analogous to the process of mutation with natural selection. Here entropy increases, for each figurine would have found a position where its center of gravity is lower than it would be in any other nearby position. And lowering the center of gravity is a common method of increasing entropy as, for instance, when a stone rolls downhill.

     The organisms with which we are best acquainted have improved their fit to their environment by an increase in complexity in certain particularly noticeable respects. Consequently, we commonly think of evolution as necessarily proceeding from the simple to the complex.
     This is an illusion. Where a simplifying change improves the fit of organism to its environment, then the direction of evolution is from the complex to the simple. Cave creatures who live in utter darkness usually lose their eyes although allied species living in the open retain theirs.
     The reptiles went to a lot of trouble (so to speak) to develop two pairs of legs strong enough to lift the body clear of the ground. The snakes gave up those legs, slither on abdominal scales, and ate the most successful of the contemporary reptiles.
     Parasites undergo particularly great simplifications. A tapeworm suits itself perfectly to its environment by giving up the digestive system it no longer needs, the locomotory functions it doesn't use. It becomes merely an absorbing surface with a hooked proboscis with which to catch hold of the intestinal lining of its host, and the capacity to produce eggs and eggs and eggs and—
     Such changes are usually called (with more than a faint air of disapproval) "degenerative." That, however, is only our prejudice. Why should we approve of some adjustments and disapprove of others? To the cold and random world of evolution, an adjustment is an adjustment.
     If we sink to the biochemical level, then the human being has lost a great many synthetic abilities possessed by other species and, in particular, by plants and micro-organisms. Our loss of ability to manufacture a variety of vitamins makes us dependent on our diet and, therefore, on the greater synthetic versatility of other creatures. This is as much a "degenerative" change as the tapeworm's abandonment of a stomach it no longer needs, but since we are prejudiced in our own favor, we don't mention it.

     And, of course, no adjustment is final. If the environment changes; if the planetary climate becomes markedly colder, warmer, drier or damper; if a predator improves its efficiency or a new predator comes upon the scene; if a parasitic organism increases in infectivity or virulence; if the food supply dwindles for any reason—then an adjustment that was a satisfactory one before becomes an unsatisfactory one, and the species dies out.
     The better the fit to a particular environment, the smaller the change in environment required to bring about extinction. Long-lived species are therefore those which pick a particularly stable environment or are those that remain somewhat generalized, being fitted well enough to one environment to compete successfully within it, but not so well as to be unable to shift to an allied environment if the first fails them.

     In the case of Darwin's demon (as in that of Maxwell's demon) the question as to the role of human intelligence arises. Here it is not a matter of imitating the demon, but, rather, of stultifying it.
     Many feel that the advance of human technology hampers the working of natural selection. It allows people with bad eyes to get along by means of glasses; diabetics to get along by means of insulin injections; the feeble-minded to get along by means of welfare agencies and so on.
     Some people call this "degenerative mutation pressure" and, as you can see from the very expression used, are concerned about it. Everyone without exception, as far as I know, considers this a danger to humanity, although practically nobody proposes any non-humane solutions.

     And yet is it necessarily a danger to humanity?

     An editor I know is never satisfied with a science fiction plot, however good, until he has stood it on its head and inspected it in that position. This can be frustrating but sometimes it brings about interesting results.
     So let's turn degenerative mutation pressure upside down and see if it can't be viewed as something other than a danger.

     In the first place, we can't really stultify Darwin's demon, for natural selection must work at all times, by definition. Man is part of nature and his influence is as much a natural one as is that of wind and water.
     So let us assume that natural selection is working and ask what it is doing. Since it is fitting man to his environment (the only thing Darwin's demon can or does do) we must inquire as to what man's environment is. In a sense, it is all the world, from steaming rain jungle to frozen glacier, and all contemporary men, however primitive, band together into societies that can more or less change the environment to suit their needs even if only by building a campfire or chipping a rock or tearing off a tree branch.
     Consequently, it seems clear that the most important part of a man's environment is other men—or, if you prefer, human society. The vast majority of men, in fact, live as part of very complex societies that penetrate every facet of their lives.
     If near-sightedness is not the handicap in New York that it would have been in a primitive hunting society, or if diabetes is not the handicap in Moscow that it would have been in a non-biochemical society, then why should there be any evolutionary pressures in favor of keeping unnecessarily good eyes and functional pancreases?
     Man is to an increasing extent a parasite on human society and perhaps what we call "degenerative mutation pressure" is simply better fitting him to his new role, just as it better fit the tapeworm to its role. We may not like it, but it is a reasonable evolutionary change.

     There are many among us who chafe at the restrictions of the crowded ant-hills we call cities, at the slavery to the clock-hand, at the pressures and tensions. Some revolt by turning to delinquency, to "anti-social behavior." Others search out the dwindling areas where man can carry on a pioneer existence.
     But if our ant-hills are to survive we need those who will bend to its needs, who will avoid walking on grass, beating red lights and littering sidewalks. It is particularly the metabolically handicapped that can be relied on to do this for they cannot afford to fight a society on which they depend, very literally, for life. A diabetic won't long for the great outdoors if it means his insulin supply will vanish.
     If this is so, then Darwin's demon is only doing what comes naturally.

     But of all environments, that produced by man's complex technology is perhaps the most unstable and rickety. In its present form, our society is not two centuries old, and a few nuclear bombs will do it in.
     To be sure, evolution works over long periods of time and two centuries is far from sufficient to breed Homo technikos.
     The closer this is approached however, the more dangerous would become any shaking of our social structure. The destruction of our technological society in a fit of nuclear peevishness would become disastrous even if there were many millions of immediate survivors.
     The environment to which they were fitted would be gone, and Darwin's demon would wipe them out remorselessly and without a backward glance.

From THE MODERN DEMONOLOGY by Isaac Asimov (1962)

      But I can tell you what sort of a planet it is (Planet Sanctuary). Like Earth, but retarded.
     Literally retarded, like a kid who takes ten years to learn to wave bye-bye and never does manage to master patty-cake. It is a planet as near like Earth as two planets can be, same age according to the planetologists and its star is the same age as the Sun and the same type, so say the astrophysicists. It has plenty of flora and fauna, the same atmosphere as Earth, near enough, and much the same weather; it even has a good-sized moon and Earth's exceptional tides.
     With all these advantages it barely got away from the starting gate. You see, it's short on mutations; it does not enjoy Earth's high level of natural radiation.
     Its typical and most highly developed plant life is a very primitive giant fern; its top animal life is a proto-insect which hasn't even developed colonies. I am not speaking of transplanted Terran flora and fauna—our stuff moves in and brushes the native stuff aside.
     With its evolutionary progress held down almost to zero by lack of radiation and a consequent most unhealthily low mutation rate, native life forms on Sanctuary just haven't had a decent chance to evolve and aren't fit to compete. Their gene patterns remain fixed for a relatively long time; they aren't adaptable—like being forced to play the same bridge hand over and over again, for eons, with no hope of getting a better one.
     As long as they just competed with each other, this didn't matter too much—morons among morons, so to speak. But when types that had evolved on a planet enjoying high radiation and fierce competition were introduced, the native stuff was outclassed.
     Now all the above is perfectly obvious from high school biology . . . but the high forehead from the research station there who was telling me about this brought up a point I would never have thought of.
     What about the human beings who have colonized Sanctuary?
     Not transients like me, but the colonists who live there, many of whom were born there, and whose descendants will live there, even into the umpteenth generation—what about those descendants? It doesn't do a person any harm not to be radiated; in fact it's a bit safer—leukemia and some types of cancer are almost unknown there. Besides that, the economic situation is at present all in their favor; when they plant a field of (Terran) wheat, they don't even have to clear out the weeds. Terran wheat displaces anything native.
     But the descendants of those colonists won't evolve. Not much, anyhow. This chap told me that they could improve a little through mutation from other causes, from new blood added by immigration, and from natural selection among the gene patterns they already own—but that is all very minor compared with the evolutionary rate on Terra and on any usual planet. So what happens? Do they stay frozen at their present level while the rest of the human race moves on past them, until they are living fossils, as out of place as a pithecanthropus in a spaceship?
     Or will they worry about the fate of their descendants and dose themselves regularly with X-rays or maybe set off lots of dirty-type nuclear explosions each year to build up a fallout reservoir in their atmosphere? (Accepting, of course, the immediate dangers of radiation to themselves in order to provide a proper genetic heritage of mutation for the benefit of their descendants.)
     This bloke predicted that they would not do anything. He claims that the human race is too individualistic, too self-centered, to worry that much about future generations. He says that the genetic impoverishment of distant generations through lack of radiation is something most people are simply incapable of worrying about. And of course it is a far-distant threat; evolution works so slowly, even on Terra, that the development of a new species is a matter of many, many thousands of years.

From STARSHIP TROOPERS by Robert Heinlein (1959)

Improving lives doesn’t.

Among the baker’s dozen of known galactic species that crawled their way to sapience, sociopsychologists were astonished to find that every one of them had the same intelligence. The bipeds from Earth, the avian dinosaurs from that one outer rim world, the furry bear-creatures that ate methane, put any together and they score within 10 points of each other on an IQ test. This wasn’t true for any other attribute. (Im)mortality? widely varying. Genders? Different systems. Biochemistry? Carbon through Arsenic. Size, shape? Hell no.

But intelligence? Why that?

It turns out that entry-level sapience evolves as a survival trait. Hunt/find your food, develop technologies to make that easier, maybe do some farming, and so on. After basic establishment of civilization, mortality drops by factors in the hundreds or thousands. Population booms, and you start getting plagues from the species concentrating in cities.

This is where it gets interesting. See, once you have plagues, you need doctors. And once you have doctors, you start thinking about all of the other ways to cheat death. So the plagues are beaten back by vaccinations or antibiotics, and then your civ starts concentrating on welfare and quality-of-life.

Pretty soon, your species is living at the maximum, or nearly, of their theoretically longest lives. For some species, this is an extension from a lifespan of decades to millennia.

This is bad.

At best, evolution stagnates. Your weak and stupid have the same chance of reproduction as anyone else–and they’re certainly not going to die before influencing their environments. Diseases that should have killed are mere annoyances, chomping futilely against a barrier of solid medical science. Predators that once ravaged tribes now are confined in zoos or hunted to extinction.

So no one gets any smarter.

The long and short of it is, after a certain point, intelligence is no longer a tremendous advantage to survival and, subsequently, traditional selection factors are abrogated completely. That is point at which medical science develops, which itself happens only when sapients begin the process of introspection and develop sympathy–that is, shortly after the development of sapience itself.


(ed note: Councilor Lake is a sector governor of the Union. Velmeran is an alien Starwolf. Valthyrra is a Starwolf artificial intelligent computer.)

      Which was much easier said than done, Councilor Lake reflected. And just the beginning of his own problems. The human race was dying, or at least degenerating to the point that it could no longer care for itself. The genetic message that made a human was deteriorating; random, detrimental mutations were not only occurring at an alarming rate but were being passed into the common genetic pool. There was no determining the exact cause, although the Councilor preferred to believe that mankind had been too long removed from the laws of natural selection that had guided its evolution.
     People were smaller than they had been in the first days of space flight, slighter of build and gentler of mood and feature. Unfortunately, people were also less intelligent than they had been, less able to reason and remember. Mental deficiency and imbalance claimed a fourth of the population, and another fourth was genetically sterile. It was a problem that had been a very long time coming, but it had finally become so bad that the High Council could no longer ignore it. For in another thousand years the machinery of the Union, of human civilization itself, would grind to a halt for want of maintenance. That might seem like a very long time, but for a problem fifty thousand years in the making, it was already too late.
     Still, Councilor Lake wanted to save what he could. And if stern measures were taken now, a large part of the Union could be saved. The only solution was to enforce the sterilization of large segments of the population, intervening where nature had failed. The general population would not take such controls lightly. The military would be needed to enforce order, especially on those worlds that bore little love or loyalty for the Union from the start. And for that, the problem that the Starwolves represented would have to be eliminated. Or at least reduced to a manageable level.

     "But if we (Starwolves) are not destroying the Union, what is?" Velmeran asked.
     "We see the results, but we can only argue the cause," Lake explained. "Personally, I believe it is because we were not meant for civilized life. Nature gave us hands and a brain so that we could tie a rock to a stick to make a better club. All the rest has been our own idea. Then we began the process of removing ourselves from our environment, the circumstances and conditions that shaped us. Our evolution has stalled out; our civilization promises equal chances for both the weak and strong, and nature intended harsher rules. Cut off from any shaping influence, our species has begun to decline right down to the genetic level.
     "The genetic code that defines a human is becoming too foggy and ragged to read properly. Over a third of our population is genetically sterile. Random mutation has driven infant mortality to levels that we have not known since the dark ages. Mental deficiency and mental imbalance claim a quarter of the population. Do you wonder if we are not in trouble? Our race is dying out, for want of proper maintenance."

     "There is something that I would like to know," Velmeran said quickly. "Have you kept any statistics on the genetic deterioration of the human race?"
     "Genetic deterioration?" Valthyrra's lenses seemed almost to blink in confusion. "Actually, it is hard for me to make any valid observations, but that does not change the fact of its reality. Our own human worlds are in slow decline, and there is every indication that the Union worlds are proceeding at a much greater pace. Especially the inner worlds — it is getting so bad that if all the machines were to suddenly stop, it is doubtful that they could ever get anything running again."
     "Why?" Velmeran asked.
     "Because Mother Nature is a stern mistress," she explained, the information analysis, storage and retrieval systems in her warming to the task. "The one rule of all life is change, and the driving force is survival. But that is a game that modern, civilized man has not been forced to play in nearly sixty thousand years. Nature intended that only the best should thrive and multiply, but for so long now nearly everyone survives — and reproduces indiscriminately. Change continued, but in a random, ineffectual manner, and once begun the process accelerates itself.

From THE STARWOLVES by Thorarinn Gunnarsson (1988)

(ed note: Councilor Jon Lake was a sector governor of the Union, which is a nasty totalitarian interstellar empire. Upon Jon's death, his grandson Richart inherited the sector governorship and grandson Donalt became the sector military leader. The Starwolves are aliens good-guys who take exception to totalitarian empires and constantly raid the Union.)

      Jon Lake had divided the two great tasks of his life between his two successors. Donalt had inherited the problem that the Starwolves represented, but Richart had received the greater responsibility of ensuring the survival of their race. The human species was in rapid decline, too long apart from the rules of natural selection that had shaped their very being. Weak and defective traits had polluted the genetic resources of the entire species. A large portion of their race was impaired physically or mentally beyond the ability to function normally. This escalating problem was a drain of resources that the Union would be unable to afford before long.

     Richart Lake was the key supporter of a daring, even dangerous plan to correct this problem. His grandfather had first proposed to trim back the population of the Union by at least half. Forced sterilization would be employed on a large-scale basis, having already begun on those with severe mental or physical impairments. But those standards would slowly be increased to include everyone below a certain intelligence level or a victim of any physical defect, a subsidized retum of natural selection, while genetic enhancement would be used to predispose groups of people to certain tasks.

     The problem of enforcing that plan was obvious. The implement of the first phase, four months earlier, had led to unrest on every Union world, rioting on twenty and the complete overthrow of Union authority on one. Before the next phase could be put into effect, the full force of the military would be needed to intimidate or punish the general population into compliance. And for that, the problem of the Starwolves must somehow be eliminated. That last point was vital, for the Starwolves would quickly use the Union’s troubles to defeat it.

From BATTLE OF THE RING by Thorarinn Gunnarsson (1989)

He pried one eye open, then the other. The voice belonged to a girl of about twenty-one who was standing next to the bed, gazing down at Jason. She was beautiful.

Jason’s eyes opened wider as he realized she was very beautiful—with the kind of beauty he had never found on the planets in the center of the galaxy. The women he had known all ran to pale skin, hollow shoulders, grey faces covered with tints and dyes. They were the product of centuries of breeding weaknesses back into the race, as the advance of medicine kept alive more and more non-survival types.

This girl was the direct opposite in every way. She was the product of survival on Pyrrus. The heavy gravity that produced bulging muscles in men, brought out firm strength in strap-like female muscles. She had the taut figure of a goddess, tanned skin and perfectly formed face. Her hair, which was cut short, circled her head with a golden crown. The only unfeminine thing about her was the gun she wore in a bulky forearm holster.

From DEATHWORLD by Harry Harrison (1960)


This section has been moved here


In the real world, a Mutant is an organism that suffered a mutation while in the embryonic state. The natural occurrence of genetic mutations is integral to the process of evolution.

The vast majority of mutations either [A] have little or no noticeable effect or [B] kills the embryo before it can be born. The process of evolution is advanced by zillions of tiny mutations over zillions of generations, culled by the relentless forces of natural selection.

No, exposure to radiation will not turn you into a mutant. But if your gonads are irradiated, your future children might be.

If the mutations are not naturally caused, but instead the result of deliberate genetic engineering in order to develop people who can settle on planets with hostile environments; this is called "Pantropy".

Early science fiction authors either didn't understand mutations or found the actual process incredibly boring. So they jazzed it up.

They frantically waved their hands and breathlessly announced that mutation could lead to the Next Stage Of Human Evolution™ !

This concept contains two ignorant fallacies for the price of one. First off it makes the ridiculous assumption that there are "levels" of evolution (measured by what metric, pray tell?) then it compounds the stupidity by postulating that evolution is working towards a specific goal ("orthogenesis") and you can use these non-existent evolutionary levels to measure the progress to the non-existent goal. The tell-tale sign of the latter is the phrase "more evolved."

In reality, the only "goal" of evolution is for the organism to be able to survive and thrive in whatever the current conditions happen to be in this geological epoch. Since conditions change with time, the goal of evolution is a moving target.

Early SF writers who were evolution-theory morons assumed that "intelligence" was the goal of evolutionary progress, the "ultimate life-form" at the top of the evolutionary ladder. The ultimate intelligent life-form was some sort of giant brain. Examples include the Arisans from E. E. "Doc" Smith's Lensman series.

This would lead more evolved females to demand Cesarean section. You see the relatively large size of the human baby's head is the reason why of all the species on Terra, humans are pretty much the only ones who suffer painful child birth. The evolution of a larger pelvis has not kept up with the evolution of larger baby heads.

Latter writers assumed that the goal was a set of superhuman abilities (you know: super-strength, advanced intelligence, immunity to various lethal things, and of course psionic abilities). Examples include Adam Warlock. Others cut to the chase and postulated that the end goal was to evolve humans into energy beings. Examples from Star Trek include the Organians, the Q, and arguably the Melkot, the Thasian, the Metrons, the Medusans, and the Zetarian.

The "levels of evolution" nonsense also lead to nonsensical stories where radiation from nuclear testing creates a crop of mutant children all with the same mutation. In reality mutations are more random than Pi. Not all such stories have this flaw, but there are enough to be really annoying. The only way to get lots of mutants with the same random mutation is if they share a common ancestor.

The stupid writers also got the mechanism wrong. In reality if somebody was exposed to a mutagen, their future offspring might be mutants because the DNA in the germ cells got mangled prior to procreation. But the writers were under the misapprehension that the mutagen would transform the poor exposed person into a mutant on the spot, much like the way cosmic ray exposure created the Fantastic Four. This erroneous concept was apparently created by Hugo de Vries in his 1901 story Die Mutationstheorie.

Mutants are not just people either, don't forget the radiation-spawned giant ants in the movie Them!.

None of this is scientifically accurate, but it is very exciting reading.

In Edmond Hamilton's 1931 story The Man Who Evolved, the concepts were twisted for a shock ending. The mad scientist Dr. John Pollard figures out that cosmic rays are responsible for evolution (sort of true) so exposing a person to concentrated cosmic rays will rapidly evolve them to the next stage of evolution (nope, author is unclear on the concept, it will just fry them to a crisp). With each treatment his brain becomes larger while his body becomes more spindly. At the next to the last stage he is nothing but a huge brain feeding on telepathic energy. Unfortunately for him the final stage is a pathetic primitive single-celled organism. Because apparently the levels of evolution are arranged more as a circle than as a rising staircase.

After 1945 science fiction writers finally got it through their heads that radiation would cause you to have mutant children, but not grant you any unusual powers apart from a drastically shortened lifespan. But they were still stuck on that goal oriented evolution nonsense.

The authors did however invented a brand new trope: a world wide rise in the number of mutants born due to either nuclear testing or in the apocalyptic aftermath of a nuclear war. "Children of the Atom" so to speak.

In science fiction, mutants from low level rises of background radiation due to nuclear testing tend to be superior beings with super powers. The X-Men and Perry Rhodan's Mutant Corps fall into this category.

Post-atomic-war mutants on the other hand tend to be pathetic cripples with misshapen bodies and the wrong number of limbs. In Forrest J. Ackerman's shaggy-dog story The Mute Question, the muties have a proverb: two heads are better than none.

The muties of Heinlein's Orphans of the Sky fall into this category, though in this case the radiation is not from an atomic war. As it turns out the mutie Joe-Jim also has two heads.

In the X-Men stories there is often deep-seated prejudice against mutants, since average humans have the not unreasonable fear that mutants will supplant them. Draconian anti-mutant laws are passed, and periodically there are attempts at mutant genocide. Which just goes to show what idiots average humans are. Especially given the stupendous superpowers possessed by mutants and how angry they become when you try pulling that "final solution" atrocity on them.

There is also plenty of "mutants are evil" garbage in John Wyndham's The Chrysalids. Take a post-nuclear apocalypse community with about Amish levels of technology, mix in an oppressive religion with a paranoid fear of the new, and you have a formula for a real eugenic nightmare. Mutations are considered to be "Blasphemies" and must be either killed or sterilised and banished to the Fringes.

In the Perry Rhodan novels, Terra discovers that the solar system is surrounded by highly advanced interstellar empires that would love to annex the planet. He needs an ace-in-the-hole or Terra is doomed. The Mutant Corps is a team of mutants with psionic powers which the alien empires cannot cope with. The 18 founding-members were mostly Japanese who were born shortly after the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The X-Men are sort of the Marvel comics version of Perry Rhodan's Mutant Corps, since X-Men issue #1 came out about two years after Perry Rhodan volume 6.

The archtypical superhuman mutants are the Slans from the eponymous novel by A. E. van Vogt. Every subsequent novel with "Homo Superior" mutants owes something to the Slans (though the novel is sadly unknown nowadays). When it came out, science fiction fans embraced the concept. This is because they naturally figured that they were Slans. The fans started using the pejorative term "mundane" for non-fans, sort of a science-fiction-fan version of the term "Muggle." A house or building where lots of SF fans lived was called a "Slan-shack."

There are a couple of science fiction novels dealing with mutants and galactic empires. They imply that mutants tend to appear when an empire is in the "decline and fall" stage. In his immortal Foundation and Empire, Isaac Asimov has the mutant the Mule appear during the Dark Ages after the fall of empire. In Andre Norton's Star Ranger the historian mentions that the current time of galactic empire collapse is when "change mutants" make their appearance.

Other novels mention dark rumors about how mutants with dread psychic powers are born on those planets beyond the rim of the galactic empire. An example is John Brunner's Altar On Asconel.

In Jack Williamson's Seetee Ship and Seetee Shock, the children of asteroid miners occasionally are born with abilities useful in the space environment. Rob McGee is immune to radiation, and has an ability to sense gravitational masses. This allows him to navigate the asteroid belt with relative ease. McGee is the first evidence of asterites evolving into humans suited for living in space.


Blink now, and man is creeping along the galactic rim, in those areas which were later to be regarded as the home of mutants and pirates—but which, significantly, were and remain the only areas where interstellar ships have been built by human beings.

(ed note: Human Empire ships are xenopaleotechnology inherited from a long extinct Forerunner race)

“From me you won’t get the full story,” Vix countered. “I guess no one knows it except those devils on Asconel—Bucyon, and the witch Lydis, and maybe that monster Shry!” He shot a keen look at Spartak. “You flinched when I said ‘witch,’ and ‘devil’ too—don’t you hold with such terms?”

Spartak looked at the table before him, choosing his words carefully. “There are certainly records of mutations developing possessed of what are generally called supernormal talents,” he granted. “Indeed, it was part of Imperial policy for some millennnia to maintain the stability of the status quo by locating such mutations and—if they hadn’t already been put to death by supersititious peasants or townsfolk— transporting them to the lonely Rim worlds. There are said to be whole planets populated by such mutations now. But words like, ‘witch’ have—ah—unfortunate connotations.”

From THE ALTAR ON ASCONEL by John Brunner (1965)

     “I believe that you did break free from him,” Zicti said soberly. “Which is why I have laid the compulsion on you — But, let us examine the facts — you men of Ylene are six point six on the sensitive scale, are you not?”
     “Yes. But Arcturians are supposed to be only five point nine— ”
     “True. But there is always the chance lately that one may be dealing with a change mutant. And this is the proper time in the wave of history for change mutants to appear. A pity we do not know more of Cummi’s background. If he is a mutant that would explain a great deal.”
     “Mutants!” Kartr repeated and he shivered. “I was on Kablo when Pertavar started the Mutant Rebellion— ”
     “Then you know what can come of such an upcurve in mutant births. There are good and bad results from all changes.”

From STAR RANGERS by Andre Norton (1953)

(ed note: Rojers is a biochemist, who has worked at the The Project of the Galactic Oligarchy for a decade. But every single one of his attempts to genetically engineer a superior human have ended in failure. He goes to see his boss, Herban the Chief of Biochemistry for The Project. To his surprise, he finds that Herban is planning to retire, and wants Rojers to take his place. )

      "I don’t understand," said Rojers slowly. "I mean, the thing was a freak, just like all the rest. Minimal intelligence, low reaction to stimuli, legs quite stunted. What exactly are you trying to tell me?"

     "The truth. With a capital T, not the small t they use around here. It took me more than half a lifetime to stumble upon it, probably because it’s so bloody simple. And, of course, all of my predecessors figured it out as well, and kept their mouths shut for the same reason I do. But you’re the brightest lad around here, even though you’re only in your thirties, and since I plan on retiring in the next few years and blowing my pension on fat cigars and fatter women, it seems only logical that you’ll be taking my place—if you decide to withdraw your resignation, that is. Which is why we’re having this little talk. No reason to let you stumble around in the dark for years the way I did."

     "I assume," said Rojers coldly, "that there is some part of the Project that I fail to understand."

     "Some part!" Herban laughed. "Why, boy, you don’t understand the whole damned thing! Now, don’t give me a sour expression like that. You’re in good company. Nobody else in the galaxy does either, except me. And even though I’m a goddamn genius, I took almost thirty years to figure it out myself. I often marvel that it didn’t dawn on me after the third or fourth experiment." He took a deep drag on his cigar, opened his mouth slightly, and allowed the smoke to trickle out at its own speed. "But hell, I was young and idealistic and all that sort of nonsense. I suppose I couldn’t be blamed for believing in the Project any more than you can."

     "Are you trying to tell me that the Project is a fraud?" demanded Rojers, a sense of moral outrage beginning to creep across his mind.
     "Well, yes and no," said Herban. "Yes and no."
     "Just what is that supposed to mean?"
     "Exactly what I said," said Herban. "Let’s see if we can’t get you to use a little of that brain of yours. After all, if you’re going to become the next Chief Biochemist of the Oligarchy and points north, nobody should have to spoon-feed conclusions to you. Tell me what you think the Project is all about."
     "Every schoolboy knows what it’s all about," said Rojers irritably. "What I’m trying to figure out is what you’re driving at."
     "Bear with me for a little while." The older man grinned, relighting the cigar. "And tell me about the Project."
     "I feel like an idiot," said Rojers. "Okay. The Project is attempting to hasten the course of evolution by artificially developing Homo superior."
     "A fair enough description. And, in that, the Project is absolutely legitimate. Well, ‘legitimate’ is a misleading word; let me say, rather, that in that respect the Project is sincere. Its motives are of the purest nature, and its virtue—if not its efficacy—is beyond question."
     "Then I still don’t understand what you mean."
     "Well, let’s begin at the beginning, shall we, boy?" said Herban. "Do you know when the Project began?"
     "Not exactly. About four hundred years ago," said Rojers.

     "Try four thousand." Herban grinned. "You’ll be much closer to the truth. It began, secretly to be sure, in the waning days of the Republic. Originally, only four men worked on it, and the number always remained under a dozen until about four centuries ago—388 years, to be exact—when the Oligarchy decided to make it public because of political expediency."

     "Four thousand?’’ mused Rojers. "But why was it kept secret?"

     "For reasons of utmost necessity," said Herban. "You see, originally the idea was to create a true race of Homo superior, a race that would supersede Man. Well, not really supersede him, since no one was all that anxious to bring about our own extinction; but to, shall we say, represent Man among the myriad worlds, to take and conquer huge new domains for us, and then to move on while we took over the fruits of their labor. Nifty idea, that. They must have dreamed of making a race of men with the intellect of a Robelian, the physique of a Torqual, the ESPer abilities of a Domarian, and, with all that, total loyalty to humanity." He shrugged. "Well, the science was young then, so I suppose they can be excused for their dreams. And the need for secrecy was twofold: to avoid alarming good old Homo sap, and to avoid giving advance warning to the various other races that we were planning to spring our little surprise on. And it stood to reason, naturally, that with limited funds and a minuscule number of trained biochemists, they made so little progress for thirty-six hundred years as to make no difference at all.

     "Then came the Setts. Everybody knows about them now, but originally it was all hush-hush. After all, they were the first race ever to defeat us in anything resembling a major battle. It happened something like five centuries ago, and, since it occurred so far out on the Rim, the Oligarchy managed to cover it up for more than a century without much difficulty. Then the news finally got back to Deluros VIII, Sirius V, and some of the other major worlds, and all hell broke loose. The people demanded that the Oligarchy do something. For a decade or so the whole damned government racked its collective brain to come up with an answer before they were overthrown, and then some pigeonholer remembered the Project. Overnight, we were given a staff of two hundred men, which gradually increased to three thousand, and our budget was absolutely astronomical. The science of biochemistry learned more in the next ten years than it had in the past seventy centuries, and the Oligarchy had sold the public on a pipedream: we were going to create a race of supermen that would blast the Setts to kingdom come. Worked out beautifully all the way around. Of course, we found out a little while later that the Setts were terribly vulnerable to measles, and they surrendered without any trouble once we sprayed their home world with about a million tons of the virus. But the people had bought the dream of a super race, and the government found it politically expedient to keep up work on the Project."

     "Is that what you meant when you implied it was all a fraud?" asked Rojers hotly. "That the Oligarchy really doesn’t want to come up with Homo superior ?"

     "Not at all," said Herban. "They probably don’t want any supermen knocking about—and, if they thought about it, neither would the populace at large. But no one has tried to hinder us in any way. If God Himself popped out of one of our incubators, there’s no way anyone could make us put Him back. Nor," he added with a chuckle, "could they make Him go back if He decided He didn’t want to. But that’s not the case. God isn’t about to crop up around here. At least not as a direct result of our experiments."

     "You keep saying that," said Rojers, feeling more lost than ever. "Why?"

     "It should be obvious," said Herban. He pressed a series of buttons on his desk computer, waited for a moment, then glanced at the readout. "As of this minute, we have made 1,036,753 experiments involving human genes. We have tried to force evolutionary patterns on DNA molecules, we have tried to create out-and-out mutations, we have bombarded genes and chromosomes with preset patterns and at random. We have tried well over three thousand approaches, and hundreds of thousands of variations on these approaches. In the process, we’ve done a hell of a lot for the science of parthenogenesis, but we haven’t come up with our supermen yet. Did it ever occur to you to ask why?"

     "No more than once an hour or so."
     "Well, the problem is too simple for a bright young feller like yourself to solve. Now, if you asked some savage descendant of one of the Delphini II colonists, he’d probably tell you right away."
     "Since I don’t know any aborigines on a first-name basis," said Rojers, "I’ll have to put the question to you. With no comparison intended."
     "No offense taken." Herban smiled. "The solution to the problem is simply one of definition, which is doubtless caused by our somewhat more sophisticated background."

     "I don’t follow you, sir," said Rojers. "Let’s put it this way. Our idea of a racial superman would differ considerably from an aborigine’s, wouldn’t it? I mean, his ideal would be a man who could kill a large herbivore with his bare hands, survive under extremes of temperature, have the sexual potency to father a whole world, and so forth. Agreed?"

     "I suppose so."
     "Our idea, however, reflects the needs we seem to feel. What qualities, in your opinion, might a superman reasonably be expected to possess?"

     "First of all, an intellectual capacity far beyond our own. And," Rojers went on, scratching his head thoughtfully, "a number of ESP qualities: telepathy, telekinesis, and the like. And, as his brain power increased, his physical performance would diminish proportionately, since he’d have less need of his body. But hell, that’s basic. We all know that."

     "Not quite all of us," said Herban with a small smile. "Our aborigine would disagree . . . always assuming he had the intelligence to follow your argument. Otherwise, he’d probably interrupt you in midsentence and throw you into a handy cooking pot. And the really interesting part of it is that for all his lack of intelligence and sophistication, he’d be right and you’d be wrong."

     "You don’t sound like you’re kidding," said Rojers dubiously, "and yet it has to be a joke."

     "Oh, it’s a joke, all right," said Herban. "But it’s on us. You see, Man has evolved mentally as far as he’s ever going to. From a standpoint of intellect, Homo sapiens and Homo superior are one and the same. I’ll qualify that in a moment, but it’s essentially correct as it stands." Rojers was staring in disbelief, making no move to interrupt with a protest, so Herban took another long puff on his cigar and continued. "What, my bright young man, is the most basic cause of natural evolution?"

     "Environmental need," said Rogers mechanically.

     "Correct. Which is the precise reason why we’re not about to create a mental superman. Man has never used much more than thirty percent of his potential intellect; as long as the remaining seventy percent is there, waiting to be tapped, there is absolutely no cause for any evolutionary process which would increase our basic intelligence. Ditto for telepathy. Man originally had no need for it, because he had the power of speech. Then, as he became separated from his companions by distances too great for speech to carry, he made use of radio waves, video, radar, sonar, and a dozen other media for carrying his words and images. Why, then, is there any need for telepathy? There isn’t.

     "Telekinesis? Ridiculous. We have machines that can literally destroy stars, that can move planets out of their orbits. What possible need can we have for the development of telekinesis?

     "Take every single trait of our hypothetical superman, and you’ll find that there is absolutely no environmental need for it. Now, as I said before, I’ll qualify the statement to this extent: Telepathy and even mild telekinesis can be induced under laboratory conditions, at least on occasion. But to do so we must so totally change the gene pattern and environment of the fetus and child that it is literally cut off from the world: no sensual receptors of any kind. In such cases, the brain will usually come out totally dulled or quite mad. On occasion, the insane brain will draw on some of its reserve potential and develop telepathic traits, but of course the mind is so irrational that any meaningful contact with it or training of it is quite impossible.

     "On the other hand, it’s not at all difficult to develop our aborigine’s superman, because we can control the physical environment and tamper with the DNA molecules. We turn them out every day in the incubators. We can create hairy supermen, giant supermen, three-eyed supermen, aquatic supermen, and if we worked on it, I’ve no doubt that we could even create methane-breathing supermen. In fact, we can create damned near every type of superman except supremely intelligent ones."

     "Then it’s a dead end?" asked Rojers.

     "Not at all. You’re forgetting our untapped seventy percent. Even before space travel in the ancient past, there were numerous documented laboratory experiments dealing with telepathy, prescience, and many other ESPer abilities and talents. Every human body undoubtedly has the potential to perform just about every feat we ask of our hypothetical and unattainable superman, but we’ve no way to tap that potential. It’s the same problem: You, if the need arose, would have the potential to send out a telepathic cry for help, and possibly even teleport yourself out of danger. However, you’ll never do it if you can scream and run or press an alarm button and hop into a spaceship. And even if no means of aid were available to you, you simply have a storehouse of special effects; what you lack—what we all lack—is any rational means of getting the key into the storehouse door. Poor Homo superior!"

     "Then why the facade of trying to develop supermen?" asked Rojers.
     "To hide our greater purpose, of course," said Herban.
     "Our greater purpose?" repeated Rojers. "You make it sound positively sinister."
     "It all depends on your point of view," said Herban. "I think of it as extremely beneficial. But come along, and you can make up your own mind."

     With that, the little man put out his cigar, swung his feet off his desk, arose, and gestured Rojers to follow him out the door. They proceeded farther down the corridor to a horizontally moving elevator, and took it about halfway around the massive biochemical and genetics complex. From there they transferred to a vertical elevator and plunged down at a rapid speed.

     Rojers had no idea how fast they were going, but estimated that they were at least seven hundred feet below ground level before the elevator showed any sign of slowing up. At least, he decided, whatever was going on here wasn’t too well hidden. But then, he continued, why should it be? After all, the Oligarchy was paying for it, and the politics of the Project demanded that everything be aboveboard and open. In fact, the Project had been created and maintained solely because of the demands of the populace.

     The doors opened, and Herban led Rojers past two security checks, and into still another horizontally moving enclosure. There were three more changes of direction, all accompanied by increasingly rigid security inspections, until at last they arrived before a massive lead portal, which slowly slid back before them when Herban inserted his identification card into a small practically invisible wall slot.

     "This is it," grunted the Chief of Biochemistry as he walked through the doorway.

     Rojers looked around and was unimpressed. It didn’t seem all that different from the portion of the complex he was familiar with: corridors going every which way, numerous doors with signs indicating the departments and subdepartments contained within, and what seemed to be a fair-sized auditorium at the far end of the largest corridor. An occasional technician in a lab smock walked out of one door into another, and once Rojers thought he saw a woman scurrying down a corridor in a lead body suit. By and large, however, there didn’t seem to be any of the frantic hustle and bustle and frenzied activity that marked the huge incubator room and its surroundings.

     Still, there were a couple of oddities. Like the woman in the lead suit, and the fact that two of the doors he passed as he followed Herban seemed to be made of lead, while the others covered a whole range of plastics.

     They came to a corridor marked MAXIMUM SECURITY and turned down it. Herban nodded to a couple of technicians who were speaking in low tones outside one of the doors, then stopped at a large, unmarked panel. Another insertion of his identification card was followed by another sliding of the barrier, and the two men walked into what gave every indication of being an extremely sophisticated laboratory, though it was filled with equipment that was, for the most part, totally unfamiliar to Rojers. There were far fewer pieces of apparatus for working on genetic structures, but considerably more devices which seemed, on the surface at least, to bear some resemblance to encephalographic and cardiographic machines. Unlike the sterile laboratory atmosphere Rojers had become used to working in during the greater portion of his adult life, this place seemed built for comfort as much as efficiency. All around him were padded chairs, ashtrays (though that could simply be an offshoot of Herban’s assumption that everyone—but everyone—should smoke cigars), food-dispensing machines, books and tapes of popular fiction, and the facilities for bathing the room in music, light images, or both.

     "Have you any idea where you are?" asked Herban pleasantly, seating himself by an ashtray.
     "No," said Rojers.
     Herban chuckled and lit up another cigar. "Boy, you’re in one of our basic testing rooms."
     "Who do you test here," asked Rojers, "and for what?"
     "We test people," said Herban. "And we test them to see if they’re your hypothetical supermen."
     "Now I’m thoroughly confused," said Rojers. "I thought you said we couldn’t create supermen, and you sounded damned convincing. Are you telling me now that you were lying?"
     "Not at all."
     "Then how do these so-called supermen come to be? What lab produces them?"
     "No lab does. When I said Man will not evolve into a mental superman, I wasn’t lying to you. I did not, however, say that a mental superman cannot exist."
     "I feel as if I were back in school," said Rojers in exasperation. "Every time I think I know what you’re talking about, you stick another stone wall in front of me."

     "Well, I’ll admit you’ve had to discard a lot of wrong assumptions," said Herban, "but everything I’ve told you today is both true and noncontradictory. For example, I said that we cannot evolve into mental supermen. That’s true. Now I’m telling you that there are indeed mental supermen, and that we work with them down here. That’s also true."

     "If we didn’t create them, how did they get here?" persisted Rojers.

     "Pretty much the same way you and I got here: natural selection, natural conception, and very likely natural childbirth as well." Rojers just stared at him. "You see,’’ continued Herban, "these supermen aren’t mutations—or at least, not in the sense that you’ve been working on mutations. I’ll make it simple for you. Possibly a million human mutations are conceived every day. Probably half of them are reabsorbed within hours. Of the others, most are such minor mutations as to go virtually unnoticed: a child born with a yellow spot in a head of otherwise red hair, or maybe with a weird-looking birthmark. Some get minor attention, like a baby with six fingers, or with a thin layer of flesh over its anal outlet, or with the potential for only twenty-six teeth at adulthood. Usually they’re so minor we don’t even notice them. And, to be sure, very few mutations breed on. We still have the appendix, we still have tonsils, we still have hair on our bodies. Despite the fact that there have been some families where no mother has nursed her baby in eighty or ninety generations the female children still develop breasts. No, as I said, mutations rarely breed on, and no mutation has yet produced a superman with any more mental capacity than you or I possess.

     "However," he said, stabbing the air with his cigar, "no mutation is needed to produce a mental superman. As I mentioned upstairs, all that’s required is for a man or a woman to use one hundred percent—or even fifty percent—of the potential he or she is born with."

     "And you’ve found such people and test them down here?" asked Rojers. "We’ve been finding such people for four millennia or more," said Herban. "And yes, we test them here."

     "And what talents have you found?"

     "Oh, a little bit of everything. Except for prescience. Usually the hunchers, as we call them, can sense impending events, but never the details. Most often it’s simply a feeling of almost unbearable expectation, and rarely does it apply or relate to anyone but themselves. But we’ve gotten telepaths who can send, receive, or both. We’ve gotten levitators. We’ve found teleporters, though there have been only three of them, and two of the three had to be threatened irreversibly with death before they could find the wherewithal to teleport themselves. We’ve found far more people who are adepts at telekinesis. And, of course, we’ve gotten some intelligences that have gone right off the scale, brainpower so high that we’ve still no real way of measuring it."

     "Fantastic!" said Rojers. "And wonderful!"
     "Fantastic, at any rate," said Herban dryly. "Still, most of them go home intact."
     "What do you mean, go home intact?" demanded Rojers.
     "Just what I said. Why do you think we’re doing all this testing?"
     "I assume for the same reasons we’ve been trying to force evolution in the incubator rooms: to create a superman."
     "But these supermen have already been created," pointed out Herban.
     "Then I would imagine you’d want to train them to use their talents to the best of their abilities, for the good of the Oligarchy."

     "What an absolutely childish answer!" Herban laughed. "If enough of them used their abilities to their maximum potential, the Oligarchy—and Man—would be finished within fifty years or so. No, my idealistic boy, we definitely do not help them become supermen and then turn them loose on society."

     "You mean you kill them all?" demanded Rojers.

     "Don’t look so damned horrified," said Herban. "Let’s not forget that you have killed just about every single life you’ve created. However, if it’ll put your mind at ease, we don’t bring them down here for the express purpose of killing them. We have a galaxy-wide structure set up to spot every human with what you might call a wild talent. And considering how many trillions of humans there are, we don’t miss very many. Anyway, once they’re found—and adolescence is usually the earliest that such traits can be determined by outside observers—they’re either brought here or to one of seven similar labs scattered throughout the galaxy.

     "Once here, they’re tested thoroughly. Before we’re done, we know the absolute limits of their abilities; quite often, we find talents even they didn’t know they possessed. We also run a comprehensive analysis of their genetic structure, DNA code, sperm, ovum, everything that could possibly influence their offspring, though I must admit we’ve found nothing unusual as yet. That done, we are free to reach one of three decisions. If there is any chance that the talent will breed on—and since we can’t determine it genetically, we simply assume it is possible if anyone in the past five generations has displayed any odd talent—they are sterilized. Without their knowing it, of course. And if it seems pretty certain that the talent will not breed on, we’ll usually let them return to society, especially if it isn’t too spectacular a talent, such as mild telepathy. If it’s something really interesting, something that might lead people to demand that we find a way to unleash it, such as levitation, we usually ship the subject off to a frontier world."

     "That’s two decisions," said Rojers. "You mentioned three."
     "The third should be obvious."

     "Quickly and painlessly, if the talent warrants it," said Herban. "And, in answer to your next question, it warrants it if it can ever, in any way, prove inimical to Man. For example, if a man’s intelligence is so great that no device in our technologically oriented culture can measure it, he’s too dangerous to live. Admittedly, that intelligence could conceivably make meaningful communicative contact with some of the races we just can’t seem to get through to, or possibly cure every disease known to us . . . but it could also mount a navy and a political following that would overthrow the existing order of things. And it’s not just intelligence. A man who possesses the power of telekinesis to the ultimate degree can manipulate elements within the core of a star and cause it to go nova. This could be a boon if we get into another war with the Setts; but what if he decides that the government of his own system is totally corrupt? And the same goes for other talents. A legitimate case of prescience—and we haven’t come across one yet—could destroy the economic structure of any world that deals heavily in financial speculation. Teleportation? More than half our economy is bound up in interplanetary and interstellar transportation. The ability to master involuntary hypnosis? It would lead to absolute control of a system, possibly of the entire galaxy.

     "No, boy, these talents can’t be allowed to survive. We don’t destroy every highly intelligent man, or every man capable of telekinesis, or every telepath. Only those that can be considered a clear danger. And notice that I didn’t say a clear and present danger; clear and future dangers are no damned better. And if we can discover the outer limits of a dangerous man’s abilities before he does, it’s a lot harder for him to erect defenses, mental or otherwise, against us."

     "About how many people do you destroy?" asked Rojers.

     "We bring in about a million a year to each lab center," said Herban. "There are far more, but most of them are eliminated from further consideration at lower levels. We just get the stinkers. Of that million, we’ll return about eight hundred thousand intact, and another hundred and eighty thousand sterilized. As for the other twenty thousand . . . well, we potentially save the galaxy a million times every half century or so."

     "Save it from what?" said Rojers disgustedly.

     "We don’t save it from anything," said Herban very slowly, very seriously. "We save it for something: for Man. Don’t look so morally outraged, boy. I know you’re thinking about all the poor innocent supermen who have gone to their deaths down here, all those fine talents who could have made Paradise happen right here and now, and maybe they could have. But I think of three trillion Men who aren’t about to give up their birthright to anyone, including their progeny."

     "And what about the incubators?" demanded Rojers.
     "They serve their purpose," answered Herban. "And their purpose is only partially to train you fellers and further develop the subscience of parthenogenesis."
     "Oh?" Rojers was still suspicious.

     "Absolutely. The talents we deal with down here are very rare sports, even those that might possibly reproduce their traits. But if you ever find a genetic method of unlocking that seventy percent, the human race will happily advance as a whole. It’s just that no member of it is going to let his neighbor move up ahead of him."

     "But we haven’t found a way to do that in four thousand years!"

     "And you may not for another four thousand," agreed Herban. "But it’s worth trying. And, in the meantime, Man isn’t doing all that badly with his cunning, his sticks, and his stones, is he?" He arose abruptly. "I’ll leave you here to think about what I’ve said; I’ll be back in a few hours."

     Herban stopped at the doorway and turned to Rojers. "You now have the power to expose a secret that’s been kept for quite a few centuries. So consider all aspects of it very carefully." He left, and the panel slid shut behind him.

From BIRTHRIGHT: THE BOOK OF MAN by Mike Resnick (1982)

“Joe, what is a superman?”

Gilead did not answer.

“Very well, let’s chuck the term,” Baldwin went on. “It’s been overused and misused and beat up until it has mostly comic connotations. I used it for shock value and I didn’t shock you. The term ‘supermen’ has come to have a fairy tale meaning, conjuring up pictures of x-ray eyes, odd sense or senses, double hearts, uncuttable skin, steel muscles—an adolescent’s dream of the dragon-killing hero. Tripe, of course. Joe, what is a man? What is man that makes him more than an animal? Settle that and we’ll take a crack at defining a superman—or New Man, homo novis, who must displace homo sapiens—is displacing him—because he is better able to survive than is homo sap. I’m not trying to define myself, I’ll leave it up to my associates and the inexorable processes of time as to whether or not I am a superman, a member of the new species of man—same test to apply to you.”


“You. You show disturbing symptoms of being homo novis, Joe, in a sloppy, ignorant, untrained fashion. Not likely, but you just might be one of the breed. Now—what is man? What is the one thing he can do better than animals which is so strong a survival factor that it outweighs all the things that animals of one sort or another can do much better than he can?”

“He can think,”

“I fed you that answer; no prize for it. Okay, you pass yourself off a man; let’s see you do something, What is the one possible conceivable factor—or factors, if you prefer—which the hypothetical superman could have, by mutation or magic or any means, and which could be added to this advantage which man already has and which has enabled him to dominate this planet against the unceasing opposition of a million other species of fauna? Some factor that would make the domination of man by his successor, as inevitable as your domination over a hound dog? Think, Joe. What is the necessary direction of evolution to the next dominant species?”

Giiead engaged in contemplation for what was for him a long time. There were so many lovely attributes that a man might have: to be able to see both like a telescope and microscope, to see the insides of things, to see throughout the spectrum, to have hearing of the same order, to be immune to disease, to grow a new arm or leg, to fly through the air without bothering with silly gadgets like helicopters or jets, to walk unharmed the ocean bottom, to work without tiring—Yet the eagle could fly and he was nearly extinct, even though his eyesight was better than man’s. A dog has better smell and hearing; seals swim better,balance better, and furthermore can store oxygen. Bats can survive where men would starve or die of hardship; they are smart and pesky hard to kill. Rats could—Wait! Could tougher, smarter rats displace man? No, it Just wasn’t in them; too small a brain.

“To be able to think better,” Gilead answered almost instantly. “Hand the man a cigar! Supermen are superthinkers;anything else is a side issue. I’ll allow the possibility of super-somethings which might exterminate or dominate mankind other than by outsmarting him in his own racket-thought. But I deny that it is possible for a man to conceive in discrete terms what such a super-something would be or how this something would win out. New Man will beat out homo sap in homo sap’s own specialty—rational thought, the ability to recognize data, store them, integrate them, evaluate correctly the result, and arrive at a correct decision. That is how man got to be champion; the creature who can do it better is the coming champion. Sure, there are other survival factors, good health, good sense organs, fast reflexes, but they aren’t even comparable, as the long, rough history of mankind has proved over and over—Marat in his bath, Roosevelt in his wheelchair, Caesar with his epilepsy and his bad stomach. Nelson with one eye and one arm, blind Milton; when the chips are down it’s brain that wins, not the body’s tools.’…

…“We defined thinking as integrating data and arriving at correct answers. Look around you. Most people do that stunt just well enough to get to the corner store and back without breaking a leg. If the average man thinks at all, he does silly things like generalizing from a single datum. He uses one-valued logics. If he is exceptionally bright, he may use two-valued, ‘either-or’ logic to arrive at his wrong answers. If he is hungry, hurt, or personally interested in the answer, he can’t use any sort of logic and will discard an observed fact as blithely as he will stake his life on a piece of wishful thinking. He uses the technical miracles created by superior men without wonder nor surprise, as a kitten accepts a bowl of milk. Far from aspiring to higher reasoning, he is not even aware that higher reasoning exists. He classes his own mental process as being of the same sort as the genius of an Einstein. Man is not a rational animal; he is a rationalizing animal.

“For explanations of a universe that confuses him he seizes onto numerology, astrology, hysterical religions, and other fancy ways to go crazy. Having accepted such glorified nonsense, facts make no impression on him, even if at the cost of his own life. Joe, one of the hardest things to believe is the abysmal depth of human stupidity.

“That is why there is always room at the top, why a man with just a leetle more on the ball can so easily become governor, millionaire, or college president—and why homo sap is sure to be displaced by New Man, because there is so much room for improvement and evolution never stops.

“Here and there among ordinary men is a rare individual who really thinks, can and does use logic in at least one field—he’s often as stupid as the rest outside his study or laboratory—but he can think, if he’s not disturbed or sick or frightened. This rare individual is responsible for all the progress made by the race; the others reluctantly adopt his results. Much as the ordinary man dislikes and distrusts and persecutes the process of thinking he is forced to accept the results occasionally, because thinking is efficient compared with his own maunderings. He may still plant his corn in the dark of the Moon but he will plant better corn developed by better men than he.

“Still rarer is the man who thinks habitually, who applies reason, rather than habit pattern, to all his activity. Unless he masques himself, his is a dangerous life; he is regarded as queer, untrustworthy, subversive of public morals; he is a pink monkey among brown monkeys—a fatal mistake. Unless the pink monkey can dye himself brown before he is caught.

“The brown monkey’s instinct to kill is correct; such men are dangerous to all monkey customs.

“Rarest of all is the man who can and does reason at all times, quickly, accurately, inclusively, despite hope or fear or bodily distress, without egocentric bias or thalmic disturbance, with correct memory, with clear distinction between fact, assumption, and non-fact. Such men exist, Joe; they are ‘New Man’—human in all respects, indistinguishable in appearance or under the scalpel from homo sap, yet as unlike him in action as the Sun is unlike a single candle.”

Gilead said, “Are you that sort?”

“You will continue to form your own opinions.”

“And you think I may be, too?”

“Could be. I’ll have more data in a few days.”

Gilead laughed until the tears came. “Kettle Belly, if I’m the future hope of the race, they had better send in the second team quick. Sure I’m brighter than most of the jerks I run into, but, as you say, the competition isn’t stiff. But I haven’t any sublime aspirations. I’ve got as lecherous an eye as the next man. I enjoy wasting time over a glass of beer. I just don’t feel like a superman.”

“Speaking of beer, let’s have some.” Baldwin got up and obtained two cans of the brew. “Remember that Mowgli felt like a wolf. Being a New Man does not divorce you from human sympathies and pleasures. There have been New Men all through history; I doubt if most of them suspected that their difference entitled them to call themselves a different breed. Then they went ahead and bred with the daughters of men, diffusing their talents through the racial organism, preventing them from effectuating until chance brought the genetic factors together again.”

“Then I take it that New Man is not a special mutation?”

“Huh? Who isn’t a mutation, Joe? All of us are a collection of millions of mutations. Around the globe hundreds of mutations have taken place in our human germ plasm while we have been sitting here. No, homo novis didn’t come about because great grandfather stood too close to a cyclotron; homo novis was not even a separate breed until he became aware of himself, organized, and decided to hang on to what his genes had handed him. You could mix New Man back into the race today and lose him; he’s merely a variation becoming a species. A million years from now is another matter; I venture to predict that New Man, of that year and model, won’t be able to interbreed with homo sap—no viable offspring.”

“You don’t expect present man—homo sapiens—to disappear?”

“Not necessarily. The dog adapted to man. Probably more dogs now than in umpteen B.C.—and better fed.”

“And man would be New Man’s dog.”

“Again not necessarily. Consider the cat.”

“The idea is to skim the cream of the race’s germ plasm and keep it biologically separate until the two races are permanently distinct. You chaps sound like a bunch of stinkers. Kettle Belly.”

“Monkey talk,”

“Perhaps. The new race would necessarily run things—”

“Do you expect New Man to decide grave matters by counting common man’s runny noses?”

“No, that was my point. Postulating such a new race, the result is inevitable. Kettle Belly, I confess to a monkey prejudice in favor of democracy, human dignity, and freedom. It goes beyond logic; it is the kind of a world I like. In my job I have mingled with the outcasts of society, snared their slumgullion. Stupid they may be, bad they are not—I have no wish to see them become domestic animals.”

For the first time the big man showed concern. His persona as “King of the Kopsters,” master merchandiser, slipped away; he sat in brooding majesty, a lonely and unhappy figure. “I know, Joe. They are of us; their little dignities, their nobilities, are not lessened by their sorry state. Yet it must be.”

“Why? New Man will come—granted. But why hurry the process?”

“Ask yourself.” He swept a hand toward the oubliette (where he destroyed the last record of the easy technique to make the sun go nova). ‘Ten minutes ago you and I saved this planet, all our race. It’s the hour of the knife. Some one must be on guard if the race is to live; there is no one but us. To guard effectively we New Men must be organized, must never fumble any crisis like this-and must increase our numbers. We are few now, Joe; as the crises increase, we must increase to meet them. Eventually—and it’s a dead race with time—we must take over and make certain that baby never plays with matches.”

He stopped and brooded. “I confess to that same affection for democracy, Joe. But it’s like yearning for the Santa Claus you believed in as a child. For a hundred and fifty years or so democracy, or something like it, could flourish safely. The issues were such as to be settled without disaster by the votes of common men, befogged and ignorant as they were. But now, if the race is simply to stay alive, political decisions depend on real knowledge of such things as nuclear physics, planetary ecology, genetic theory, even system mechanics. They aren’t up to it, Joe. With goodness and more will than they possess less than one in a thousand could stay awake over one page of nuclear physics; they can’t learn what they must know.”

Gilead brushed it aside. “It’s up to us to brief them. Their hearts are all right; tell them the score—they’ll come down with the right answers.”

“No, Joe. We’ve tried it; it does not work. As you say, most of them are good, the way a dog can be noble and good. Yet there are bad ones—Mrs. Keithley and company and more like her. Reason is poor propaganda when opposed by the yammering, unceasing lies of shrewd and evil and self-serving men. The little man has no way to judge and the shoddy lies are packaged more attractively. There is no way to offer color to a colorblind man, nor is there any way for us to give the man of imperfect brain the canny skill to distinguish a lie from a truth.

“No, Joe. The gulf between us and them is narrow, but it is very deep. We cannot close it.”

“I wish,” said Gilead, “that you wouldn’t class me with your ‘New Man’, I feel more at home on the other side.”

“You will decide for yourself which side you are on, as each of us has done.”

From GULF by Robert Heinlein (1949)

At least half the people Volyova saw were Ultranauts, evidenced by their tendency towards paleness, spindly build, flaunted body augmentations, swathes of black leather and acres of glinting jewellery, tattoos and trade-trophies. None of the Ultras she saw were extreme chimerics. with the possible exception of Hegazi, who probably qualified as one of the half-dozen most augmented people in the carousel. But the majority wore their hair in the customary Ultra manner, fashioned in thick braids to indicate the number of reefersleep stretches they had done, and many of them had their clothes slashed to expose their prosthetic parts. Looking at these specimens, Volyova had to remind herself that she was part of the same culture.

Ultras, of course, were not the only spacegoing faction spawned by humanity. SkyJacks—at least here— made up a significant portion of the others she saw. They were spacedwellers to be sure, but they did not crew interstellar ships and so their outlook was very different to the wraithlike Ultras. with their dreadlocks and old-fashioned expressions.

There were others still. Icecombers were a Skyjack offshoot; psychomodified for the extreme solitude which came from working the Kuiper belt zones, and they kept themselves to themselves with ferocious dedication. Gillies were aquatically modified humans who breathed liquid air; capable of crewing short-range, high-gee ships: they constituted a sizeable fraction of the system's police force. Some gillies were so incapable of normal respiration and locomotion that they had to move around in huge robotic fishtanks when not on duty.

And then there were Conjoiners: descendants of an experimental clique on Mars who had systematically upgraded their minds, swapping cells for machines, until something sudden and drastic had happened. In one moment, they had escalated to a new mode of consciousness—what they called the Transenlightenment—precipitating a brief but nasty war in the process. Conjoiners were easy to pick out in crowds: recently they had bio-engineered huge and beautiful cranial crests for themselves, veined to dissipate the excess heat produced by the furious machines in their heads. There were fewer of them these days. so they tended to draw attention. Other human factions—like the Demarchists. who had long allied themselves with the Conjoiners—were acutely aware that only Conjoiners knew how to build the engines which powered lighthuggers.

From REVELATION SPACE by Alastair Reynolds (2000)


Genetically engineering a working animal is trying to walk the fine line of making a smarter living tool but not making the Conquest of the Planet of the Apes.

In an Uplift situation, the entire point was to engineer an animal species into a fellow intelligent race. Things are marginally less tense due to the fact that no attempt is being made to keep the animals enslaved. But things are still tense because of the fuzzy gray line separating "lab animal" from "enslaved sentient." How do you decide at what point the animals cross the line? And who does the deciding? Do you free the slaves? And is it a bad thing if the animals jump the gun and start a slave revolt if they disagree over which side of the gray line they are on?

Though in David Brin's science fiction universe when Species A uplifts an animal into Species B, by galactic law Species A has the right to hold Species B in indentured servitude for a mere 100,000 years. As payment for the cost of uplifting Species B.

In The Ballad of Lost C'Mell by Cordwainer Smith, the "underpeople" are all uplifted animals, and are all enslaved. C'Mell is an uplifted cat (you can tell by the C in her name) who during the story helps her fellow underpeople to gain more civil rights.

In Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (made into the movie The Secret of NIMH) the bumbling morally-bankrupt scientists are just playing around with giving animals enhanced intelligence. It comes as a very rude surprise when the animals become intelligent enough to escape the tortures of NIMH. The scientist panic and launch a dragnet to find and kill the animals but they get away into the countryside.

And of course there will be some evil bastards who uplift animals with the specific purpose of creating a race of slaves, generally for use as a private army. These are usually genetically engineered or implanted with brain electronics to ensure they will never revolt and inflict well-deserved revenge upon the ruling evil bastard. The bastard might not even start with animals. In the Lord of the Rings Morgoth took elves and mutated them into orcs. Sometimes two sets of evil bastards do this to each other: in Jack Vance's The Dragon Masters the humans and the dragons of the planet Aerlith have captured their opponents and bred them into combat slaves and beasts of burden.

The earliest known example of the uplift concept was H. G. Well's The Island of Doctor Moreau.

Other notable examples:

  • L. Sprague de Camp's "Johnny Black" stories (beginning with "The Command")
  • Olaf Stapledon's Sirius
  • Cordwainer Smith's Instrumentality of Mankind series features the "Underpeople:" various uplifted animals held in slavery. Most prominent is C'Mell, where the "C" denotes "uplifted cat".
  • David Brin's eponymous Uplift series. The amusing part is apparently every species in the galaxy arose from uplift, except for human beings. And of course the legendary sacred Progenitors.
  • Robert Heinlein's Jerry Was A Man.
  • In the Marvel Comics Universe, the High Evolutionary's main goal is uplift.
  • In Arthur C. Clarke's 2001 A Space Odyssey, humanity was uplifted from the apes by the star god monolith makers.
  • In Howard Taylor's Schlock Mercenary many of the mercenaries are uplifted species, such as elephants, gorillas and polar bears.

And many others.


Florence Ambrose is a Bowman's Wolf, a wolf uplifted by Dr. Bowman in the webcomic Freefall.

From FREEFALL by Mark Stanley


In pulp scifi, Uplift's dark sibling is the dread horror of induced atavism. I specify pulp scifi because the concept is total bovine excreta. I mention it just in case you run across it.

It generally takes the form of some sort of drug or ray that will cause the victim to gradually "de-evolve" down the "evolutionary path" (which should alert you right away that this is total nonsense. Because there ain't no such thing as an evolutionary path.) The victim will first transform to become brutish, then turn into a pre-human ape, then into a giant lizard, and so on.


      In the open door stood a hideous and incredible figure, a monstrosity out of a nightmare. It was a giant, hunched ape, hairy and abhorrent. Its squat figure wore a man’s zipper-suit of white synthesilk. In the too-tight garment, the creature looked like a gruesome travesty on humanity, its brutish, hairy face a bestial mask, jaws parted to reveal great fangs. Its eyes blazed with a cold glitter as it started into the room.
     “Look out!” Bonnel yelled frantically. A white-faced guard in the dark uniform of the Planet Police appeared in the door. He leveled his flare-gun swiftly at the monstrous ape.
     “Wait — don’t shoot!” James Carthew cried suddenly, as he looked into the monster’s hairy face. His warning was too late. The guard had seen nothing but an incredible, menacing creature advancing toward the President. He had squeezed the trigger. The little flare from the pistol struck the ape’s broad back. The creature’s bestial face contorted in sudden agony. With a deep, almost human groan, it collapsed.
     James Carthew, with a cry of horror, jumped forward. His face was paper-white as he bent over the creature. The ape’s eyes, strange blue eyes, had a dying light in them as they looked up at the President. The creature strove to speak. From the hairy throat came a hoarse, gurgling rattle — dying words, thickened to a brutish growl, but dimly recognizable. “Jupiter — the Space Emperor — causing atavism —” the thing gasped hoarsely in dying accents. It sought to raise its head, its fading blue eyes weirdly human in agonized apprehension and appeal as they looked up at the President. “Danger from —” And then, as it sought to form another word, life ebbed swiftly, and the creature sank back, its eyes glazing.
     “Dead!” Carthew exclaimed, trembling violently.
     “My God, it talked!” cried the white-faced guard. “That ape — talked!”
     “It’s not an ape. It’s a man!” said James Carthew hoarsely. He got to his feet. Guards and officials were running alarmedly into the office. “Get out — all of you,” Carthew whispered, making a gesture with his trembling hand. Horrified, still staring at the monstrous, hairy corpse on the floor, they withdrew and left the President and his secretary alone with the macabre corpse.
     “Good God — those blue eyes — it couldn’t be Sperling!” cried the shuddering young secretary.
     “Yes, it’s Sperling all right,” James Carthew said softly. “I recognized him, by his eyes, a moment too late. John Sperling, our best secret agent — transformed into that dead brute on the floor!”
     “You sent him to investigate the horror on Jupiter, and he fell prey to it!” Bonnel exclaimed hoarsely. “He changed, like those others out there, from man to brute. Yet he was still man enough to try to get here and make his report!” The pale young secretary looked beseechingly at his chief. “What is it that’s causing that horrible wave of monstrosities out on Jupiter? Hundreds of cases in the last month — hundreds of men changing into apish brutes!”
     “Whatever it is, it’s something bigger than just Jupiter,” Carthew whispered haggardly. “Suppose this strange plague spreads to the other planets — to Earth?” James Carthew was feeling the awful weight of his responsibility, in this moment. The nine planets from Mercury to Pluto had entrusted their welfare to his care. And now he felt the approach of a mysterious, dreadful peril, a dark and un-guessable horror spreading like subtle poison.
     The first reports of the blight had come from Jupiter, weeks before. Out on that mightiest of planets, whose vast jungles and great oceans were still largely unexplored, there flourished a sizable Earth colony. Centering around the capital of Jovopolis were dozens of smaller towns of Earthmen, engaged in working mines, and timbering, and in great grain-growing projects.
     From one of those colonial towns near Jovopolis had come the first incredible reports. Earthmen — changing into beasts! Earthmen inexplicably being transformed into ape-like animals, their bodies and minds becoming more brutish each day. A horrible retracing of the road of human evolution! The victims had become atavisms — biological throwbacks hurled down the ladder of evolution.
     “There’s only one thing left to do,” he said purposefully. “I’m going to call Captain Future.”
     The secretary stiffened. “Captain Future? But the whole world will know this is a perilous emergency, if you call him!”
     “This is a perilous emergency!” exclaimed his superior. “We’ve got to call him. Televise the meteorological rocket-patrol base at Spitzbergen. Order them to flash the magnesium flare signal from the North Pole.”

     They stepped into the cell-block. It was a windowless barracks with solid metal walls, lighted by a half-dozen glowing uranite bulbs in the ceiling. Cell doors were ranged along either side of the corridor which they had entered.
     “These are cases of varying dates,” the pale girl told Curt. “Some of them are recent and are only apelike, but others are — you can see for yourself.” Curt went down the row of doors, peering through the gratings into the cells. The cells contained a nightmare assortment of ghastly horrors.
     In some were huge ape-like creatures standing erect and beating with hairy fists at their doors, roars of rage coming from their throats. In others were creatures that were even more bestial, quadrupedal hairy brutes with pouched bodies and blazing feral eyes and wide jaws bristling with fangs. Still other cells held scaled green reptilian monsters shuffling forward on four limbs and crawling with their talons to reach Curt and Joan Randall.

     Captain Future hung a curious lamp over the unconscious man. It was a long cylindrical glass tube that could project “tuned” X-rays which made either bone, blood or solid flesh tissue or nerve-tissue almost invisible, at will. Curt set the rays to block out the whole skin, skull, and outer tissues of the victim’s head. Then he donned the fluoroscopic spectacles that were part of the equipment, and slipped similar spectacles over the eye-lenses of Simon Wright. They could now look deep into the head of the victim as though he were semi-transparent.
     “I believe,” Curt said tersely, “that this evolutionary blight is caused by a deep change in the ductless glands. We know that slight malfunctioning of the pituitary gland will produce acromegaly, in which the victim becomes brutish of body and mind. Suppose that the pituitary is really the secret control of physical evolution?”
     “I understand,” said Simon, his lenses glittering. “You think that acromegaly, which has always been considered a mere disease, is really a case of mild atavism?”
     Curt nodded his red head keenly. “That’s it, Simon. And if a man found a way to paralyze the pituitary gland completely, then the resulting atavism would not be just mild but would become worse each day, the victim reverting farther each day to the brute!”
     “Let’s look at the pituitary gland and see,” said Simon Wright. Intently, they scrutinized the big gland that was attached to the base of the victim’s brain by a thin stalk.
     “See the dark color of the gland!” Captain Future exclaimed. “That’s abnormal — the pituitary of this man has been subjected to some freezing or paralyzing radiation!” He straightened his big figure, and there was a gleam in his gray eyes as he took off the fluoroscopic glasses. “What we’ve got to do is to devise some way of starting the paralyzed pituitaries of the stricken man,” he said. “Do you think we could find a counter-radiation that would do it?”
     “I doubt it, lad,” muttered Simon Wright. “It seems to me that our best chance would be to devise a chemical formula that could be injected directly into the victims’ bloodstream and which would reach their glands in that way.”



This is some science-fictional method to restore a person's youth, to remove the ravages of age. A sci-fi version of the Fountain of Youth. And you can bet your last rocket that TV Tropes has a page all about it.

Obviously, aging movie stars would kill for access to such technology.

And keep in mind that in fiction such treatments do not necessarily prolong a person's lifespan. They may well die at about the same age they would have ordinarily, they'll just leave a good-looking corpse. Or maybe not. In stories traditionally a person granted eternal youth will instantly have their body shrivel up to match to their chronological age upon death.

In the Greek myth, this is the bit that the goddess Eos left out of the fine print when took Tithonus as her lover, and asked Zeus to grant him eternal life. Zeus noticed she had forgotten to also ask to grant eternal youth, so he decided to be an asshat and omit it. Poor Tithonus lived forever; but grew more aged, feeble, and pained with each passing year. He begs for death as Zeus snickers in the background.

THE TRIUMPH OF CAPTAIN FUTURE by Edmond Hamilton (1940)
The insidious drug Lifewater brings back one's youthful appearance, removing wrinkles and gray hair. But once you've taken one dose, you have to have a new dose every three months or you suffer an agonizing death from accelerated aging. Users find themselves at the mercy of the drug-dealer
A GIFT FROM EARTH by Larry Niven (1968)
The human colony in the Tau Ceti system receives technology from Terra via robot Bussard Ramjet starships. The latest shipment has all sorts of goodies, including a rejuvenation virus. You dip your finger in the solution to become infected. Over the weeks to come a sort of traveling wave of young skin and muscle gradually spreads from your finger, as the virus reprogrammes your cells to be young again and reproduces. Eventually your entire body is young again.
CERBERUS: A WOLF IN THE FOLD by Jack Chalker (1982)

On the planet Cerberus, a semi-sentient nano-organism imbues colonists with a strange power. If two people fall asleep while within a few meters of each other, their electrical brain patterns swap bodies. As far as the people can tell, they woke up in the other's body. This is considered normal, and there is a gizmo that can identify who is in what body.

The aristocrats use this in a nasty fashion. They make sure they have good healthy children. Then when they feel like their current body has become too old, they forcibly switch bodies with their healthiest 20 year old offspring. They now have a fresh new body. The offspring is stuck in the decrepit old body, and is imprisoned or otherwise disposed of.

This is actually verging on immortality, since you can live forever if you have access to fresh new bodies.

In this movie, the interstellar aristocracy maintain their youthful appearance by using a youth serum. The vital ingredient is creatures living on planets whose bodies are harvested in order to produce the serum. The aristocrats have established lots of colonies of these creatures on various planets so they always have a plentiful supply. Viewers of a suspicious mind have already figured out that the creatures are human beings and one of the established colonies is Earth.

And even though it doesn't work, in fiction the hideous Elizabeth Báthory technique never gets old.


Blood plasma from young people has been found to rejuvenate old mice, improving their memory, cognition, and physical activity. The method has the potential to be developed into a treatment for people, says Sakura Minami of Alkahest, the company behind the work.

Previous research has found that stitching old and young mice together has an interesting effect. While sharing a blood system works out well for the older mouse, the younger one isn’t so lucky. The young animals started to show signs of brain ageing, while the brains of the older mice started to look younger. “We see a rejuvenation effect,” says Minami.

The key to youth appears to be in the blood plasma – the liquid part of blood. Several studies have found that injecting plasma from young mice into old mice can help rejuvenate the brain and other organs, including the liver, heart, and muscle.

Could blood plasma from young people have the same benefits? To find out, Minami and her colleagues took blood samples from 18-year-olds, and injected them into 12-month-old mice. At this age, the equivalent of around age 50 for people, the mice start to show signs of ageing – they move more slowly, and perform badly on memory tests.

The mice were given twice-weekly injections of the human plasma. After three weeks of injections, they were submitted to a range of tests. The treated mice’s performance was compared to young, 3-month-old mice, as well as old mice who had not received injections.

New neurons

They found that human plasma does have the power to rejuvenate. Treated mice ran around an open space like young mice. Their memories also seemed to improve, and they were much better at remembering their way around a maze than untreated mice.

“Young human plasma improves cognition,” says Minami, who presented her findings at the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in San Diego, California, on Monday. “Their memory was preserved.”

“It’s more or less what we would expect,” says Victoria Bolotina, at Boston University in Massachusetts. “The blood of young people must have something in it that’s important for keeping them young,” she says.

The team then examined the brains of the treated and untreated mice. They looked for clues on the birth of new neurons in the hippocampus – a process called neurogenesis, which is thought to be important for memory and learning. Sure enough, the treated mice appeared to have created more new cells in their brain. “Young human plasma treatment can increase neurogenesis,” says Minami.

Minami says she has identified some factors in young blood that might be responsible for these benefits, but that she won’t reveal what they are yet. Some of them seem to be crossing into the brain, while others may be acting remotely, elsewhere in the body, she says.

She hopes to one day translate the findings into an anti-ageing treatment for people – one that might help those who start to experience the effects of an ageing brain. “There’s anecdotal evidence that people experience benefits after blood transfusions,” she says.

The company she works for, Alkahest, has already started a trial of young blood in people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Read more: Young blood to be used in ultimate rejuvenation trial


      How would you like to step into a machine, vested with strange but scientific powers, and come out vibrantly young (if you are past youth), ravishingly handsome (if you wish), and in rigorous, sparkling health?
     The well-known artist, Norman Saunders, has depicted such a machine on the cover of this issue of MARVEL—a Mechanical Fountain of Youth. Hopeful souls, before and since Ponce de Leon, have searched for such a mythical source of physical well-being. all through history. Can science one day fulfill the miracle?

     Let us assume it is some future year, and whatever age you are now, you are in need of rejuvenation by then. You enter the Youth Emportum, pay the fee (in accordance with your pocketbook, perhaps), and the Operator questions you. How young do you want to feel—about twenty-one? How handsome do you want to look—like the current matinee idol? And the best of health, of course?
     Step this way!” says the smiling Operator, guiding you into the apparatus. You are surrounded by glass and mechanical contrivances, and you try to remember if your insurance is paid up, but the Operator smiles reassuringly. He has stipulated that he will use no drugs, no knives and will cause you no pain. He steps to a panel of controls, and moves a lever slowly.

     You start as a humming sound arises and your skin tingles all over. An inductive field of electrical forces is bathing your body, penetrating inward with a soothing sensation. The innumerable cells, tiny batteries themselves, are being recharged. Old, worn-out tissue awakens to new life and activity. Flesh rejuvenates under the magic touch, becoming more surcharged with vital forces that have slowly drained out through the years. The electro-chemical peak of the body’s metabolism is once again attained. You awaken from a blissful doze some time later, feeling like a new person. One is as old as one feels, and you feel like—twenty-one!
     Now the tingling ceases. The Operator moves another lever. You experience a new sensation, that of something probing you in localized spots. You roll your eyes and notice several distinct beams of violet touching you—artificial gamma-rays of just the right intensity to penetrate flesh but not harm it. One beam impinges at the base of your brain, focused on ths pituitary gland, and corrects its secretion-rate by an infinitesimal, but very important, amount. The ionic-beam, regulating secretion by controlling acidity, next stimulates the thyroid gland, in the neck. Here your metabolism is slightly altered, toning up your whole system. Another gamma-ray centers on the adrenal glands, in the abdomen, and soon a tide of strength flows through you, as adrenalin sweeps into the blood stream.

     Your heart pumps more strongly now, your lungs take deeper breaths. All the accumulated poisons of past years are cleaned out, as the readjusted glands perform their proper duties as regulators of all the organs. Lurking disease germs vanish under a wave of reinforced leucocytes—white corpuscles. There is a thorough house-cleaning going on, throng every inch of you, as the gamma-rays stir these ductless glauds to the proper pitch of activity. Even your brain feels cleansed, awakened, and you glow with health. You feel happy simply because you have a sound mind in a healthy body.
     So far so good. You feel young and healthy, but you were promised gracious looks also for your fee. Yon still have a large nose, pointed chin and not too shapely body. The Operator nods and moves a third control. Now something touches your nose, shaping it. It is a mitogenetic ray, the fundamental wave-energy of growth. Under its powerful influence, positive or negative, flesh grows or withers. With this intangible tool of plastic surgery, the Operator reforms you almost at will. He pares down your nose, with deft touches. He smooths the curve of that chin. He does wonders with your body.

     The treatment is done. You step from the machine, and look in a mirror. You are astonished at the wonderful transformation that the Mechanical Fountain of Youth has wrought in you and you hurry off to surprise all your friends.
     Fantastic? Impossible? Remember that biology is one of the youngest of sciences. The study of glands, of the electro-chemical nature of life, and of mysterious vital forces is gaining rapid momentum toward what today is—fantastic.

From MECHANICAL FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH by Eando Binder (1939)

(ed note: the Lord Darcy stories take place in an alternate time-line where their technology is based on magic instead of science)

      "You seem to find a great deal by looking through windows, Lord Peter," Prince Richard grumbled. But when he looked, he had nothing to say. His face seemed to freeze, and the Lord High Admiral fancied for a moment that it looked like the handsome face on the famous marble statue of Robert, Prince of Britain, who had died so tragically young in 1708.
     The body of Lord Vauxhall was lying on its back in front of the fireplace, its dead, glazed eyes staring sightlessly at the ceiling overhead. In the outstretched right hand was a heavy .44 calibre MMP, the Imperial service pistol.
     After what seemed a terribly long time, Prince Richard spoke. His voice, while perfectly calm, had a curiously distant quality about it. "I see the body, but are you sure it's he? Where is the Lord Vauxhall whose dashing good looks fascinated the grand ladies of half the courts of Europe?"
     "It is he," the Lord High Admiral said grimly. "I knew his father when I was a boy."
     For the face of the corpse was that of an old, old man. Lord Vauxhall had aged half a century in less than an hour.

     Lord Darcy went over and peered through the window. "How long did you say he's been dead, Your Highness?" he said, staring.
     "Less than three hours," the Duke replied. "He looked bad enough when we found him. But now …" He turned his head away.
     "If that's what I think it is," Master Sean said softly, "I'd better get in there fast with a preservative spell."

     "I'm sure I don't know," said Lord Darcy. "Nobody's said anything about a murder. What are you talking about, Lord Sefton?"
     "Yes," said Prince Richard, "please explain yourself, my lord."
     Lord Sefton's flabby mouth opened, closed, and opened again. "Wuh-wuh-why, Lord Vauxhall! I saw him through the window when you called me down! He was right there! With a gun in his hand! Looked like an Egyptian mummy!" He stopped, swallowed, then, more calmly: "Oh. Was it suicide, then?"
     Lord Darcy looked at the Duke. "You know, Your Highness, I think that might explain the gun. I believe he was thinking of it—before he died."
     "I think you're right," the Duke said solemnly. "He might have thought it would be an easier way to go. Perhaps it would have been. It might have been less—painful."
     Master Sean shook his head. " 'Tisn't painful, Your Highness. Except mentally. Seeing yourself go all to pieces that way. But the nervous system goes pretty fast. Numbness sets in quite rapidly toward the last."
     Lord Sefton seemed ready to go to pieces himself. "Buh-buh-but what are you talking about? Chief Donal said Vauxhall'd been killed by Black Magic! Why are you all taking it so calmly? Why?"
     "My lord, please calm yourself and sit down," Prince Richard said firmly.
     "Yes, my lord, do sit down," said the Coronel. "Here, let me fetch you a glass of brandy. Straighten you right up."
     Lord Sefton took the brandy with a shaking hand. "I don't understand," he said weakly.
     "Perhaps Master Sean would be good enough to explain," said His Highness.

     Master Sean thought for a couple of seconds, then said: "How old would you say Lord Vauxhall was, me lord?"
     "Thuh-thirty. Thirty-five."
     "He was over seventy," said Master Sean. Sefton said nothing. He just looked stunned.

     "These days, thanks to modern healing methods," Master Sean went on, "a man can expect the Biblical three-score-and-ten as a minimum, if accident or other violence doesn't carry him off before that. Because of the tremendous psychic burdens they bear, Kings don't get much past that, but an ordinary fellow can look forward with reasonable confidence to his hundredth birthday, and a quarter of a century more is far from uncommon. We call a man in his sixties 'middle-aged', and quite rightly, too.
     "But Healers and sorcerers aren't miracle-workers. We can all expect to get older; there's no cure for that. A man slows down; his reflexes aren't what they were; he gets wrinkles and gray hair and all that sort of thing. We all know it, and we expect it. And, until about a century ago—a little more—there was nothing could be done about it.

     "Then, in 1848, in the early part of the reign of Gwiliam V, two medical thaumaturgists, working independently, discovered a method for retaining the appearance and the vigor of youth. One was a Westphalian named Reinhardt von Horst; the other an Ulsterman named Duivid Shea.
     "Essentially, what they discovered was a method of keeping the entire body in balance, as it were. I'll not go into the thaumaturgical terminology, but what happens, under the effect of the treatment, is that the body keeps katabolism and anabolism so perfectly balanced that each part contributes to the support of every other part. Do you see?"

     Lord Sefton nodded and held his empty glass out to Coronel Danvers, who promptly refilled it along with his own.
     Lord Darcy had heard Master Sean lecture on this subject before, but he enjoyed listening to Master Sean when he got into his pedagogical mood. For one thing, he lost almost all of his brogue, and for another, he always showed a new facet of any subject, no matter how many times he'd spoken on it before.

     "Now, that sounds awfully good in theory, doesn't it, my lord? Unfortunately, it doesn't work out that way. Take the skin, for instance. It's one of the first things to go as age progresses. That's why we get wrinkles and gray hair. The skin loses its youthful elasticity and its ability to pigment hair. The heart, on the other hand, is one of the toughest organs we have. It has to be. It keeps going, day and night, year after year, with only a tiny bit of rest between beats. If a man sees his Healer regularly, the old ticker will keep going strong until the very end. It can be the last thing to go, long after the rest of the body has given up and, to all intents and purposes, died.
     "But this treatment I've been talking about spreads the wearing out process all over the whole body evenly. In order to keep such things as the purely cosmetic functions of the skin going, the heart, the liver, the pancreas, and so on, all have to give up some of their own life expectancy.
     "Eventually, the body reaches the point where every organ in it, every individual cell, is on the verge of death. And when they begin dying, it happens all over, with terrifying rapidity. A matter of minutes, never more than an hour. Everything goes at once. The enzymes go wild. Connecting fibers dissolve. Resistance to microorganisms vanishes.
     "Well—you saw the result. Lord Vauxhall had taken that treatment."

     "Ugh," Lord Sefton said. "That's horrible."
     "In effect," Master Sean continued relentlessly, "what Lord Vauxhall did was trade fifty extra years of life for fifty extra years of youth. All of us who knew him suspected it, and it came as no surprise—only as a shock."
     "Great God," Lord Sefton said. "A man like Vauxhall, tied in with Black Magic. Horrible."
     "Well, now, as to that," said Master Sean, "it is and it isn't. Black Magic, I mean. It's not done with evil intent. No ethical thaumaturgist in the Empire would do it, but I understand it's not considered a bad exchange in some parts of the middle east. Leading the sex life of an eighteen-year-old for half a century might appear to some as a good thing. Depends on your outlook, I suppose. But the end is pretty messy."

     "Tell me, Master Sean," Prince Richard said, "how many treatments does it take?"
     "Oh, you have to take the treatments regularly, Your Highness. It's like an addictive drug, in a way. After a certain length of time, the withdrawal symptoms are pretty bad. The whole body has been weakened, you see, and without the support of additional spells you'd go to pieces. And more slowly. If Lord Vauxhall had stopped, say, twenty-five years ago, he might have lasted a year. But it would have been a rather horrible year.
     "In the long run, of course, there's nothing a sorcerer can do. I have heard that some sorcerers using the treatment have had patients collapse and die in the middle of a treatment session. I don't think I'd care for that, meself."

     "Why have I never heard of this before?" Lord Sefton asked.
     "It's rarely done," Master Sean said. "Few magicians can do it; even fewer would do it. And it's a devilish difficult job. Accordingly, the price is high. Very high. Only a rich man like Lord Vauxhall could afford it. And, o' course, it's not widely advertised. We'd rather it were not discussed very much, if you follow me, Lord Sefton."

From THE SIXTEEN KEYS by Randall Garrett (1976)


The Micronauts was a comic book that came out in 1979, as a thinly disguised attempt to promote a line of toy action figures. However, the plot line was actually surprisingly deep. It did have your standard "Star Wars-esque rebels fighting the Evil Empire" background, but unlike Star Wars it had some motivation.

In Star Wars, the Emperor is oppressing everybody just because he is a big bad meany.

Baron Karza, the villain of the Micronauts, motivates the population to oppress themselves.

Karza developed and has a monopoly on advanced organ and body transplant technology. So Karza tells the wealthy "Do whatever I tell you to do, and I'll give you eternal life and eternal youth."

Naturally the wealthy fall over themselves to do Karza's bidding.

The lower class of society work at menial jobs. They can obtain "life credits" (redeemable at Karza's medical labs) by [1] as a part of their minuscule salaries, [2] by selling their limbs and internal organs, or [3] enlisting in Karza's Dog Soldier army and becoming less-than-human.

Well, technically there is [4] winning life credits at Karza's casinos, but everybody knows that the house always wins.

The underclass of society are periodically captured by Dog Soldiers sweeping the slums and sent to Karza's Body Banks. Hey, prolonging the life and youth of the wealthy aristocrats needs lots of fresh new internal organs and entire bodies. You gotta get supplies from somewhere, right?

Predictably by this time there is no middle class.

The rebels find this Frankencracy to be an intolerable situation and are rebelling. Since this is the back-plot for the entire comic book series, the rebellion faces a constant uphill battle. Otherwise the series would be over half-way through the first issue of the comic book.


"Immortality" means being partially or fully immune to dying from old age. You can still die from starvation, being blown out an airlock with no spacesuit, or being drilled between the eyes by a laser rifle.

"Invulnerability" on the other hand is being remarkably difficult to kill with clubs, swords, or firearms. Having a body composed of diamond, Wolverine-levels of regeneration, resurrection like Count Dracula, that sort of thing.

Having one of these abilities does not necessarily mean you have the other. TV Tropes calls having both Complete Immortality.

Immortality is a perennial favorite, since practically nobody wants to die. I'm not kidding. The concept dates back at least to the The Epic of Gilgamesh (circa 2100 BCE) the earliest surviving great work of literature.

The techniques vary, some are from machines, some are from exotic drugs.

"I don't want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying."
— Woody Allen

Yes, we don't live forever. People and animals change as they age, and eventually catch disease and die.

Eternal life is ingrained in the collective human consciousness, having been present in literature and myths for as long as they've been around. Literally. The Epic of Gilgamesh (the oldest heroic epic known to the modern world) is, in large part, about the titular character's search for a way to live forever.

Of course, having been around for so long, Our Immortality Is Different, and comes in several flavours. These tropes are not mutually exclusive; there's plenty of room for overlap.


For general tropes relating to immortality, see This Index Will Live Forever.


Apparently most scientists assume that eternal life is impossible for fundamental physical and mathematical reasons, which have been made explicit by James S. Hayes. (In "Technological Routes to Immortality," The Scientist Speculates, Basic Books, 1962.) However, I think Prof. Hayes is wrong, both in his reasons for giving up on unlimited life in the full and in the limited substitute he suggests.

He says, first, that if there is any chance at all of accidental death in a normal life span, then in the long run death is certain; second, that even if fatal accidents were somehow completely eliminated, any birth rate, however small, would eventually result in population pressures that even emigration at the speed of light could not relieve; third, that in any case an immortal could not retain all his memories, since the physical storage requirement would eventually bring the day when a solid sphere of organized matter expanding at the velocity of light would not he adequate.

He then suggests that the accident problem be met by sharing one's identity with several others in several bodies, and the storage problem by culling memories periodically to keep only those most valued: "Since personal identity, like life itself, clearly consists of an ordered structure of information, a 'message,' and since messages can be replicated indefinitely many times, there is no reason why any one personal identity could not be simultaneously made available to several brains and be said to inhabit simultaneously many bodies… By the use of many bodies the probability of the accidental extinction of a personal identity can be made as small as we please. A time may come when almost every person one meets will have at least some part of his identity in common with oneself. Under these conditions the death of a body would not be a reason for grief, as now death is a reason for grief."

Perhaps we might not object too strongly to periodic weeding out of excess baggage in our memories, since selection and loss occur routinely in our ordinary lives anyway, willynilly. But few, I imagine, will agree that personal identity "clearly" (!) consists of an "ordered structure of information." Elsewhere (in The Prospect of Immortality, Doubleday, 1964) I have considered the problem of identity in chapter length and concluded that it is very far from solved. It will suffice here to point out, in Prof. Hayes's own words, what most people will consider a reductio ad absurdum: "If identity resides in ordered information, the distinction between the metaphorical immortality of a man in his work and his literal personal immortality is one of quantity rather than (or as the Marxists would say, transforming into) one of quality. It is merely a matter of a difference of a few orders of magnitude in the amount of information transmitted."

Rejecting his solution, we must find loopholes in his mathematics, and then a way to crawl through the loopholes.

The first is not difficult, because his arithmetic is based on a false premise, viz., that the probability of death in a year (say) must have a lower bound. For non-mathematical readers we can illustrate the point, and also illuminate an old riddle, by explaining Zeno's Paradox.

Zeno asked how can I get from here to there? Obviously, I must first cover half the distance, and to do that I must first cover ¼ the distance, etc.; the journey may be mentally broken down into an infinite number of finite segments, each requiring finite time; since the sum of an infinite number of nonzero intervals is infinite — is it not? — infinite time must be required to move any distance.

The answer is that the sum of an infinite number of non-zero quantities is not necessarily infinite. (This is Obviously so, since a two-inch line can be divided into an infinite number of segments, but the total of those segments is still two inches, not infinity. The sum ½ + ½ + ½… is infinite; the sum ½ + ⅓ + ¼… is infinite; but the sum ½ + ¼ + ⅛ = 1. The sum of an infinite series can be finite, if the terms of the series diminish fast enough.

Now we see how, in principle, Hayes' second and third obstacles can be overcome. We need never give up breeding altogether (although it will not be required for evolution); we need only reduce the rate of reproduction fast enough, indefinitely, without ever reaching zero. And we need sacrifice no memories (although we will have plenty to spare. We need only regulate their rate of accumulation. Note carefully that we do not even have to acquire memories more slowly — only more slowly as a percentage increment per unit time per unit volume of space. The annual percentage growth in brain tissue will have to decrease, but not the tonnage.

Now, a reader of decent sensibilities will be stunned by the word "tonnage." Tons of brain tissue? Of course, there is a certain apparently irreducible minimum amount of matter, in mass and volume, required to store a unit of information, and if we jettison no memories, eventually we must become gigantic. Even storing "our" memories in a separate mechanical store or computer, plugged in at will, cannot avoid giantism, for several reasons. In any case, we do not want to avoid giantism — it is our salvation with respect to the accidental death bogey.

There is a certain risk of catastrophe per year per cubic yard, and we can hardly expect to keep reducing this risk fast enough, forever; hence any ordinary individual must expect a fatal accident sooner or later. But a society, if it spreads out fast enough, can have a nonzero probability of infinite life.

Can an individual do the same?

Certainly! To begin with, we may think of ourselves as located at a point in space. But we are not: each of us occupies an appreciable volume, and can sacrifice considerable material without disaster. For example, rays from radioactive elements constantly damage or kill cells of our bodies — thousands daily — but we replace them and carry on, and in fact do not even notice it.

Of course, it is absurd to think we can just grow huge and keep this up indefinitely. Neither can we stomach the notion of submerging ourselves in a "hive" organism, with individuals playing the role of cells in a super-being; we do not want to he reduced to the status of bees or ants or anything similar. The answer is that we will develop a new type of body, the parts of which will not be physically glued together.

It is simply a matter of communication. The hemispheres of a brain, for example, in principle ought to he capable of integrations by wires, or even radio, rather than nerves; and the same thing is true of smaller components. We must envisage a race of titans, each multicorporeal, his body divided into myriad components attenuated over a large and increasing volume of space, integrated by something like radio waves. If a star goes nova, only a few planets may be lost — a trifle, a toenail.

As always, there will be a price.

In particular, the giants will live slowly, of necessity. If you are spread over a trillion cubic light-years, and your nervous system signals from one part of you to another at the speed of light, it will take you a long while to think and act. It is interesting to speculate, however, that this may explain the mysterious absence of emissaries from higher civilizations: any civilization much beyond the present human stage enters the macro-cosmic phase and is completely cut of touch.

In addition to size and slowness, the giants might have another bizarre quality: intermingling of bodies. If the purpose of giantism is immortality, avoiding catastrophe by having one's parts scattered over immense volumes, any small volume (say a planet) would not have to be reserved for a single individual. Thus a galaxy, say, might support billions of individuals, each one scattered onto billions of planets and each planet supporting parts of billions of different people.

People? Beings, rather. Or even gods. They could hardly be much like ourselves, whose psychology and culture are strongly dependent on the physical character of our bodies. Their lives would not necessarily be entirely mental, but they would indeed be strange. They could not stand, sit, walk, talk or even have a definite location in any easily understood sense.

An obvious nasty conjecture is that the giants are already in our region of space, and in fact we, all unwitting, are their "cells"; that our organization, from our point of view, is inefficient and often unpleasant may interest them not at all.

An even nastier conjecture is that we are not yet cells, but will shortly be taken over for that purpose, when we reach an appropriate stage of development. But "they" would hardly work in such a sloppy manner, nor use fully self-conscious cells.


      It was to this point that Chris returned after his upsetting argument with Piggy. “Sergeant, the other day you said that the Mayor was killing himself with overwork. But the City Fathers told me he's several centuries old. On the drugs, he ought to live forever, isn't that so?"
     "Absolutely not," Anderson said emphatically: "Nobody can live forever. Sooner or later, there'd be an accident, for one thing. And strictly speaking, the drugs aren't a ‘cure' for death anyhow. Do you know how they work?”
     "No," Chris admitted. "School hasn't covered them yet."

     "Well. the memory banks can give you the details—I’ve probably forgotten most of them. But generally. there are several antiagathics, and each one does a different job. The main one, ascomycin, stirs up a kind of tissue in the body called the reticuloendothelial system—the white blood corpuscles are a part of it—to give you what's called ‘nonspecific immunity.‘ What that means is that for about the next seventy years, you can't catch any infectious disease. At the end of that time you get another shot, and so on. The stuff isn't an antibiotic, as the name suggests. but an endotoxin fraction—a complex organic sugar called a mannose; it got its name from the fact that it's produced by fermentation, as antibiotics are.
     "Another is TATP — triacetyltriparanoi. What this does is inhibit the synthesis in the body of a fatty stuff called cholesterol; otherwise it collects in the arteries and causes strokes, apopiexy, high blood pressure and so on. This drug has to be taken every day, because the body goes right on trying to make cholesterol every day."
     "Doesn't that mean that it's good for something?" Chris objected tentatively.
     "Cholesterol? Sure it is. It’s absolutely essential in the development of a fetus, so women have to lay off TATP while they're carrying a child. But it's of no use to men—and men are far more susceptible to circulatory diseases than women.
     “There are still two more anti-agathics in use now, but they're minor; one, for instance, blocks the synthesis of the hormone of sleep, which again is essential in pregnancy but a thundering nuisance otherwise; that one was originally found in the blood of ruminant animals like cows, whose plumbing is so defective that they'd die if they lay down. "
     "You mean you never sleep?”
     "Haven't got the time for it." Anderson said gravely. "Or the need any longer. thank goodness. But ascomycin and TATP between them prevent the two underlying major causes of death: heart diseases and infections. If you prevent those alone. you extend the average lifetime by at least two centuries.

     "But death is still inevitable. Chris. If there isn't an accident, there may be cancer. which we can't prevent yet—oh, ascomycin attacks tumors so strongly that cancer doesn't kill people any longer, in fact the drug even offers quite a lot of protection against hard radiation; but cancer can still make life so agonizing that death is the only humane treatment. Or a man can die of starvation, or of being unable to get the anti-agathics. Or he can die of a bullet—or of overwork. We live long lives in the cities. sure: but more is no such thing as immortality. It's as mythical as the unicorn. Not even the universe itself is going to last forever."

From A LIFE FOR THE STARS by James Blish (1962)

      Nile shrugged. "The obvious one. If a man's a good enough biologist, he has his pick of jobs in the Hub. He'd probably make more here, but he isn't interested in coming all the way out to Nandy-Cline to do rough field work. I … Ticos, you don't happen to be looking for a job here with Giard?"
     He nodded. "I am, as a matter of fact. I believe I'm qualified, and I have my own analytical laboratory at the spaceport. Do you think your station manager would consider me?"
     Nile blinked. "Parrol will snap you up, of course! … But I don't get it. How do you intend to fit this in with your university work?"
     "I resigned from the university early this year. About the job here—I do have a few conditions."
     "What are they?"
     "For one thing, I'll limit my work to the floatwood islands."
     Why not, Nile thought. Provided they took adequate precautions. He looked in good physical shape, and she knew he'd been on a number of outworld field trips.
     She nodded, said, "We can fit you up with a first-class staff of assistants. Short on scientific training but long on floatwood experience. Say ten or—"
     "Uh-uh!" Ticos shook his head decidedly. "You and I will select an island and I'll set myself up there alone. That's Condition Two. It's an essential part of the project."

     Nile stared at him. The multiformed life supported by the floatwood wasn't abnormally ferocious; but it existed because it could take care of itself under constantly changing conditions, which included frequent shifts in the nature of enemies and prey, and in the defensive and offensive apparatus developed to deal with them. For the uninformed human intruder such apparatus could turn into a wide variety of death traps. Their menace was for the most part as mindlessly impersonal as quicksand. But that didn't make them any less deadly.
     "Ticos Cay," she stated, "you're out of your mind! You wouldn't last! Do you have any idea—"
     "I do. I've studied your papers carefully, along with the rather skimpy material that's available otherwise on the planet's indigenous life. I'm aware there may be serious environmental problems. We'll discuss them. But solitude is a requirement."
     "Why in the world should—"
     "From a personal point of view, I'll be involved here primarily in longevity research."
     She hesitated, said, "Frankly I don't see the connection."

     Ticos grunted. "Of course you don't. I'd better start at the beginning."
     "Perhaps you should. Longevity research … " Nile paused. "Is there some, uh, personal—"
     "Is the life I'm interested in extending my own? Definitely. I'm at a point where it requires careful first-hand attention."
     Nile felt startled. Ticos was lean but firmly muscled, agile and unwrinkled. In spite of his white hair, she hadn't considered him old. He might have been somewhat over sixty and not interested in cosmetic hormones. "You've begun extension treatments?" she asked.
     "Quite a while ago," Ticos said dryly. "How much do you know about the assorted longevity techniques?"
     "I have a general understanding of them, of course. But I've never made a special study of the subject. Nobody I've known has—" Her voice trailed off again.

     "Don't let it embarrass you to be talking to a creaky ancient about it," Ticos said.
     She stared at him. "How old are you?"
     "Rather close to two hundred standard years. One of the Hub's most senior citizens, I believe. Not considering, of course, the calendar age of old-timers who resorted to longsleep and are still around."
     Two hundred years was the practical limit to the human biological life span. For a moment Nile didn't know what to say. She tried to keep shock from showing in her face. But perhaps Ticos noticed it because he went on quickly, his tone light. "It's curious, you know, that we still aren't able to do much better along those lines! Of course, during the war centuries there evidently wasn't much attention given to such impractical lines of research."
     "Impractical?" Nile repeated.
     "From the viewpoint of the species. The indefinite extension of individual life units isn't really too desirable in that respect. Natural replacements have obvious advantages. I can agree in theory. Nevertheless, I find myself resenting the fact that the theory should also apply to me… "

      He'd started resenting it some two decades ago. Up to then he'd been getting by exceptionally well on biochemical adjustments and gene manipulations, aided by occasional tissue transplants. Then trouble began—so gradually that it was a considerable while before he realized there was a real problem. He was informed at last that adjustment results were becoming increasingly erratic and that there was no known way of balancing them more accurately. Major transplants and the extensive use of synthetics would presently be required. It was suggested that he get his memory stores computerized and transferred to an information bank for reference purposes—and then perhaps check in for longsleep.
     Ticos found he didn't like any of the prospects. His interest level hadn't diminished noticeably, and he didn't care to have his activities curtailed by a progressively patched-up body or suspended indefinitely by longsleep. If he didn't take longsleep, he might make it past the two hundred year mark but evidently not by much. Previously he hadn't given a great deal of attention to regeneration research. Those problems were for other men—he had a large variety of pet projects of his own going. Now he thought he'd better start investigating the field and look for more acceptable alternatives to the prognosis offered him.

     "You've been doing that for the past twenty years?" Nile asked.
     "Very nearly. Some thousands of lines of research are involved. It makes for a lengthy investigation."
     "I thought most of those lines of research were over on the crackpot side," she remarked.
     "A great many are. I still had to check them out. One problem here is that nobody can prove his method is going to work out indefinitely—no method has been practiced long enough for that. For the same reason it's difficult to disprove the value of any approach, at least to those who believe in it. So egos and individualism run rampant in that area. Even the orthodox work isn't well coordinated."
     "So I understand," Nile said. "You'd think the Federation would take a hand in it."
     "You might think so," Ticos agreed. "However, there may be a consensus of opinion at Overgovernment levels that, because of economic and other factors, the unlimited prolongation of life in human beings would have questionable value. At any rate, while the Federation doesn't discourage longevity research, it doesn't actively support it. You could say it tolerates it."

     "What about their own lives? They're human."
     He shrugged. "They may be putting their trust in longsleep—some happy future in which all such problems will be solved. I wouldn't know. Of course, a good many people suspect that if you're one of the elect, you'll have treatments that work indefinitely. It seems a little improbable. Anyway I'm betting largely on biochemistry now. The individual cells. Keep them cleared of degenerative garbage, and other problems may no longer be too significant. I made some improvements in that area a few years ago. An immediate result was improvements in myself. As a matter of fact, I've been given to understand they're probably the reason I'm still operational."
     "You've written that up?" Nile asked.
     "Not under my name. The university handles that end of it. I've kept the biochemical research going, but I've also been working on new slants since. It struck me frequently in the course of all this that our instincts evidently aren't in favor of letting us go on indefinitely."

     She frowned. "What gives you that impression?"
     "For one thing, the fact that we generally won't put out very much effort for it. A remarkable number of my earlier associates dropped out on treatments simply because they kept forgetting to do, or refused to do, the relatively simple things needed to stay alive. It was as though they'd decided it wasn't important enough and they couldn't be bothered."
     Nile said doubtfully, "You aren't exaggerating?"
     "No. It's a common picture. The instincts accept the life and death cycle even when we're consciously opposed to it. They work for the species. The individual has significance to the species only to the point of maturity. The instincts support him until he's had an opportunity to pass along his genetic contribution. Then they start pulling him down. If a method eventually is developed to retain life and biological youth with no effort, it might be a different matter. Longsleep provides an illusion of that at present. But longsleep shelves the problem. I began to suspect longevity research itself is hampered by the instincts. And I'm not sure it isn't … we really should be farther along with it. At any rate, I decided to check with people who are interested in the less accessible areas of the mind. They're working in a major playground of the instincts, and they might have information… "

      He'd found two groups who were obtaining longevity and rejuvenation effects as a by-product of mental experimentation. One was the Psychovariant Association. Nile knew as much about their work as they'd chosen to publish in the digests she followed. They used assorted forcing procedures to extend and modify mental experience. "Don't they make heavy use of synthetics?" she asked.
     Ticos nodded. "Yes. Not only to replace failing organs but to improve on healthy ones. That's their view of it. I don't fancy the approach myself. But they have systems of basic mind exercises directed at emotional manipulation. Longevity's a secondary interest, but they've accumulated plenty of evidence that the exercises support it… "

     The other project was a branch of the Federation's Psychology Service. Its goal was a total investigation of the mind and the gaining of conscious controls over its unconscious potential. The processes were elaborate. In the course of them, deep-reaching therapeutic adjustments were required and obtained. Physical regeneration frequently was a result—again not as a primary objective but as a beneficial side-effect.
     Ticos decided this approach also went beyond his own aims. His interests were outward-directed; his mind was an efficient instrument for that purpose, and he demanded no more of it. However, the goals of both organizations were as definitely bent on overcoming normal human limitations as longevity research. They were aware of the type of inherent resistances he had suspected and had developed methods of dealing with them.
     "The matter of mind-body interaction," he said. "I can learn to distinguish and control instinctual effects both in my mind and in associated physical processes. And that's what I've started to do."

     He'd presented his problem to members of the two groups, and a modified individual schedule of mind-control exercises was worked out for him. He'd practiced them under direction until his mentors decided he was capable of continuing on his own. Then he'd closed out the final phases of his university work. His search for more effective biochemical serums would continue; he was convinced now it was the basic key to success.
     "Keep the instincts from interfering and who knows—we might have it made!"
     "Immortality?" asked Nile.
     He gave her his quick grin. "Let's try for a thousand standard years first."

     She smiled. "You almost have me believing you, Ticos! And how does becoming a floatwood hermit fit in with it all?"
     "Nandy-Cline evidently is a simmering hotbed of life. I know the general type of substances I'll be looking for next, and I think I'm at least as likely to find them here as anywhere else."
     Nile nodded. "You might find almost anything here. Why make it a one-man job?"
     "Planned solitude," said Ticos.
     "What will that do for you?"
     "The mind exercises. Does it seem to mean anything if I say that at the stages at which I'll now be working I step outside the standard mental patterns of the species?"
     She considered. "It doesn't seem to mean much. Very advanced stuff, eh?"
     "Depends on the viewpoint. The people I dealt with consider it basic. However, it's difficult work. There's seepage from other mind patterns about you, and if they're established human ones they jar you out of what you're doing. They're too familiar. It's totally disruptive. So until I become sufficiently stable in those practices, it's necessary to reduce my contacts with humanity to the absolute minimum."
     Nile shrugged. "Well, that's obviously out of my line. Still, I'd think … you can't just go into a room somewhere and shut the doors?"
     "No. Physical distance is required. Plenty of it."
     "How long is it going to be required?"
     "The estimates I've had range from three to four years."

     "In the floatwood?"
     "Yes. It's to be both my work place and my source of materials. I can't park myself in space somewhere and continue to do meaningful research. And I think that adequate preparations should reduce any risks I'll encounter to an acceptable level. A reasonable degree of risk, as a matter of fact, will be all to the good."
     "In what way?"
     "The threat of danger is a great awakener. The idea in this is to be thoroughly alert and alive—not shut away in a real or symbolical shell of some kind."
     Nile reflected. "That makes a sort of sense," she agreed. She hesitated. "What's your present physical condition? I'll admit you look healthy enough… "
     "I'm healthier now than I was ten years ago."
     "You don't need medical supervision?"
     "I haven't needed it for several years. I've had one arterial replacement—the cultured product. That was quite a while ago. Otherwise, except for a few patches from around the same and earlier periods, my internal arrangements are my own. Nothing to worry about in that department."
     Nile sighed.
     "Well—we'll still have to convince Parrol it isn't suicide. But you're hired, Ticos. Make it a very high salary and nail down your terms, including your interests in anything that could classify as a longevity serum. After we've settled that, I'll start briefing you on the kind of difficulties you're likely to run into on your island. That can't be done in a matter of days. It's going to take weeks of cramming and on-the-spot demonstrations."
     Ticos winked at her. "That's why I'm here."

From THE DEMON BREED by James Schmitz (1968)

Immortality Problems

But the invention of any new technique of prolonging lifespan is guaranteed to create major problems in the society and political power structure.

For one thing, unless you pass laws about term limits and maximum age of political office, you've suddenly got a gerontocracy on your hands.


(ed note: in his novel Jonathan Swift ensured there would be no gerontocracy of immortals)

      As soon as they (the immortals) have completed the term of eighty years, they are looked on as dead in law; their heirs immediately succeed to their estates; only a small pittance is reserved for their support; and the poor ones are maintained at the public charge. After that period, they are held incapable of any employment of trust or profit; they cannot purchase lands, or take leases; neither are they allowed to be witnesses in any cause, either civil or criminal or economic, not even for the decision of meers (metes) and bounds.

     Otherwise, as avarice is the necessary consequence of old age, those immortals would in time become proprietors of the whole nation, and engross the civil power, which, for want of abilities to manage, must end in the ruin of the public.

For another thing, if the lifespan lengthens to past about 500 years or so, you'd better limit the number of children allowed to a family or overpopulation will make a reappearance. Once you have death control you have to have birth control or you'll be standing on Zanzibar. Logically, the reason any species has the ability to procreate is because they are mortal. Otherwise the species would go extinct. Remove the mortality and you remove the need for procreation.

Naturally, this becomes less acute if immortality is not for everyone, but just for a privileged few. Even if that spoil-sport Immanual Kant says it is immoral to do something that is only bad if everybody does it.

TV Tropes calls this the Immortal Procreation Clause: The fertility of a species is inversely proportional to its lifespan. Thus, as a species approaches immortality, their birth rate approaches zero. This can be the result of natural infertility, or because they don't want to be up to their eyebrows in squalling babies so contraception is employed.

On a broader level there is the problem that reducing the birth rate also reduces the evolution rate of the species. No children, no evolution. Keeping in mind that the invention of modern medicine has already put a damper on evolution.

There are other problems with immortality, over and above the literary motive of saying it is just plain immoral for some reason or another.

First off, immortality means being immune from dying of old age. But that is probably not enough for most people. How would you like it if you kept aging, but never died? It is difficult to enjoy being a thousand years old if you are also blind, toothless, arthritic, skin a mass of wrinkles, too weak to get around without a wheel chair, and incontinent? You need eternal youth to go along with immortality.

In Greek myth, the goddess Eos discovered this fact the hard way. She took a mortal man Tithonus to be her lover. She asked the god Zeus to grant Tithonus immortality, but forgot to ask for eternal youth. After a few hundred years Tithonus was still alive, but suffering the ravages of old age and begging for death. He eventually shriveled up into something resembling a cicada.

The goddess Selene learned from Eos' mistake. When Selene became enamoured of mortal man named Endymion, she asked Zeus to put him into an eternal sleep in order to preserve his youth. Sounds to me like an ancient example of suspended animation.

Michael Hutson brought to my attention there is something similar in Jonathan Swift's novel Gulliver's Travels. The Struldbrugg (or Struldbrug) are the citizens of the nation Luggnagg who are born immortal. But not immune to the ravages of old age (their eyesight becomes bad, hair falls out, and other standard elderly symptoms).

A couple of time the science fiction author wanted to make the immorality rather stark black-and-white. The immortalty treatment requires the death of another person (sometimes of an alien species but still...). Stories include Ben Bova's Stars, Won't You Hide Me? and the Babylon 5 episode Deathwalker.

It has often been noted that in society "the rich get richer." At least nowadays the super rich eventually die so their wealth is divided among the children. But an immortal rich person is just going to keep getting richer. The same goes for a politically powerful immortal. They keep getting to be more powerful and are never removed by death (well natural death at any rate, I'm sure the descendants will be busy hiring assasins).

In "The Martyr" by Alan E Nourse the invention of immortality puts the breaks on progress. They can only give the treatment to 500 carefully selected people each year, but after a couple of decades the effect is quite noticeable. The starship project stalls because there is no motivation to get things done in a timely fashion. Since each treatment adds another sixty years to your life, why not spend yet another year on starship testing just to be absolutely sure? And the politicians start becoming permanent fixtures. With each decade they just add to their repertoire of dirty political tricks, new novice politicians don't stand a chance. Stagnation.

The "lack of pressure" drawback is also featured in Between The Strokes Of Night by Charles Sheffield, in chapter 29.

In Isaac Asimov's The Naked Sun the Spacers have a lifespan of 400 years or so. They become hypercautious and terrified of disease, since they have so many more years to lose than a filthy Earthman with their three-score and ten. Spacers are also unbelievably conservative and resistant to change.

In many science fiction stories the supreme enemy of an immortal being is boredom. After ten-thousand years or so it is almost impossible for an immortal to find anything new, or even anything they've encountered only five hundred times before. In The Lost Worlds of 2001 Arthur C. Clarke said "There were few things that an immortal welcomed and valued more greatly than surprise; when there was none left in the universe, it would be time to die." This is explored in Raymond Z. Gallun's The Eden Cycle and Michael Moorcock's Dancers at the End of Time sequence where the protagonists must go to extreme and absurd lengths to keep ennui at bay.

In the role playing game The Burning Wheel, the Elves are immortal. As a consequence they are elegiac, tragic, and constantly grief-stricken. After all, the longer you live, the larger the number of friends you have seen die (generally in combat). Us older people have experienced a mild version of this: the older you get, the more of your beloved TV and movie actors you loved from childhood depart for that big silver screen in the sky. Especially in the year 2016.

In the movie Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End Captain Teague tells Jack Sparrow: "It's not just about living forever, Jackie. The trick is living with yourself forever."

In Glen Cook's The Dragon Never Sleeps people periodically make brain recordings as a backup. If they are killed, a new cloned body can be quickly warmed up and impressed with the latest recording for an instant resurrection. Sort of like playing a computer role playing game and saving the game periodically in case your player character unexpectedly dies. In fact, if the body of the dear departed has a brain that is not too damaged, it can be scanned to proved a back up more recent than the last brain recording.

However, since the powerful Houses in the novel are about as peaceful and innocent as the ones in The Game of Thrones, assassination is commonplace. So much so that a specialized weapon was developed: the skull-splitter. It fires a bullet of compressed metallic sodium which will totally fry the victim's brain beyond all hope of scanning. In other words is it a weapon specifically optimized to screw up the target's resurrection. Granted, it only eliminates the person's memories between now and the last backup recording, but that can be useful in carefully crafted political plots.

But immortality is not all bad. It comes in handy with slower-than-light space travel. Or even faster-than-light, the "anti-agathic" immortality drugs of James Blish's Cities In Flight series were developed because star travel at 20c still consumes a huge chunk of one's lifespan. In Robert Forward's Rocheworld, the drug No-Die slows the aging process to one-fourth the normal rate. Unfortunately it temporarily lowers intelligence by roughly the same factor. It is needed because the STL laser light-sail is going to take 42 years to fly to Barnard's Star, and a crew of retirement-age astronauts would do an exceedingly poor job of exploration.

Science fiction authors are also fond of teasing the reader about immortality. In Whatever Happened to Corporal Cuckoo? by Gerald Kersh the protagonist meets the eponymous Cuckoo who was born in 1507. He suffered a severe head trauma, and was treated by mad doctor Ambroise Paré with The Digestive (a concoction of oil of roses, honey, turpentine, and egg whites). This makes Cuckoo both immortal and invulnerable. Cuckoo wants to buy a farm to produce the needed ingredients so he can make a fortune selling The Digestive.

The protagonist torpeodes Cuckoo's plan by pointing out the wide variations in bee honey, eggs, et al. The chances of recreating the formula by using such organic ingredients is zilch.


Both men recognize the epithet. They interogate Na'toth, who claims the victim is Jha'Dur, more commonly known as Deathwalker, a notorious mass murderer and diabolical medical researcher who murdered her grandfather, among many others. Na'Toth's family has taken a bloodoath against her grandfather's killer. Sinclair is skeptical that the victim can be the same person, as the Dilgar War (where Deathwalker gained her infamy) was over thirty years earlier—the real Deathwalker would have to be an old woman, not the middle aged woman Na'Toth attacked. Nevertheless, Na'Toth insists she made no error.

Sinclair checks on the victim in Medlab. Dr. Franklin reports that she is healing well--and at a remarkable rate. Sinclair recognizes her species as Dilgar, despite the common belief that the entire Dilgar race was wiped out when their sun went nova at the end of the Dilgar War. This fact, coupled with both archival images as well as a Dilgar uniform Garibaldi finds aboard her ship suggest she is in fact Jha'dur, the Deathwalker. Garibaldi also recovers an elixir from the ship, one that Sinclair orders Franklin to investigate.

The woman finally awakens in Medlab. She angrily retrieves the elixir from Franklin (calling it her "life's work") and demands to meet with Sinclair.

Once in Medlab, Sinclair speaks to the woman privately. She confirms her identity as Jha'dur "Deathwalker." When he asks how she can be so young and vital, she explains that the elixir is an antiagapic, a serum that halts the aging process and makes the user immune to all diseases. She declares that with the help of the Earth Alliance, she will bring it to all corners of the galaxy.

As she prepares to leave, Jha'Dur is approached by Sinclair, who asks why she would be willing to give Earth such a miracle cure when Earth was responsible for turning the tide of the Dilgar's invasion. Jha'Dur explains that her race is gone and both her name and her people's are cursed throughout the galaxy—but her discovery will ensure that this will not remain their legacy.

Once again, Jha'Dur prepares to leave the station. She explains the truth about her formula: a key ingredient cannot be synthesized, but must be taken from a living being. In other words, for one person to live forever, another must die. She predicts this will cause humanity and every other race to "fall on one another like wolves," and the genocide that will result will be the true testament to her work. Her legacy will be to turn those who hate the Dilgar into worse criminals than they were.

Babylon 5 episode DEATHWALKER

      The Final Battle had been lost. On a million million planets across the galaxy-studded universe, mankind had been blasted into defeat and annihilation. The Others had returned from across the edge of the observable world, just as man had always feared. They had returned and ruthlessly exterminated the race from Earth.
     The Final Battle, from which Holman was fleeing, had been fought near an exploded galaxy billions of light-years from the Milky Way and Earth. There, with the ghastly bluish glare of uncountable shattered stars as a backdrop, the once-mighty fleets of mankind had been arrayed. Mortals and Immortals alike, men drew themselves up to face the implacable Others.
     The enemy won. Not easily, but completely. Mankind was crushed, totally. A few fleeing men in a few battered ships was all that remained. Even the Immortals, Holman thought wryly, had not escaped. The Others had taken special care to make certain that they were definitely killed.

     “And all you did was watch?”
     We tried to warn you from time to time. We tried to advise you. But the warnings, the contacts, the glimpses of the future that we gave you were always ignored or derided. So you boiled out into space for the second time, and met other societies at your own level of understanding — aggressive, proud, fearful. And like the children you are, you fought endlessly.
     “But the Others… what about them?”
     They are your punishment.
     “Punishment? For what? Because we fought wars?”

     No. For stealing immortality.
     “Stealing immortality? We worked for it. We learned how to make humans immortal. Some sort of chemicals. We were going to immortalize the whole race… I could’ve become immortal. Immortal. But they couldn’t stand that… the Others. They attacked us.”
     He sensed a disapproving shake of the head.
     “It’s true,” Holman insisted. “They were afraid of how powerful we would become once we were all immortal. So they attacked us while they still could. Just as they had done a million years earlier. They destroyed Earth’s first interstellar civilization, and tried to finish us permanently. They even caused Ice Ages on Earth to make sure none of us would survive. But we lived through it and went back to the stars. So they hit us again. They wiped us out. Good God, for all I know I’m the last human being in the whole universe.”

     Your knowledge of the truth is imperfect. Mankind could have achieved immortality in time. Most races evolve that way eventually. But you were impatient. You stole immortality.
     “Because we did it artificially, with chemicals. That’s stealing it?”
     Because the chemicals that gave you immortality came from the bodies of the race you called the Flower People. And to take the chemicals, it was necessary to kill individuals of that race.
     Holman’s eyes widened. “What?”
     For every human made immortal, one of the Flower Folk had to die.
     “We killed them? Those harmless little…” His voice trailed off.
     To achieve racial immortality for mankind, it would have been necessary to perform racial murder on the Flower Folk.
     Holman heard the words, but his mind was numb, trying to shut down tight on itself and squeeze out reality.
     That is why the Others struck. That is why they had attacked you earlier, during your first expansion among the stars. You had found another race, with the same chemical of immortality. You were taking them into your laboratories and methodically murdering them. The Others stopped you then. But they took pity on you, and let a few survivors remain on Earth. They caused your Ice Ages as a kindness, to speed your development back into civilization, not to hinder you. They hoped you might evolve into a better species. But when the opportunity for immortality came your way once more, you seized it, regardless of the cost, heedless of your own ethical standards. It became necessary to extinguish you, the Others decided.

From STARS, WON'T YOU HIDE ME? by Ben Bova (1966)

      Remontoire watched the last few members of the Closed Council take their seats around the tiered inner surface of the privy chamber. A number of the very old were still able to make their own way to their seats, but the majority were aided by servitors, exoskeletons or black clouds of thumb-sized drones. A few were so near the end of physical life that they had nearly abandoned the flesh entirely. They came in as heads, hooked up to spiderlike mobility prostheses. One or two were massively swollen brains so full of machinery that they could no longer be housed in skulls. The brains rode inside transparent fluid-filled domes dense with throbbing support machinery. They were the most extreme Conjoined, and by this stage most of their conscious activity would have devolved into the distributed web of greater Conjoiner thought. Each retained their brain like a family unwilling to demolish a crumbling mansion even though they hardly ever lived in it.

From REVELATION SPACE by Alastair Reynolds (2000)

      “Finding Laroo might well be impossible,” Krega warned. “Cerberus has the Warden organism, but it is a mutated strain. More of this will be explained on orientation, but you must trust to the fact that bodies are as interchangeable as clothes on Cerberus.”

     “At last count there were approximately 18,700,000 people on Cerberus,” Krega went on. “This is not a large population, but it has a very high growth rate. There are more jobs and space than people even now. Since the advent of Laroo’s rule the population has been expanding at a rate that almost doubles it every twenty years or so. We believe that only part of this population push is economic, though. Much of it, we think, is because, on a world of body switchers, the potential for immortality exists if there is a constant and available supply of young bodies. Laroo seems to have some control over this process, which is the ultimate political leverage. Naturally, this also means that, short of being killed, Laroo could literally rule forever.

     “As you can see, it is virtually impossible for anyone to masquerade as someone else, since it is a crime not to report a body change within eight hours of its occurrence.” She paused for a moment, then added, “For a society founded by what the Confederacy calls criminals, Cerberus has probably the most crime-free civilization in man’s history.”

     I could see that this thought disturbed some of the others, and it disturbed me to an extent, too. In the most literal sense of the word, this was probably the most totalitarian society ever built. Not that crime here was impossible—the society was computer-dependent, and anything computer-dependent could be manipulated. But the system had few weak spots, and the ultimate penalty of death for crimes was even more terrifying here, in a society where it might be possible to move from body to body and stay young—if there was a supply of bodies, and if the government let you.

     Were there old people here? I wondered. And if not, where did all the new, fresh bodies come from?

     “Why this taboo on talking about kids, though?”

     She looked at me strangely. “Right off the boat, aren’t you? Hell, think about it. Ever seen any old people?"

     “No. I assume the bodies wind up on mines someplace.”

     She nodded. “You got it. And where do the new bodies come from? A certain percentage come from us, that’s where (her job is being a baby factory). A baby a year, every year, and only a small population growth. It’s tough. They take most of ’em away from us after only a year—a real heart-breaker, too. Most of us send ’em all away to government child-care centers so we don’t have to go through any more pain than we have to. Have ‘em, nurse ’em, then forget ’em. Some get hardened to it, but some just get sick of it or fed up. You’re trapped, though, and you just keep at it until the docs say you gotta stop. Then you get a fresh young body if you have done well and made your life quota.”

     I had to admit it was sounding less and less pleasant. I was beginning to see why Laroo’s assumption of power had been accompanied by a population increase all out of proportion to the numbers. Although the system probably predated him, he would order stepped-up life quotas strictly out of paranoia. The top leadership’s one nightmare would be a declining birthrate.

     “Surely you can quit. A simple operation—”

     She laughed derisively. “Sure. And forget all about being reborn into a new body. Because you lack any useful skills, there’s only the dirtiest labor jobs to make any sort of a living, and that would be only if they let you. Most likely you’d just not find a job, be declared a vagrant, and then it’s a one-way trip to the mines, or maybe they’d just knock you off. Those mines are mostly automated—most folks don’t think too many people are really sent anywhere.”

     More information to file, but the subject was becoming increasingly unpleasant.

     The bitterness and frustration in her voice was very real, and for the first time I understood Otah’s attitude and the attitude of most Cerberans toward both the mothers and the subject of children. Nobody liked to think of children, since they realized that was where their new bodies would come from. Having once been young themselves, they really didn’t like to think they were robbing some kid of a lifetime, advancing him or her from fifteen to forty-five in one step, perhaps condemning him or her to death or forced labor on some airless moon. They knew—but they wanted to live, wanted their new bodies, and so they just didn’t talk about it, tried not to think about it, on the grounds that facts ignored were not facts at all. Seeing those who bore those children brought up all the guilt, so they were treated in the same way as people with some horrible disease. And they did carry such a plague—it was called conscience.

     What this told me was that they had already sold their souls. Sold them to Wagant Laroo. The population of Cerberus took on a whole new light for me that day, there in the bright sunshine and salt air. I remembered old horror stories of vampires—the living dead who drank the blood of the living to survive, to be immortal. And that’s what Cerberus really was—a planet of vampires.

     You’re lucky to be sent to Cerberus. Here you might live forever!

     Yeah, in absolute slavery to a government that could grant you eternal life—at the cost of an innocent child’s life—or take it away.

     “I don’t understand why they don’t just invest in cloning,” I told her. “They would still control the bodies and thus the people.”

     “They can’t,” she told me. “The Warden organism can’t cope with a clone in the early stages. The natural way’s the only way on any of the Diamond worlds.”

     Well, so much for the easy way out, I told myself. Still, there had to be better ways than this. Better managed with less heartbreak. I took a fresh look at Sanda Tyne. Tragic figure, perhaps, but the ultimate vampire herself.

     “I would think the lure of eternal life wouldn’t be enough for some people,” I noted. “Some might prefer death.”

     “Not outside the motherhood,” she responded. “And inside, yes, you’re right. But they monitor us very carefully for signs of depression and suicidal tendencies. Almost nobody really goes through with it—maybe two or three a year. The rest—well, I guess the will to live is too strong. And if you try it and don’t make it, they can put you through the ringer. You don’t have to have much of a brain to do what we do. They take you into a little room, point a little laser probe here”—she pointed to her forehead—“and zap! You walk around with this nice little smile on your face and you don’t do or think of nothin’, but you can still have babies.” She shivered. “I think I’d rather die than that—but you see? The penalty for not dyin’ is so much worse.”

     What a cheery afternoon I’m having, I thought sourly. Still, I truly understood and sympathized with Sanda and the others like her. There were better ways, I felt sure. Not less cruel, perhaps, to some of the children, for there would be a revolution here if the new bodies for old potential was destroyed, but at least for the people like Sanda. A technological world should allow mothers to be anything they wanted as well, and it should be able to meet its need not only to grow but also to replace. There was a simple system that would at least put the responsibility where it belonged.

     Everyone could be forced to bear his own replacement. Then he alone would have the option of killing his offspring or himself in the normal way. And, with body switching, assuming sterility was ended, everyone could bear his own replacement. That it was the only fair way. It Wouldn’t end cruelty to the kids who got stuck as replacements, but far fewer would take that option—and nobody could sweep the responsibility under a mental rug.

     This body-switching business sounded great at the beginning, but I was beginning now to see it for what it was —a disease. A disease that was population-wide and required a totalitarian system to maintain.

From CERBERUS: A WOLF IN THE FOLD by Jack Chalker (1982)

(ed note: the article starts by warning about global overpopulation. But then it talks about increasing average life span, and the Immortality Problem of demographic shift. Sadly, Asimov never thought about the economic problems that come with demographic shift)

      But if civilization survives, we can expect science and medicine to continue to win victories over disease and to continue to extend the average life span—which means that the birth rate must be lowered still more, if the population is not to explode again. If that is the case, then we will have to look forward to a society utterly different from any that has ever existed on Earth before—one with the old increasingly more numerous than the young.

     During almost all the history of the human race, mankind has lived under conditions where the death rate was high. Life expectancy varied from 25 to (very occasionally) 35, so that where the birth rate and death rate were equal, half the population was under 30. Where the birth rate was considerably higher than the death rate, so that the population was growing rapidly in numbers at the young end of the scale, half the population might be under 15. Through most of history, the number of people over 40 was never more than perhaps 20% of the whole, while the number of people over 65 was never more than perhaps 1% of the whole.

     In essence, then, almost all the societies mankind has experienced consisted largely of young people. Middle-aged people were a minority and old people were a rarity.

     In a society in which the birth rate was lowered and kept low and in which life expectancy was 70, then for the first time in the history of the human race, the accent would no longer be on youth.

     If the birth rate and death rate were equal, half the population would be over 70, at least two-thirds would be over 40. And if the birth rate sank lower than the death rate, as would be necessary in the 21st Century if civilization is to survive, then the percentage of the aging would increase even further.

     As a matter of fact, we are having a foretaste of such conditions here in the United States now, where, for a century, life expectancy has lengthened and the birth rate fallen.

     In 1900, when the life expectancy in the United States was only about 40 years, there were 3.1 million people over 65 out of a total population of 77 million, or just about 4%. By 1940, there were 9.0 million people over 65 out of a total population of 134 million, or 6.7%. In 1970, there were 20.2 million people over 65 out of a total population of 208 million, or nearly 10%. By the year 2000 there may be as many as 29 million people over 65 out of an estimated 240 million, or 12%.

     If civilization is to survive, we must see this trend become worldwide. It will be farewell to youth, and welcome to a world in which the accent will be on the middleaged and elderly.

     What would such a world of the middle-aged and elderly be like?

     Many might at once suppose the following:

     A world in which those over 40 form a substantial majority would be one in which the spirit, adventure and imagination of youth would dwindle and die under the stodgy conservatism and dullness of age. It would be one in which the burden of innovation and daring would rest on so few and the dead weight of the old would add so heavy an additional burden that mankind would sink and fall apart. A world of the middle-aged and elderly, many would insist, would be a static and even a decaying world in which all that man has always valued would disappear.

     Would this indeed be so? Are old people really a dead weight? Are they really a force for stagnation? The difficulty in answering this question rests in the fact that mankind has never experienced a really age-centered society.

     In almost all societies Earth has seen—only our own excepted—old people were a rarity, and were, for that very reason, valued. The occasional person who survived into old age could remember how things were before anyone else was born. He or she was the repository of past ways, the record-keeper of tradition, the village reference-book, library and oracle.

     But all those values, natural in a pre-industrial culture, are gone now. Old people are too common to be revered for their longevity. Nor does anyone need their memories and knowledge of ancient ways now that we keep records on paper, on microfilm, and within computers.

     In ancient times, it was the old men who ruled the church and the state. The word "priest" is from the Greek word for "old," the word "senator" is from the Latin word for "old." But now, with old people too common to regard, we value youth and vigor in government. Politicians dye their hair and practice moving with an athletic swing.

     In societies in which technology changed slowly, it was the old artisan, rich in experience and knowhow, who could be depended on for the good job, the skilled eye, the shrewd judgment. Now technology changes rapidly and it is the downycheeked college graduate we want, expecting him to bring with him the latest techniques. To make room for him, we forcibly retire the old at 65 or less, give each retiree a watch, a pension and a ticket to a park bench.

     In short, the notion that the middle-aged and elderly are necessarily a dead weight on society is a very modern notion, born of the fact that their numbers have increased and their functions have disappeared.

     And yet what if this modern notion is right? What if it were the ancients who were wrong, valuing the aged only because there were so few of them and mistaking feebleness for wisdom? If that were so, then surely the outlook for the 21st Century is dim, since if civilization is to survive at all, we will see then a society of the aging.

     Let's think about it. Suppose we consider, in the first place, what would seem to all of us a selfevident example of the inferiority of age. Surely there can be no argument that old people are not as strong or as healthy as young people and are not as capable of hard and extended labor.

     Since this is so, isn't it clear that the expanding population of the aging would contribute little to the world's work and demand much of the world's care, and that the shrinking population of young would not be able to support it all?

     Yet consider, on the other hand, that if society is flourishing in the 21st Century, there will have been a continuing scientific and technological advance. The two-century-old shift of hard manual labor from the straining backs of mankind to the stolid wheels and levers of the machine will continue and become more extensive and intensive. The present trend toward automation and computerization will continue to broaden its effects and the need for hard and extended physical labor—for which the young are better fitted—will continue to diminish.

     In the 21st Century, the world's work will not be primarily a matter of muscle and sinew, and athleticism will not be required. The weakening bodies of men and women, as they grow old, will not decrease the amount of their contribution to the working of society by very much.

     Then, too, we may also expect that medicine and its allied sciences will continue to advance, and we must remember that this implies more than a mere extension of the life span. We can see this clearly if we consider what has already happened.

     People today (1974) live, on the average, twice as long as did our ancestors of a century and a half ago. But that is not all. They are also healthier and stronger, on the average, at any given age than their ancestors were at that same age.

     It was not just that people died young in the days before modern medicine. Many of them were also visibly old at 30, a rare phenomenon today. Even if they lived, they had to survive the repeated bouts of infectious disease that we can now either prevent or easily cure. They had to live on deficient diets. They had no way of fighting diseased teeth and chronic infections, no way of ameliorating the effects of hormone malfunctioning, no way of countering dozens of other disabilities ; and they had to exhaust themselves with unending toil that machines do today.

     As a result, the aging of today are vigorous and "young" compared to those of identical years in the medieval days of knights and chivalry, and in the America of a century ago.

     We can assume that this trend toward more youthful older people will continue into the future if civilization survives. Medical science, for sheer lack of other problems, is already beginning a wholesale attack on the disease of old age itself, and it may win some local victories over it. It may be that the aging people of the 21st Century may be not very aging at all by our present standards.

     Between the greater vigor of old men and women and the lesser demands on them, physically, in the next century, the whole concept of "youth" and "age" may be blurred and the growing percentage of the aged will simply not represent a physical drain on society.

     Yet, even if we dismiss the importance of physical decay, it remains possible to argue that an aging population threatens the breakdown of society in other ways. Consider:

     As the need for brute muscle vanishes with increasing mechanization, and as the necessity for dull and repetitive mental labor diminishes with growing computerization, mankind will emerge into a world where the need will be precisely for that which is most fitting for our species' unique brain—creative and innovative thinking. It is that task that machines and computers will leave to humans.

     And might we not fear that this is precisely where age is most surely a liability? Is it not the experience of mankind that creativity and innovation are the hallmarks of youth? If we search through the history of human accomplishment, do we not find innumerable cases of young people achieving the new, the startling and the revolutionary against the clenched-jaw opposition of the old?

     This is true in every field, even in science where, above all, the rule is that of constant change. Max Planck, who devised the watershed quantum theory that utterly revolutionized the science of physics, said that the only way to get a radically new theory accepted by science was to wait for all the old scientists to die. And most people would agree with that, even though there are many examples in history of men and women who, into advanced old age, remained creative and receptive of the new.

     In that case, what can we expect of a world in which the old will increasingly outnumber the young? However young, strong and vigorous the aging might be in a physical sense, what good will that be if they are nevertheless an intolerably static force? The very increase in physical well-being and longevity may merely serve to make the general stodginess of the aged linger on the longer and poison society the more thoroughly. Will we witness a 21st Century society then, in which old individuals are strong and vigorous, but in which the whole society is mentally immobile? Will we see a tiny minority of younger creative individuals who will not be numerous enough to prevent society from sinking into a deep slumber that will last till finally mankind dies of apathy and boredom ?

     Will that indeed happen? Is it utterly impossible to imagine a combination of age and creativity? Can one be old, and yet eager to experiment and to experience the new?

     Isn't it possible, after all, that we ourselves create the conservatism of age by assuming, to begin with, that it will exist? There are self-fulfilling prophecies, you know.

     If people are told all their lives that it is a self-evident fact that with age they will cease being productive and creative, they will naturally believe it. They are then likely to settle down into stodginess because they have been preparing—even doomed—to do so for years. Would they do so to such a degree (or even at all) if they had always taken it for granted that someone who was creative and innovative in youth would continue to be so in age?

     We have found examples of self-fulfilling prophecies in other groups. Children who are expected by their teachers to do poorly at school tend, indeed, to do poorly. When, for some reason, those same children are expected to do well by some other teacher, they do do well. Perhaps, then, if we calmly suppose that the aging will do well—they will.

     Today, in America, we are trying to erase our prejudices—to blind ourselves to another's race, color, creed or sex and treat everyone for what he's worth as an individual. Presumably, this will become a world ideal as well.

     But we also need age-blindness. A man should be able to do the work he can do and wants to do without being hampered in this by any consideration of his age.

     And if we are going to have age-blindness, we need it, to begin with, in one all-important area. Throughout history, one vital social advantage has been reserved almost entirely for the young. This is the advantage of education.

     Let's consider education.

     Despite the gradual extension of the period of education, it continues to be associated with youth; it continues to have a kind of "cut-off date." There continues to be a strong feeling that there comes a time when an education is completed, and that this time is not very far along in a person's lifetime.

     In a sense, this lends an aura of disgrace to education. Most young people who chafe under the discipline of enforced schooling and the discomforts of incompetent teaching, can't help but notice that grown-ups need not go to school. One of the rewards of adulthood, it must surely seem to the rebellious youngster, is that of casting off the educational shackles. To them the ideal of outgrowing childhood is to reach a state of never having to learn anything again.

     The nature of education today, the ability to view it as the penalty of youth, puts a premium on failure. The youngster who drops out of school prematurely and who abandons further education to take some sort of immediate job, appears to his peers to have graduated to adulthood. The adult, on the other hand, who attempts to learn something new is often looked on with a vague amusement by many, and is considered as somehow betraying a second childishness.

     By equating education only with youth and by making it socially difficult for the average person to learn after the days of formal schooling are over, we leave that average person with nothing more than the information and attitudes he gained in his teen-age years—and then we complain of the stodginess of age.

     In a 21st Century that will be clearly weighted in the direction of age, the most effective aspect of age-blindness would be to break entirely with tradition and make education the continuing right of all. There should be no feeling that education automatically stops at a certain age or a certain stage. It may stop for an individual if that is his free choice, but it may not ; and those who freely choose to stop should be able, as freely, to return. Today this is so rare that if a grandmother gets a bachelor's degree the news photographers flock to the scene.

     With teaching and learning the great tasks of life, the social pressure will be toward continued learning, and in an extended lifetime it will seem natural to embark on a new field of knowledge or activity every decade or so. It seems quite reason- able to suppose that people who expect from youth on to be learning new things all their life long, will learn new things all their life long.

     Perhaps, because there will be more leisure time, many will keep learning new things to do only because they are enjoyable and interesting. This, in itself, will be an improvement over our present civilization which sees so many people learning to do what they like to do only after they have been retired from doing what they have to do. If some of the people in the 21st Century wish to spend much of their longer lives and educations in a sort of perpetual arts and crafts shop, taking up ceramics, water colors, chair caning, cabinet work, rughooking and so on, endlessly—that would be their privilege. But it could be objected that if this is what we would do with our extended educations, civilization would rot away nevertheless in a deadening pursuit of how to fill time and make ourselves comfortable.

     Yet the change to a lifelong education will give us a grand opportunity to reverse a trend which is quite recent in human history—the overspecialization that today sees accountants who cannot understand test pilots who cannot understand biologists who cannot understand mechanics who cannot understand chemists who cannot understand astronomers who cannot understand policemen who cannot understand plumbers.

     Our knowledge has grown so fast that in our present civilization nobody can keep up with it. It will keep growing. But it is likely, I think, if we bring the population under control, that we will have many more people widely educated in a host of useful pursuits, able to program their own computers, fix their own toilets, find new comets, replace their own spark plugs, treat diseases, tailor their own clothes, qualify for space explorations and cane chairs and paint watercolors. The same people. Their ancestors were as versatile as that in an age when knowledge was more primitive.

     The number of Ben Franklins and Leonardo da Vincis should increase, and even non-geniuses will develop versatility and usefulness across a wide sweep of subjects now reserved for specialists. This should make them more creative and self-reliant than most people can now hope to be—for want of enough knowledge outside their present narrow fields. And it should make the average man far wiser—for regardless of one's native intelligence, wisdom depends also on breadth of knowledge.

     In such a world the change of age pattern away from youth and toward more advanced years will not herald a decline in creativity and innovation. Quite the reverse, perhaps.

     Yet it might be argued that all this may still not prevent the slow stagnation of mankind—for growth and expansion, in the sense that we have become used to them, will be taboo. But the end of growth in numbers should only be the beginning of growth in every other direction—the growth of the mind, the growth of the individual and the expansion of human activity into the unknown.

     It is our present civilization, so taken up with the problems of overcrowding, which has produced so much restlessness about the drying up of meaningful growth and the imprisoning of so many humans in "meaningless" activities.

     Who can imagine what one billion people might do, when resources now demanded by three billion more people are freed for new purposes, and when time and human energy that are now devoted to wrestling with problems caused by overcrowding are likewise liberated for more constructive pursuits?

     We have already seen mankind move out in space to the Moon, in a moment of high adventure, only to draw back because poverty, pollution, housing and other ills of overcrowding demanded first call on our resources.

     We knew, in 1960, that the whole universe—from outer space to the depths of our own oceans and the insides of atoms—beckoned us to limitless new horizons and new frontiers. It still does and it always will, and man will never stagnate for want of new challenges so long as he lives in a limitless universe.

     Oddly, if this all comes to pass, it should please the future young minority most of all. They will be able to look forward to a longer and better life than anyone who preceded them. If it does not come to pass, the alternatives aren't apt to please anyone.


(ed note: In this story, the galactic emperor is immortal. Which sounds like it would be dangerously easy to wind up with an empire ruled eternally by an undying tyrant. But luckily there is an unplanned safeguard.

The galactic emperor rules justly and with due concern for all those affected by his decisions. Because if not, the emperor dies.

You see every few decades, the emperor undergoes immortality treatments. These prevent the emperor from dying from old age. But there is a side effect. During the treatment, the emperor sees every single thing they have done in their life. With intense recall.

If the emperor has made too many decisions which were without empathy, which were cruel to those under the emperor's rule, the replay of those memories will kill him.)

". . . The Just, the All-powerful, the All-knowing, His Celestial Majesty, Tate the First!"

He sat down.

Nobody moved anywhere. This was no ordinary function, where he granted audiences or issued the decrees which could alter the destiny of whole stellar systems. This was the time when he had to prove his fitness to rule, or die. In utter silence he pressed one of the two studs set in the arm of his throne, and tried to relax as golden bands of beautifully worked metal closed around his limbs, chest, and head, holding him rigid.

When given before the age of forty and renewed every twenty years, the Immortality Treatment prevented the disease of senility and death from occurring in life based on the carbon series of compounds—which meant practically all forms of life. There were thousands of dogs, cats, and monkeys to prove that it worked. But in beings of higher intelligence—human or otherwise—it did not work at all, unless the being in question was mentally very, very tough.

The radiation which stimulated the regenerative centers produced other effects as well, some of them good, others quite fatally bad. The treatment increased the I.Q., and gave to the mind a perfect, eidetic memory. It also, for the few seconds duration of the treatment, so intensified the effects of what had come to be called the "area of conscience" that any being having sufficient intelligence to base his actions on a moral code had to take three seconds of the most frightful psychological torture ever known. He had to live with the cruel, debased, and utterly nauseous creature that was himself.

Many preferred to die rather than take three seconds of it. Most had no such choice—their life force was obliterated with the first, savage blast of self-knowledge.

This secondary effect of the treatment was experienced in a complete reliving of the past, with each incident diamond-sharp in visual, auditory, and tactile sense recall. But not only that. The mind was given a terrifying insight into the end results of that being's most trivial-seeming actions. Unthinking words or gestures made over the years and forgotten, when blown up by the triple stimulus of perfect memory, increased I.Q., and a hypersensitive "conscience" became lethal as a suicide's bullets. The mind just could not take such an overwhelming blast of self-guilt, even for three seconds, so it, and the body containing it, died.

Only one person had successfully undergone the Immortality Treatment.

Tate, though he had lived—with thirty-seven previous treatments—for seven hundred and sixty-eight years, still took only three seconds. And there was no blurring or telescoping of events. Each incident was complete, and though it occupied only microseconds of time, each bore its charge of guilt potential.

From DYNASTY OF ONE by James White (1955)

      ‘It’s not as simple as that. What I’m telling you now I’ve discovered slowly—usually when I’ve been dreaming or slightly drunk. You may say that invalidates the evidence, but I don’t think so. At first it was the only way I could break through the barrier that separates me from Omega—I’ll tell you later why I’ve called him that. But now there aren’t any obstacles: I know he’s there all the time, waiting for me to let down my guard. Night and day, drunk or sober, I’m conscious of his presence. At times like this he’s quiescent, watching me out of the corner of his eye. My only hope is that he’ll grow tired of waiting, and go in search of some other victim.’
     Connolly’s voice, calm until now, suddenly came near to breaking.
     ‘Try and imagine the horror of that discovery: the effect of learning that every act, every thought or desire that flitted through your mind was being watched and shared by another being. It meant, of course, the end of all normal life for me. I had to leave Ruth and I couldn’t tell her why. Then, to make matters worse, Maude came chasing after me. She wouldn’t leave me alone, and bombarded me with letters and phone calls. It was hell. I couldn’t fight both of them, so I ran away. And I thought that on Syrene, of all places, he would find enough to interest him without bothering me.’

     ‘Now I understand,’ said Pearson softly. ‘So that’s what he’s after. A kind of telepathic Peeping Tom—no longer content with mere watching….’
     ‘I suppose you’re humouring me,’ said Connolly, without resentment. ‘But I don’t mind, and you’ve summed it up pretty accurately, as you usually do. It was quite a while before I realised what his game was. Once the first shock had worn off, I tried to analyse the position logically. I thought backward from that first moment of recognition, and in the end I knew that it wasn’t a sudden invasion of my mind. He’d been with me for years, so well hidden that I’d never guessed it. I expect you’ll laugh at this, knowing me as you do. But I’ve never been altogether at ease with a woman, even when I’ve been making love to her, and now I know the reason. Omega has always been there, sharing my emotions, gloating over the passions he can no longer experience in his body.

     ‘The only way I kept my control was by fighting back, trying to come to grips with him and to understand what he was. And in the end I succeeded. He’s a long way away and there must be some limit to his powers. Perhaps that first contact was an accident, though I’m not sure.
     ‘What I’ve told you already, Jack, must be hard enough for you to believe, but it’s nothing to what I’ve got to say now. Yet remember—you agreed that I’m not an imaginative man, and see if you can find a flaw anywhere in this story.

     ‘I don’t know if you’ve read any of the evidence suggesting that telepathy is somehow independent of time. I know that it is. Omega doesn’t belong to our age: he’s somewhere in the future, immensely far ahead of us. For a while I thought he must be one of the last men—that’s why I gave him his name. But now I’m not sure; perhaps he belongs to an age when there are a myriad different races of man, scattered all over the universe—some still ascending, others sinking into decay. His people, wherever and whenever they may be, have reached the heights and fallen from them into the depths the beasts can never know. There’s a sense of evil about him, Jack—the real evil that most of us never meet in all our lives. Yet sometimes I feel almost sorry for him, because I know what has made him the thing he is.
     ‘Have you ever wondered, Jack, what the human race will do when science has discovered everything, when there are no more worlds to be explored, when all the stars have given up their secrets? Omega is one of the answers. I hope he’s not the only one, for if so everything we’ve striven for is in vain. I hope that he and his race are an isolated cancer in a still healthy universe, but I can never be sure.
     ‘They have pampered their bodies until they are useless, and too late they have discovered their mistake. Perhaps they have thought, as some men have thought, that they could live by intellect alone. And perhaps they are immortal, and that must be their real damnation. Through the ages their minds have been corroding in their feeble bodies, seeking some release from their intolerable boredom. They have found it at last in the only way they can, by sending back their minds to an earlier, more virile age, and becoming parasites on the emotions of others.
     ‘I wonder how many of them there are? Perhaps they explain all cases of what used to be called possession. How they must have ransacked the past to assuage their hunger! Can’t you picture them, flocking like carrion crows around the decaying Roman Empire, jostling one another for the minds of Nero and Caligula and Tiberius? Perhaps Omega failed to get those richer prizes. Or perhaps he hasn’t much choice and must take whatever mind he can contact in any age, transferring from that to the next whenever he has the chance.

     ‘It was only slowly, of course, that I worked all this out. I think it adds to his enjoyment to know that I’m aware of his presence. I think he’s deliberately helping—breaking down his side of the barrier. For in the end, I was able to see him.’
     Connolly broke off. Looking around, Pearson saw that they were no longer alone on the hilltop. A young couple, hand in hand, were coming up the road toward the crucifix. Each had the physical beauty so common and so cheap among the islanders. They were oblivious to the night around them and to any spectators, and went past without the least sign of recognition. There was a bitter smile on Connolly’s lips as he watched them go.
     ‘I suppose I should be ashamed of this, but I was wishing then that he’d leave me and go after that boy. But he won’t; though I’ve refused to play his game any more, he’s staying to see what happens.’
     ‘You were going to tell me what he’s like,’ said Pearson, annoyed at the interruption. Connolly lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply before replying.

     ‘Can you imagine a room without walls? He’s in a kind of hollow, egg-shaped space—surrounded by blue mist that always seems to be twisting and turning, but never changes its position. There’s no entrance or exit—and no gravity, unless he’s learned to defy it. Because he floats in the centre, and around him is a circle of short, fluted cylinders, turning slowly in the air. I think they must be machines of some kind, obeying his will. And once there was a large oval hanging beside him, with perfectly human, beautifully formed arms coming from it. It could only have been a robot, yet those hands and fingers seemed alive. They were feeding and massaging him, treating him like a baby. It was horrible….
     ‘Have you ever seen a lemur or a spectral tarsier? He’s rather like that—a nightmare travesty of mankind, with huge malevolent eyes. And this is strange—it’s not the way one had imagined evolution going—he’s covered with a fine layer of fur, as blue as the room in which he lives. Every time I’ve seen him he’s been in the same position, half curled up like a sleeping baby. I think his legs have completely atrophied; perhaps his arms as well. Only his brain is still active, hunting up and down the ages for its prey.
     ‘And now you know why there was nothing you or anyone else could do. Your psychiatrists might cure me if I was insane, but the science that can deal with Omega hasn’t been invented yet.’

     ‘Your story’s as logical as mine, but neither of us can convince the other. If you’re right, then in time I may return to “normal”. You can’t imagine how real Omega is to me. He’s more real than you are: if I close my eyes you’re gone, but he’s still there. I wish I knew what he was waiting for! I’ve left my old life behind; he knows I won’t go back to it while he’s there. So what’s he got to gain by hanging on?’ He turned to Pearson with a feverish eagerness. ‘That’s what really frightens me, Jack. He must know what my future is—all my life must be like a book he can dip into where he pleases. So there must still be some experience ahead of me that he’s waiting to savour. Sometimes—sometimes I wonder if it’s my death.’

     He never saw the flash of the gun or heard the feeble but adequate explosion. The world he knew had faded from his sight, and around him now were the fixed yet crawling mists of the blue room. Staring from its centre—as they had stared down the ages at how many others?—were two vast and lidless eyes. They were satiated for the moment, but for the moment only.

From THE PARASITE by Arthur C. Clarke (1953)

      "I'll ask a question, you try to answer it. Between us, we may come up with something. Look, obviously the Norms didn't arrange this because they got the roughest deal of the lot. The Delinks did very little better and, come to think of it, the stinkers didn't rake off any cream, which leaves us with the Geeks. Think it's the Geeks?"
     "No," flatly.
     "Why not?"
     "For the very obvious reason that until six years ago there were no Geeks. This business has been going on for over three centuries."
     Gammon said "Damn!" explosively. "That leaves us with the unpleasant thought that this is the work of outsiders—aliens. Sounds a bit melodramatic."
     "Unfortunately, melodramatic or otherwise, it is the most logical conclusion."

     Gammon's eyes narrowed. "I agree up to a point but there are holes in the theory through which I could drive a brigade of armor-floats in battle formation. Take our invader, call him 'Ugly.' Ugly arrives here with enough gimmicks and telepathic what-have-yous to conquer the entire world in six weeks flat, coffee breaks included. At the end of three hundred years, however, he still appears to be fumbling around trying to figure out what to do next. It doesn't make sense and, on top of this, while wearing himself to death on this divide-and-destroy-when-I-get-around-to-it technique, he permits a new dispensation to arise… an advanced breed of man who might, in the long run, kick him clean off the planet."
     "Or," said Toynbee, softly, "do the final destroying job for him."
     Gammon blanched. "I wish you hadn't brought that up. You're right, of course, too right, and because of it I'm going to have some damn sleepless nights. On the other hand, this easy-plan, long-term credit invasion still doesn't make sense."

     IN THE FORT, Gammon's cigarette twitched at the corner of his mouth as he read through Craig's latest report.
     Finally he put it down. "From a scientific angle this is completely without merit. Every fact mentioned is derived from this group's peculiar talents. I'm inclined to distrust this crystal ball viewpoint."
     Toynbee looked at him. "I have the feeling that you are talking to convince yourself."
     Gammon frowned. "There are occasions when I think we have worked together too damn long. All right, damn you, the report may not be scientific, maybe these Stinkers did just sit around feeling things, but the conclusions are logical."

     Toynbee grinned. "Suppose you summarize—just for a change."
     Gammon smiled twistedly. "As you wish." He tossed across a sheet of paper. "That is what the Stinkers think the invaders looked like. It was drawn by one of them, a man named Miguel."
     Toynbee studied it and shuddered slightly. "I think I'd prefer to sit down with a Stinker." He looked again at the round head with its triangular eyes and curled proboscis. The thing had a barrel body, squat legs and long thin supple arms which almost reached the ground.
     Gammon, watching his expression, said, "Pity it."
     "Pity it!"
     "You heard me. According to what the Stinkers felt, it was a gentle, peace-loving and highly advanced life-form. It came here under duress, bluntly, at gun point. The skeletons we found, some odd hundred thousand, were all that remained of a once thriving civilization."
     Toynbee frowned at him. "You're not making very much sense."
     "Not yet I'm not. Listen, the Stinkers think these unfortunate creatures were carriers for some sort of parasite." He paused and looked at the other directly. "Look, just as a kind of confirmation and assuming the conclusions are correct, could you carry on from there?"
     "You mean draw logical conclusions from the data so far to hand?"

     "Well—" Toynbee frowned. "Assuming these creatures were, as you suggest, parasites,, one must conclude, since they needed carriers, they were comparatively helpless."
     "Go on, you're doing fine."
     "The parasites, then, were the real invaders and they got here using the advanced technology of another life-form. Let's see now, since they were comparatively helpless, they needed that advanced technology both to establish themselves and to construct a hideout and/or hideouts from which they could operate."
     Toynbee paused and paled slightly. "I'm not sure I care for my own logic."
     "Never mind that—I don't care for it either. So far you're bearing out everything Craig has said."
     "Thanks for nothing. Where was I? Oh, yes. Conclusion one. Having established themselves, they then concealed the means of their invasion by the telepathic illusion of a Texas mountain. There is a subsidiary and unpleasant conclusion to be drawn from that. Having played their part, I am quite sure that the carriers did not destroy themselves in a wild orgy of self-loathing. I think they were ordered to destroy themselves, their technology and all clues as to their planet of origin in case, subsequently, that same technology might be used against them or provide a clue as to the whereabouts of the parasites themselves."
     "How do you mean—ordered?"
     "You would bring that one up, wouldn't you? I think the invaders exercised intense telepathic control over their carriers."

     Gammon paled. "If I didn't know otherwise I'd say you read this damn report over my shoulder. Anything else?"
     "One other point, the most frightening of all. The invaders are still here and still taking over. I think, by our standards, they are well-nigh immortal and can afford to take their time."
     Gammon nodded. "It fits and not only fits but confirms the Stinkers' conclusions. I have an uncomfortable feeling, however, drawing on my limited knowledge of parasites, that these things, having sucked us dry of whatever they want, will move on. In a couple of million years, maybe, the one hundred thousand remaining humans will be dumping these creatures on some other unfortunate planet. Whereupon, having carried out all their orders, they will be telepathically forced to destroy themselves."

     "I wish you'd shut up," said Toynbee uneasily. He sighed. "The Stinkers don't know where these parasites are?"
     "No. They are working on it but these flying things in the sky are fouling up the wavelengths or whatever they use."
     "That's neat too," said Toynbee bitterly. "These things sit around in armchairs with their presumed legs crossed and let their mechanical gimmicks divide humanity up for the slaughter. No, that's wrong; they don't want to slaughter us. They want some of us here to use. Not only are they parasites, but sooner or later, they'll want carriers again."
     He rose, abruptly. "Gammon, we've got to find them. If we have to drain the oceans and sift every grain of sand in existence we've got to find them."

     Before he could pause to study them, however, malevolence seemed to strike him with almost physical force and his eyes were drawn to the contents of the room.
     Tanks, row upon row of square transparent tanks, filled to the top with a darkish liquid. Above each tank was a sort of framework and from framework hung…
     Gammon looked again and shuddered. The thing looked like a huge and partly skinned bat, and it hung half in and half out of the liquid. It had no eyes, no wings but its resemblance to a huge bat was unmistakable. The things pulsed slowly and regularly like the throats of toads.
     Gammon turned to the Commander, who was staring almost pop-eyed at the scene.
     "Bring down the Seventh Weapon," he said softly. "Dump it smack in the middle of this lot, set the timing for reasonable evacuation and seal this place up." He looked about him. "God, I'm going to enjoy watching this lot fry. I can feel no pity whatever."
     Five hours later, an area of ground which had once held Fort Knox heaved like the back of a wounded animal. Jets of vapor hissed from sudden fissures and abruptly ignited into five hundred foot geysers of flame. The surface of the earth smoked, became a red crust and crumbled into an ever widening crater.

     "What I don't understand," said Gammon, after broaching his subject, "is what these damn parasites got out of it. They were completely helpless, blind and presumably disinterested in the planet they had conquered. Why did they do it?"
     Craig smiled. "You're almost answering the question yourself but, as it's somewhat involved, I'd better explain."
     He paused to smile at his wife sitting some distance away. "I don't know how these creatures began but presumably they evolved to their present state of outward helplessness. Not that helplessness mattered, since they could always enslave some other unfortunate life-form to take care of their wants."
     "I'm afraid," said Toynbee, "I am unable to perceive any particular elation in hanging upside down in a tank of fluid even if someone does take care of your needs."
     Craig laughed. "I'm afraid you're both missing the point. Our invader, specifically, was not blind, not helpless. He was enjoying every possible physical experience and, at the same time, drinking the most intoxicating wine of all—absolute power."

     They stared at him blankly. Finally Toynbee said, "How?"
     "Through his host, of course. The invader was telepathic. Everything the host experienced the parasite experienced and, if he liked that particular experience, he could do a little mental manipulation to get some more."
     "The invader saw, but through the eyes of his hosts, moved and felt through the same medium and, each time, absorbed a quota of knowledge from the same source."
     "I assume and I can only assume, mind you, that after a time it paled. The invader had run through the whole range of the host's experiences, wearied of that particular world and wanted to move on."
     Craig sighed and shook his head. "The last time that happened, they gave their usual tele-hypnotic orders and the hosts went out to find one for them. Unfortunately they found us and the parasites moved on."

From INVADER ON MY BACK by Philip E. High (1968)

      WELT'S THOUGHTS were interrupted by Bridgeman, his alleged aide.
     Bridgeman placed a pile of reports on the desk, dropped into the nearest chair and scowled at his fingernails. "Damn bad. "Welt didn't answer. He looked at the reports, at Bridgeman, and, suddenly weary, tried to decide which he hated most. Not that he had anything against the man directly, it was just that his very presence set him on edge. The cropped head, the bulging vacuous blue eyes, the short thick neck—after an association of a century and a half you couldn't help hating a man, could you? Bridgeman's nervous pomposity, the "fat" voice, his infuriating habit of clearing his throat noisily in mid-sentence, his inexhaustible repertoire of banalities.
     Welt sighed inwardly. It was the same with everything, wasn't it? Like his last wife, the one before and the one before that. You not only knew what they were going to say but how they were going to say it. You got to know them so well that life became a series of endless and wearisome repetitions. Somehow, suddenly and frighteningly, you were trapped by longevity; you were afraid to die but burdened with living; the years stretched endlessly ahead apparently with no goal.

     He was not alone in this feeling, all of them—that was another thing.
     He had gone to the Supreme about that.

     "You demanded longevity. I gave it to you."
     "Many of us are suffering nervous reactions."
     "Did you, at the time of your demand, inquire as to possible side effects?"
     "No, we had no idea that—"
     "Then the omission was yours, not mine. The subject is closed."

     Welt shivered, recalling many such interviews, and, more as an escape than anything else, he reached for the reports.

From REALITY FORBIDDEN by Philip E. High (1967)

It had been a serious mistake, Dr Bose often thought, to put the United Planets Headquarters on the Moon. Inevitably, Earth tended to dominate the proceedings—as it dominated the landscape beyond the dome. If they had to build here, perhaps they should have gone to the Farside, where that hypnotic disc never shed its rays.

But, of course, it was much too late to change, and in any case there was no real alternative. Whether the colonies liked it or not, Earth would be the cultural and economic overlord of the solar system for centuries to come.

Dr Bose had been born on Earth, and had not emigrated to Mars until he was thirty, so he felt that he could view the political situation fairly dispassionately. He knew now that he would never return to his home planet, even though it was only five hours away by shuttle. At 115, he was in perfect health, but he could not face the reconditioning needed to accustom him to three times the gravity he had enjoyed for most of his life. He was exiled for ever from the world of his birth; not being a sentimental man, this had never depressed him unduly.

What did depress him sometimes was the need for dealing, year after year, with the same familiar faces. The marvels of medicine were all very well—and certainly he had no desire to put back the clock—but there were men around this conference table with whom he had worked for more than half a century. He knew exactly what they would say and how they would vote on any given subject. He wished that, some day, one of them would do something totally unexpected—even something quite crazy.

And probably they felt exactly the same way about him.

From RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA by Arthur C. Clarke (1973)

Future Addictions

Why fool around with messy recreational drugs when you can use more high-tech methods? Nirvana is just a wire away.

On the negative side, these new methods typically result in iridium-steel level addictions that make opioid addiction look like a mild fondness for Necco Wafers.

REALITY FORBIDDEN by Phillip E. High (1967)
     Society crumbles with the advent of the "dream machines." These stimulate the brain so that the wildest fantasies of the user become real within their mind. Things get weird when occasionally things imagined in fantasy start manifesting in the real world.
DREAMING IS A PRIVATE THING by Isaac Asimov (1955)
     Professional "dreamers" can use dream recorder machine to create hour long "dreamies". These are much like movies on video tape, save that the dreamie player machine displays the dream in the user mind instead of on a TV screen. Like all communication technologies through history, this is eventually used to create pornography.
     Researchers invent a machine that directly records and replays the sensory experiences and emotional feelings of a subject. A person can record a delicious meal at a three-Michelin-star-restaurant, and anybody replaying the tape has the sensation of eating the same fabulous meal. The same goes for sky-diving, big game hunting, or any other experience.
     Like all communication technologies through history, this is eventually used to create pornography. One of the more irresponsible team members secretly uses the machine to record a sexual encounter with his girl friend. Things get grim when he shares the tape with a colleague. Said colleague does something very stupid. He clips out just the part of the tape containing the actual orgasm, and splices it into a continuous loop. Then he plays it. He is found a day later in his home still hooked up to the still looping tape. He's alive, but the sensory overload has prematurely aged his brain.
     However, things get grimmer when the government seizes control of the project. It starts applying the technology to weapons control, brainwashing, and psychological torture.
     But the really weird stuff only happens after one of the researchers realizes that she is having a fatal heart attack, and records her own death...
     Inspired by the James Olds and Peter Milner experiments of inserting electrodes into the pleasure centers of a rat's brain, in Niven's universe people become "wireheads." They are addicts who have the electrodes surgically implanted, and connected to a transformer that can be plugged into a house-hold electrical outlet. Typically they lie in a chair until they die of starvation, because they never want to disconnect.
     Further in the future, a manipulative alien figures out how to make a beamed energy weapon that will stimulate the target's pleasure center, at a distance and with no electrodes needed. This fiendish device is called a "tasp." Irresponsible people think it is a big joke to use the tasp on some random person they see on the street. The slang phrase for this activity is "Make Your Day."
SLEEPER (1973)
     In the year 2173, most men are functionally impotent. So in lieu of physical sex, a couple will enter a phone-booth sized device called an "orgasmatron" for a five-second session.
     In the one surviving high-tech city, a street-thug spy named Zone Boy reports to Lord Dread by a brain-telephone link. The thug is not paid in money, instead he is paid by an electrical charge into his brain's pleasure center.
EARTH by David Brin
     In the future, anti-sin enforcement reaches an impasse. Using brain scans and biofeedback techniques, people can teach themselves how to become high on drugs: on command, and without actually needing any drugs. They learn how to make their brains experience euphoria.
     Since they are not using any controlled substances, the police cannot arrest anybody doing this since it is not against the law. Actually the police have no way of even detecting if people are actually doing it, other than the smile on their faces.

      “The Dream Palace!” screamed a scarlet xenon-sign on its facade. “Biggest dreamhouse on Venus!"
     Stanton strode inside. He found himself in a big, quiet, dimly-lighted hall across the front of the place. A dull-faced attendant touched a button as Stanton entered. Presently, out of a small office at the side, came a foppish, effeminate Venusian in elegant silks, who greeted the Earthman warmly.
     “Welcome to our little house of dreams,” he said suavely. “I am Slih Drin, the proprietor.” He smiled thinly. “You wear the necessary electrodes, of course?”
     “Of course,” Stanton told him. “This isn’t my first dream.”
     He parted the thick black hair behind his ears. Two tiny metal electrodes which had been surgically inserted into his skull to connect with nerve-endings came into view.
     “Ah, yes,” breathed Slih Drin, beaming. “And what kind of dream would you prefer tonight, sir? Would you like to visit an imaginary world of living colors, a kaleidoscopic universe such as one can only see in dreams? Or perhaps you would like to have the experience of being an animal, or bird, or fish?
     “Or perhaps,” the Venusian went on to retail his dream-wares, “you would like a charming love story, in which you woo and win a girl more beautiful than any real girl could be?”
     “None of all that for me,” Stanton replied contemptuously. “I want action in my dreams—adventure, and lots of it.”

     Slih Drin motioned to the attendant, who went to a cabinet filled with flat spools of metal tape. He brought back one of the spools to the proprietor, who then led Stanton along one of the dimly lit corridors. Stanton’s eyes searched the place keenly. Some of the doors along the corridor were open, and he looked through them into little dusky cubicles. In each cubicle was a couch, on which a man or woman lay in deep sleep. To the skull-electrodes of each sleeper were attached two wires that led to a squat, humming machine at the head of the couch.
     Dream-adventures were the most popular entertainment in the whole Solar System now. They had replaced the telepicture shows on every planet. For in these popular dream-houses, anyone could experience any adventure desired, and it would seem like an utterly real experience. And while dreams were rather expensive, they were in no way harmful. Stanton saw a big Jovian lying face-down in one cubicle, breathing heavily in the dream-sleep. In another, a beautiful Venusian woman lay, and in another a white-haired old man. Ail of them attaining their heart’s desire in this house of dreams!

     Slih Drin led him into an empty cubicle, and motioned to the couch. As Stanton lay down on it, Slih Drin put the spool of tape into the dream-machine’s holder, and touched a switch. With a faint humming, the spool began turning. Gently, the effeminate Venusian plugged the two wires from the machine into the tiny electrodes in Stanton’s skull. He felt a wave of darkness flow through his brain as he rapidly sank into the sleep.
     “Now I leave you to happiness, sir,” he dimly heard Slih Drin saying, as though from a great distance.
     Stanton was already deep in shoreless blackness. Soothing electrical vibrations from the machine were drugging his nerves and brain. Then, slowly, light began to appear in the darkness. It was not really light, Stanton’s fading consciousness was aware. It was only an electrical impulse from the dream-machine that gave his brain the sensation of light.

     The principle of the dream-machine was old. Long ago, men had learned that the brain received all bodily sensations as electrical impulses through its nerve-system. They had found that if they produced such electric impulses artificially, and transmitted them into the brain, the brain was deceived by them and experienced sensations which seemed perfectly real. Long research had classified the different electric impulses which brought different sensations to the brain. It was only necessary to transmit such impulses to the brain in correct order, by means of a tape-record, to make the brain experience any desired sensations or adventures.

From DOOM OVER VENUS by Edmond Hamilton (1940)

(ed note: Jesse Weill is the CEO of Dreams, Inc. They and their competitors produce the new popular entertainment called "dreamies". You put on a head-set, insert the dreamie cartridge, and hit the play button. You will fall asleep and experience the dream movie as if you were dreaming it. The dreams are created by trained dreamers who wear a recording head-set.

One fine day Mr. Weill has a meeting with an obnoxious man from the government.)

      Jesse Weill’s two o’clock appointment was with a young man, apple-cheeked, spectacled, sandy-haired and glowing with the intensity of a man with a mission (i.e., an idealistic conservative reactionary). He presented his credentials across Weill’s desk and revealed himself to be John J. Byrne, an agent of the Department of Arts and Sciences.
     “Good afternoon, Mr. Byrne,” said Weill. “In what way can I be of service?”
     “Are we private here?” asked the agent. He had an unexpected baritone.
     “Quite private.”
     “Then, if you don’t mind, I’ll ask you to absorb this.” Byrne produced a small and battered cylinder and held it out between thumb and forefinger.
     Weill took it, hefted it, turned it this way and that and said with a denture-revealing smile, “Not the product of Dreams, Inc., Mr. Byrne.”
     “I didn’t think it was,” said the agent. “I’d still like you to absorb it. I’d set the automatic cutoff for about a minute, though.”
     “That’s all that can be endured?” Weill pulled the receiver to his desk and placed the cylinder into the unfreeze compartment. He removed it, polished either end of the cylinder with his handkerchief and tried again. “It doesn’t make good contact,” he said. “An amateurish job.”
     He placed the cushioned unfreeze helmet over his skull and adjusted the temple contacts, then set the automatic cutoff. He leaned back and clasped his hands over his chest and began absorbing.

     His fingers grew rigid and clutched at his jacket. After the cutoff had brought absorption to an end, he removed the unfreezer and looked faintly angry. “A raw piece,” he said. “It’s lucky I’m an old man so that such things no longer bother me.”
     Byrne said stiffly, “It’s not the worst we’ve found. And the fad is increasing.”
     Weill shrugged. “Pornographic dreamies. It’s a logical development, I suppose.
     The government man said, “Logical or not, it represents a deadly danger for the moral fiber of the nation.”
     “The moral fiber,” said Weill, “can take a lot of beating. Erotica of one form or another have been circulated all through history.”
     “Not like this, sir. A direct mind-to-mind stimulation is much more effective than smoking room stories or filthy pictures. Those must be filtered through the senses and lose some of their effect in that way.”

     Weill could scarcely argue that point. He said, “What would you have me do?”
     “Can you suggest a possible source for this cylinder?”
     “Mr. Byrne, I’m not a policeman.”
     “No, no, I’m not asking you to do our work for us. The Department is quite capable of conducting its own investigations. Can you help us, I mean, from your own specialized knowledge? You say your company did not put out that filth. Who did?”
     “No reputable dream distributor. I’m sure of that. It’s too cheaply made.”
     “That could have been done on purpose.”
     “And no professional dreamer originated it.”
     “Are you sure, Mr. Weill? Couldn’t dreamers do this sort of thing for some small, illegitimate concern for money—or for fun?”
     “They could, but not this particular one. No overtones. It’s two-dimensional. Of course, a thing like this doesn’t need overtones.”

     “What do you mean, overtones?”
     Weill laughed gently. “You are not a dreamie fan?”
     Byrne tried not to look virtuous and did not entirely succeed. “I prefer music.”
     “Well, that’s all right, too,” said Weill tolerantly, “but it makes it a little harder to explain overtones. Even people who absorb dreamies would not be able to explain if you asked them. Still they’d know a dreamie was no good if the overtones were missing, even if they couldn’t tell you why. Look, when an experienced dreamer goes into reverie, he doesn’t think a story like in the old-fashioned television or book films. It’s a series of little visions. Each one has several meanings. If you studied them carefully, you’d find maybe five or six. While absorbing in the ordinary way, you would never notice, but careful study shows it. Believe me, my psychological staff puts in long hours on just that point. All the overtones, the different meanings, blend together into a mass of guided emotion. Without them, everything would be flat, tasteless.
     “Now, this morning, I tested a young boy. A ten-year-old with possibilities. A cloud to him isn’t a cloud, it’s a pillow, too. Having the sensations of both, it was more than either. Of course, the boy’s very primitive. But when he’s through with his schooling, he’ll be trained and disciplined. He’ll be subjected to all sorts of sensations. He’ll store up experience. He’ll study and analyze classic dreamies of the past. He’ll learn how to control and direct his thoughts, though, mind you, I have always said that when a good dreamer improvises—“

     Weill halted abruptly, then proceeded in less impassioned tones, “I shouldn’t get excited. All I try to bring out now is that every professional dreamer has his own type of overtones which he can’t mask. To an expert it’s like signing his name on the dreamie. And I, Mr. Byrne, know all the signatures. Now that piece of dirt you brought me has no overtones at all. It was done by an ordinary person. A little talent, maybe, but like you and me, he really can’t think.”
     Byrne reddened a trifle. “A lot of people can think, Mr. Weill, even if they don’t make dreamies.”
     “Oh, tush,” and Weill wagged his hand in the air. “Don’t be angry with what an old man says. I don’t mean think as in reason. I mean think as in dream. We all can dream after a fashion, just like we all can run. But can you and I run a mile in four minutes? You and I can talk, but are we Daniel Websters? Now when I think of a steak, I think of the word. Maybe I have a quick picture of a brown steak on a platter. Maybe you have a better pictorialization of it and you can see the crisp fat and the onions and the baked potato. I don’t know. But a dreamer … He sees it and smells it and tastes it and everything about it, with the charcoal and the satisfied feeling in the stomach and the way the knife cuts through it and a hundred other things all at once. Very sensual. Very sensual. You and I can’t do it.”

     “Well, then,” said Byrne, “no professional dreamer has done this. That’s something anyway.” He put the cylinder in his inner jacket pocket. “I hope we’ll have your full cooperation in squelching this sort of thing.”
     “Positively, Mr. Byrne. With a whole heart.”
     “I hope so.” Byrne spoke with a consciousness of power. “It’s not up to me, Mr. Weill, to say what will be done and what won’t be done, but this sort of thing,” he tapped the cylinder he had brought, “will make it awfully tempting to impose a really strict censorship on dreamies.(and you'd like that, you puritanical little government weasel)
     He rose. “Good day, Mr. Weill.”
     “Good day, Mr. Byrne. I’ll hope always for the best.”

Francis Belanger burst into Jesse Weill’s office in his usual steaming tizzy, his reddish hair disordered and his face aglow with worry and a mild perspiration. He was brought up sharply by the sight of Weill’s head cradled in the crook of his elbow and bent on the desk until only the glimmer of white hair was visible.
     Belanger swallowed. “Boss?”
     Weill’s head lifted. “It’s you, Frank?”
     “What’s the matter, boss? Are you sick?”
     “I’m old enough to be sick, but I’m on my feet. Staggering, but on my feet. A government man was here.”
     “What did he want?”
     “He threatens censorship. He brought a sample of what’s going round. Cheap dreamies for bottle parties.”
     “God damn!” said Belanger feelingly.
     “The only trouble is that morality makes for good campaign fodder. They’ll be hitting out everywhere. And, to tell the truth, we’re vulnerable, Frank.”
     “We are? Our stuff is clean. We play up straight adventure and romance.”
     Weill thrust out his lower lip and wrinkled his forehead. “Between us, Frank, we don’t have to make believe. Clean? It depends on how you look at
     it. It’s not for publication, maybe, but you know and I know that every dreamie has its Freudian connotations. You can’t deny it.”
     “Sure, if you look for it. If you’re a psychiatrist—“
     “If you’re an ordinary person, too. The ordinary observer doesn’t know it’s there and maybe he couldn’t tell a phallic symbol from a mother image even if you pointed it out. Still, his subconscious knows. And it’s the connotations that make many a dreamie click.”
     “All right, what’s the government going to do? Clean up the subconscious?”
     “It’s a problem. I don’t know what they’re going to do. What we have on our side, and what I’m mainly depending on, is the fact that the public loves its dreamies and won’t give them up.

     … Meanwhile, what did you come in for? You want to see me about something, I suppose?”
     Belanger tossed an object onto Weill’s desk and shoved his shirttail deeper into his trousers.
     Weill broke open the glistening plastic cover and took out the enclosed cylinder. At one end was engraved in a too fancy script in pastel blue “Along the Himalayan Trail.” It bore the mark of Luster-Think.
     “The Competitor’s Product.” Weill said it with capitals, and his lips twitched. “It hasn’t been published yet. Where did you get it, Frank?”
     “Never mind. I just want you to absorb it.”
     Weill sighed. “Today, everyone wants me to absorb dreams. Frank, it’s not dirty?”
     Belanger said testily, “It has your Freudian symbols. Narrow crevasses between the mountain peaks. I hope that won’t bother you.”
     “I’m an old man. It stopped bothering me years ago, but that other thing was so poorly done, it hurt. … All right, let’s see what you’ve got here.”

     Again the recorder. Again the unfreezer over his skull and at the temples. This time, Weill rested back in his chair for fifteen minutes or more, while Francis Belanger went hurriedly through two cigarettes.
     When Weill removed the headpiece and blinked dream out of his eyes, Belanger said, “Well, what’s your reaction, boss?”
     Weill corrugated his forehead. “It’s not for me. It was repetitious. With competition like this, Dreams, Inc., doesn’t have to worry for a while.”
     “That’s your mistake, boss. Luster-Think’s going to win with stuff like this. We’ve got to do something.”
     “Now, Frank—“
     “No, you listen. This is the coming thing.”
     “This!” Weill stared with a half-humorous dubiety at the cylinder. “It’s amateurish, it’s repetitious. Its overtones are very unsubtle. The snow had a distinct lemon sherbet taste. Who tastes lemon sherbet in snow these days, Frank? In the old days, yes. Twenty years ago, maybe. When Lyman Harrison first made his Snow Symphonies for sale down south, it was a big thing. Sherbet and candy-striped mountaintops and sliding down chocolate-covered cliffs. It’s slapstick, Frank. These days it doesn’t go.”

     “Because,” said Belanger, “you’re not up with the times, boss. I’ve got to talk to you straight. When you started the dreamie business, when you bought up the basic patents and began putting them out, dreamies were luxury stuff. The market was small and individual. You could afford to turn out specialized dreamies and sell them to people at high prices.”
     “I know,” said Weill, “and we’ve kept that up. But also we’ve opened a rental business for the masses.”
     “Yes, we have and it’s not enough. Our dreamies have subtlety, yes. They can be used over and over again. The tenth time you’re still finding new things, still getting new enjoyment. But how many people are connoisseurs? And another thing. Our stuff is strongly individualized. They’re First Person.”

     “Well, Luster-Think is opening dream palaces. They’ve opened one with three hundred booths in Nashville. You walk in, take your seat, put on your unfreezer and get your dream. Everyone in the audience gets the same one.”
     “I’ve heard of it, Frank, and it’s been done before. It didn’t work the first time and it won’t work now. You want to know why it won’t work? Because, in the first place, dreaming is a private thing. Do you like your neighbor to know what you’re dreaming? In the second place, in a dream palace, the dreams have to start on schedule, don’t they? So the dreamer has to dream not when he wants to but when some palace manager says he should. Finally, a dream one person likes another person doesn’t like. In those three hundred booths, I guarantee you, a hundred fifty people are dissatisfied. And if they’re dissatisfied, they won’t come back.”

     Slowly, Belanger rolled up his sleeves and opened his collar. “Boss,” he said, “you’re talking through your hat. What’s the use of proving they won’t work? They are working. The word came through today that Luster-Think is breaking ground for a thousand-booth palace in St. Louis. People can get used to public dreaming, if everyone else in the same room is having the same dream. And they can adjust themselves to having it at a given time, as long as it’s cheap and convenient.
     “Damn it, boss, it’s a social affair. A boy and a girl go to a dream palace and absorb some cheap romantic thing with stereotyped overtones and commonplace situations, but still they come out with stars sprinkling their hair. They’ve had the same dream together. They’ve gone through identical sloppy emotions. They’re in tune, boss. You bet they go back to the dream palace, and all their friends go, too.”
     “And if they don’t like the dream?”
     “That’s the point. That’s the nub of the whole thing. They’re bound to like it. If you prepare Hillary specials with wheels within wheels within wheels, with surprise twists on the third-level undertones, with clever shifts of significance and all the other things we’re so proud of, why, naturally, it won’t appeal to everyone. Specialized dreamies are for specialized tastes. But Luster-Think is turning out simple jobs in Third Person so both sexes can be hit at once. Like what you’ve just absorbed. Simple, repetitious, commonplace. They’re aiming at the lowest common denominator. No one will love it, maybe, but no one will hate it.” (H. L. Mencken said "No one in this world has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people")

From DREAMING IS A PRIVATE THING by Issac Asimov (1955)

(ed note: somebody invents a machine that makes the user hallucinate their fantasies with much more intensity than any drug. Civilization crumbles into nothing but a few city-states barely surviving. Citizens are indoctrinated into seeing the machine as something utterly evil, but addicts still keep appearing. Ownership becomes a crime with the death penalty for the owner and all their familiy and friends. Protagonist Gilliad is a policeman in the city state of London.)

      Here the roof of the tunnel was daubed and garish with only the crudest attempts to make the solid roof like the open sky–maybe none of these people had ever seen an open sky. Nonetheless, somewhere down here was a “tap”–someone had penetrated a power-beam and was bleeding off minute but detectable quantities of energy.
     There was only one reason for a “tap”–something inside Gilliad’s stomach seemed to twist unpleasantly–somewhere within this area someone was using a machine.
     The trouble was that the damn things were so easy to construct, one fibro-prism tube, a Harvey-condenser and a couple of simple printed circuits.

(ed note: Due to politics, Gillad is branded as unreliable, and is sent on a suicide mission. There are rumors that the machine is actually legal in city states located in Canada. Gilland is sent as a spy to infiltrate the cities and investigate. He is immediately caught by the Canadian authorities. He learns that actually the Canadians are the good guys. The powers that be in London and the other city states are creating the dream machine menace for their own sinister purposes. Gillad gets an explanation by the Canadian security chief Keisler.)

     “Wise man.” Keisler smiled his secret smile. “You know and you don’t know; I’m here to explain it.” He lifted something from his lap and Gilliad recoiled, feeling slightly sick.
     “Don’t be alarmed, it’s a dummy.” He slid open the side. “Look, no works. I brought it along for demonstration purposes.” He laid it carefully on the bed where Gilliad could see it. “As you see, it’s nothing more than a small box with an antenna on top to give it realism. If it had works I could press that little switch on the side and it would begin to transmit an electrical impulse which would stimulate certain sections of our brains. That is all a dream machine does, so let’s go into the details of the effects of that stimulation.” He leaned back in the chair and folded his hands. “Ever been drunk, Mr. Gilliad?”
     “Once or twice; I’m not really a drinking man.”
     “It’s of no consequence, you know the effects. You know also, no doubt, the effect of heavy drinking over a long period: degeneration, hallucination and delirium tremens. The hallucinations, as far as we are concerned, are the important factor, the tired old joke about seeing pink elephants.” He leaned forward suddenly. “Think about pink elephants.”
     Gilliad’s forehead puckered in a frown. “All right, I’m thinking.”
     “Good, you are visualizing them mentally, but you know they are products of your imagination–the alcoholic doesn’t. The interesting part about this is that both groups of pink elephants are subjective, the difference being that you know it and the alcoholic does not. To him the elephants are real, the subjective has become objective; to him the animals are living fact.”

     He leaned back in this chair again. “This is what the machine does. It stimulates certain sections of the brain to such an extent that the subjective, or imaginative products of the mind, become, to the user, objective. A man wants a beautiful woman; he imagines her, and to him, she immediately appears. I cannot stress too strongly that she is still subjective; no one else can see her, but to the addict she exists. He can talk to her, touch her and, if he is that type of man, even possess her. His physical reactions, sensations and sexual satisfactions will be exactly the same as if she existed. If, on the other hand, he wishes to fly like a bird, he will fly, subjectively. No one will see him flying but, as far as he is concerned he will be soaring above the roofs.”
     Keisler paused and frowned absently in front of him. “This experience, whatever it may be, does not constitute an addiction. It may interest you to know that only one in five actual users become addicts and we have learned enough to classify the potential addict. The potential addict is the man with problems, the type of man who lives beyond his income, the man with an erring wife, or worries too much about this and that, the unrequited lover: in short anyone who has good reasons for wanting to escape either from himself or his problems.
     “In the subjective world which the machine, responding to his imagination, creates for him, his problems are resolved. Naturally, once the effects of the machine’s stimulation wears off, the real problems of the world loom even larger and he resorts to the machine again–once this becomes habitual he is a second degree addict. “It is not long before the second degree passes to the third, wherein he is convinced, or convinces himself, that the subjective world which the machine creates for him is the real world and the one from which he escapes a figment of his imagination. From there on the deterioration is swift; he gives up his job, omits to wash and shave and devotes his life to his world of illusion. His only detachments from his fantasies then are brief periods for eating and attending to his bodily functions and, in the final stages, these go by the board as well–you’re following me?”
     Gilliad nodded quickly. He had been completely absorbed in the subject. “The addict becomes catatonic–complete withdrawal symptoms.”

     Keisler frowned slightly but was obviously pleased. “Thank you. I was unaware that you were familiar with basic psychology.”
     “I’m not really, but I’m a great reader. Fiction wasn’t encouraged but the libraries were well supplied with technical information.”
     “Why was fiction discouraged?”
     “There was no official explanation but I concluded that an addict was bad enough on his own without the stimulus of imaginative literature. Incidentally, you have yet to explain that–how does it, in view of your claim that this dream world is subjective, take such a frightful toll of the innocent?”
     Keisler’s mouth turned up at the corners again. “Quick, aren’t you? I was coming to that after history. Be patient, we’ll get there, but in an orderly fashion.”

     Keisler leaned back and pressed the tips of his fingers together. “The dream machine was introduced to the world at what might be termed an appropriate period of history. The financial economy of the major powers, long due for overhaul, was tottering precariously on the verge of inflation. The nations were at each other’s throats and to add to this, someone had discovered Steconite and everyone was stockpiling for all they were worth.
     “In case you don’t know about it, Steconite did for the incendiary weapon what nuclear energy did for the chemical explosive. A single container of Steconite, no bigger than a hand grenade, could set up what they called a radical-ignition field which could burn everything to the ground within a seventy mile radius. Four such devices could have burned United London clean off the map. Worse, the substance was cheap and easy to manufacture and there was no possible means of detection.

     “It was into the nightmare of sudden death and financial ruin, this cesspool of insecurity and nervous tension that the machine came into being. Can it be wondered that the mass of the people rushed for it as a means of temporary escape? They were going to die or starve, anyway, so what the hell did it matter?”
     “The original discoverer–a certain Dr. Melchez–was supposed to have discovered the device while experimenting with new neurological techniques. The truth is, however, that the device was discovered in various parts of the world within a period of a few months.”
     Keisler paused and studied his fingernails absently. “Needless to say, the machine and its effects were immediately classified as top secret but, in the world of those days, nothing was secret. There was international espionage, industrial espionage–the great combines were utterly ruthless–and worst of all, black market espionage.
     “Details of the machine ‘leaked’ and underground peddlers went into business in a big way. At first the machines were sold secretly, for fabulous prices, to the wealthy but, as further black industrials got their hands on the blueprints, prices nose-dived.
     “Within six months illicit models could be obtained well within the reach of the average wage-earner. There was even one illicit organization with an ingenious and extremely efficient rental purchase scheme.”
     Keisler shook his head sadly. “When the various governments woke to the danger in their midst it was too late and, worse, when they tried to do something about it, the trouble began.

     “In the first place, once the threat became apparent, half-crazed addicts went to desperate lengths to retain their machines. They barricaded their homes and, in almost every case, resorted to violence when authority tried to remove their machines. This factor alone accounted for seven thousand deaths throughout the world in the course of a single week. At the same time, the suppliers, seeing the prices of their goods soaring again, began a war on two fronts. The first was among themselves for the possession of lucrative markets while the second was waged against the government agents and police who threatened their means of livelihood. Pitched battles were fought in streets not only between rival gangs but between government forces and organized crime.
     “These skirmishes added another ten or so thousand dead to those already mentioned and in the same period.”
     Keisler paused and began to tick off points with his fingers. “Just for the record and in round estimated figures. Four thousand addicts were so far gone they died of starvation, another eight thousand became insane and ran amok. Twenty-four thousand became third degree addicts for whom nothing could be done. Governments fell, commerce fell apart and, in the riots which followed, another thirty thousand was added to the death role. Within a year the world’s population had been cut by exactly a quarter.

     “By this time, however, the united cities were coming into being, a series of closely-knit fortresses dominating but not controlling the devastated countries which they once possessed. They were frightened cities, hiding themselves behind endless mine fields and automatic weapon pits. Blind, pilotless machines patrolled the air above, while their radar devices swept the horizons continuously for possible enemies. Behind these defenses, the cities began the surgery of self-purification with a ruthlessness born of desperation. Black industrialists, their entire staffs and associate criminal gangs were executed en masse. All known possessors of machines, their relatives, immediate friends and casual acquaintances were likewise executed.
     “The results of these purges produced a death role greater than that of the world’s last two major wars combined.
     “Such methods should have stopped the rot completely but served only to reduce the casualties to slightly below survival limits. Someone was still peddling machines or supplying simple blueprints by which they could be made. Even today the casualty lists of the combined cities runs very close to a thousand a week despite the increasing ruthlessness and efficiency of the individual administrations. Only in rare cases are these losses out-stripped by the local birthrate; the overall picture is one of a slowly but inexorably diminishing humanity.”

     Keisler paused and almost smiled completely. “Only in this province (in Canada) is the birthrate rising; only in this province has mankind made good his losses and is climbing upward. Here addicts are certified, graded and rationed–just as drug addicts were once registered and rationed–and only here have we developed techniques which, in forty percent of our cases, produce an enduring cure.
     “We made the machine legal–subject to certain medical and psychiatric restrictions. We studied its effects and, in many cases, used the machine as an instrument of rehabilitation.”
     Keisler made a clicking noise with his tongue. “Sorry, I’m running ahead of myself and, incidentally, incidentally, evading part of your question.

     “It was when the cities began their purification programs that the machines began to show unpleasant side-effects. As I have already told you, to an addict the subjective world is the real world but, generally speaking, he is not totally oblivious of the real one. As soon as addiction became an offense punishable by death, the addict took defensive measures–imaginary defensive measures, it was true–but defensive measures. He conceived–and the machine’s stimulation made them real to him–a host of protectors. Some conceived veritable armies, others ingenius booby traps, outrageous monsters, lethal gases and heaven knows what else in case the real world invaded the illusory and he was dragged away for execution. In such an event the addict really believed his protectors would come to his aid.”
     Keisler cleared his throat and straightened in his chair. “It was only when several good men had met rather messy ends that the authorities began to wonder and, by the time they had finished wondering, the truth was all too clear. In a large number of cases, the addict’s imaginary protectors were coming to his aid.

     “No!” Keisler held up his hand quickly. “Don’t ask me that question, Mr. Gilliad, because, to be frank, we have yet to come up with a satisfactory answer. Some speak glibly but a little obscurely of a ‘retained hypnotic mental impression’ while a more cautious school is engaged in physical research. They are working on the theory touched upon by most great physicists, that thought has substance.
     “Which school of thought is right I’m not prepared to say, but this fact is inescapable–if an advanced addict concentrates too long on a means of defense, this means of defense becomes objective to a Susceptible.”

From REALITY FORBIDDEN by Philip High (1967)

(ed note: In the fantasy land of Narnia, King Caspian is on the sailing ship Dawn Treader questing to find the lost Seven Lords of Narnia. After finding and rescuing three of the lost lords, they find a huge inky cloud of black fog and row into it to see if there is an island hiding inside. They hear somebody cry out...)

      “Who calls?” it piped (Reepicheep of the Talking Mice). “If you are a foe we do not fear you, and if you are a friend your enemies shall be taught the fear of us.”
     “Mercy!” cried the voice. “Mercy! Even if you are only one more dream, have merry. Take me on board. Take me, even if you strike me dead. But in the name of all mercies do not fade away and leave me in this horrible land.”
     “Where are you?” shouted Caspian. “Come aboard and welcome.”
     There came another cry, whether of joy or terror, and then they knew that someone was swimming towards them.
     “Stand by to heave him up, men,” said Caspian.
     “Aye, aye, your Majesty,” said the sailors. Several crowded to the port bulwark with ropes and one, leaning far out over the side, held the torch. A wild, white face appeared in the blackness of the water, and then, after some scrambling and pulling, a dozen friendly hands had heaved the stranger on board.

     Edmund thought he had never seen a wilder-looking man. Though he did not otherwise look very old, his hair was an untidy mop of white, his face was thin and drawn, and, for clothing, only a few wet rags hung about him. But what one mainly noticed were his eyes, which were so widely opened that he seemed to have no eyelids at all, and stared as if in an agony of pure fear. The moment his feet reached the deck he said:
     “Fly! Fly! About with your ship and fly! Row, row, row for your lives away from this accursed shore.”
     “Compose yourself,” said Reepicheep, “and tell us what the danger is. We are not used to flying.”
     The stranger started horribly at the voice of the Mouse, which he had not noticed before.

     “Nevertheless you will fly from here,” he gasped. “This is the Island where Dreams come true.
     “That’s the island I’ve been looking for this long time,” said one of the sailors. “I reckoned I’d find I was married to Nancy if we landed here.”
     “And I’d find Tom alive again,” said another.
     “Fools!” said the man, stamping his foot with rage. “That is the sort of talk that brought me here, and I’d better have been drowned or never born. Do you hear what I say? This is where dreams — dreams, do you understand, come to life, come real. Not daydreams: dreams.”

     There was about half a minute’s silence and then, with a great clatter of armour, the whole crew were tumbling down the main hatch as quick as they could and flinging themselves on the oars to row as they had never rowed before; and Drinian was swinging round the tiller, and the boatswain was giving out the quickest stroke that had ever been heard at sea. For it had taken everyone just that half-minute to remember certain dreams they had had — dreams that make you afraid of going to sleep again — and to realize what it would mean to land on a country where dreams come true.


      The other side?' she said.
     'Aye. The magic world,' said Rob Anybody. There's … bad things there.'
     'Monsters?' said Tiffany.
     'As bad as ye can think of,' said Rob Anybody. 'Exactly as bad as ye can think of.'
     Tiffany swallowed hard, and closed her eyes. 'Worse than Jenny? Worse than the headless horseman?' she said.
     'Oh, aye. They were wee pussycats compared to the scunners over there. 'Tis an ill-fared country that's come callin', mistress. Tis a land where dreams come true. That's the Quin's world.'
     'Well, that doesn't sound too—' Tiffany began. Then she remembered some of the dreams she'd had, the ones where you were so glad to wake up … 'We're not talking about nice dreams, are we?' she said.
     Rob Anybody shook his head. 'Nay, mistress. The other kind.'

From THE WEE FREE MEN by Terry Pratchett (2003)

Author's Afterword

     Speaking of war—one reader asked why I barely refer to one of today’s principle concerns… the Great Big War On Drugs. Will it have been solved by the year 2038?
     Well, not by any program or approach now being tried, that’s for sure. I’m not fatalistic. It makes some sense to regulate when and how self-destructive citizens can stupefy themselves, especially in public. Social sanctions have already proven more effective than laws at driving down liquor and tobacco consumption in North America. So much that distillers and cigarette makers are in a state of demographic panic.
     But as for trying to eradicate drugs, right now we just seem to be driving up the price. Addicts commit crimes to finance their habits, and convey billions of dollars to pushers who are, inarguably, among the worst human beings alive.

     Anyway, it’s been shown that some individuals can secrete endorphins and other hormones at will, using meditation or self hypnosis or biofeedback. If such techniques become commonplace (as no doubt they will… everything does), shall we then outlaw meditation? Should the police test anyone caught dozing in the park, to make sure he isn’t drugging himself with his own self-made enkephalins?

     Reductio ad absurdum. Or as Dirty Harry once said, we’ve got to learn our limitations.

From The Novel

     No matter. It was a good afternoon to be with pals, drooping out in the park. It was well past the sweltering heat of midday—when those without air-conditioning sought shade in the hedge garden for their siestas—so right now people were scarce in this section of the garden. Just a couple of seedy ragman types, slumped and snoring under the fragrant oleanders. Whether they were dozers or dazers, Remi couldn’t tell from here. As if the difference mattered.
     He looked around quickly, searching for the voyeur. Over to the south citizens of many ages were busy tending high-yield vegetables in narrow strip gardens, leased by the city to those without convenient rooftops. Bean pole detectors watched for poachers, but those devices couldn’t have set off Roland’s alarm.
     Nor could the children, running about in visors and sun-goggles, playing tag or beamy. Or the ragged men in their twenties and thirties, over by the reflecting pond, draped in saffron sheets, pretending to be meditating, but fooling no one as they used biofeedback techniques to supply their bottomless, self-stimulated addiction… dazing out on endorphin chemicals released by their own brains.

     A wave of agony throbbed up his leg. “And I thought I was so smart, not becomin’ a dazer.”
     If he’d ever slipped over that line—using biofeedback to trip-off on self-stimulated endorphins—he’d certainly have a skill appropriate for here and now! What would have been self-abuse in Indiana would be right-on first aid at a time like this.
     But then again, if he’d ever been a dazer, he wouldn’t even be here right now. The corps didn’t accept addicts.

     We emphatically denounce claims that Eastern meditation traditions are simply glorified biofeedback techniques for inducing natural opiate highs. Chemical comparisons are crude and emphasize only the superficial. They miss the essential power that can be unleashed by the concentrated human mind. A power you may have refined in prior lives and that even now may be within your reach.

     The Australian was no longer on watch by her door. Instead, a tall, powerful Maori, with permanent-looking cheek tattoos and battle ribbons on his uniform, stood with his back against the opposite wall, his mouth half open in a pleasant leer. At first Teresa wondered if the Kiwi soldier had been won over to their side. Then she saw his glassy look, like a dazer, high on a self-induced enkephalin rush. Only, a dazer wouldn’t be a commando. Somehow, Lustig must have drugged him.

From EARTH by David Brin (1990)

      The First Electronic Age, Peyton knew, had begun in 1908, more than eleven centuries before, with De Forest’s invention of the triode. The same fabulous century that had seen the coming of the World State, the airplane, the spaceship, and atomic power had witnessed the invention of all the fundamental thermionic devices that made possible the civilisation he knew.
     The Second Electronic Age had come five hundred years later. It had been started not by the physicists but by the doctors and psychologists. For nearly five centuries they had been recording the electric currents that flow in the brain during the processes of thought. The analysis had been appallingly complex, but it had been completed after generations of toil. When it was finished the way lay open for the first machines that could read the human mind.
     But this was only the beginning. Once man had discovered the mechanism of his own brain he could go further. He could reproduce it, using transistors and circuit networks instead of living cells.

     Toward the end of the twenty-fifth century, the first thinking machines were built. They were very crude, a hundred square yards of equipment being required to do the work of a cubic centimetre of human brain. But once the first step had been taken it was not long before the mechanical brain was perfected and brought into general use.
     It could perform only the lower grades of intellectual work and it lacked such purely human characteristics as initiative, intuition, and all emotions. However, in circumstances which seldom varied, where its limitations were not serious, it could do all that a man could do.

     The coming of the metal brains had brought one of the great crises in human civilisation. Though men had still to carry out all the higher duties of statesmanship and the control of society, all the immense mass of routine administration had been taken over by the robots. Man had achieved freedom at last. No longer did he have to rack his brains planning complex transport schedules, deciding production programmes, and balancing budgets. The machines, which had taken over all manual labour centuries before, had made their second great contribution to society.

     The effect on human affairs was immense, and men reacted to the new situation in two ways. There were those who used their new-found freedom nobly in the pursuits which had always attracted the highest minds: the quest for beauty and truth, still as elusive as when the Acropolis was built.

     But there were others who thought differently. At last, they said, the curse of Adam is lifted forever. Now we can build cities where the machines will care for our every need as soon as the thought enters our minds—sooner, since the analysers can read even the buried desires of the subconscious. The aim of all life is pleasure and the pursuit of happiness. Man has earned the right to that. We are tired of this unending struggle for knowledge and the blind desire to bridge space to the stars.

     It was the ancient dream of the Lotus Eaters, a dream as old as Man. Now, for the first time, it could be realised. For a while there were not many who shared it. The fires of the Second Renaissance had not yet begun to flicker and die. But as the years passed, the Decadents drew more and more to their way of thinking. In hidden places on the inner planets they built the cities of their dreams.
     For a century they flourished like strange exotic flowers, until the almost religious fervour that inspired their building had died. They lingered for a generation more. Then, one by one, they faded from human knowledge. Dying, they left behind a host of fables and legends which had grown with the passing centuries.
     Only one such city had been built on Earth, and there were mysteries about it that the outer world had never solved. For purposes of its own, the World Council had destroyed all knowledge of the place. Its location was a mystery. Some said it was in the Arctic wastes; others believed it to be hidden on the bed of the Pacific. Nothing was certain but its name—Comarre.

From THE LION OF COMARRE by Arthur C. Clarke (1949)

      "We are too rich," said Webster. "We have too much. Everything was left for us—everything and nothing. When Mankind went out to Jupiter the few that were left behind inherited the Earth and it was too big for them. They couldn't handle it. They couldn't manage it They thought they owned it, but they were the ones that were owned. Owned and dominated and awed by the things that had gone before."
     She reached out a hand and touched his arm.
     "Poor Jon," she said.
     "We can't flinch away from it," he said. Some day some of us must face the truth, must start over again—from scratch."

     "Yes, what is it, Sara?"
     "I came here to say good-by."
     "I'm going to take the Sleep."
     He came to his feet, swiftly, horrified. "No, Sara!"
     She laughed and the laugh was strained. "Why don't you come with me, Jon. A few hundred years. Maybe it will all be different when we awake."
     "Just because no one wants your canvases. Just because—"
     "Because of what you said just a while ago. Illusion, Jon. I knew it, felt it, but I couldn't think it out."
     "But the Sleep is illusion, too."
     "I know. But you don't know it's illusion. You think it's real You have no inhibitions and you have no fears except the fears that are planned deliberately. It's natural, Jon—more natural than life. I went to the Temple and it was all explained to me."
     "And when you awake?"
     "You're adjusted. Adjusted to whatever life is like in whatever era you awake. Almost as if you belonged, even from the first. And it might be better. Who knows? It might be better."
     "It won't be," Jon told her, grimly. "Until, or unless, someone does something about it. And a people that run to the Sleep to hide are not going to bestir themselves.
     She shrank back in the chair and suddenly he felt ashamed.
     "I'm sorry, Sara. I didn't mean you. Nor any one person. Just the lot of us."

From HOBBIES by Clifford Simak (1946)

It had been scarcely two months since Helen had disappeared under the cowl. Two months by our reckoning, at least. From her perspective it could have been a day or a decade; the Virtually Omnipotent set their subjective clocks along with everything else.

She wasn't coming back. She would only deign to see her husband under conditions that amounted to a slap in the face. He didn't complain. He visited as often as she would allow: twice a week, then once. Then every two. Their marriage decayed with the exponential determinism of a radioactive isotope and still he sought her out, and accepted her conditions.

On the day the lights came down, I had joined him at my mother's side. It was a special occasion, the last time we would ever see her in the flesh. For two months her body had lain in state along with five hundred other new ascendants on the ward, open for viewing by the next of kin. The interface was no more real than it would ever be, of course; the body could not talk to us. But at least it was there, its flesh warm, the sheets clean and straight. Helen's lower face was still visible below the cowl, though eyes and ears were helmeted. We could touch her. My father often did. Perhaps some distant part of her still felt it.

But eventually someone has to close the casket and dispose of the remains. Room must be made for the new arrivals—and so we came to this last day at my mother's side. Jim took her hand one more time. She would still be available in her world, on her terms, but later this day the body would be packed into storage facilities crowded far too efficiently for flesh and blood visitors. We had been assured that the body would remain intact—the muscles electrically exercised, the body flexed and fed, the corpus kept ready to return to active duty should Heaven experience some inconceivable and catastrophic meltdown. Everything was reversible, we were told. And yet—there were so many who had ascended, and not even the deepest catacombs go on forever. There were rumors of dismemberment, of nonessential body parts hewn away over time according to some optimum-packing algorithm. Perhaps Helen would be a torso this time next year, a disembodied head the year after. Perhaps her chassis would be stripped down to the brain before we'd even left the building, awaiting only that final technological breakthrough that would herald the arrival of the Great Digital Upload.

We donned the hoods that served as day passes for the Unwired, and we met my mother in the spartan visiting room she imagined for these visits. She'd built no windows into the world she occupied, no hint of whatever utopian environment she'd constructed for herself. She hadn't even opted for one of the prefab visiting environments designed to minimize dissonance among visitors. We found ourselves in a featureless beige sphere five meters across. There was nothing in there but her.

From BLINDSIGHT by Peter Watts (2006)

Decadent Population

Tales of technology turning civilizations into worthless decadent people dates back at least to H. G. Well's The Time Machine (1895), with the pathetic Eloi and brutal Morlocks. Things have only accelerated since then. Some such stories have become quaint, overtaken by events. E. M. Forster's The Machine Stops (1901) has people living in little cubbies, their only activity is using a sort of video conferencing machine to communicate with others. Sounds to me like present day guys living in their mother's basement, doing little else besides trolling Facebook and Twitter.

I remember people predicting the downfall of Western Civilization due to the invention of the TV remote control. Just think about a generation of couch potatos too lazy to get up, walk to the TV set, and change the channel. Actually, such predictions were not far off the mark.


"The Machine Stops" is a science fiction short story (12,300 words) by E. M. Forster. After initial publication in The Oxford and Cambridge Review (November 1909), the story was republished in Forster's The Eternal Moment and Other Stories in 1928. After being voted one of the best novellas up to 1965, it was included that same year in the populist anthology Modern Short Stories. In 1973 it was also included in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume Two.

The story, set in a world where humanity lives underground and relies on a giant machine to provide its needs, predicted technologies similar to instant messaging and the Internet.

Plot summary

The story describes a world in which most of the human population has lost the ability to live on the surface of the Earth. Each individual now lives in isolation below ground in a standard room, with all bodily and spiritual needs met by the omnipotent, global Machine. Travel is permitted, but is unpopular and rarely necessary. Communication is made via a kind of instant messaging/video conferencing machine with which people conduct their only activity: the sharing of ideas and what passes for knowledge.

The two main characters, Vashti and her son Kuno, live on opposite sides of the world. Vashti is content with her life, which, like most inhabitants of the world, she spends producing and endlessly discussing secondhand 'ideas'. Kuno, however, is a sensualist and a rebel. He persuades a reluctant Vashti to endure the journey (and the resultant unwelcome personal interaction) to his room. There, he tells her of his disenchantment with the sanitised, mechanical world.

He confides to her that he has visited the surface of the Earth without permission, and that he saw other humans living outside the world of the Machine. However, the Machine recaptures him, and he is threatened with 'Homelessness': expulsion from the underground environment and presumed death. Vashti, however, dismisses her son's concerns as dangerous madness and returns to her part of the world.

As time passes, and Vashti continues the routine of her daily life, there are two important developments. First, the life support apparatus required to visit the outer world is abolished. Most welcome this development, as they are skeptical and fearful of first-hand experience and of those who desire it. Secondly, "Technopoly", a kind of religion, is re-established, in which the Machine is the object of worship. People forget that humans created the Machine, and treat it as a mystical entity whose needs supersede their own.

Those who do not accept the deity of the Machine are viewed as 'unmechanical' and threatened with Homelessness. The Mending Apparatus—the system charged with repairing defects that appear in the Machine proper—has also failed by this time, but concerns about this are dismissed in the context of the supposed omnipotence of the Machine itself.

During this time, Kuno is transferred to a room near Vashti's. He comes to believe that the Machine is breaking down, and tells her cryptically "The Machine stops." Vashti continues with her life, but eventually defects begin to appear in the Machine. At first, humans accept the deteriorations as the whim of the Machine, to which they are now wholly subservient, but the situation continues to deteriorate, as the knowledge of how to repair the Machine has been lost.

Finally, the Machine collapses, bringing 'civilization' down with it. Kuno comes to Vashti's ruined room. Before they perish, they realise that humanity and its connection to the natural world are what truly matter, and that it will fall to the surface-dwellers who still exist to rebuild the human race and to prevent the mistake of the Machine from being repeated.

From the Wikipedia entry for THE MACHINE STOPS

(ed note: Trellises are sort of fractal polymer carbon that Star God races use as disposable packing material. Sort of like hyper-advanced styrofoam packing peanuts. Some aliens covet the stuff for inexplicable alien reasons. Therefore this Star God refuse can be used as a trade item. Our heroes hope to trade some with the Tusk-legs in exchange for some Regrowth Agent to repair their spaceship. So they have arrived at the star system called "Harmoniuos Repose" aka "Rest In Peace" or RIP. "Automation" is a sort of non-sentient ultra-AI used to take care of things.)

Harmonious Repose. An ugly name, thought Ravna. Pham's "light-hearted" translation was worse: Rest In Peace. In the Beyond, almost everything habitable was in use. Civilizations were transient and races faded ... but there were always new people moving up from Below. The result was most often patchwork, polyspecific systems. Young races just up from the Slowness lived uneasily with the remnants of older peoples. According to the ship's library, RIP had been in the Beyond for a long time. It had been continuously inhabited for at least two hundred million years, time for ten thousand species to call it home. The most recent notes showed better than one hundred racial terranes. Even the youngest was the residue of a dozen emigrations. The place should be peaceful to the point of being moribund.

This secondary harbor was not really part of the tusk-leg race's terrane. The inside of the arc was far different from what they had seen on the Skroderiders' first trip. There were no exterior views. Cramped passages wound between irregular walls pocked with dark holes. Insects flew everywhere, often covering parts of the camera balls. To Pham, the place looked filthy.

There was no evidence of the terrane's owners—unless they were the pallid worms that sometimes stuck a featureless head(?) up from a burrow hole. Over his voice link, Blueshell opined that these were very ancient tenants of the RIP system. After a million years, and a hundred transcendent emigrations, the residue might still be sentient, but stranger than anything evolved in the Slow Zone. Such a people would be protected from physical extinction by ancient automation, but they would also be inward turning, totally cautious, absorbed in concerns that were inane by any outside standard. It was the type that most often lusted after trellis work.

From A FIRE UPON THE DEEP by Vernor Vinge (1992)

      Sid Throndyke overrode his respirator to heave a deep sigh.
     "Wow!" he said, flipping to his wife's personal channel. "A tough day on the Office channel."
     The contact screens attached to his eyeballs stayed blank: Cluster was out. Impatiently, Sid toed the console, checking the channels: Light, Medium and Deep Sitcom; auto-hypno; Light and Deep Narco; four, six, and eighty-party Social; and finally, muttering to himself, Psychan. Cluster's identity symbol appeared on his screens.
     "There you are," he grieved. "Psychan again. After a hard day, the least a man expects is to find his wife tuned to his channel—"
     "Oh, Sid; there's this wonderful analyst. A new model. It's doing so much for me, really wonderful. . . ."
     "I know," Sid grumped. "That's all I hear. I'd think you'd want to keep in touch with the Sitcoms, so you know what's going on; but I suppose you've been tied into Psychan all day—while I burned my skull out on Office."
     "Now, Sid; didn't I program your dinner and everything?"
     "Um." Mollified, Sid groped with his tongue for the dinner lever, eased the limp plastic tube into his mouth. He sucked a mouthful of the soft paste—
     "Cluster! You know I hate Vege-pap. Looks like you could at least dial a nice Prote-sim or Sucromash. . . ."
     "Sid, you ought to tune to Psychan. It would do you a world of good. . . ." Her sub-vocalized voice trailed off in the earphones. Sid snorted, dialed a double Prote-sim and a Sucromash, fuming at the delay. He gulped his dinner, not even noticing the rich gluey consistency; then, in a somewhat better mood, flipped to the Light Sitcom.

     The stylized identity-symbol of the Pubinf announcer flashed on Sid's screens, vibrating in resonance with the impersonal voice of the Official announcer:
     " . . . . cause for concern. CentProg states that control will have been re-established within the hour. Some discomfort may result from vibration in sectors north of Civic Center, but normalcy will be restored shortly. Now, a word on the food situation."

     "Listen," a hoarse voice said. "Everybody, listen. We're blanketing all the channels this time—I hope. This is our last try. There's only a few of us. It wasn't easy getting into here—and there's no time left. We've got to move fast."
     The voice stopped as the man on the screen breathed hoarsely, swallowed. Then he went on:
     "It's the ice; it's moving down on us, fast, a god-awful big glacier. The walls can't stand much longer. It'll either wipe the city off the map or bury it. Either way, anybody that stays is done for.
     "Listen; it won't be easy, but you've got to try. Don't try to go down. You can't get out below because of the drifts. Go up, onto the roofs. It's your only chance—you must go up."
     The image on Sid's contact screens trembled violently, then blanked. Moments later, Sid felt a tremor—worse, this time. His cocoon seemed to pull at him. For a moment he was aware of the drag of a hundred tiny contacts grafted to the skin, a hundred tiny conductors penetrating to nerve conduits—
     An almost suffocating wave of claustrophobia swept over him. The universe seemed to be crushing in on him, immobile, helpless, a grub buried in an immense anthill—
     The shock passed. Slowly, Sid regained a grip on himself. His respirator was cycling erratically, attempting to match to his ragged breathing impulses. His chest ached from the strain. He groped with a toe, keyed in Cluster's identity pattern.

     CentProg was still dark. Sid was staring at the blank screens when a new shock sent heavy vibrations through his cocoon. Sid gasped, tried to keep cool. It would pass; it wasn't anything, it couldn't be. . . .
     The vibrations built, heavy, hard shocks that drove the air from Sid's lungs, yanked painfully at arms, legs, neck, and his groin. . . .
     It was a long time before the nausea passed. Sid lay, drawing breath painfully, fighting down the vertigo. The pain—it was a help, in a way. It helped to clear his head. Something was wrong, badly wrong. He had to think now, do the right thing. It wouldn't do to panic. If only there wouldn't be another earthquake. . . .
     Something wet splattered against Sid's half-open mouth. He recoiled, automatically spitting the mucky stuff, snorting—
     It was Vege-pap, gushing down from the feeding tube. Sid averted his face, felt the cool semi-liquid pattering against the cocoon, spreading over it, sloshing down the sides. Something was broken. . . .
     Sid groped for the cut-off with his tongue, gagging at the viscous mess pouring over his face. Of course, it hadn't actually touched his skin, except for his lips; the cocoon protected him. But he could feel the thick weight of it, awash in the fluid that supported the plastic cocoon. He could sense it quite clearly, flowing under him, forcing him up in the chamber as the hydrostatic balance was upset. With a shock of pain, Sid felt a set of neuro contacts along his spinal cord come taut. He gritted his teeth, felt searing agony as the contacts ripped loose.
     Half of the world went dark and cold. Sid was only dimly aware of the pressure against his face and chest as he pressed against the cell roof. All sensation was gone from his legs now, from his left arm, his back. His left contact screen was blank, unseeing. Groaning with the effort, Sid strained to reach out with a toe, key the emergency signal—
     Hopeless. Without the boosters he could never make it. His legs were dead, paralyzed. He was helpless.

     He tried to scream, choked, fought silently in the swaddling cocoon, no longer a euphorically caressing second skin but a dead, clammy weight, blinding him. He twisted, feeling unused muscles cramp at the effort, touched the lever that controlled the face-plate. He'd had a reputation as an open-air fiend once—but that had been—he didn't know how long. The lever was stiff. Sid lunged against it again. It gave. There was a sudden lessening of pressure as the burden of Vege-pap slopped out through the opening. Sid sank away from the ceiling of the tiny cubicle, felt his cocoon ground on the bottom.
     For a long time Sid lay, dazed by pain and shock, not even thinking, waiting for the agony to subside. . . .
     Then the itching began. It penetrated Sid's daze, set him twitching in a frenzy of discomfort. The tearing loose of the dorsal contacts had opened dozens of tiny rents in the cocoon; a sticky mixture of the supporting water bath and Vege-pap seeped in, irritating the tender skin. Sid writhed, struggled to scratch—and discovered that, miraculously, the left arm responded now. The motor nerves which had been stunned by the electroneural trickle-flow through the contacts were recovering control. Feebly, Sid's groping hand reached his inflamed hip—and scrabbled against the smooth sheath of plastic.
     He had to get out. The cocoon was a confining nightmare, a dead husk that had to be shed. The face-plate was open. Sid felt upward, found the edge, tugged—
     Slippery as an eel, he slithered from the cocoon, hung for an instant as the remaining contacts came taut, then slammed to the floor a foot below. Sid didn't feel the pain of the fall; as the contacts ripped free, he fainted.

     When Sid recovered consciousness, his first thought was that the narco channel was getting a little too graphic. He groped for a tuning switch—
     Then he remembered. The earthquake, Mel, the canned announcement—
     And he had opened his face-plate and fought to get out—and here he was. He blinked dully, then moved his left hand. It took a long time, but he managed to peel the contact screens from his eyes. He looked around. He was lying on the floor in a rectangular tunnel. A dim light came from a glowing green spot along the corridor. Sid remembered seeing it before, a long time ago. . . . the day he and Cluster had entered their cocoons.
     Now that he was detached from the stimuli of the cocoon, it seemed to Sid, he was able to think a little more clearly. It had hurt to be torn free from the security of the cocoon, but it wasn't so bad now. A sort of numbness had set in. But he couldn't lie here and rest; he had to do something, fast. First, there was Cluster. She hadn't answered. Her cocoon was situated right next to his—
     Sid tried to move; his leg twitched; his arm fumbled over the floor. It was smooth and wet, gummy with the Vege-pap that was still spilling down from the open face-plate. The smell of the stuff was sickening. Irrationally, Sid had a sudden mouth-watering hunger for Prote-sim.
     Sid fixed his eyes on the green light, trying to remember. He and Cluster had been wheeled along the corridor, laughing and talking gaily. Somehow, out here, things took on a different perspective. That had been—God! Years ago. How long? Maybe—twenty years? Longer. Fifty, maybe. Maybe longer. How could you know? For a while they had tuned to Pubinf, followed the news, kept up with friends on the outside. But more and more of their friends had signed contracts with CentProg. The news sort of dried up. You lost interest.
     But what mattered now wasn't how long, it was what he was going to do. Of course, an attendant would be along soon in any case to check up, but meanwhile, Cluster might be in trouble—

     The tremor was bad this time. Sid felt the floor rock, felt the hard paving under him ripple like the surface of a pond. Somewhere, a rumbling sound rolled, and somewhere something heavy fell. The green light flickered, then burned steadily again.
     A shape moved in the gloom of the corridor; there was the wet slap of footsteps. Sid sub-vocalized a calm "Hi, fellows." The silence rang in his ears. My God, of course they couldn't hear him. He tried again, consciously vocalizing, a tremendous shout—
     A feeble croak, and a fit of coughing. When he recovered his breath, a bare and hairy face, greenish white, was bending over him.
     " . . . . this poor devil," the man was saying in a thin choked voice.
     Another face appeared over the first face's shoulder. Sid recognized them both. They were the two that had been breaking into decent channels, with their wild talk about a glacier. . . .
     "Listen, fellow," one of the bare-faced men said. Sid stared with fascinated disgust at the clammy pale skin, the sprouting hairs, the loose toothless mouth, the darting pink tongue. God, people were horrible to look at!
     " . . . . be along after a while. Didn't mean to stir up anybody in your shape. You been in too long, fellow. You can't make it."
     "I'm. . . . good. . . . shape. . . ." Sid whispered indignantly.
     "We can't do anything for you. You'll have to wait till the maintenance unit comes along. I'm pretty sure you'll be okay. The ice's piled itself up in a wall now, and split around the city walls. I think they'll hold. Course, the ice will cover the city, but that won't matter. CentProg will still handle everything. Plenty of energy from the pile and the solar cells, and the recycling will handle the food okay. . . ."
     " . . . . Cluster. . . ." Sid gasped. The bare-faced man leaned closer. Sid explained about his wife. The man checked nearby face-plates. He came back and knelt by Sid. "Rest easy, fellow," he said. "They all look all right. Your wife's okay. Now, we're going to have to go on. But you'll be okay. Plenty of Vege-pap around, I see. Just eat a little now and then. The Maintenance machine will be along and get you tucked back in."
     "Where. . . . ?" Sid managed.
     "Us? We're heading south. Matt here knows where we can get clothes and supplies, maybe even a flier. We never were too set on this Vital Programming. We've only been in maybe a few years and we always did a lot of auto-gym work, keeping in shape. Didn't like the idea of wasting away. . . . Matt's the one found out about the ice. He came for me. . . ."
     Sid was aware of the other man talking. It was hard to hear him.
     A sudden thought struck Sid. " . . . . how long. . . . ?" he asked.

     It took three tries, but the bare-faced man got the idea at last.
     "I'll take a look, fellow," he said. He went to Sid's open face-plate, peered at it, called the other man over. Then he came back, his feet spattering in the puddled Vege-pap.
     "Your record says. . . . 2043," he said. He looked at Sid with wide eyes. They were red and irritated, Sid saw. It made his own eyes itch.
     "If that's right, you been here since the beginning. My God, that's over. . . . two hundred years. . . ."
     The second bare-faced man, Matt, was pulling the other away. He was saying something, but Sid wasn't listening. Two hundred years. It seemed impossible. But after all, why not? In a controlled environment, with no wear and tear, no disease, you could live as long as CentProg kept everything running. But two hundred years. . . .
     Sid looked around. The two men were gone. He tried to remember just what had happened, but it was too hard. The ice, they had said, wouldn't crush the city. But it would flow around it, encase it in ice, and the snow would fall, and cover it, and the city would lie under the ice.
     Ages might pass. In the cells, the cocoons would keep everyone snug and happy. There would be the traditional sitcoms, and Narco, and Psychan. . . .
     And up above, the ice.

From COCOON by Keith Laumer (1962)


The idea is that every person will be given a computerized device at birth which will will stay with them, teaching them and learning their owner's personality. They could even take over dull routine tasks like answering the telephone. They would also record more or less everything their user sees, hears, and otherwise experiences for their entire life. Sort of a backup memory.

Stealing such a device would be tandamount to stealing a person's entire life. Example: movie Taking Care of Business, except more so. There will also have to be laws against the police subpoenaing a person's electronic companion, something along the lines of spousal privilege.

Also, the device could assist a child while growing up; example: the nanotechnology educational book given to Nellodee in The Diamond Age. Such a device could also mold and brainwash a child; example: I Always Do What Teddy Says.

With respect to an electronic companion substituting for you over the telephone, there was a recent article titled: Tired of texting? Google tests robot to chat with friends for you. The version of the headline was "Google tests robot to chat with friends for you, so you could be dead for weeks before they know it"


One of the ways in which thinking machines will be able to help us is by taking over the humbler tasks of life, leaving the human brain free to concentrate on higher things. (Not, of course, that this is any guarantee that it will do so.) For a few generations, perhaps, every man will go through life with an electronic companion, which may be no bigger than today’s transistor radios. It will “grow up” with him from infancy, learning his habits, his business affairs, taking over all the minor chores like routine correspondence and income-tax returns and engagements. On occasion it could even take its master’s place, keeping appointments he preferred to miss, and then reporting back in as much detail as he desired. It could substitute for him over the telephone so completely that no one would be able to tell whether man or machine was speaking; a century from now, Turing’s “game” may be an integral part of our social lives, with complications and possibilities which I leave to the imagination.

You may remember that delightful robot, Robbie, from the movie Forbidden Planet. (One of the three or four movies so far made that anyone interested in science fiction can point to without blushing; the fact that the plot was Shakespeare’s doubtless helped.) I submit, in all seriousness, that most of Robbie’s abilities—together with those of a better known character, ]eeves—will one day be incorporated in a kind of electronic companion-secretary-valet. It will be much smaller and neater than the walking jukeboxes or mechanized suits of armor which Hollywood presents, with typical lack of imagination, when it wants to portray a robot. And it will be extremely talented, with quick-release connectors allowing it to be coupled to an unlimited variety of sense organs and limbs. It would, in fact, be a kind of general purpose, disembodied intelligence that could attach itself to whatever tools were needed for any particular occasion. One day it might be using microphones or electric typewriters or TV cameras; on another, automobiles or airplanes—or the bodies of men and animals.

From THE OBSOLESCENCE OF MAN by Arthur C. Clarke (1961)

We’ve had single-purpose robots for a long time—ever since human elevator operators were replaced by a panel of buttons. But robots that can actually make decisions based on changing circumstances require sophisticated software, what we erroneously call “artificial intelligence.” It’s not intelligence; it’s information processing. It’s pattern recognition at the service of problem-solving.

A true robot will be capable of many different tasks—and it will have the ability to learn new tasks as needed. I should be able to say, “Robbie, make me eggs Benedict for breakfast,” and Robbie will respond, “I am downloading the recipe now,” and possibly even, “We are out of eggs. I have ordered some from the store. Delivery will take 30 minutes.” Robbie will have to know how to read a recipe, understand it, inventory the ingredients needed, and order those that are not in the pantry.

The robot will require a level of data gathering, pattern recognition, information processing, and decision making that will surpass that of a human assistant.

At that point, the robot becomes the life manager. Cleaning house will be the least of its responsibilities. The robot will connect to all of your wireless devices and monitor what TV shows you want to watch, what toppings you want on the pizza you order, what bills you pay, and more. It will likely manage your finances as well, so that filling out your tax forms will be as simple as saying, “Robbie, file my tax return.”

All of this is already in development, or at least envisioned. The tech is there. It’s primarily a software challenge. (That, and a standardized language of data exchange.)

But there’s something else to consider.

Beyond a digital assistant

The more sophisticated a robot’s information processing ability, the more it will develop a personality tuned to the user. It will become a companion. It will become an electronic friend. It will play games, matching its ability to yours. It will offer suggestions and advice. It will be a good listener—like those old Eliza programs. It will even have a certain therapeutic function for those needing comfort. It will be an appropriate aide and companion for those with diminished mental abilities.

The robot teddy bear will be a toddler’s first friend. It will listen, it will respond, it will teach, and it will monitor the child’s health, reporting any irregularities to the parents. It will even sound an alarm in case the child stops breathing.

As the child grows, the teddy bear will evolve as well, becoming an ever-more sophisticated and robust playmate. The bear will be more than a playmate. It will play catch, helping the child develop motor skills. It will respond to “please” and “thank you,” helping the child develop better social skills. It will eventually demonstrate a sophisticated repertoire of emotional behaviors as well—happiness when the child demonstrates good behavior, and sadness and disappointment when the child demonstrates antisocial behavior.

Adolescence and adulthood will represent a whole other challenge for robot companions. But robots could become tutors and coaches throughout high school and college. Elsewhere in life, robots will be convenient in ways limited only by the needs of humans. They will become dance partners, they will play basketball, they will pace joggers, they will walk dogs, they will take on any task that can be defined by a specific set of rules. Robots will assist with the care of the sick and the elderly (see The Electric Grandmother). They may even end up delivering the mail.

Robots will certainly have military uses, but even more important, robots will be able to function in environments too hazardous for humans—firefighting, for example, and other rescue operations. Remote operators will be able to advise robots on specific goals within that hazardous environment.


He could, of course, have called the avatars of any or all of the others. Copies of their PAs—their Personal Assistants—resided within his fighter’s AI memory. He could hold a conversation with any of them and be completely unaware that he was speaking to software, not a living person…and he would know that the software would report the conversation with perfect fidelity to the person when the comnet channels opened later on. But avatars weren’t the same. For some it was, but not for Trevor Gray.

From EARTH STRIKE (Star Carrier Book One) by William H. Keith, Jr. (under pseudonym Ian Douglas) (2010)

The software avatar’s prototype, as its human object was known in the electronic intelligence business, had recorded a sizable amount of his own character, thoughts, and motivation within his AI counterparts. It was always possible that thoughts, memories—even entire histories—had slipped through from the fuzzy logic and holographic analog perceptions of the organic brain to a far simpler silicon-based digital format. This particular prototype was Admiral Alexander Koenig, and he worked closely with his AI personal assistant.

The primary software resided inside Koenig’s head, within the nanochelated implants in the twisting folds and furrows of the sulci of his brain. It served as his PA, or personal assistant, a kind of electronic secretary that could handle routine calls and virtual meetings, could so perfectly mimic Koenig’s appearance, voice, and mannerisms that callers could not tell whether they were speaking to the human or to the human-mimicking software. However, more than a month before, shortly after the Battle of Alphekka, Rear Admiral Koenig had copied his PA software, uploading it into one of the HAMP-20 Sleipnir-class mail packets carried as auxiliaries on board most of the ships of the fleet. Almost three times faster than the best possible speed for a capital ship under Alcubierre FTL Drive, they were used to carry high-velocity express communications across interstellar distances.

It had been this copied software that had piloted the most recent mail packet from Alphekka back to Earth.

From SINGULARITY (Star Carrier Book Three) by William H. Keith, Jr. (under pseudonym Ian Douglas) (2012)


“Good.” With just the ghost of a smile, the Admiral continued: “In keeping with your appointment, and its responsibilities, it is my pleasure to announce your promotion from Commander, Pact Naval Forces, to General, Pact Marine Corps. The full text of your orders is being downloaded to your AID.”

Like all officers, Merikur carried an Artificial Intelligence Device, (AID) in his belt pouch. Besides the standard programming provided them at “birth,” AID’s could learn from experience, and sometimes developed rudimentary personalities. Merikur’s was almost fifteen standard years old and a bit irreverent. Annoying though it sometimes was, and rather too revelatory of some aspects of his own personality, Merikur’s AID was also very perceptive, and he couldn’t bring himself to wipe it and start all over. Besides, he liked the little bastard. Hearing itself mentioned, Merikur’s AID buzzed his auditory implant and said, “Orders received, your Generalship!”

“Yes,” Admiral Oriana added awkwardly, as if suddenly unsure of himself. “Citizen Ritt came all the way from Terra to brief you.”

Something cold settled in Merikur’s gut. Kona Tatsu. The Pact’s security service. And this one was working out of Terra HQ itself. He should have guessed from the uniform. The Kona Tatsu wore military uniforms without badges of rank, and went by the title “citizen,” although it understated their power.

Merikur felt a soft buzz in his ears and heard his implant say, “She’s toting enough shielded electronics to open a store. Chances are you’re being recorded in stereo.”

Merikur saw the two ratings were about to explode into laughter. The story would be all over the ship within an hour. “Yes. Tell one of these ratings to carry my gear and show me to my quarters.”

“Yyyesss sir. Nolte, you heard the general. Help him with his luggage and take him to his cabin. It’s number four on B deck.”

Merikur felt his implant buzz. “The Bremerton is a standard Port Class Cruiser. For full schematics, plug me into any printer. ” Well aware of the ship’s layout right down to the smallest crawlway, Merikur ignored his AID and asked, “Your name, Ensign?”

The humans laughed and Windsor said, “Speaking of Cernia … Why don’t you give the general a quick briefing. I’m sure he’ll sleep better.”“I have the most recent intelligence estimates on file,” Merikufs AID volunteered. “Not that they’ll do you much good unless you take the time to read them.”

From that point on Merikur immersed himself in his work. There was plenty to keep him busy from the moment the ship broke orbit until its arrival in Harmony Cluster.

First there was his AID to debrief, including a line-by-line reading of his voluminous official orders, and an endless series of intelligence reports on the Harmony Cluster. Lacking any sort of faster-than-ship communication, the material was probably outdated; but it did give him a base line against which to judge more current information when it became available.

From CLUSTER COMMAND by William C. Dietz and David Drake (1989)

Intelligence Amplification


Drugs that amplify intelligence (temporarily or permanently) are called Nootropics (aka smart drugs, memory enhancers, neuro enhancers, cognitive enhancers, and intelligence enhancers).

Examples from science fiction include R-47 from Gordon Dickson's THE R-MASTER, “VC” (viral coefficient) from John Brunner's THE STONE THAT NEVER CAME DOWN, "Hormone K Treatment" from Ted Chiang's UNDERSTAND, Methuen Treatment from L. Sprague de Camp's THE EXALTED, NZT-48 from the movie LIMITLESS and CPH4 from the movie LUCY.


THE IQ BOOSTERS WORKED SWIFTLY, SURGING UP through the arteries in her neck, seeking the outer layers of the neocortex. Manufactured from algae that had been genetically tricked into producing human enzymes, one set of boosters more than tripled the rate at which nerves recharged and fired, while other substances increased the growth of new nerve connections and modulated energy efficiency. It was the increase in firing frequency that had the first and most profound effect. After only two days on the boost, Tarn and her crew were connecting disparate and seemingly unrelated facts faster than they had ever before in their entire lives, possibly faster than any human beings since the beginning of time.

One side effect of her newly acquired abilities was that she could now clearly see the flicker of her liquid crystal display pad, which usually cycled too quickly for the human eye to register. Watching the pad (especially in the 3-D mode) became an activity guaranteed to trigger migraine, and she worried that there might be other unanticipated effects. Yet they were all being forced to think faster, to redesign their own brain chemistries, and, whenever necessary, to experiment upon themselves. They had no choice.

From THE KILLING STAR by Charles Pellegrino and George Zebrowski

      “Only this. There was an article by him in the August issue of Physical Reviews. I noticed it because I was looking for anything that had to do with Earth, and articles by Earthmen in journals of Galactic circulation are very rare. . . . In any case, the point I am trying to make is that the man claims to have developed something he calls a Synapsifier, which is supposed to improve the learning capacity of the mammalian nervous system.”
     “Really?” said Ennius a bit too sharply. “I haven’t heard about it.”
     “I can find you the reference. It’s quite an interesting article; though, of course, I can’t pretend to understand the mathematics involved. What he has done, however, has been to treat some indigenous animal form on Earth—rats, I believe they call them—with the Synapsifier and then put them to solving a maze. You know what I mean: learning the proper pathway through a tiny labyrinth to some food supply. He used non-treated rats as controls and found that in every case the Synapsified rats solved the maze in less than one third the time. . . . Do you see the significance, Colonel?”
     The military man who had initiated the discussion said indifferently, “No, Doctor, I do not.”
     “I’ll explain, then, that I firmly believe that any scientist capable of doing such work, even an Earthman, is certainly my intellectual equal, at least, and, if you’ll pardon my presumption, yours as well.”
     Ennius interrupted. “Pardon me, Dr. Arvardan. I would like to return to the Synapsifier. Has Shekt experimented with human beings?”
     Arvardan laughed. “I doubt it, Lord Ennius. Nine tenths of his Synapsified rats died during treatment. He would scarcely dare use human subjects until much more progress has been made.”

     The physicist peered closely at the other and seemed doubtful. He rose and his gnarled hand lifted to his lip, which it pinched thoughtfully. “I scarcely know where to begin.”
     “Well, Stars above, if you are considering at which point in the mathematical theory you are to begin, I’ll simplify your problem. Abandon them all. I know nothing of your functions and tensors and what not.”
     Shekt’s eyes twinkled. “Well, then, to stick to descriptive matter only, it is simply a device intended to increase the learning capacity of a human being.”
     “Of a human being? Really! And does it work?”
     “I wish we knew. Much more work is necessary. I’ll give you the essentials, Procurator, and you can judge for yourself. The nervous system in man—and in animals—is composed of neuroprotein material. Such material consists of huge molecules in very precarious electrical balance. The slightest stimulus will upset one, which will right itself by upsetting the next, which will repeat the process, until the brain is reached. The brain itself is an immense grouping of similar molecules which are connected among themselves in all possible ways. Since there are something like ten to the twentieth power—that is, a one with twenty zeros after it—such neuroproteins in the brain, the number of possible combinations are of the order of factorial ten to the twentieth power. This is a number so large that if all the electrons and protons in the universe were made universes themselves, themselves, and all the electrons and protons in all of these new universes again made universes, then all the electrons and protons in all the universes so created would still be nothing in comparison. . . . Do you follow me?”
     “Not a word, thank the Stars. If I even attempted to, I should bark like a dog for sheer pain of the intellect.”
     “Hmp. Well, in any case, what we call nerve impulses are merely the progressive electronic unbalance that proceeds along the nerves to the brain and then from the brain back along the nerves. Do you get that?”
     “Well, blessings on you for a genius, then. As long as this impulse continues along a nerve cell, it proceeds at a rapid rate, since the neuroproteins are practically in contact. However, nerve cells are limited in extent, and between each nerve cell and the next is a very thin partition of non-nervous tissue. In other words, two adjoining nerve cells do not actually connect with each other.”
     “Ah,” said Ennius, “and the nervous impulse must jump the barrier.”
     “Exactly! The partition drops the strength of the impulse and slows the speed of its transmission according to the square of the width thereof. This holds for the brain as well. But imagine, now, if some means could be found to lower the dialectric constant of this partition between the cells.”
     “That what constant?”
     “The insulating strength of the partition. That’s all I mean. If that were decreased, the impulse would jump the gap more easily. You would think faster and learn faster.”
     “Well, then, I come back to my original question. Does it work?”
     “I have tried the instrument on animals.”
     “And with what result?”
     “Why, that most die very quickly of denaturation of brain protein—coagulation, in other words, like hard-boiling an egg.”
     Ennius winced. “There is something ineffably cruel about the cold-bloodedness of science. What about those that didn’t die?”
     “Not conclusive, since they’re not human beings. The burden of the evidence seems to be favorable, for them. . . . But I need humans. You see, it is a matter of the natural electronic properties of the individual brain. Each brain gives rise to microcurrents of a certain type. None are exactly duplicates. They’re like fingerprints, or the blood-vessel patterns of the retina. If anything, they’re even more individual. The treatment, I believe, must take that into account, and, if I am right, there will be no more denaturation. . . . But I have no human beings on whom to experiment. I ask for volunteers, but—”
     He spread his hands.

     And still Ennius was inquiring. Why?
     Did it fit in with other things he had learned? Was the Empire suspecting what he himself suspected?
     Three times in two hundred years Earth had risen. Three times, under the banner of a claimed ancient greatness, Earth had rebelled against the Imperial garrisons. Three times they had failed—of course—and had not the Empire been, essentially, enlightened, and the Galactic Councils, by and large, statesmanlike, Earth would have been bloodily erased from the roll of inhabited planets.
     But now things might be different. . . . Or could they be different? How far could he trust the words of a dying madman, three quarters incoherent?

     Ennius shook his head in the shadows and said, “I don’t know. I think an accumulation of little puzzling things has finally sickened me. There’s the matter of Shekt and his Synapsifier. And there’s this archaeologist, Arvardan, and his theories. And other things, other things. Oh, what’s the use, Flora—I’m doing no good here at all.”
     “Surely this time of the morning isn’t quite the moment for putting your morale to the test.”
     But Ennius was speaking through clenched teeth. “These Earthmen! Why should so few be such a burden to the Empire? Do you remember, Flora, when I was first appointed to the Procuracy, the warnings I received from old Faroul, the last Procurator, as to the difficulties of the position? . . . He was right. If anything, he did not go far enough in his warnings. Yet I laughed at him at the time and privately thought him the victim of his own senile incapacity. I was young, active, daring. I would do better . . .” He paused, lost in himself, then continued, apparently at a disconnected point. “Yet so many independent pieces of evidence seem to show that these Earthmen are once again being misled into dreams of rebellion.”
     He looked up at his wife. “Do you know that it is the doctrine of the Society of Ancients that Earth was at one time the sole home of Humanity, that it is the appointed center of the race, the true representation of Man?”
     “Why, so Arvardan told us two evenings ago, didn’t he?” It was always best at these times to let him talk himself out.
     “Yes, so he did,” said Ennius gloomily, “but even so, he spoke only of the past. The Society of Ancients speaks of the future as well. Earth, once more, they say, will be the center of the race. They even claim that this mythical Second Kingdom of Earth is at hand; they warn that the Empire will be destroyed in a general catastrophe which will leave Earth triumphant in all its pristine glory”—and his voice shook—“as a backward, barbarous, soil-sick world. Three times before, this same nonsense has raised rebellion, and the destruction brought down upon Earth has never served in the least to shake their stupid faith.”
     “They are but poor creatures,” said Flora, “these men of Earth. What should they have, if not their Faith? They are certainly robbed of everything else—of a decent world, of a decent life. They are even robbed of the dignity of acceptance on a basis of equality by the rest of the Galaxy. So they retire to their dreams. Can you blame them?”
     “Yes, I can blame them,” cried Ennius with energy. “Let them turn from their dreams and fight for assimilation. They don’t deny they are different. They simply wish to replace ‘worse’ by ‘better,’ and you can’t expect the rest of the Galaxy to let them do that. Let them abandon their cliquishness, their outdated and offensive ‘Customs.’ Let them be men, and they will be considered men. Let them be Earthmen and they will be considered only as such.
     “But never mind that. For instance, what’s going on with the Synapsifier? Now there’s a little thing that is keeping me from sleep.” Ennius frowned thoughtfully at the dullness which was overcoming the polished darkness of the eastern sky.
     “The Synapsifier? . . . Why, isn’t that the instrument Dr. Arvardan spoke of at dinner? Did you go to Chica to see about that?”
     Ennius nodded.
     “And what did you find out there?”
     “Why nothing at all,” said Ennius. “I know Shekt. I know him well. I can tell when he’s at ease; I can tell when he isn’t. I tell you, Flora, that man was dying of apprehension all the time he was speaking to me. And when I left he broke into a sweat of thankfulness. It is an unhappy mystery, Flora.”
     “But will the machine work?”
     “Am I a neurophysicist? Shekt says it will not. He called me up to tell me that a volunteer was nearly killed by it. But I don’t believe that. He was excited! He was more than that. He was triumphant! His volunteer had lived and the experiment had been successful, or I’ve never seen a happy man in my life. . . . Now why do you suppose he lied to me, then? Do you suppose that the Synapsifier is in operation? Do you suppose that it can be creating a race of geniuses?”
     “But then why keep it secret?”
     “Ah! Why? It isn’t obvious to you? Why has Earth failed in its rebellions? There are fairly tremendous odds against it, aren’t there? Increase the average intelligence of the Earthman. Double it. Triple it. And where may your odds be then?”
     “Oh, Ennius.”
     “We may be in the position of apes attacking human beings. What price numerical odds?”
     “You’re really jumping at shadows. They couldn’t hide a thing like that. You can always have the Bureau of Outer Provinces send in a few psychologists and keep testing random samples of Earthmen. Surely any abnormal rise in I.Q. could be detected instantly.”
     “Yes. I suppose so. . . . But that may not be it. I’m not sure of anything, Flora, except that a rebellion is in the cards. Something like the Uprising of 750, except that it will probably be worse.”
     “Are we prepared for it? I mean, if you’re so certain—”
     “Prepared?” Ennius’s laughter was a bark. “I am. The garrison is in readiness and fully supplied. Whatever can possibly be done with the material at hand, I have done. But, Flora, I don’t want to have a rebellion. I don’t want my Procuracy to go down in history as the Procuracy of the Rebellion. I don’t want my name linked with death and slaughter. I’ll be decorated for it, but a century from now the history books will call me a bloody tyrant. What about the Viceroy of Santanni in the sixth century? Could he have done other than he did, though millions died? He was honored then, but who has a good word for him now? I would rather be known as the man who prevented a rebellion and saved the worthless lives of twenty million fools.” He sounded quite hopeless about it.

From PEBBLE IN THE SKY by Isaac Asimov (1950)

(ed note: This is not a machine, more like a cosmic catastrophe. The solar system leaves an energy field that it has been in for the last few million years, and everybody {and everything} on Terra has its IQ drastically boosted. For humans they wind up with an IQ of about 500 or so. On the one hand this was not caused by a machine. On the other hand it happens to everybody, without exception. Hilarity ensues.)

      “I don’t see how you can sit there like that when—”
     “When a world’s falling to pieces around my ears? Look, Pete, it’s been falling apart as long as I can remember. So far, in this particular episode, no guns have come out.”
     “They may do so yet.” Corinth got up and stood looking Out the window, hands crossed behind his back and shoulders slumped. The restless glimmer of city light etched him against darkness. “Don’t you see, Felix, this new factor—if we survive it at all—changes the whole basis of human life? Our society was built by and for one sort of man. Now man himself is becoming something else.”
     “I doubt it.” The noise of a match, struck against Mandelbaum’s shoe, was startlingly loud. “We’re still the same old animal.”

     “What was your I.Q. before the change?”
     “I don’t know.”
     “Never took a test?”
     “Oh, sure, they made me take one now and then, to get this or that job, but I never asked for the result. What’s I.Q. except the score on an I.Q. test?”
     “It’s more than that. It measures the ability to handle data, grasp and create abstractions—”
     “If you’re a Caucasian of West European-American cultural background. That’s who the test was designed for, Pete. A Kalahari bushman would laugh if he knew it omitted water-finding ability. That’s more important to him than the ability to juggle numbers. Me, I don’t underrate the logic and visualization aspect of personality, but I don’t have your touching faith in it, either. There’s more to a man than that, and a garage mechanic may be a better survivor type than a mathematician.”

     “Survivor—under what conditions?”
     “Any conditions. Adaptability, toughness, quickness—those are the things that count most.”
     “I think kindness means a lot,” said Sheila timidly.
     “It’s a luxury, I’m afraid, though of course it’s such luxuries that make us human,” said Mandelbaum. “Kindness to whom? Sometimes you just have to cut loose and get violent. Some wars are necessary.”

     “They wouldn’t be, if people had more intelligence,” said Corinth. “We needn’t have fought World War II if Hitler had been stopped when he entered the Rhineland. One division could have bowled him over. But the politicians were too stupid to foresee—”
     “No,” said Mandelbaum. “It’s just that there were reasons why it wasn’t—convenient, shall we say?—to call up that division. And ninety-nine per cent of the human race, no matter how smart they are, will do the convenient thing instead of the wise thing, and kid themselves into thinking they can somehow escape the consequences. We’re just built that way. And then, the world is so full of old hate and superstition, and so many people are nice and tolerant and practical about it, that it’s a wonder hell hasn’t boiled over more often throughout history.”

     “We’re getting rather far from the point,” said Corinth, embarrassed. “What we want to do tonight is try and estimate what we, the whole world, are in for.” He shook his head. “My I.Q. has gone from its former 160 to about 200 in a week. I’m thinking things that never occurred to me before. My former professional problems are becoming ridiculously easy. Only, everything else is confused. My mind keeps wandering off into the most fantastic trains of thought, some of them pretty wild and morbid. I’m nervous as a kitten, jump at shadows, afraid for no good reason at all. Now and then I get flashes where everything seems grotesque—like in a nightmare.”
     “You’re not adjusted to your new brain yet, that’s all,” said Sarah.
     “I feel the same sort of things Pete does,” said Sheila. Her voice was thin and scared. “It isn’t worth it.”

     The other woman shrugged, spreading her hands. “Me, I thing it’s kind of fun.”
     “Matter of basic personality—which has not changed,” said Mandelbaum. “Sarah’s always been a pretty down-to-earth sort. You just don’t take your new mind seriously, Liebchen. To you, the power of abstract thought is a toy. It’s got little to do with the serious matters of housework.” He puffed, meshing his face into wrinkles as he squinted through the smoke. “And me, I get crazy spells like you do, Pete, but I don’t let it bother me. It’s only physiological, and I haven’t time for such fumblydiddles. Not the way things are now. Everybody in the union seems to have come up with some crank notion of how we ought to run things. A guy in the electrical workers has a notion that the electricians ought to go on strike and take over the whole government! Somebody even fired a shotgun at me the other day.”
     “Huh?” They stared at him.
     Mandelbaum shrugged. “He was a lousy shot. But some people are turning crank, and some are turning mean, and most are just plain scared. Those like me who’re trying to ride out the storm and keep things as nearly normal as possible, are bound to make enemies. People think a lot more today, but they aren’t thinking straight.”

     Lewis settled himself at the table. “I see the government has finally admitted something is going on,” he said, nodding at the newspaper which lay beside him. “They had to do it, I suppose, but the admission won’t help the panics any. People are afraid, they don’t know what to expect, and—well, coming over here, I saw a man run screaming down the street yelling that the end of the world had come. There was a monster-sized revival in Central Park. Three drunks were brawling outside a bar, and not a cop in sight to stop them. I heard fire sirens-big blaze somewhere out Queens way.”
     Helga lit a cigarette, sucking in her cheeks and half closing her eyes. “John Rossman’s in Washington now,” she said. After a moment she added to the Mandelbaums: “He came to the Institute a few days back, asked our bright boys to investigate this business but keep their findings confidential, and flew to the capital. With his pull, he’ll get the whole story for us if anyone can.”
     “I don’t think there is much of a story yet, to tell the truth,” said Mandelbaum. “Just little things like we’ve all been experiencing, all over the world. They add up to a big upheaval, yes, but there’s no over-all picture.”

     “Just you wait,” said Lewis cheerfully. He took another sandwich and a cup of coffee. “I predict that within about one week, things are going to start going to hell in a band-basket.”
     “The fact is—” Corinth got out of the chair into which he had flopped and began pacing the room. “The fact is, that the change isn’t over. It’s still going on. As far as our best instruments can tell—though they’re not too exact, what with our instruments being affected themselves—the change is even accelerating.”
     “Within the limits of error, I think I see a more or less hyperbolic advance,” said Lewis. “We’ve just begun, brethren. The way we’re going, we’ll all have I.Q.'s in the neighborhood of 400 within another week.”

     They sat for a long while, not speaking. Corinth stood with his fists clenched, hanging loose at his sides, and Sheila gave a little wordless cry and ran over to him and hung on his arm. Mandelbaum blew clouds of smoke, scowling as he digested the information; one hand stole out to caress Sarah’s, and she squeezed it gratefully. Lewis grinned around his sandwich and went on eating. Helga sat without motion, the long clean curves of her face gone utterly expressionless. The city banged faintly below them, around them.
     “What’s going to happen?” breathed Sheila at last. She trembled so they could see it. “What’s going to happen to us?”
     “Will it go on building up forever?” asked Sarah.
     “Nope,” said Lewis. “Can’t. It’s a matter of neurone chains increasing their speed of reaction, and the intensity of the signals they carry. The physical structure of the cell can take only so much. If they’re stimulated too far—insanity, followed by idiocy, followed by death.”
     “How high can we go?” asked Mandelbaum practically.
     “Can’t say. The mechanism of the change—and of the nerve cell itself—just isn’t known well enough. Anyway, the I.Q. concept is only valid within a limited range; to speak of an I.Q. of 400 really doesn’t make sense, intelligence on that level may not be intelligence at all as we know it now, but something else.”
     Corinth had been too busy with his own work of physical measurements to realize how much Lewis’ department knew and theorized. The appalling knowledge was only, beginning to grow in him.

     “Forget the final results,” said Helga sharply. “There’s nothing we can do about that. What’s important right now is: how do we keep organized civilization going? How do we eat?”
     Corinth nodded, mastering the surge of his panic. “Sheer social inertia has carried us along so far,” he agreed. “Most people continue in their daily rounds because there’s nothing else available. But when things really start changing—”
     “The janitor and the elevator man at the Institute quit yesterday,” said Helga. “Said the work was too monotonous. What happens when all the janitors and garbage men and ditchdiggers and assembly-line workers decide to quit?”
     “They won’t all do it,” said Mandelbaum. He knocked out his pipe and went over to get some coffee. “Some will be afraid, some will have the sense to see we’ve got to keep going, some—well, there’s no simple answer to this. I agree we’re in for a rough period of transition at the very least—people throwing up their jobs, people getting scared, people going crazy in one way or another. What we need is a local interim organization to see us through the next few months. I think the labor unions could be a nucleus—I’m working on that, and when I’ve got the boys talked and bullied into line, I’m going to approach City Hall with an offer to help.”

     After a silence, Helga glanced over at Lewis. “You still haven’t any idea as to the cause of it all?”
     “Oh, yes,” said the biologist. “Any number of ideas, and no way of choosing between them. We’ll just have to study and think some more, that’s all.”
     “It’s a physical phenomenon embracing at least the whole Solar System,” declared Corinth. “The observatories have established that much through spectroscopic studies. It may be that the sun, in its orbit around the center of the galaxy, has entered some kind of force-field. But on theoretical grounds—dammit, I won’t scrap general relativity till I have to!—on theoretical grounds, I’m inclined to think it’s more likely a matter of our having left a force-field which slows down light and otherwise affects electromagnetic and electrochemical processes.”
     “In other words,” said Mandelbaum slowly, “we’re actually entering a normal state of affairs? All our past has been spent under abnormal conditions?”
     “Maybe. Only, of course, those conditions are normal for us. We’ve evolved under them. We may be like deep-sea fish, which explode when they’re brought up to ordinary pressures.”
     “Heh! Pleasant thought!”
     “I don’t think I’m afraid to die,” said Sheila in a small voice, “but being changed like this—”
     “Keep a tight rein on yourself,” said Lewis sharply. “I suspect this unbalance is going to drive a lot of people actually insane. Don’t be one of them.”

     He knocked the ash off his cigar. “We have found out some things at the lab,” he went on in a dispassionate tone. “As Pete says, it’s a physical thing, either a force-field or the lack of one, affecting electronic interactions. The effect is actually rather small, quantitatively. Ordinary chemical reactions go on pretty much as before, in fact I don’t think any significant change in the speed of inorganic reactions has been detected. But the more complex and delicate a structure is, the more it feels that slight effect.
     “You must have noticed that you’re more energetic lately. We’ve tested basal metabolism rates, and they have increased, not much but some. Your motor reactions are faster too, though you may not have noticed that because your subjective time sense is also speeded up. In other words, not much change in muscular, glandular, vascular, and the other purely somatic functions, just enough to make you feel nervous; and you’ll adjust to that pretty quick, if nothing else happens.
     “On the other hand, the most highly organized cells—neurones, and above all the neurones of the cerebral cortex—are very much affected. Perception speeds are way up; they measured that over in psych. You’ve noticed, I’m sure, how much faster you read. Reaction time to all stimuli is less.”
     “I heard that from Jones,” nodded Helga coolly, “and checked up on traffic accident statistics for the past week. Definitely lower. If people react faster, naturally they’re better drivers.”

     “Uh-huh,” said Lewis. “Till they start getting tired of poking along at sixty miles an hour and drive at a hundred. Then you may not have any more crack-ups, but those you do have—wham!”
     “But if people are smarter,” began Sheila, “they’ll know enough to—”
     “Sorry, no.” Mandelbaum shook his head. “Basic personality does not change, right? And intelligent people have always done some pretty stupid or evil things from time to time, just like everybody else. A man might be a brilliant scientist, let’s say, but that doesn’t stop him from neglecting his health or from driving recklessly or patronizing spiritualists.”
     “That’s correct, Felix. Eventually, no doubt, increased intelligence would affect the total personality, but right now you’re not removing anyone’s weaknesses, ignorances, prejudices, blind spots, or ambitions; you’re just giving him more power, of energy and intelligence, to indulge them—which is one reason why civilization is cracking up.”

     His voice became dry and didactic: “Getting back to where we were, the most highly organized tissue in the world is, of course, the human cerebrum, the gray matter or seat of consciousness if you like. It feels the stimulus—or lack of inhibition, if Pete’s theory is right—more than anything else on Earth. Its functioning increases out of all proportion to the rest of the organism. Maybe you don’t know how complex a structure the human brain is. Believe me, it makes the sidereal universe look like a child’s building set. There are many times more possible interneuronic connections than there are atoms in the entire cosmos—the factor is something like ten to the power of several million. It’s not surprising that a slight change in electrochemistry—too slight to make any important difference to the body—will change the whole nature of the mind. Look what a little dope or alcohol will do, and then remember that this new factor works on the very basis of the cell’s existence. The really interesting question is whether so finely balanced a function can survive such a change at all.”

From BRAIN WAVE by Poul Anderson (1954)


Connecting the human brain directly to a computer can be used for many forms of intelligence amplification. See the details here.


From the person's standpoint, it appears like their mind is moved out of their meat body and transferred into a computer.

From an outside view it looks more like an incredibly advanced computer program is written which can perfectly simulate your memories, thoughts, and personality. The meat person still exists, they are a little dubious about this perfect simulation software running in the computer in the next room. Yes, this opens a screaming can of flailing worms full of questions about what is identity and related matters.

This is part of the Digital Crew Concept for slower-than-light starships, since uploaded people only require a computer, they have no mass and require no consumables.

Note this can result in the extinction of the human race by Existential Risk 6.1 Take-over by a transcending upload.



You are in an operating room. A robot brain surgeon is in attendance. By your side is a potentially human equivalent computer, dormant for lack of a program to run. Your skull, but not your brain, is anaesthetized. You are fully conscious. The surgeon opens your brain case and peers inside. Its attention is directed at a small clump of about 100 neurons somewhere near the surface. It determines the three dimensional structure and chemical makeup of that clump non-destructively with neutron tomography, phased array radio encephalography, and ultrasonic radar. It writes a program that models the behavior of the clump, and starts it running on a small portion of the computer next to you. Fine wires are run from the edges of the neuron assembly to the computer, providing the simulation with the same inputs as the neurons. You and the surgeon check the accuracy of the simulation. After you are satisfied, tiny relays are inserted between the edges of the clump and the rest of the brain. Initially these leave brain unchanged , but on command they can connect the simulation in place of the clump. A button which activates the relays when pressed is placed in your hand. You press it, release it and press it again. There should be no difference. As soon as you are satisfied, the simulation connection is established firmly , and the now unconnected clump of neurons is removed.

The process is repeated over and over for adjoining clumps, until the entire brain has been dealt with. Occasionally several clump simulations are combined into a single equivalent but more efficient program. Though you have not lost consciousness, or even your train of thought, your mind (some would say soul) has been removed from the brain and transferred to a machine.

In a final step your old body is disconnected. The computer is installed in a shiny new one, in the style, color and material of your choice. You are no longer a cyborg halfbreed, your metamorphosis is complete.

Advantages become instantly apparent. Your computer has a control labelled speed. It had been set to slow, to keep the simulations synchronized with the old brain, but now you change it to fast. You can communicate, react and think a thousand times faster. But that’s just a start.

The program in your machine can be read out and altered, letting you conveniently examine, modify, improve and extend yourself. The entire program may be copied into similar machines, giving two or more thinking, feeling versions of you. You may choose to move your mind from one computer to another more technically advanced, or more suited to a new environment. The program can also be copied to some future equivalent of magnetic tape. If the machine you inhabit is fatally clobbered, the tape can be read into a blank computer, resulting in another you, minus the experiences since the copy. With enough copies, permanent death would be very unlikely.

As a computer program, your mind can travel over infor- mation channels. A laser can send it from one computer to another across great distances and other barriers. If you found life on a neutron star, and wished to make a field trip, you might devise a way to build a neutron computer and robot body on the surface, then transmit your mind to it. Nuclear reactions are a million times quicker than chemistry, so the neutron you can probably think that much faster. It can act. acquire new experiences and memories, then beam its mind back home. The original body could be kept dormant during the trip to be reactivated with the new memories when the return message arrived. Alternatively, the original might remain active. There would then be two separate versions of you, with different memories for the trip interval.

Two sets of memories can be merged, if mind programs are adequately understood. To prevent confusion, memories of events would indicate in which body they happened. Merging should be possible not only between two versions of the same individual but also between different persons. Selective mergings, involving some of the other person's memories, and not others, would be a very superior form of communication, in which recollections, skills, attitudes and personalities can be rapidly and effectively shared.

(ed note: the process should be familiar with computer programmers who worked on a large project with many programmers. They use a version control system. If two programmers work on the same segment of the program at the same time, the two version must be merged )

Your new body will be able to carry more memories than your original biological one, but the accelerated infomiation explosion will insure the impossibility of lugging around all of civilization’s knowledge. You will have to pick and choose what your mind contains at any one time: There will often be knowledge and skills available from others superior to your own, and the incentive to substitute those talents for yours will be overwhelming. In the long run you will re- member mostly other people’s experiences, while memories you originated will be floating around the population at large. The very concept of you will become fuzzy, replaced by larger, communal egos.

Mind transferral need not be limited to human beings. Earth has other species with brains as large, from dolphins, our cephalic equals, to elephants, whales, and giant squid, with brains up to twenty times as big. Translation between their mental representation and ours is a technical problem comparable to converting our minds into a computer program. Our culture could be fused with theirs , we could incorporate each other’s memories, and the species boundaries would fade. Non-intelligent creatures could also be popped into the data banks. The simplest organisms might contribute little more than the infonnation in their DNA. In this way our future selves will benefit from all the lessons leamed by terrestrial biological and cultural evolution. This is a far more secure form of storage than the present one, where genes and ideas are lost when the conditions that gave rise to them change.

Our speculation ends in a super-civilization, the synthesis of all solar system life, constantly improving and extending itself, spreading outwards from the sun, converting non-life into mind. There may be other such bubbles expanding from elsewhere. What happens when we meet? Fusion of us with them is a possibility, requiring only a translation scheme between the memory representations. This process, possibly occurring now elsewhere, might convert the entire universe into an extended thinking entity, a prelude to even greater things.

by Hans P. Mouravec (1978)


In the science fiction realm, memory can become a problem if a person is immortal or very long-lived. It is unknown what the maximum memory storage capacity is for the human brain. And even if there is plenty of storage left, how do you find the particular memory you seek? Imagine trying to find a particular web-page on the internet if there was no Google or other web searcher. Each day adds a days worth of new memory data to drown in.

The mechanical solution is to use a You-Simulator, hooked up to some kind of search algorithm. The mental solution is to use mnemonic techniques, such as the Method of loci. This sort of adds an index to one's memories.


(ed note: Lazarus Long is immortal, or very very long lived. In this scene he is currently in excess of five thousand years old)

      “I was saying that your memoirs are incomplete. Even if you are determined to go through with dying, won’t you consider granting me and your other descendants the rest of your memoirs? Simply talk, tell us what you’ve seen and done. Careful analysis might teach us quite a lot. For example, what did happen at that Families Meeting of 2012? The minutes don’t tell much.”

     “Who cares now, Ira? They’re all dead. It would be my version without giving them a chance to answer back. Let sleeping dogs bury their own dead. Besides, I told you my memory was playing tricks. I’ve used Andy Libby’s hypno-encyclopedic techniques—and they’re good—and also learned tier storage for memory I didn’t need every day, with keying words to let a tier cascade when I did need it, like a computer, and I have had my brain washed of useless memories several times in order to clear those file drawers for new data—and still it’s no good. Half the time I can’t remember where I put the book I was reading the night before, then waste a morning looking for it—before I remember that that book was one I was reading a century ago. Why won’t you leave an old man in peace?”

(ed note: in computer architectures, tier storage is what we call "archiving")

From TIME ENOUGH FOR LOVE by Robert Heinlein (1973)

Warning: spoilers for DEFIANCE by Joel Shepherd

(ed note: about forty thousand year ago, an interstellar forerunner race created artificial intelligence. Predictably it eventually decided to go all Skynet on them. The AI committed genocide on the forerunners, they tried to do the same to any other alien species that arose since. However, eventually the AI split into two factions that went to war with each other. This weakened both to the point where the biological aliens managed to defeat the AIs. Occasionally tiny nests of AIs are discovered and destroyed. Terrans call the AIs the horribly descriptive name "Hacksaws," because of the vibroblades on their arms that the AI robots use to slice people into bloody bits.

Our Heroes of the good ship Phoenix of the Terran Star Navy are running a way from an attempt by said Star Navy to frame them as part of a conspiracy of a government faction to keep a grip on power. Phoenix finds an AI nest, and due to lack of options makes common cause with the AI "Queen" robot. The queen refers to itself as "Styx")

      “Major, just to clarify,” came Lieutenant ‘JC’ Crozier, who was south-east with Delta Platoon. “Styx didn’t know if these power systems could be restored or not?”
     “Styx says she was just a visitor,” said Trace, lining up her landing as the pad approached. She hit light thrust to decelerate at fifty metres, slowing rapidly. “And she always says she’s not a technician.”
     “No, she’s a mega-intellect and can build herself a new body from scratch,” Crozier said dubiously. “Whether she calls herself a technician or not, it ought to just be semantics for her.”

     Trace cut thrust at two metres and let gravity drop her lightly to the pad, then bounced clear toward the far edge to make space for Command Squad coming in behind. She’d wondered before how it was possible for Styx to forget anything. Computer memory did not become hazy with time, provided the systems were undamaged, and Styx’s systems were endlessly self-repairing to the point of being able to fill in a huge hole in her head (Major Trace had killed the queen by shooting an armor piercing bullet through its head, but it got better). But then, when she’d first arrived on Phoenix, Styx had claimed to not be the same ‘person’ now that she’d been back then, all those millennia ago (about forty thousand years). Perhaps that was it, Trace thought, bouncing to the edge of the platform and looking across the view. Surely such an old, old mind would add layers of new data, accumulated memories and the processing nodes those new connections created. After so many years, perhaps she’d become layered like an onion… and if that was so, perhaps those most recent, outer layers began to have difficulty interacting with the inner layers. But Trace was too busy with combat operations to ponder it further, no matter how directly important to her current considerations…

From DEFIANCE by Joel Shepherd ()

      "What is that building?"
     "It is a place of decision. I am the judge. The Guardians bring things to me and I judge their humanity or their human origin, or lack of it. There are certain qualities of humanity the Program cannot evaluate on its own."
     "Has anything of human origin ever been brought before you? Have there been people you have judged to be human?"
     "All were human or of human origin. Without exception."
     "And what did you tell the Program?"
     "I evaluated it all as alien and demanded its immediate return to its origin for fear of retribution by superior technology, the one factor most respected by the Program. Except for plants. We allow the Program to consume its energy in harmless pursuits. But the people are returned to their home worlds if they survive the stress of capture and analysis. No human colony has been established among the Worlds of Man prepared by the Program. None properly fit the Program's selective definition, even when the Program is in doubt. Perhaps that is not such a tragedy. Man thrives on hostile worlds. Would he thrive as well in paradise wanting for nothing?"
     "These Worlds of Man. Do the Mediators inhabit them?"
     "Just this one planet. There are one million of us. No more and no less."
     "Can you reproduce?"
     Lithia failed to respond immediately. Chayn sensed her distress. "We can," she said. "We do not. We dare not. We are only Standards and not to live as human."

     "How long have you endured this kind of existence?"
     "I cannot answer. My brain is designed to retain memory no longer than one century. I am always one century old. Each minute I live erases a minute of the past. Physically, I have lived since the establishment of the Program in Andromeda."

     Chayn rejected it. "Lithia, that cannot be. You told me the Program was supposed to be established long before the colonies arrived. Even if they arrived millions of years late, it took time to establish the Worlds of Man. It must have taken—"
     "Fifty thousand years. Five hundred thousand years. We are not allowed to know for certain."

From NEMYDIA DEEP by William Tedford (1981)

      “You are correct, of course,” came the reply. “But that is merely part of the answer—and a very small part indeed. Until now, you have met only children of your own age, and they have been ignorant of the truth. Soon they will remember, but you will not, so we must prepare you to face the facts.
     “For over a billion years, Alvin, the human race has lived in this city. Since the Galactic Empire fell, and the Invaders went back to the stars, this has been our world. Outside the walls of Diaspar, there is nothing except the desert of which our legends speak.
     “We know little about our primitive ancestors, except that they were very short-lived beings and that, strange though it seems, they could reproduce themselves without the aid of memory units or matter organizers. In a complex and apparently uncontrollable process, the key patterns of each human being were preserved in microscopic cell structures actually created inside the body. If you are interested, the biologists can tell you more about it, but the method is of no great importance since it was abandoned at the dawn of history.
     “A human being, like any other object, is defined by its structure—its pattern. The pattern of a man, and still more the pattern which specifies a man’s mind, is incredibly complex. Yet Nature was able to pack that pattern into a tiny cell, too small for the eye to see.
     “What Nature can do, Man can do also, in his own way. We do not know how long the task took. A million years, perhaps—but what is that? In the end our ancestors learned how to analyze and store the information that would define any specific human being—and to use that information to re-create the original, as you have just created that couch.
     “I know that such things interest you, Alvin, but I cannot tell you exactly how it is done. The way in which information is stored is of no importance; all that matters is the information itself. It may be in the form of written words on paper, of varying magnetic fields, or patterns of electric charge. Men a have used all these methods of storage, and many others. Suffice to say that long ago they were able to store themselves; or, to be more precise, the disembodied patterns from which they could be called back into existence.
     “So much, you already know. This is the way our ancestors gave us virtual immortality, yet avoided the problems raised by the abolition of death. A thousand years in one body is long enough for any man; at the end of that time, his mind is clogged with memories, and he asks only for rest—or a new beginning.
     “In a little while, Alvin, I shall prepare to leave this life. I shall go back through my memories, editing them and canceling those I do not wish to keep. Then I shall walk into the Hall of Creation, but through a door which you have never seen. This old body will cease to exist, and so will consciousness itself. Nothing will be left of Jeserac but a galaxy of electrons frozen in the heart of a crystal.
     “I shall sleep, Alvin, and without dreams. Then one day, perhaps a hundred thousand years from now, I shall find myself in a new body, meeting those who have been chosen to be my guardians. They will look after me as Eriston and Etania have guided you, for at first I will know nothing of Diaspar and will have no memories of what I was before. Those memories will slowly return, at the end of my infancy, and I will build upon them as I move forward into my new cycle of existence.
     “That is the pattern of our lives, Alvin. We have all been here many, many times before, though as the intervals of nonexistence vary according to apparently random laws this present population will never repeat itself again. The new Jeserac will have new and different friends and interests, but the old Jeserac—as much of him as I wish to save—will still exist.
     “That is not all. At any moment, Alvin, only a hundredth of the citizens of Diaspar live and walk its streets. The vast majority slumber in the Memory Banks, waiting for the signal that will call them forth onto the stage of existence once again. So we have continuity, yet change—immortality, but not stagnation.
     “I know what you are wondering, Alvin. You want to know when you will recall the memories of your earlier lives, as your companions are already doing.
     “There are no such memories, for you are unique. We have tried to keep this knowledge from you as long as we could, so that no shadow should lie across your childhood—though I think you must have guessed part of the truth already. We did not suspect it ourselves until five years ago, but now there is no doubt.
     “You Alvin, are something that has happened in Diaspar a handful of times since the founding of the city. Perhaps you have been lying dormant in the Memory Banks through all the ages—or perhaps you were created only twenty years ago by some random permutation. You may have been planned in the beginning by the designers of the city, or you may be a purposeless accident of our own time.
     “We do not know. All that we do know is this: You, Alvin, alone of the human race, have never lived before. In literal truth, you are the first child to be born on Earth for at least ten million years.”

From THE CITY AND THE STARS by Arthur C. Clarke (1956)

Speed Learning

This is some sort of science fictional technique where a person learns some skill or knowledge in a half hour or so. It generally takes the form of putting on a headset, lying in a bed, going to sleep (or being drugged), and having the knowledge electronically engraved into your memory. It is commonly used to learn a new language, but sometimes more complicated knowledge can be acquired. It is sometimes called hypnopædia, or hypnopedia.

Common limitations include:

  • The user is not aware of the new knowledge unless they go rooting around in their memory.

  • The user has learned facts, but they need standard drills to be able to use the facts. For instance, you can learn about trigonometry, but you cannot use it without conventional math training

  • It can be used for brainwashing or deep indoctrination


It remained to Ralph, however, to perfect the Hypnobioscope, which transmitted words direct to the sleeping brain, in such a manner that everything could be remembered in detail the next morning. This was made possible by having the impulses act directly and steadily on the brain.

For thousands of years humanity had wasted half of its life during sleep — the negative life.

From RALPH 124C41+ by Hugo Gernsback (1911)

      The accelerated schooling to which the City Fathers had remanded Chris did not at first seem physically strenuous at all. In fact it seemed initially to be no more demanding than sleeping all day might be. (This to Chris was a Utopian notion; he had never had the opportunity to try sleeping as a career, and so had no idea how intolerably exhausting it is.

     The "schoolroom" was a large, gray, featureless chamber devoid of blackboard or desk; its only furniture consisted of a number of couches scattered about the floor. Nor were there any teachers; the only adults present were called monitors, and their duties appeared to be partly those of an -usher, and partly those of a nurse, but none pertinent to teaching in any sense of the term Chris had ever encountered. They conducted you to your couch and helped you to fit over your head a bright metal helmet which had inside it what seemed to be hundreds of tiny,extremely sharp points which bit into your scalp just enough to make you nervous, but without enough pressure to break the skin. Once this gadget, which was called a toposcope, was adjusted to their satisfaction, the monitors left, and the room began to fill with the gray gas.
     The gas was like a fog, except that it was dry and faintly aromatic, smelling rather like the dried leaves of mountain laurel that Chris had liked to add sparingly to rabbit stews. But like a thick fog, it made it impossible to see the rest of the room until the session was over, when it was sucked out with a subdued roar of blowers.

     Thus Chris could never decide whether or not he actually slept while class was in session. The teaching technique, to be sure, was called hypnopaedia, an ancient word from still more ancient Greek roots which when translated literally meant "sleep-teaching." And, to be sure, it filled your head with strange voices and strange visions which were remarkably like dreams. Chris also suspected that the gray gas not only cut off his vision, but also his other senses; otherwise he should surely have heard such random sounds as the coughing of other students, the movements of the monitors, the whir of the ventilators, the occasional deep sounds of the city's drivers, and even the beating of his own heart; but none of these came through, or if they did, he did not afterwards have any memory of them. Yet the end result of all this was almost surely not true sleep, but simply a divorcing of his mind from every possible bodily distraction which might have come between him and his fullest attention to the visions and voices which were poured directly into his mind through the shining helmet of the toposcope.

     It was easy to understand why no such distraction could be tolerated, for the torrent of facts that came from the memory cells of the City Fathers into the prickly helmet was overwhelming and merciless. More than once, Chris saw ex-Scrantonites, all of them older than he was, being supported by monitors out of the classroom at the end of a session in a state closely resembling the kind of epileptic fit called "petit mal" — nor were they ever allowed back on their couches again. He himself left the sessions in a curious state of wobbly, washed-out detachment which became more and more marked every day, despite the tumbler of restorative drink which was the standard antidote for the gray gas: a feeling of weakness which no amount of sleep seemed to make up for.
     The drink tasted funny, furthermore, and besides, it made him sneeze. But on the day after he had refused it for the first time, the memory banks decanted a double dose of projective Riemannian geometry, and he awoke to find four monitors holding him down on the couch during the last throes of a classical Jacksonian seizure.
     His education nearly stopped right there. Luckily, he had the sense to admit that he had skipped drinking the anticonvulsant drug the day before; and the records of the patterns of electrical activity of his brain which the toposcope had been taking continued to adjudge him a good risk. He was allowed back into the hall—and after that he was no longer in any doubt that learning can be harder physical labor than heaving a shovel.
     The voices and the visions resumed swarming gleefully inside his aching head.

     Chris's schooling left him very little time to explore it. Not all of his education was machine education, either, for, as he slowly realized, no one really leans anything through hypnopaedia; machine teaching at its best enables the student to accumulate nothing better than facts; it does not show how to tie them together, let alone how to do something with them. To train the intelligence—not just the memory—a real human tutor is required.
     The one assigned to Chris, a stocky, fierce, white-haired woman named Dr. Helena Braziller, was far and away the best teacher Chris had ever encountered in his life—and far and away the worst taskmaster. ,The City Fathers wore him out only by taxing his memory; whereas Dr. Braziller made him work.

“The fundamental equation of the Blackett-Dirac scholium reads as follows:

P = BG½U / 2C

where P is magnetic moment, U is angular momentum, C and G have their usual values, and B is a constant with the value 0.25 approximately. A first transform of this identity gives:

G = (2PC / BU)2

which is the usual shorthand form of the primary spindizzy equation, called the Locke Derivation. Blackett, Dirac and Locke all assumed that it would hold true for large bodies, such as gas-giant planets and suns. Show on the blackboard by dimensional analysis why this assumption is invalid.”

     As far as Chris was concerned, the answer could have been much more simply arrived at; Dr. Braziller could just have told him that this relationship between gravitation and the spin of a body applied only to electrons and other submicroscopic objects, and disappeared, for all practical purposes, in the world of the macrocosm; but that was not her way. Had she only told him that, it would have come into his mind as a fact like any other fact—for instance, like the facts that the memory cells of the City Fathers were constantly pouring into his ears and eyes—but by her lights he would not have understood it. She wanted him to repeat not only the original reasoning of Blackest, Dirac and Locke, but to see for himself, not just because she told him so, where they had gone astray, and hence why a natural law which had first been proposed in the gas-lit, almost prehistoric year of 1891, and was precisely formulated as the Lande Factor in 1940, nevertheless failed to lift so much as a grain of sand off the Earth until the year 2019.

     "But Dr. Braziller, why isn't it enough to see that they made a mistake? We know that now. Why repeat it?"
     "Because that's what all these great men have labored toward: so that you could do it right, yourself. Up until about the thirteenth century, nobody in the world except a few dedicated scholars could do long division; then Fibonacci introduced the Arabic numbers to the West. Now, any idiot can do what it took a great mind to do in those days. Are you going to complain that because Fibonacci found a better way to do long division, you shouldn't be required to learn why it's better? Or that because a great inventor like Locke didn't understand dimensional analysis, you should be allowed to be just as ignorant, after all these years? They spent their lives making things simple for you that were enormously difficult for them and until you understand the difficulties, you can't possibly understand the simplifications. Go back to the blackboard and try again."

     "Okay. Now if it had been me, I would have just stopped the boat right there, and gotten out, and told the cops what I'd heard. Let them drag it out of the guys you'd locked up. You know how the City Fathers cram all that junk into our heads in class—well, they can take stuff out the same way. Dad says it's darned unpleasant for the victim, but they get it."

     Like many of the things Piggy said, fully 80 per cent of this speech meant nothing to Chris. In self-defense, he could do nothing but answer the question. "You know all this better than I do. But the laws do say pretty clearly that a man has to be good for something before he's allowed to become a citizen and be started on the drug treatments. Let's see; there are supposed to be three ways to go about it; and I ought to have them straight, because I just had them put into my head a few days ago."
     He concentrated a moment. He had discovered a useful trick for dredging up the information which had been implanted in his mind from the memory cells: If he half closed his eyes and imagined the gray gas, in a moment he would begin to feel, at least in retrospect, the same somnolence under which the original facts had been imparted, and they would come back in very much the same words. It worked equally well this time; almost at once, he heard his own voice sayihg, in a curious monotone imitation of the City Fathers...

     The odor diminished gradually, carried off by what little breeze there was. After a while Estelle cautiously put two thumbs into the wound she had made and broke the melon open. Nothing else happened; the odor was now tolerable, and then abruptly became both barely detectable and overpoweringly mouth-watering. Estelle handed him half. He bit into the crisp white pulp more deeply than he had intended. The result made him close his eyes; it tasted like quick-frozen music.

     They finished it in reverent silence and, wiping their mouths on their chitons, lay back. After a while, Estelle said: "I wish we could talk to them better."
     "Miramon can talk to us well enough," Web said somnolently. "He didn't have to learn our language the hard way, either. They do it here by machine, like we used to do it when we were Okies. I wish we still did it that way."
     "Hypnopaedia?" Estelle said. "But I thought that was all dead and done for. You didn't really learn anything that way; just facts."
     "That's right, just facts. It didn't teach you to relate. For that you have to have a tutor. But it was good for learning things like 1 × 1 = 10, or the tables in the back of the book, or the 850 words you most need to know in a new language. It used to take only five hundred hours to cram all that stuff into you, by EEG feedback, flicker, oral repetition, and I don't know what all else—and the whole time, you were under hypnosis."
     "It sounds too easy," Estelle said sleepily.
     "The easy parts of things ought to be easy," Web said. "What's the point of having to learn them by rote? That takes too much time. You know yourself that something you can learn in ten repetitions, or five, it takes some kids thirty repetitions to learn. So you have to sit around through twenty or twenty-five repetitions that you don't need. If there's anything I hate about school, it's drill-all that time wasted that you could actually be doing something with."

     "We could sign up for it here," Web said abruptly.
     "For what? Hypnopaedia? Your grandmother wouldn't let us."
     Web turned around and sat up, plucking a long hollow blade of the bamboo-like grass and sinking his grinding teeth thoughtfully into the woody butt end. "But she isn't here," he said.
     "No, but she will be," Estelle said. "And she's a school officer on the New Earth. I used to hear her fighting about it with my father when I was a child. She used to tell him he was out of his mind. She would say, "Why do kids need all this calculus and history now? What good is it to somebody who's going to have to go out and hoe a virgin planet?'. She used to make poor Dad stutter something awful."

From CITIES IN FLIGHT by James Blish (1956)

      While my hands were being treated and dressed I was brought up to date concerning the period (it turned out to be two weeks) that Mary and I had spent at the cabin. By the Old Man’s orders the doctor gave me a short shot of tempus before he worked on me and I spent the time — subjective, about three days; objective, less than an hour — studying stereo tapes through an over-speed scanner. This gadget has never been released to the public, though I have heard that it is bootlegged at some of the colleges around examination week. You adjust the speed to match your subjective time rate, or a little faster, and use an audio frequency step-down to let you hear what is being said. It is hard on the eyes and usually results in a splitting headache — but it is a big help in my profession.

From THE PUPPET MASTERS by Robert Heinlein (1951)

      “That’s some help, but not much. You’re in for a shock, son. We don’t have classrooms and fixed courses. Except for laboratory work and group drills, you study alone. It’s pleasant to sit in a class daydreaming while the teacher questions somebody else, but we haven’t got time for that. There is too much ground to cover. Take the outer languages alone—have you ever studied under hypnosis?
     “Why, no, sir.”
     “We’ll start you on it at once. When you leave here, go to the Psycho Instruction Department and ask for a first hypno in Beginning Venerian. What’s the matter?”
     “Well… Sir, is it absolutely necessary to study under hypnosis?”
     “Definitely. Everything that can possibly be studied under hypno you will have to learn that way in order to leave time for the really important subjects.”

     Matt nodded. “I see. Like astrogation.”
     “No, no, no! Not astrogation. A ten-year-old child could learn to pilot a spaceship if he had the talent for mathematics. That is kindergarten stuff, Dodson. The arts of space and warfare are the least part of your education. I know, from your tests, that you can soak up the math and physical sciences and technologies. Much more important is the world around you, the planets and their inhabitants—extraterrestrial biology, history, cultures, psychology, law and institutions, treaties and conventions, planetary ecologies, system ecology, interplanetary economics, applications of extraterritorialism, comparative religious customs, law of space, to mention a few.”
     Matt was looking bug-eyed. “My gosh! How long does it take to learn all those things?”
     “You’ll still be studying the day you retire. But even those subjects are not your education; they are simply raw materials. Your real job is to learn how to think—and that means you must study several other subjects: epistemology, scientific methodology, semantics, structures of languages, patterns of ethics and morals, varieties of logics, motivational psychology, and so on. This school is based on the idea that a man who can think correctly will automatically behave morally—or what we call ‘morally'. Come, now, let’s make up the list of spools you’ll need.”

     It was a long list. Matt was surprised and pleased to find that some story spools had been included. He pointed to an item that puzzled him—An Introduction to Lunar Archeology. “I don’t see why I should study that—the Patrol doesn’t deal with Selenites; they’ve been dead for millions of years.”
     “Keeps your mind loosened up. I might just as well have stuck in modern French music. A Patrol officer shouldn’t limit his horizons to just the things he is sure to need. I'm marking the items I want you to study first, then you beat it around to the library and draw out those spools, then over to Psycho for your first hypno. In about a week, when you’ve absorbed this first group, come back and see me.”
     “You mean you expect me to study all the spools I’m taking out today in one week?” Matt looked at the list in amazement.
     “That’s right. In your off hours, that is—you’ll be busy with drills and lab a lot. Come back next week and we’ll boost the dose. Now get going.”
     “But—Aye aye, sir!”

     Matt located the Psycho Instruction Department and was presently ushered into a small room by a bored hypno technician wearing the uniform of the staff services of the Space Marines. “Stretch out in that chair,” he was told. “Rest your head back. This is your first treatment?” Matt admitted that it was.
     “You’ll like it. Some guys come in here just for the rest—they already know more than they ought to. What course was it you said you wanted?”
     “Beginning Venerian.”
     The technician spoke briefly to a pick-up located on his desk. “Funny thing—about a month ago an oldster was in here for a brush up in electronics. The library thought I said ‘colonics’ and now he’s loaded up with a lot of medical knowledge he’ll never use. Lemme have your left arm.” The technician irradiated a patch on his forearm and injected the drug. “Now just lay back and follow the bouncing light. Take it easy … relax … relax … and … close … your … eyes … and … relax … you’re … getting—”

     Someone was standing in front of him, holding a hypodermic pressure injector “That’s all. You’ve had the antidote.”
     “Huh?” said Matt. “Wazzat?”
     “Sit still a couple of minutes and then you can go.”
     “Didn’t it take?”
     “Didn’t what take? I don’t know what you were being exposed to; I just came on duty.”

     Matt went back to his room feeling rather depressed. He had been a little afraid of hypnosis, but to find that he apparently did not react to the method was worse yet. He wondered whether or not he could ever keep up with his studies if he were forced to study everything, outer languages as well, by conventional methods.
     Nothing to do but to go back and see Lieutenant Wong about it—tomorrow, he decided.
     Oscar was alone in the suite and was busy trying to place a hook in the wall of a common room. A framed picture was leaning against the chair on which he stood. “Hello, Oscar.”
     “Howdy, Matt.” Oscar turned his head as he spoke; the drill he was using slipped and he skinned a knuckle. He started to curse in strange, lisping speech. “May maledictions pursue this nameless thing to the uttermost depths of world slime!”
     Matt clucked disapprovingly. “Curb thy voice, thou impious fish.”
     Oscar looked up in amazement. “Matt—I didn’t know you knew any Venerian.”
     Matt’s mouth sagged open. He closed it, then opened it to speak “Well, I’ll be a—Neither did I!”

From SPACE CADET by Robert Heinlein (1948)

      "A hundred years isn't a particularly long time," Tortha Karf considered. "I'll be retired, then, but you'll have my job, and it'll be your headache. You'd better get this cleaned up, now, while it can be handled. What are you going to do?"
     "I'm not sure, now, sir. I want a hypno-mech indoctrination, first." Verkan Vall gestured toward the communicator on the desk. "May I?" he asked.
     "Certainly." Tortha Karf slid the instrument across the desk. "Anything you want."
     "Thank you, sir." Verkan Vall snapped on the code-index, found the symbol he wanted, and then punched it on the keyboard. "Special Chief's Assistant Verkan Vall," he identified himself. "Speaking from office of Tortha Karf, Chief Paratime Police. I want a complete hypno-mech on Venusian nighthounds, emphasis on wild state, special emphasis domesticated nighthounds reverted to wild state in terrestrial surroundings, extra-special emphasis hunting techniques applicable to same. The word 'nighthound' will do for trigger-symbol." He turned to Tortha Karf. "Can I take it here?"
     Tortha Karf nodded, pointing to a row of booths along the far wall of the office.
     "Make set-up for wired transmission; I'll take it here."
     "Very well, sir; in fifteen minutes," a voice replied out of the communicator.

     A blue light flashed over one of the booths across the room. Verkan Vall got to his feet, removing his coat and hanging it on the back of his chair, and crossed the room, rolling up his left shirt sleeve. There was a relaxer-chair in the booth, with a blue plastic helmet above it. He glanced at the indicator-screen to make sure he was getting the indoctrination he called for, and then sat down in the chair and lowered the helmet over his head, inserting the ear plugs and fastening the chin strap. Then he touched his left arm with an injector which was lying on the arm of the chair, and at the same time flipped the starter switch.
     Soft, slow music began to chant out of the earphones. The insidious fingers of the drug blocked off his senses, one by one. The music diminished, and the words of the hypnotic formula lulled him to sleep.

     He woke, hearing the lively strains of dance music. For a while, he lay relaxed. Then he snapped off the switch, took out the ear plugs, removed the helmet and rose to his feet. Deep in his subconscious mind was the entire body of knowledge about the Venusian nighthound. He mentally pronounced the word, and at once it began flooding into his conscious mind. He knew the animal's evolutionary history, its anatomy, its characteristics, its dietary and reproductive habits, how it hunted, how it fought its enemies, how it eluded pursuit, and how best it could be tracked down and killed. He nodded. Already, a plan for dealing with Gavran Sarn's renegade pet was taking shape in his mind.
     He picked a plastic cup from the dispenser, filled it from a cooler-tap with amber-colored spiced wine, and drank, tossing the cup into the disposal-bin. He placed a fresh injector on the arm of the chair, ready for the next user of the booth. Then he emerged, glancing at his Fourth Level wrist watch and mentally translating to the First Level time-scale. Three hours had passed; there had been more to learn about his quarry than he had expected.

From POLICE OPERATION by H. Beam Piper (1948)

      What was that old experiment they told us about in high school biology? Take a flatworm and teach it how to swim through a maze. Then mash it up and feed it to a stupid flatworm, and lo! the stupid flatworm would be able to swim the maze, too.
     I had a bad taste of major general in my mouth.
     Actually, I supposed they had refined the techniques since my high school days. With time dilation, that was about 450 years for research and development.
     At Stargate, my orders said, I was to undergo "indoctrination and education" prior to taking command of my very own Strike Force. Which was what they still called a company.
     For my education on Stargate, they didn't mince up major generals and serve them to me with hollandaise. They didn't feed me anything except glucose for three weeks. Glucose and electricity.
     They shaved every hair off my body, gave me a shot that turned me into a dishrag, attached dozens of electrodes to my head and body, immersed me in a tank of oxygenated fluorocarbon, and hooked me up to an ALSC. That's an "accelerated life situation computer." It kept me busy.
     I guess it took the machine about ten minutes to review everything I had learned previously about the martial (excuse the expression) arts. Then it started in on the new stuff.
     I learned the best way to use every weapon from a rock to a nova bomb. Not just intellectually; that's what all those electrodes were for. Cybernetically-controlled negative feedback kinesthesia; I felt the weapons in my hands and watched my performance with them. And did it over and over until I did it right. The illusion of reality was total. I used a spear-thrower with a band of Masai warriors on a village raid, and when I looked down at my body it was long and black. I relearned épeé from a cruel-looking man in foppish clothes, in an eighteenth-century French courtyard. I sat quietly in a tree with a Sharps rifle and sniped at blue-uniformed men as they crawled across a muddy field toward Vicksburg. In three weeks I killed several regiments of electronic ghosts. It seemed more like a year to me, but the ALSC does strange things to your sense of time.
     Learning to use useless exotic weapons was only a small part of the training. In fact, it was the relaxing part. Because when I wasn't in kinesthesia, the machine kept my body totally inert and zapped my brain with four millennia's worth of military facts and theories. And I couldn't forget any of it! Not while I was in the tank.
     Want to know who Scipio Aemilianus was? I don't. Bright light of the Third Punic War. War is the province of danger and therefore courage above all things is the first quality of a warrior, von Clausewitz maintained. And I'll never forget the poetry of "the advance party minus normally moves in a column formation with the platoon headquarters leading, followed by a laser squad, the heavy weapons squad, and the remaining laser squad; the column relies on observation for its flank security except when the terrain and visibility dictate the need for small security detachments to the flanks, in which case the advance party commander will detail one platoon sergeant…" and so on. That's from Strike Force Command Small Unit Leader's Handbook, as if you could call something a handbook when it takes up two whole microfiche cards, 2,000 pages.
     If you want to become a thoroughly eclectic expert in a subject that repels you, join UNEF and sign up for officer training.

From THE FOREVER WAR by Joe Haldeman (1975)

      “That’s the first strange word you’ve used since I woke up. In fact-hasn’t the language changed at all? You don’t even have an accent.”
     “Part of my profession. I learned your speech through RNA training, many years ago. You’ll learn your trade the same way if you get that far. You’ll be amazed how fast you learn with RNA shots to help you along. But you’d better be right about liking your privacy, Corbell, and about liking to travel, too.”
     Pierce and the guard guided Corbell to a comfortable armchair facing a wide curved screen. They put padded earphones on him. They set a plastic bottle of clear fluid on a shelf over his head. Corbell noticed a clear plastic tube tipped with a hypodermic needle.
     Pierce missed the sarcasm. “You’ll have one meal each day-after learning period and exercise.” He inserted the needle into a vein in Corbell’s arm. He covered the wound with a blob of what might have been Silly Putty.
     “Learn now,” said Pierce. “This knob controls speed. The volume is set for your hearing. You may replay any section once. Don’t worry about your arm; you can’t pull the tube loose.”
     “There’s something I wanted to ask you, only I couldn’t remember the word. What’s a rammer?”
     “Starship pilot.”

     Now his life depended on his “rammer” career. He never doubted it. That was what kept Corbell in front of the screen with the earphones on his head for fourteen hours that first day. He was afraid he might be tested.
     He didn’t understand all he was supposed to learn. But he was not tested, either.
     The second day he began to get interested. By the third day he was fascinated. Things he had never understood—relativity and magnetic theory and abstract mathematics—he now grasped intuitively. It was marvelous!
     The RNA was most effective. Corbell stopped wondering about Pierce’s dispassionately possessive attitude. He began to think of himself as property being programmed for a purpose.
     And he learned. He skimmed microtaped texts as if they were already familiar. The process was heady. He became convinced that he could rebuild a seeder ramship with his bare hands, given the parts. He had loved figures all his life, but abstract math had been beyond him until now. Field theory, monopole field equations, circuitry design. When to suspect the presence of a gravitational point source how to locate it, use it, avoid it.
     The teaching chair was his life. The rest of his time—exercise, dinner, sleep—seemed vague, uninteresting.

     Pierce regarded him in some amusement. “You really don’t know much about your own time, do you?”
     “Come on, I was an architect. What would I know about astrophysics? We didn’t have your learning techniques.” Which reminded him of something. “Pierce, you said you learned English with RNA injections. Where does the RNA come from?”
     Pierce smiled and walked away.

(ed note: the RNA came from other people who were ground up into mush and had the RNA extracted.

A year after this story was written the Reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction was discovered. Using Reverse transcriptase you can turn one strand of DNA or RNA into a whole vat full without needing to grind up entire people. This made possible DNA profiling, the technique the TV show CSI is so fond of.)

     He could see the reasoning. He would be gone for several centuries. Why should the State teach him anything at all about today’s technology, customs, politics? There would be trouble enough when he came back,if he-come to that, who had taught him to call the government the State? How had he come to think of the State as all-powerful? He knew nothing of its power and extent.
     It must be the RNA training. With data came attitudes below the conscious level, where he couldn’t get at them.
     That made his skin crawl. They were changing him around again!
     Sure, why shouldn’t the State trust him with a seeder ramship? They were feeding him State-oriented patriotism through a silver needle!

From A WORLD OUT OF TIME by Larry Niven (1976)

      In the meantime the slave had taken several pieces of apparatus from a cabinet in the room and had placed them in his belt. Stopping only to observe for a few moments a small instrument which he clamped upon the head of the dead man, he rapidly led the way back to the room they had left and set to work upon the instrument he had constructed while the others had been asleep. He connected it, in an intricate system of wiring, with the pieces of apparatus he had just recovered.
     "That's a complex job of wiring," said DuQuesne admiringly. "I've seen several intricate pieces of apparatus myself, but he has so many circuits there that I'm lost. It would take an hour to figure out the lines and connections alone."

     Straightening abruptly, the slave clamped several electrodes upon his temples and motioned to Seaton and the others, speaking to Dorothy as he did so.
     "He wants us to let him put those things on our heads," she translated. "Shall we let him, Dick?"
     "Yes," he replied without hesitation. "I've got a real hunch that he's our friend, and I'm not sure of Nalboon. He doesn't act right."
     "I think so, too," agreed the girl, and Crane added:
     "I can't say that I relish the idea, but since I know that you are a good poker player, Dick, I am willing to follow your hunch. How about you, DuQuesne?"
     "Not I," declared that worthy, emphatically. "Nobody wires me up to anything I can't understand, and that machine is too deep for me."

     Margaret elected to follow Crane's example, and, impressed by the need for haste evident in the slave's bearing, the four walked up to the machine without further talk. The electrodes were clamped into place quickly and the slave pressed a lever. Instantly the four visitors felt that they had a complete understanding of the languages and customs of both Mardonale, the nation in which they now were, and of Kondal, to which nation the slaves belonged, the only two civilized nations upon Osnome. While the look of amazement at this method of receiving instruction was still upon their faces, the slave--or rather, as they now knew him, Dunark, the Kofedix or Crown Prince of the great nation of Kondal—began to disconnect the wires. He cut out the wires leading to the two girls and to Crane, and was reaching for Seaton's, when there was a blinding flash, a crackling sound, the heavy smoke of burning metal and insulation, and both Dunark and Seaton fell to the floor.

     Before Crane could reach them, however, they were upon their feet and the stranger said in his own tongue, now understood by every one but DuQuesne:
     "This machine is a mechanical educator, a thing entirely new, in our world at least. Although I have been working on it for a long time, it is still in a very crude form. I did not like to use it in its present state of development, but it was necessary in order to warn you of what Nalboon is going to do to you, and to convince you that the best way of saving your lives would save our lives as well. The machine worked perfectly until something, I don't know what, went wrong. Instead of stopping, as it should have done, at teaching your party to speak our languages, it short-circuited us two completely, so that every convolution in each of our brains has been imprinted upon the brain of the other. It was the sudden formation of all the new convolutions that rendered us unconscious. I can only apologize for the break-down, and assure you that my intentions were of the best."

(ed note: Important point to note, person A gets to control what part of their knowledge is transferred to person B. Usually.)

     "You needn't apologize," returned Seaton. "That was a wonderful performance, and we're both gainers, anyway, aren't we? It has taken us all our lives to learn what little we know, and now we each have the benefit of two lifetimes, spent upon different worlds! I must admit, though, that I have a whole lot of knowledge that I don't know how to use."
     "I am glad you take it that way," returned the other warmly, "for I am infinitely the better off for the exchange. The knowledge I imparted was nothing, compared to that which I received. But time presses—I must tell you our situation…"

From THE SKYLARK OF SPACE by E. E. "Doc" Smith (1928)

      "What a horrible, terrible, frightful world!" exclaimed Sitar, her eyes widening as she thought of her first experience with our earth. "Much as I love you, I shall never dare try to visit you again. I have never been able to understand why you Terrestrials wear what you call 'clothes,' nor why you are so terribly, brutally strong. Now I really know—I will feel the utterly cold and savage embrace of that awful earth of yours as long as I live!"
     "Oh, it's not so bad, Sitar." Seaton, who was shaking both of Dunark's hands vigorously, assured her over his shoulder. "All depends on where you were raised. We like it that way, and Osnome gives us the pip. But you poor fish," turning again to Dunark, "with all my brains inside your skull, you should have known what you were letting yourself in for."
     "That's true, after a fashion," Dunark admitted, "but your brain told me that Washington was hot. If I'd have thought to recalculate your actual Fahrenheit degrees into our loro … but that figures only forty-seven and, while very cold, we could have endured it—wait a minute, I'm getting it. You have what you call 'seasons.' This, then, must be your 'winter.' Right?"
     "Right the first time. That's the way your brain works behind my pan, too. I could figure anything out all right after it happened, but hardly ever beforehand—so I guess I can't blame you much, at that."

     "Well, that puts me out of a job. What to do? Don't want to study, like you. Can't crochet, like Peg. Darned if I'll sit cross-legged on a pillow and eat candy, like that Titian blonde over there on the floor. I know what—I'll build me a mechanical educator and teach Shiro to talk English instead of that mess of language he indulges in. How'd that be, Mart?"
     A few days after the bar had been reversed Seaton announced that the mechanical educator was complete, and brought it into the control room.
     In appearance it was not unlike a large radio set, but it was infinitely more complex. It possessed numerous tubes, kino-lamps, and photo-electric cells, as well as many coils of peculiar design—there were dozens of dials and knobs, and a multiple set of head-harnesses.

     "How can a thing like that possibly work as it does?" asked Crane. "I know that it does work, but I could scarcely believe it, even after it had educated me."
     "That is nothing like the one Dunark used, Dick," objected Dorothy. "How come?"
     "I'll answer you first, Dot. This is an improved model—it has quite a few gadgets of my own in it. Now, Mart, as to how it works—it isn't so funny after you understand it—it's a lot like radio in that respect. It operates on a band of frequencies lying between the longest light and heat waves and the shortest radio waves. This thing here is the generator of those waves and a very heavy power amplifier. The headsets are stereoscopic transmitters, taking or receiving a three-dimensional view. Nearly all matter is transparent to those waves; for instance bones, hair, and so on. However, cerebin, a cerebroside peculiar to the thinking structure of the brain, is opaque to them. Dunark, not knowing chemistry, didn't know why the educator worked or what it worked on—he found out by experiment that it did work; just as we found out about electricity. This three-dimensional model, or view, or whatever you want to call it, is converted into electricity in the headsets, and the resulting modulated wave goes back to the educator. There it is heterodyned with another wave—this second frequency was found after thousands of trials and is, I believe, the exact frequency existing in the optic nerves themselves—and sent to the receiving headset. Modulated as it is, and producing a three-dimensional picture, after rectification in the receiver, it reproduces exactly what has been 'viewed,' if due allowance has been made for the size and configuration of the different brains involved in the transfer. You remember a sort of flash—a sensation of seeing something—when the educator worked on you? Well, you did see it, just as though it had been transmitted to the brain by the optic nerve, but everything came at once, so the impression of sight was confused. The result in the brain, however, was clear and permanent. The only drawback is that you haven't the visual memory of what you have learned, and that sometimes makes it hard to use your knowledge. You don't know whether you know anything about a certain subject or not until after you go digging around in your brain looking for it."

     "I see," said Crane, and Dorothy, the irrepressible, put in: "Just as clear as so much mud. What are the improvements you added to the original design?"
     "Well, you see, I had a big advantage in knowing that cerebrin was the substance involved, and with that knowledge I could carry matters considerably farther than Dunark could in his original model. I can transfer the thoughts of somebody else to a third party or to a record. Dunark's machine couldn't work against resistance—if the subject wasn't willing to give up his thoughts he couldn't get them. This one can take them away by force. In fact, by increasing plate and grid voltages in the amplifier, I can pretty nearly burn out a man's brain. Yesterday, I was playing with it, transferring a section of my own brain to a magnetized tape—for a permanent record, you know—and found out that above certain rather low voltages it becomes a form of torture that would make the best efforts of the old Inquisition seem like a petting party."

     "Did you succeed in the transfer?" Crane was intensely interested.
     "Sure. Push the button for Shiro, and we'll start something."
     "Put your head against this screen," he directed when Shiro had come in, smiling and bowing as usual. "I've got to caliper your brains to do a good job."
     The calipering done, he adjusted various dials and clamped the electrodes over his own head and over the heads of Crane and Shiro.
     "Want to learn Japanese while we're at it, Mart? I'm going to."
     "Yes, please. I tried to learn it while I was in Japan, but it was altogether too difficult to be worth while."
     Seaton threw in a switch, opened it, depressed two more, opened them, and threw off the power.
     "All set," he reported crisply, and barked a series of explosive syllables at Shiro, ending upon a rising note.
     "Yes, sir," answered the Japanese. "You speak Nipponese as though you had never spoken any other tongue. I am very grateful to you, sir, that I may now discard my dictionary."
     "How about you two girls—anything you want to learn in a hurry?"
     "Not me!" declared Dorothy emphatically. "That machine is too darn weird to suit me. Besides, if I knew as much about science as you do, we'd probably fight about it."

(ed note: a monsterously huge highly-advanced alien battleship appears and tries to annihilate our heroes. Seaton manages to defeat it by using a trick, and they capture an alien crew member.)

     “So you have taken a captive?” asked Margaret. “What are you going to do with him?”
     “I’m going to drag him in here and read his mind. He’s one of the officers of that ship, I believe, and I’m going to find out how to build one exactly like it. Our Skylark is now as obsolete as a 1910 flivver, and I’m going to make us a later model. How about it, Mart, don’t we want something really up-to-date if we’re going to keep on space-hopping?”
     “We certainly do. Those denizens seem to be particularly venomous, and we will not be safe unless we have the most powerful and most efficient space-ship possible. However, that fellow may be dangerous, even now—in fact, it is practically certain that he is “
     “You chirped it, ace. I’d rather touch a pound of dry nitrogen iodide. I’ve got him spread-eagled (with attractor and repulsor beams) so that he can’t destroy his brain until after we’ve read it, though, so there’s no particular hurry ‘bout him. We’ll leave him out there for a while, to waste his sweetness on the desert air.”

     "I have been thinking that very thing," Crane spoke gravely, and Dunark nodded agreement. "Any race capable of developing such a vessel as this would almost certainly have developed systems of communication in proportion."
     "That's the way I doped it out—and that's why I'm going to read his mind, if I have to burn out his brain to do it. We've got to know how far away from home he is, whether he has turned in any report about us, and all about it. Also, I'm going to get the plans, power, and armament of their most modern ships, if he knows them, so that your gang, Dunark, can build us one like them; because the next boat that tackles us will be warned and we won't be able to take it by surprise. We won't stand a chance in the Skylark. With a ship like theirs, however, we can run—or we can fight, if we have to. Any other ideas, fellows?"

     As neither Crane nor Dunark had any other suggestions to offer, Seaton brought out the mechanical educator, watching the creature's eyes narrowly. As he placed one headset over that motionless head the captive sneered in pure contempt, but when the case was opened and the array of tubes and transformers was revealed, that expression disappeared; and when he added a super-power stage by cutting in a heavy-duty transformer and a five-kilowatt transmitting tube, Seaton thought that he saw an instantaneously suppressed flicker of doubt or fear.
     "That headset thing was child's play to him, but he doesn't like the looks of this other stuff at all. I don't blame him a bit—I wouldn't like to be on the receiving end of this hook-up myself. I'm going to put him on the recorder and on the visualizer," Seaton continued as he connected spools of wire and tape, lamps, and lenses in an intricate system and donned a headset. "I'd hate to have much of that brain in my own skull—afraid I'd bite myself. I'm just going to look on, and when I see anything I want, I'll grab it and put it into my own brain. I'm starting off easy, not using the big tube."

     He closed several switches, lights flashed, and the wires and tapes began to feed through the magnets.
     "Well, I've got his language, folks, he seemed to want me to have it. It's got a lot of stuff in it that I can't understand yet, though, so guess I'll give him some English."
     He changed several connections and the captive spoke, in a profoundly deep bass voice.
     "You may as well discontinue your attempt, for you will gain no information from me. That machine of yours was out of date with us thousands of years ago."
     "Save your breath or talk sense," said Seaton, coldly. "I gave you English so that you can give me the information I want. You already know what it is. When you get ready to talk, say so, or throw it on the screen of your own accord. If you don't, I'll put on enough voltage to burn your brain out. Remember, I can read your dead brain as well as though it were alive, but I want your thoughts, as well as your knowledge, and I'm going to have them. If you give them voluntarily, I will tinker up a lifeboat that you can navigate back to your own world and let you go; if you resist I intend getting them anyway and you shall not leave this vessel alive. You may take your choice."
     "You are childish, and that machine is impotent against my will. I could have defied it a hundred years ago, when I was barely a grown man. Know you, American, that we supermen of the Fenachrone are as far above any of the other and lesser breeds of beings who spawn in their millions in their countless myriads of races upon the numberless planets of the Universe as you are above the inert metal from which this, your ship, was built. The Universe is ours, and in due course we shall take it—just as in due course I shall take this vessel. Do your worst; I shall not speak." The creature's eyes flamed, hurling a wave of hypnotic command through Seaton's eyes and deep into his brain. Seaton's very senses reeled for an instant under the impact of that awful mental force; but after a short, intensely bitter struggle he threw off the spell.

     "That was close, fellow, but you didn't quite ring the bell," he said grimly, staring directly into those unholy eyes. "I may rate pretty low mentally, but I can't be hypnotized into turning you loose. Also I can give you cards and spades in certain other lines which I am about to demonstrate. Being superman didn't keep the rest of your men from going out in my ray, and being a superman isn't going to save your brain. I am not depending upon my intellectual or mental force—I've got an ace in the hole in the shape of five thousand volts to apply to the most delicate centers of your brain. Start giving me what I want, and start quick, or I'll tear it out of you."
     The giant did not answer, merely glared defiance and bitter hate.

     "Take it, then!" Seaton snapped, and cut in the super-power stage and began turning dials and knobs, exploring that strange mind for the particular area in which he was most interested. He soon found it, and cut in the visualizer—the stereographic device, in parallel with Seaton's own brain recorder, which projected a three-dimensional picture into the "viewing-area" or dark space of the cabinet. Crane and Dunark, tense and silent, looked on in strained suspense as, minute after minute, the silent battle of wills raged. Upon one side was a horrible and gigantic brain, of undreamed of power; upon the other side a strong man, fighting for all that life holds dear, wielding against that monstrous and frightful brain a weapon wrought of high-tension electricity, applied with all the skill that earthly and Osnomian science could devise.
     Seaton crouched over the amplifier, his jaw set and every muscle taut, his eyes leaping from one meter to another, his right hand slowly turning up the potentiometer which was driving more and ever more of the searing, torturing output of his super-power tube into that stubborn brain. The captive was standing utterly rigid, eyes closed, every sense and faculty mustered to resist that cruelly penetrant attack upon the very innermost recesses of his mind. Crane and Dunark scarcely breathed as the three-dimensional picture in the visualizer varied from a blank to the hazy outlines of a giant space-cruiser. It faded out as the unknown exerted himself to withstand that poignant inquisition, only to come back in, clearer than before, as Seaton advanced the potentiometer still farther. Finally, flesh and blood could no longer resist that lethal probe and the picture became sharp and clear. It showed the captain—for he was no less an officer than the commander of the vessel—at a great council table, seated, together with many other officers, upon very low, enormously strong metal stools. They were receiving orders from their Emperor; orders plainly understood by Crane and the Osnomian alike, for thought needs no translation.

     At this point Seaton made the captain take them all over the ship. They noted its construction, its power-plant, its controls—every minute detail of structure, operation, and maintenance was taken from the captain's mind and was both recorded and visualized.
     He threaded new spools into the machine, and for three hours, mile after mile of tape sped between the magnets as Seaton explored every recess of that monstrous, yet stupendous brain.

From SKYLARK THREE by E. E. "Doc" Smith (1930)

      Fronn—that was a world unknown to Kana. But the answer to his ignorance was easy to find. He made his way through the corridors to a quiet room with a row of booths lining one wall. At the back of the chamber was a control board with banks of buttons. He pressed the proper combination of those and waited for the record-pak.
     The roll of wire was a very thin one. Not much known of Fronn. He ducked into the nearest booth, inserted the wire in the machine there, and put aside his helmet to adjust the impression band on his temples. A second later he drifted off to sleep, the information in the pak being fed to his memory cells.
     It was a quarter of an hour later when he roused. So that was Fronn—not a particularly inviting world. And the pak had only sketched in meager details. But he now possessed all the knowledge the archives listed.
     Kana sighed ruefully—that climate meant a tour in the pressure chamber during the voyage. The assignment officer had not mentioned that. Pressure chamber and water acclimation both. Serve him right for not asking more questions before he signed. He only hoped that he wasn’t going to be sick for the whole trip.

     But Trig Hansu was a member of neither group. Instead he sat cross-legged on a mat pad, a portable reader before him, watching the projection of a pak.
     Curious, Kana edged between the gamesters to see the tiny screen. He caught sight of a fraction of landscape, dark, gloomy, across which burden-bearing creatures moved from left to right. Hansu spoke without turning his head.
     “If you’re so curious, greenie, squat.”
     Feeling as hot as a thruster tube Kana would have melted away but Hansu pushed the machine to the right in real invitation.
     “Our future.” He jerked a thumb at the unwinding scene as the recruit dropped to his knees to watch. “That’s a pak view of Fronn.”
     The marchers on the Fronnian plain were quadrupeds, their stilt legs seemingly only skin drawn tightly over bone. Packs rested on either side of their ridged spines and knobby growths fringed their ungainly necks and made horn excrescences on their skulls.
     “Caravan of guen,” Kana identified. “That must be the west coastal plains.”
     Hansu pressed a stud on the base of the reader and the screen blanked out. “You asked for indoctrination on Fronn?
     “From the archives, sir.
     “The enthusiasms of the young have their points.”

From STAR GUARD by Andre Norton (1955)

      “You’re going to Sinopol with Baldur. Procurement. Requires a complete cosmetic,” Freyda announced one morning as I entered the Training Rooms.
     “Sinopol?” I’d never heard of the place.
     “Hunters of Faffnir, high-tech, a million back. Get a briefing from Assignment and a full language implant. I mean full, with complete fluency. Then report to cosmetics. You two leave tomorrow.”
     I got the picture. I was the porter for the heavy technological gadgets. Could be interesting even for a coolie. I buttoned my lip and marched over to Assignments, where Heimdall motioned me to an end-console with, a single abrupt gesture.
     After I had the briefing tapes firmly in mind, Heimdall shoved me out the archway toward Linguistics. There was I laid out under the Gubserian language tank to absorb a complete dosage of Faffnirian.
     The language tank is an experience in itself. When I tottered to my feet after an afternoon of high-speed implantation, I muttered my thanks in gibberish—gibberish to anyone in the Tower. It would have meant “thank you … I think” to a Hunter of Faffnir.
     Recalling the elaborate code duello of the Hunters, I belatedly noted that the doubt in my voice would have earned an immediate challenge from any full-fledged Hunter in Sinopol, but the young Guard tech, Ordonna, just smiled. She was used to the disorientation.

From THE FIRES OF PARATIME by L. E. Modesitt (1982)

      Why, even the department head at Cram-brief had envied her this chance. And it was only because she was Offlas Keil's niece that she had it. The expedition to Clio would be a family affair
     Maybe once in a hundred, no, closer to a thousand times, did something like this happen. And she was so lucky to be a part of it. Only right now, even her brain felt tired. All that cramming! She— Well, it was like being an osbper sponge set in a pool and given the command to absorb. Only she could not swell the way those did; she had to pack it all behind bone and flesh which was not able to expand. By rights her head ought to be so heavy with all that the briefing computers had hammered into it that she could not hold it upright.
     Because Clio was a sealed world, the final stages of their search must be conducted in complete secrecy, as quickly as possible, using Service devices. And the Project demanded as small a task force as was necessary. Which had sent Roane to Cram-brief to learn as much of Clio as she might need to know.
     Her shoulders sagged. Once more she was caught in the old pattern. Her two months at Cram-brief had given her a false confidence in herself. Just how false she now realized. She would have to leave her kit locked somewhere in this hateful building.

From ICE CROWN by Andre Norton (1970)

Great Teacher

The Great Teacher of All the Ancient Knowledge was a machine, part of the ancient civilization located deep underground on the planet Sigma Draconis VI.

It consisted of a complex computer interface and a large, clear helmet containing many metallic appliances. These feeder circuits connected directly to the brain of anyone who placed their head under this helmet. The Teacher automatically activated whenever someone placed their head in the helmet, but according to Spock, its use was strictly predetermined by the builders, suggesting that even the leader of the Eymorgs would only use the Teacher when somehow instructed to do so. In less than a minute, the Teacher transferred vast amounts of knowledge to the user, but unfortunately this knowledge did not last. According to the Eymorg Kara the knowledge persisted for about three hours (required under the rules for the Trek Reset Button).

The Teacher's feeder circuits were optimized for the configurations of an Eymorg brain. When Dr. McCoy used the device in 2268, he experienced great pain. Spock initially warned him against using the device, concerned about the possibility of brain damage, but McCoy felt he had no choice as there was no other chance of restoring Spock's brain to his body before the body failed. McCoy hoped to retain the knowledge and share it with the galaxy, but could not do so. Reuse of the Teacher would likely have caused brain damage and kill the user. (TOS: "Spock's Brain")

The novelization of the episode explains that the reason why the landing team did not simply cycle each member through the Great Teacher in order to have enough time to finish Spock's operation was because McCoy's existing medical knowledge was augmented by the Great Teacher and that someone who was not a doctor to begin with would not have necessarily gained the medical knowledge to perform the operation on Spock.
From GREAT TEACHER entry at Memory Alpha

      The figure in neat, dark green coveralls seated before the Educator control console turned quickly at his entrance.
     “You want the Telfi tape,” O’Mara said. “Well, Doctor, you’ve picked a real weirdie this time. Be sure you get it erased as soon as possible after the job is done—believe me, this isn’t one you’ll want to keep. Thumb-print this and sit over there.”
     While the Educator head-band and electrodes were being fitted, Conway tried to keep his face neutral, and keep from flinching away from the Major’s hard, capable hands.

     This was Conway’s first experience of an alien physiology tape, and he noted with interest the mental double vision which had increasingly begun to affect his mind—a sure sign that the tape had “taken.” By the time he had reached the Radiation Theater, he felt himself to be two people—an Earth-human called Conway and the great, five-hundred unit Telfi gestalt which had been formed to prepare a mental record of all that was known regarding the physiology of that race. That was the only disadvantage—if it was a disadvantage—of the Educator Tape system. Not only was knowledge impressed on the mind undergoing “tuition,” the personalities of the entities who had possessed that knowledge was transferred as well. Small wonder then that the Diagnosticians, who held in their mind sometimes as many as ten different tapes, were a little bit queer.

     A Diagnostician had the most important job in the hospital, Conway thought, as he donned radiation armor and readied his patients for the preliminary examination. He had sometimes thought in his more self-confident moments of becoming one himself. Their chief purpose was to perform original work in xenological medicine and surgery, using their tape-stuffed brains as a jumping-off ground, and to rally round, when a case arrived for which there was no physiology tape available, to diagnose and prescribe treatment.
     Not for them were the simple, mundane injuries and diseases. For a Diagnostician to look at a patient that patient had to be unique, hopeless and at least three-quarters dead. When one did take charge of a case though, the patient was as good as cured—they achieved miracles with monotonous regularity.

     With the lower orders of doctor there was always the temptation, Conway knew, to keep the contents of a tape rather than have it erased, in the hope of making some original discovery that would bring them fame. In practical, level-headed men like himself, however, it remained just that, a temptation.

     His patients had been part of a Telfi gestalt engaged in operating an interstellar cruiser when there had been an accident in one of the power piles ("pile" is an obsolete term for "nuclear reactor"). The small, beetle-like and—individually—very stupid beings were radiation eaters, but that flare-up had been too much even for them. Their trouble could be classed as an extremely severe case of over-eating coupled with prolonged over-stimulation of their sensory equipment, especially of the pain centers. If he simply kept them in a shielded container and starved them of radiation—a course of treatment impossible on their highly radioactive ship—about seventy percent of them could be expected to cure themselves in a few hours. They would be the lucky ones, and Conway could even tell which of them came into that category. Those remaining would be a tragedy because if they did not suffer actual physical death their fate would be very much worse: they would lose the ability to join minds, and that in a Telfi was tantamount to being a hopeless cripple.

     Only someone who shared the mind, personality and instincts of a Telfi, could appreciate the tragedy it was.

     He should have been pleased at dealing successfully with his first case, but Conway somehow felt let down. Now that it was over his mind felt strangely confused. He kept thinking that fifty percent of seven was three and a half, and what would they do with the odd half Telfi? He hoped that four would pull through instead of three, and that they would not be mental cripples. He thought that it must be nice to be a Telfi, to soak up radiation all the time, and the rich and varied impressions of a corporate body numbering perhaps hundreds of individuals. It made his body feel somehow cold and alone. It was an effort to drag himself away from the warmth of the Radiation Theater.
     Outside he mounted the carrier and left it back at the admittance lock. The right thing to do now was to report to the Educator room and have the Telfi tape erased—he had been ordered to do that, in fact. But he did not want to go; the thought of O‘Mara made him intensely uncomfortable, even a little afraid.
     Conway brought his mind under a semblance of control. He decided to side-step the question and not report to the Educator room until after he had done the rounds of his wards. It was a legitimate excuse if O’Mara should query the delay, and the Chief Psychologist might leave or be called away in the meantime.

     Conway finished his rounds as quickly as possible. He felt confused again. If his mind was playing tricks on him he was going to take the necessary steps to rectify the matter. It must be something to do with the Telfi tape he had absorbed. O‘Mara had said something about it, though he could not remember exactly what at the moment. But he would go to the Educator room right away, O’Mara or no O’Mara.
     His intention of going to the Educator room had been clearly formed, but now it did not seem to be such a good idea. It was cold and dark there with all those machines and shaded lighting, and the only company might be O’Mara. Conway wanted to lose himself in a crowd, and the bigger the better. He thought of the nearby dining hall and turned toward it. Then at an intersection he saw a sign reading “Diet Kitchen, Wards 52 to 68, Species DBDG, DBLF & FGLI.” That made him remember how terribly cold he felt …
     The Dietitians were too busy to notice him. Conway picked an oven which was fairly glowing with heat and lay down against it, letting the germ-killing ultraviolet which flooded the place bathe him and ignoring the charred smell given off by his light clothing. He felt warmer now, a little warmer, but the awful sense of being utterly and completely alone would not leave him. He was cut off, unloved and unwanted. He wished that he had never been born.
     When a Monitor—one of the two he had recently passed whose curiosity had been aroused by Conway’s strange behavior—wearing a hastily borrowed heat suit belonging to one of the Cook-Dietitians got to him a few minutes later, the big, slow tears were running down Conway’s cheeks …

     “You,” said a well-remembered voice, “are a very lucky and very stupid young man.”
     Conway opened his eyes to find that he was on the Erasure couch and that O‘Mara and another Monitor were looking down at him. His back felt as though it had been cooked medium rare and his whole body stung as if with a bad dose of sunburn. O’Mara was glaring furiously at him, he spoke again.
     “Lucky not to be seriously burned and blinded, and stupid because you forgot to inform me on one very important point, namely that this was your first experience with the Educator …”
     O’Mara’s tone became faintly self-accusatory at this point, but only faintly. He went onto say that had he been thus informed he would have given Conway a hypno-treatment which would have enabled the doctor to differentiate between his own needs and those of the Telfi sharing his mind. He only realized that Conway was a first-timer when he filed the thumb-printed slip, and dammit how was he to know who was new and who wasn’t in a place this size! And anyway, if Conway had thought more of his job and less of the fact that a Monitor was giving him the tape, this would never have happened.

     Diagnosticians deservedly had the respect and admiration of everyone in the hospital—and a certain amount of the pity as well. For it was not simply knowledge which the Educator gave them, the whole personality of the entity who had possessed that knowledge was impressed on their brains as well. In effect the Diagnostician subjected himself or itself voluntarily to the most drastic type of multiple schizophrenia, and with the alien other components sharing their minds so utterly different in every respect that they often did not even share the same system of logic.

From HOSPITAL STATION by James White (1962)

(ed note: these act similarly to the educator tapes from the Hospital Station series. They give needed technical knowledge, you need a stable mind to hold more than one at a time, and they affect your personality. Unlike the Hospital Station tapes, the affect is not because the rest of an alien doctor's idiosyncratic quirks come along for the ride. It is due to the deluge of data)

     Machine tossed off the rest of his drink—something called a “weightless slam,” and nodded. “Sh*t, you know how much ghost-mass doctors carry with them all the time? Ghost in the machine, dude. Ghost in the machine.”

     Most doctors are connected on a semi-permanent basis to expert AI systems running on the local Net, often with ten or twelve load-links going at a time. That’s because no one person can possibly keep all of the data necessary in his memory—even in their plug-in cerebral RAM—to maintain a smoothly working knowledge of the pharmacology, anatomy, pathology, biochemistry, nanotechnic programming, holistics, cybernetics, and psychology needed to treat patients, and that’s just to name just a few. Doctors aren’t necessarily running all of those channels all the time, but it is, I’d been told, like having ten other people with you all the time, whispering, guiding, making suggestions, kibitzing, whether you are performing surgery or simply sitting down to dinner.

     Some, like Dr. Francis, seemed to handle it pretty well. Sometimes, he would get a faraway look in his eyes, like he was listening to someone else while he’s talking to you, but usually you knew it was him behind that fresh-out-of-med-school face. In some cases, though, it became a kind of high-tech multiple-personality syndrome, where your original self tended to fade into the background as one or another of your resident AIs took over for you. I was thinking of Dr. Burchalter, on board the Puller, who often didn’t seem to be there when you talked to him. You knew you were taking orders from an expert AI who was running the show.

     Ghost in the machine indeed. The term was invented a few centuries ago by a British philosopher named Gilbert Ryle to describe conceptual problems with Descarte’s ideas of mind as distinct from body. Later, it described the neuro-evolutionary idea that human brains are grown atop mammalian brains grown atop reptilian brains, and that destructive impulses like hate, anger, or fear arise from those deeper, more primitive systems we still carry with us. Nowadays, however, it means losing yourself in a multiple-AI system, and your “ghost-mass” refers to the number of active AIs you have resident on your in-head CDF hardware at any given time (CDF = Cerebral Data Feed implant, a link to the internet through a surgically implanted brain-computer inteface ).

From BLOODSTAR by William Keith (under Ian Douglas pseudonym) (2012)


It ain’t so much men’s ignorance that does the harm as their knowing so many things that ain’t so

A nice pseudo-mystical trope is the biggest barrier to more efficiently using your mind is getting rid of false data. In the same way that your knowledge of the fact "I cannot learn calculus because my brain cannot handle math" is preventing you from learning calculus; similar non-facts are preventing you from learning telepathy, precognition, and otherwise being a Jedi Knight.

Played for laughs is when the science fiction author has their characters look down upon those benighted fools living in the 2010s who were stupid enough to think that tobacco and food high in saturated fats were bad for you; the exact opposite of what science now knows to be true. Yes, this is a TV Trope.

More seriously there are hundreds of science fiction stories where faster-than-light starships were invented only after scientists in the future discovered that Einstein's relativity was not precisely correct. Characters in the story will commonly sadly shake their heads at our current-day scientists, comparing them to scientist in the 1600s who believed in phlogiston or other obsolete scientific theory.

In science fiction, protagonists who are adults struggle to overcome the false data they have learned in order to obtain a superior mentality. In extreme cases, this is impossible, the only thing that will work is teaching the right data from the start when the individual is a small child. The classic story here is Mimsy Were the Borogoves by Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore.


[Luke sees his X-wing is about to sink into the bog]

Luke: Oh, no! We'll never get it out now!

Yoda: So certain, are you? Always with you, what cannot be done. Hear you nothing that I say?

Luke: Master, moving stones around is one thing, but this is... totally different!

Yoda: No! No different! Only different in your mind. You must unlearn what you have learned.

(The "cloud" is an intelligent alien creature whose body is a small space nebula, about one astronomical unit in diameter. It has to leave the solar system soon on a pressing errand, but it wants to leave us humans on Terra a bit of its wisdom)

      "...But there's another question that I want to ask." Kingsley then asked (the cloud) his question:
     "You will have noticed that we have made no attempt to ask for information concerning physical theories and facts that are not known to us. This omission was not due to any lack of interest, but because we felt ample opportunities would present themselves at a later stage. Now it appears that the opportunities will not present themselves. Have you any suggestions as to how we may occupy what little time remains to the best advantage?"
     The answer came:
     "This is a matter to which I have also given some attention. There is a crucial difficulty here. Our discussions have been carried out in your language. We have therefore been limited to ideas that can be understood in terms of your language, which is to say that we have been essentially limited to the things you know already. No rapid communication of radically new knowledge is possible unless you learn something of my language.
     "This raises two points, one of practice and the other the vital issue of whether the human brain possesses an adequate neurological capacity. To the latter question I know no certain answer, but there seems to be some evidence that justifies a measure of optimism...

     ...The Cloud resumed its message:
     "All this suggests that the human brain is inherently capable of a far improved performance, provided learning is always induced in the best way. And this is what I would propose to do. I propose that one or more of you should attempt to learn my method of thinking and that this be induced as profitably as possible. Quite evidently the learning process must lie outside your language, so that communication will have to proceed in a very different fashion. Of your sense organs, the best suited to the receiving of complex information is your eyes. It is true that you scarcely use the eyes in ordinary language, but it is mainly through the eyes that a child builds up his picture of the intricate world around him. And it is through the eyes that I intend to open up a new world to you.
     "My requirements will be comparatively simple. I will now describe them." Then followed technical details that were carefully noted by Leicester. When the Cloud had finished Leicester remarked:
     "Well, this isn't going to be too difficult. A number of filter circuits and a whole bank of cathode ray tubes."
     "But how are we to get the information?" asked Marlowe.
     "Well, of course primarily by radio, then through the discriminating circuits which filter different bits of the messages to the various tubes."
     "There are codes for the various filters."
     "That's right. So some sort of an ordered pattern can be put on the tubes, although it beats me as to what we shall be able to make of it."...

     ..."If everybody else is too bashful, I guess I'm willing to be first guinea pig." McNeil gave him a long look.
     "There's just one point, Weichart. You realise that this business may carry with it an element of danger? You're quite clear on that, I suppose?" Weichart laughed.
     "Don't worry about that. This won't be the first time I've spent a few hours watching cathode ray tubes."
     "Very well, then. If you're willing to try, by all means take the chair."
     Shortly after this, lights began to flash on the tubes...

     ..."How's it going, Dave?" No answer.
     "Hey, Dave, what's going on?"
     Still no answer.
     Marlowe and McNeil came one to each side of Weichart's chair.
     "Dave, why don't you answer?"
     McNeil touched him on the shoulder, but there was still no response. They watched his eyes, fixed on first one group of tubes, then flicking quickly to another.
     "What is it, John?" asked Kingsley.
     "I think he's in some hypnotic state. He doesn't seem to be noticing any sense data except from the eyes, and they seem to be directed only at the tubes."...

     ..."I don't like the position, Chris. His temperature is rising rapidly. There isn't much point in your going in to see him. He's not in a coherent state, and not likely to be with a temperature at 104°."
     "Have you any idea what's wrong?"
     "I obviously can't be sure, because I've never encountered a case like this before. But if I didn't know what had happened, I'd have said Weichart was suffering from an inflammation of brain tissue."
     "That's very serious, isn't it?"
     "Extremely so. There's very little that any of us can do for him, but I thought you'd like to know."
     "Yes, of course. Have you any idea what may have caused it?"
     "Well, I'd say too high a rate of working, too great a demand of the neurological system on all the supporting tissues. But again it's only an opinion." Weichart's temperature continued to rise during the day and in the late afternoon he died...

     ..."He's gone" announced the Irishman.
     "My God, what a dreadful tragedy, an unnecessary tragedy."
     "Aye, man, a bigger tragedy than you realise."
     "What d'you mean?"
     "I mean it was touch and go whether he saved himself. In the afternoon he was sane for nearly an hour. He told me what the trouble was. He fought it down and as the minutes passed I thought he was going to win out. But it wasn't to be. He got into another attack and it killed him."
     "But what was it?"
     "Something obvious, that we ought to have foreseen. What we didn't allow for was the tremendous quantity of new material which the Cloud seems able to impress on the brain. This of course means that there must be widespread changes of the structure of a mass of electrical circuits in the brain, changes of synaptic resistances on a big scale, and so on."
     "You mean it was a sort of gigantic brain-washing?"
     "No, it wasn't. That's just the point. There was no washing. The old methods of operation of the brain were not washed out. They were left unimpaired. The new was established alongside the old, so that both were capable of working simultaneously."
     "You mean that it was as if my knowledge of science were suddenly added to the brain of an ancient Greek."
     "Yes, but perhaps in a more extreme form. Can you imagine the fierce contradictions that would arise in the brain of your poor Greek, accustomed to such notions as the Earth being the centre of the Universe and a hundred and one other such anachronisms, suddenly becoming exposed to the blast of your superior knowledge?"
     "I suppose it would be pretty bad. After all we get quite seriously upset if just one of our cherished scientific ideas turns out wrong."
     "Yes, think of a religious person who suddenly loses faith, which means of course that he becomes aware of a contradiction between his religious and his non-religious beliefs. Such a person often experiences a severe nervous crisis. And Kingsley's case was a thousand times worse. He was killed by the sheer violence of his nervous activity, in a popular phrase by a serious of unimaginably fierce brain-storms." (death by cognitive dissonance)
     "But you said he nearly got over it."
     "That's right, he did. He realised what the trouble was and evolved some sort of plan for dealing with it. Probably he decided to accept as rule that the new should always supersede the old whenever there was trouble between them. I watched him for a whole hour systematically going through his ideas along some such lines. As the minutes ticked on I thought the battle was won. Then it happened. Perhaps it was some unexpected conjunction of thought patterns that took him unaware. At first the disturbance seemed small, but then it began to grow. He tried desperately to fight it down. But evidently it gained the upper hand — and that was the end. He died under the sedative I was forced to give him. I think it was a kind of chain reaction in his thoughts that got out of control."...
     "Don't you think Kingsley was a bad choice for this business? Wouldn't someone of a far slighter intellectual calibre have really been more suitable? If it was contradictions between the old knowledge and the new that destroyed him, then surely someone with very little old knowledge would have done better?" McNeil looked over his glass.
     "It's funny, it's funny you should say that. During one of his later sane spells Kingsley remarked — I'll try to remember his exact words — 'The height of irony', he said, 'is that I should experience this singular disaster, while someone like Joe Stoddard (the gardener, who has difficulty reading and writing) would have been quite all right'."

From THE BLACK CLOUD by Fred Hoyle (1957)

      In another of his talks Amschel gave forth on the primitive philosophical ideas of ancient times. The ancients, it seemed, had been ignorant of the five elements and so had also failed to understand the principle of blending or “commingling.” They had hypothesized that matter was composed of “atoms,” microscopic particles which were supposed to be indivisible and indestructible, and which stuck crudely together in innumerable combinations.

     “The theory is amusingly quaint,” Amschel remarked, “but unsound in the logical sense, and also it is hopelessly complicated. To account even at that time for all the qualities found in the world it was necessary to hypothesize more than a hundred different types of atom—and to reckon with all the substances known to present-day alchemy, no doubt another hundred would have to be added.

     “The same spirit of naive speculation governed astronomical ideas. At that period in history humanity was still restricted to one world, and there was no clear knowledge of the macrocosm generally. Ridiculous though it may seem to us, it was presumed that the home planet—which some say was called Earth—was the center of the macrocosm and that the whole of the heavens revolved around it. The other planets of the home system moved across the sky in ways that did not fit easily with this idea, of course, and a complicated, rather unwieldy system of wheels within wheels had to be devised on their behalf. These ‘epicycles,’ as they were known, may remind us of the equally artificial doctrine of ‘indivisible atoms.”

     “The philosophers who tried to explain nature on the basis of these speculations can have known little of the Hermetic art or of its goals. Even in that arid time, however, there were true alchemists, working in secret and possessing knowledge handed down since the time of Hermes Trismegistus.”

From STAR WINDS by Barrington Bayley (1978)

(ed note: Miles Monroe is put into suspended animation for 200 years, and discovers that Science Marches On)

      Dr. Melik: This morning for breakfast he requested something called "wheat germ, organic honey, and tiger's milk."
     Dr. Aragon: [chuckling] Oh, yes. Those are the charmed substances that some years ago were thought to contain life-preserving properties.
     Dr. Melik: You mean there was no deep fat? No steak or cream pies or... hot fudge?
     Dr. Aragon: Those were thought to be unhealthy, precisely the opposite of what we now know to be true.
     Dr. Melik: Incredible.

     Dr. Tryon: Here, smoke this. And be sure you get the smoke deep down into your lungs.
     Miles Monroe: I don't smoke!
     Dr. Tryon: It's tobacco! It's one of the healthiest things for your body.

From SLEEPER (1973)

      The Doctor: What? Do you understand Einstein?
     Parsons: Yes.
     The Doctor: What? And quantum theory?
     Parsons: Yes.
     The Doctor: What? And Planck?
     Parsons: Yes.
     The Doctor: What? And Newton?
     Parsons: Yes.
     The Doctor: What? And Schönberg?
     Parsons: Of course.
     The Doctor: You've got a lot to unlearn.



What if you use a Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) not to control a starship, but instead to communicate with another person mind-to-mind? Or even to the internet? That's technological telepathy!

For a computer, a BCI replaces the standard interaction between person and computer via monitor, keyboard, and mouse with something a little more intimate. The comptuter is connected direcly to your brain via implanted electrodes or something like that. Imagine a USB port in your skull. See the above link for details.

In the intelligence amplification category, such an interface can allow such IQ accelerating techniques as querying Google at the speed of thought and providing a math coprocessor for your brain.

In William Gibson's Mona Lisa Overdrive are datachips called "skill softs." If you need to speak Mandarin Chinese, pop in a Mandarin skill soft into the chip port on your skull. Ditto nuclear physics, cordon bleu chief, or military strategist. Skill softs for physical skills like karate, sharpshooting, and jet fighter pilot will require additional interfaces to your reflex nervous system. Skill softs are Upgrade Artifacts.

In James White Sector General science fiction novels if for instance, a human surgeon had to operate on a Melfan patient, the surgeon would be temporarily imprinted with an appropriate memory tape. This is a brain recording of an alien surgeon who is an expert in the required surgery. The trouble is the brain recording is not just the surgical skill, it is all the alien's memories. So the poor surgeon has an alien split-personality as long as they are imprinted. The memory tape is erased from the surgeon's brain immediately afterwards. Diagnosticians are entities who have such mental stability that they can hold multiple brain recordings simultaneously. They use this cross-knowledge to do original research.

On the fringe of psionics and reality there is the "thought recorder." This is some sort of gizmo that connects a headset to a reel-to-reel tape, cassette, hard drive, or other recording medium. It can record your thoughts for later play back. "Thoughts" can range from one's everyday mental voice inside their head to a full audio-visual-tactile-emotional experience. Examples include the mental recorder from Skylark Three, the tape records from Rocket to Limbo, the brain scans of the Sten series, and the movie Brainstorm.

Brainstorm noted how such an interface can be used to record an experience on tape and play it back so another person can experience the same things. Eating a meal at a five-star restaurant, sky-diving, traveling to exotic places. Not to mention pornographic applications. They didn't go into it in the movie but such an interface can be used to directly connect two people together with a cable, creating a sort of computer assisted telepathy.

In Skylark Three they also directly connected people together, but not just with a cable. They also used radio waves, making a sort of mental radio. Instead of the radio having microphones and speakers/headphones, they had BCIs.

In Donald Kingsbury's Psychohistorical Crisis everybody has a personal computer they wear which is interfaced to their brain. This is called a "personal familiar" or "fam". However, since everybody's "mental language" is unique, you cannot use this interface to telepathically talk to anybody. You can only talk to your fam which you grew up using. On the one hand this lets you do the math coprocessor for your brain trick, and surfing the internet at the speed of thought. On the other hand, you know how some people become terrified when their internet connection is broken or their cell phone breaks? Losing access to your fam is more like becoming blinded. This can happen if you are convicted of being a traitor to the galactic empire.


(ed note: “O God, I could be bound in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space” ― William Shakespeare, Hamlet)

      “What do you do if your head of purchasing comes in and says that the competition is using telepathy on Government surplus buys?”
     “Depends who it is. Either you send him to have his head examined, or you send somebody out to the sales with him to get a second opinion.”
     “Right. You send somebody really solid with him, like Jack Tukey, right? Somebody who has his head screwed on the right way around. I agree, that’s exactly what you do. So now take a look at these. Jack’s comments are on top, the others are underneath.”
     “Sure we did. That’s not the odd part. When Jim analyzed Kirkwood’s bidding, he noticed something he couldn’t explain. Kirkwood seemed to know exactly what was happening, all the time at all the auctions.”
     “That’s hard for me to swallow, Tolly. Why did Jim happen to pick out Kirkwood—why didn’t he have his eye on Lectron, or Ajax, or one of the other big specialists in surplus equipment?”
     “According to Jim they drew attention to themselves. He sat next to one of the Kirkwood men at the first sale, and at first he thought the man was stoned or sick. He sat there, spaced out, and he only seemed in touch with things about half the time. But he bid exactly right, and he stopped bidding—this is the heart of it—when Kirkwood had bought similar equipment, at very good prices, at one of the other auctions.”
     “Was Jim able to compare the times at each sale?”
     “He tried to, afterwards, and he decided that it had to match within a few minutes, at the most. You see the pattern? A buy in one place, a stopped bid everywhere else—consistently. ”
     “How about two-way radios? That would do it.”
     “That was Jack Tukey’s first thought, when he took a look at what Jim had found. Two-way radios are banned at the auctions, but it seemed like a good guess. Next time, he went to one auction and Jim went to another. They both watched the Kirkwood men, and they swear there was no sign of a radio—not even of something small, like a throat mike. How does it sound, Merle?”
     Walters was hunched in his seat, bald brow furrowed and eyes far away. “Interesting. And fishy.”
     There’s one other thing, Merle. Jim claims that not just telepathy—there are other mysteries, too.Some of the auctioned equipment was made up into mixed lots. The Government does it to get rid of some of the junky stuff.”
     “I’ve been through that. To get one or two things that you really want, you have to buy a great random mass of stuff, sometimes.”
     “So everybody sat there with their pocket calculators, trying to estimate the value of the mixture of items on the block, and it can get very hairy, because you need to know the quantity and value of each item, and some of the lots aren’t advertised in advance. The Kirkwood reps didn’t have any calculators.”
     “But they bought anyway?”
     “Right. They just sat there, bidding as though they were half-asleep—or not bidding, when it suited them. Jim went over the lists afterwards, and calculated how well Kirkwood had done. In every case, even on the most complex mixed lots, they bid only on the right side of the value. You see what that means?”
     “Supermen. Lightning calculators, as well as telepaths. I don’t like that one either, Tolly.”

     “I want to see it for myself, Tolly. And I want to have a bit of equipment made up for me by the machine shop.”
     “Fine. Keep it as cheap as you can, Merle. Though I know you’ll do that by natural instinct. What is it you need?”
     “A tunable receiver. I still have great faith in the electromagnetic spectrum, and I haven’t given up on the idea of two-way radios. I want a detector that will let me run over a big range of frequencies, from about five hundred kilohertz right up to a couple of hundred gigahertz. I want to be able to test for signals in the range from AM up to UHF, so I cover all the usual radio and TV frequencies. I want it strongly directional, so I can point it at the Kirkwood men. I want it small enough to fit in my briefcase; and I want it with controls that I can operate from outside the briefcase, including the displays of the received signals.”
     “Made of solid gold, I suppose. Anything else?”
     “Yes, one other thing. I want a tape recorder attached to it, so I can record any signals that I come across. And I need it in time for the next auction, on the seventeenth.”

(ed note: Merle takes the equipment to the next auction. He discovers that the Kirkwood agent is transmitting on the CB radio band. He gets a recording of the transmission.)

     “Well, there’s your analysis, Merle. I hope it tells you more than it tells me.”
     Tolly Suomi pushed the listings across the desk and looked inquiringly at Walters. A tiny crease in the middle of his smooth, unlined forehead testified to his perplexity. “I don’t know if you were expecting English language signals to come off that tape, but the lab hasn’t been able to get anything like that.”
     “I didn’t expect any language we ’d be able to transcribe.” Merle Walters looked at the analysis of the tape recorded signals with every sign of satisfaction. “In fact, after I’d had a couple of martinis at Hogates yesterday, I decided what ought to be on that tape. I’ll make a bet that I was right. It’s Pulse Code Modulated signals, and it’s all digital, right?”
     “That’s how it looks to everybody here. It’s PCM, Merle, and it proves one thing conclusively: the Kirkwood people have been sending messages from the auctions, just the way that Jim deduced from the bidding patterns.”
     “Sending, and receiving too, Tolly. I didn’t get anything on incoming signals, because we were fine-tuned on direction and I was concentrating on the Kirkwood rep. But I’ll bet you we’d have picked up incoming signals on the same frequency if I’d done a thorough 360-degree sweep at the auction. There was a two-way transfer of information going on there, or I’m a Dutchman.”
     “So it is a system for beating the simultaneous auction system, Merle. And it’s a two-way radio system, the way that Jack Tukey suspected. The problem is, how are they doing it?”
     “It’s more than that, Tolly, a hell of a lot more. I think we’re in at the beginning of something tremendous. Not only that, I think we are the only people who really know what’s happening. Kirkwood Research isn’t for sale, but if I’m right, Tolly, we have to try and buy it—even if it means offering ten times what their books would seem to justify."

(ed note: Merle gets the company to arrange a meeting between him and the CEO of Kirkwood Research. Merle goes to the meeting, after he has his tech friend make a special piece of equipment. Just to be on the safe side.)

     (Kirkwood said) “Vince Menoudakis told me that WAWD (Merle's company) would like some work done for you on one of your Navy contracts,” began Kirkwood. “We’ve done a lot of specialist electronics work over the past four years, but we’ve almost given up on that recently. What’s the job? If it’s really advanced and challenging, we might still be interested.”
     “We need some micro-miniaturized circuitry—logic and storage. What we need has to have 16K or more bytes of storage (don't laugh kiddies, that was a lotta RAM back in 1978), be fully programmable, have a fair number of hardware special functions built in, and still weigh less than half an ounce. Does it sound possible?”
     Kirkwood didn’t hesitate. “A snip. That’s not even state-of-the-art, you can buy it off the shelf. Surely that’s not the whole thing?”
     “No. We also want a compact telemetry system, one that can interface with the computer, to let it receive and transmit programs and data in real time. That system should only weigh a couple of ounces too, including the power supply. Still think you can do it?”
     This time there was a perceptible pause. Kirkwood went into deep concentration for a few seconds. When he emerged from it, his expression was guarded and suspicious.
     “Mr. Walters, before we go any further, I’d like to know just what this Navy job of yours is. Who’s your customer, and what’s the task description?
     Merle lifted his hand. “Let me finish describing it to you. I admit, what we want goes well beyond the scope of our Navy contract—but I sincerely assure you that we do want to buy from you, and we’ll pay a hell of a lot to get it.”
     Charles Kirkwood was frowning, his eyes cold and hostile. Merle felt a strengthening of his first impression. One of the things he had brought with him was going to be useless.
     “This is the rest of it,” he hurried on. “Here’s what we want, and we are willing to pay you five million dollars—in cash—for full rights to it.” Merle paused. That had slowed Kirkwood and caught his attention again. Money might be the best lever. “We want all the computer and telemetry capability, just as I described it. But it has to be in a special form. We want it in the form of an implant, that can be surgically placed inside a man’s head, and then activated and interrogated directly, by impulses from the central nervous system. Just the way we control our eyes or hands. Now, we know that a primitive input/output system has already been developed, for use in prosthetics. We want something that’s a couple of generations beyond that.”
     Merle paused, measuring his next words. “Mr. Kirkwood, I believe that you have already done all the development that I’ve mentioned, and carried it beyond experiment, to operational form. Now, would you care to discuss my offer?”
     Expressions were chasing themselves across Kirkwood’s face. Sudden and total introspection, then fury and alarm. Merle looked for greed, but it had been blotted out by other, stronger emotions. He pulled his briefcase a little closer and placed his hand on a metal boss on top of it.
     “Mr. Walters.” Kirkwood’s voice was cold. “I don’t know where you learned all this, or when. But I assure you, I must have that information, and soon.”
     Merle heard footsteps on the stairs behind him, and turned as three men moved into the room and blocked the doorway.
     “You are an old man, Mr. Walters, and you are crippled,” Kirkwood went on. “From the look of your complexion, your heart isn’t in good shape. I think you should be sensible, and tell me all you know about this. I have no liking for violent methods, and I hope we won’t have to use them. just to avoid any silly ideas, I should mention that there are four other men in the courtyard. We are all in total and continuous communication with each other.
     Kirkwood’s face was pale, and his hands were trembling. Merle turned again to look at the other men and saw no pity or assistance there. At least it made the next step a little less distasteful. With an inward sigh, he turned the metal boss on his briefcase.
     There was no sound, and no visible result of his action. Except that suddenly Kirkwood shuddered, raised his hands to his head, and sank blindly to his knees with eyes unfocused and mouth gaping. Behind him, Merle heard scraping and gasping, as the other men groped at the wall, hands held in agony against their heads.
     Merle opened his briefcase, took a sealed envelope from it, and placed it on the coffee table in front of him. Unhurriedly, he stood up, picked up his briefcase and walked out of the room, past the blind, immobilized Kirkwood men and on down the stairs. In the courtyard were four others, white-faced and hesitant until Merle came closer to them. Then they too lost all control and held their heads in agony, as Merle passed them and went on across the courtyard. He limped steadily through the archway, heavy shoulders butting through the summer heat, and went on into the street.

(ed note: The sealed envelope outlines a deal for WAWD to purchase Kirkwood's services for seven years, and no hard feelings. And by the way, the cut-out circuit you used to protect against overload from incoming signals is hopelessly inadequate. You need us as much as we need you, you got the tech and we have the cut-throat business know-how.)

     (Tolly said) “Any reply yet from Kirkwood?”
     (Merle said) “Not yet. Give him a few hours, Tolly. He must be feeling as though his brains have been fried. That signal generator really pushed out a lot of power, and all at the right frequency.”
     “You think he will take the offer, Merle?”
     “When he’s had time to think about it."
     Suomi gave the imperceptible Tolly smile. “An interesting, if improbable conjecture, Merle. I can swear one thing to you, in all honesty: I never realized where this might lead—and I never, for one moment, considered that you might twist my arm, and the Board’s arm, into offering a ridiculously high sum of money for a small, eight-man company doing half a million a year. I still say it was far too much.”
     “I know you do, Tolly. But I’m right, all the same. You’ll see it in the next year, when I convince you what Kirkwood Research really is. Even Charles Kirkwood himself doesn’t know it, yet. You see—”
     He was interrupted by the buzz of the intercom, Franny was on the line. “Mr. Walters, we just had a message from Mr. Kirkwood. He would like to meet with you here tomorrow morning to discuss your letter. I said we’d call back if you couldn’t make it.”
     “That’s fine, Franny.” Walters turned again to Suomi. “So, it’s getting ready to begin, Tolly. I’m telling you, we’re in on the ground floor of the most important human development in the last million years.”
     Suomi raised his eyebrows half a millimeter. “More important than fire, Merle? More important than the printing press, or the wheel?”
     “I’ll stand by my statement. You see, you’ve never had the chance to observe the level of communication among those people at Kirkwood Research. It’s breathtaking—almost terrifying. They all have programmable implants, and built-in telemetry units, and they can swap data with each other—and programs—in real-time, and they can do the same thing with their central computer and central data banks. They do it directly, or over long distances they use the relays they have in the VWs.”
     “But aren’t they still just exchanging numbers and logic sequences, Merle? It sounds to me like hard, slow work—not my idea of rapid information swapping.”
     “I’m sure it was that to begin with. They had to think in sequences of numbers and instructions, slowly and carefully, just the way we use manual key strokes to operate programmable calculators.’ But after a while it must get to be an unconscious operation.”
     Suomi was thoughtful. “You mean, it goes on automatically, the way we adjust the focus of our eyes, or pick up a glass? Help yourself to a refill, by the way. We don’t have to think about it, and we can do it at the same time as we do other things.”
     “I don’t really know the details, or how it feels. I do know for a fact that Charles Kirkwood could give detailed instructions to the other men, with a small fraction of his attention, at the same time as he was talking to me. You can’t imagine the degree of communication they achieve, unless you see it—and perhaps not even then.”
     Walters was silent for a moment, absorbed in his own thoughts. At last he spoke again. “Tolly, I told you a couple of weeks ago that telepathy was bunk.”
     “—and I agreed with you.”
     “I know you did. But we were both wrong. It didn’t come the way we expected it, but we have telepathy, here and now.
     “Not really, Merle. It’s just computers and two-way radios, the way the Kirkwood people are operating.
     “So what? The results are the same. It uses the technology we’ve already developed, and it uses the electromagnetic spectrum, not some new thing we’ve never heard of. But that’s the way we do it: we build on what we have.
     “Tolly, it’s here. Direct mind-to-mind transfer of information. Now perhaps you understand why I’m willing to spend ten times as much as you might think, to be in on the leading edge of it.”
     Suomi was silent, performing his own assessment of the potential and the problems. Finally, he shook his head, a dissatisfied expression on his face. “Merle, if I read you right, you are telling me that your money-hungry friends over at Kirkwood Research are the first step to Homo gestalt.”
     Walters grinned. “Depressing thought, eh? But it’s true enough. We shouldn’t be too surprised. Look at it this way: we’ve wanted to travel as fast as the wind for thousands of years. Now, you drove in this morning. How long did it take you to get from Potomac to Wisconsin Avenue?”
     “Three-quarters of an hour, give or take five minutes.”
     “So you averaged maybe ten miles an hour. Remember the old elephant joke? ‘I saw an elephant on the Long Island Expressway this morning.’ ”
     Tolly Suomi nodded. “Sure. ‘What was he doing there?’ ”
     “ ‘Same as everybody else, about three miles an hour.’ ”
     “I see what you ’re getting at. Last week, I flew the Eastern Shuttle up to New York. Flying like a bird— in a tin box, eating plastic food.”
     “That’s progress. We can communicate our thoughts directly to others, but we’ll have to do it numerically, using electronic implants and radio communication.”
     Suomi shook his head thoughtfully. “You’re probably right, Merle. We need a better word than telepathy—a more precise one. It’s one thing to transfer data, but the real trick would be to transfer emotions directly.”
     “Maybe we’ll do that, too, with the implants. Think about it, Tolly. It shouldn’t be too hard to monitor and telemeter the basic body functions— chemical balances, temperatures, ion concentrations. It’s only a short step from there to emotional states.” One more thing.” Merle Walters rattled the ice cubes in the empty tumbler. “We’ve taken it a long way, but there’s a big step left. I said I’d given you one reason why I wanted to buy Kirkwood. There was a second one.”
     He picked up his briefcase, opened it and fished out a projector cube. “Remember I had Alex Burns make me a simulation, before I went over to Kirkwood?”
     "I certainly do. It cost four thousand dollars. I’d been wondering what you did with that—you haven’t mentioned it since Alex delivered it.”
     "It's here. I thought that if Kirkwood were a real visionary—he’s not—this might persuade him directly that the implants have to be handled with real care. I never had a chance to use it. You might want to play it through tonight, and you’ll see what a great job Alex did—sound, vision, and special effects.”
     Suomi looked at the gray cube sitting in front of him. “For four thousand dollars, it had better be a masterpiece. What’s it about?”
      Merle Walters rubbed his bald head reflectively. "Well, it just takes the implants the logical next step. What do you think it would be like if everybody had an implant—got one when they were a child?”
     “Everybody?” Suomi pursed his lips. “Well, if it goes the way you painted it, they’d have fantastic communication with each other—and with the central data banks too. It would be instant access to any information, anywhere. Things like ordinary libraries would disappear.”
     "Right. So if you didn’t have an implant you’d be a real outsider. You’d be outside the shared data base, and outside the group-awareness. Do you see where that leads?”
     “I can see some of it, Merle. It’s pretty obvious that the worst punishment you could inflict would be to disable a man’s implant. Like being in solitary confinement, but probably a lot worse. And there’s no doubt we’d develop complete dependence on the big data banks—but we’re not far from that already.” (think of how cut-off you feel if your internet connection unexpectedly goes dead, or your smartphone breaks)
     Walters leaned forward, his lined face earnest. “So now take the last step. Tolly, can you imagine how men with implants would react if they were taken to a place where they were light-years, or light-hours—or even light-minutes—away from the supporting memory banks, and the shared data? I don’t think they could take it. They’d go insane.”
     “You are suggesting that the implants will prevent us from traveling more than a few light-seconds from Earth?
     “That’s it. Unless we’re careful, we’ll find we’ve chained ourselves to a region that doesn’t go much past the Moon. We’re getting low on resources here. We can’t afford to be shackled like that. That’s what Alex Burns shows on the simulation. It’s so well-done, it depressed the hell out of me, and I was expecting it. Of course, it won’t come in our time, Tolly. But I don’t want to see it come at all. We have to keep moving out.” He crammed his hat on his bald, furrowed head. “Take a look at it, and form your own opinions.

From BOUNDED IN A NUTSHELL by Charles Sheffield (1978)


There is a tradition in science fiction stories of people pretending that they have magic powers but are actually using high-tech devices hidden about their person. TV Tropes calls this Magic from Technology. To give them their due, some use tech that is so high it invokes Clarke's Third Law, so the question of whether this is fakery or not is moot. If a technomage can point their finger and the target is incinerated by lightning, does it matter if it was done with a magic spell or with a miniaturized particle beam weapon? Incinerated is incinerated.

A related concept is Magitek.

Examples include:

THE SIXTH COLUMN by Robert Heinlein (under name Anson MacDonald)
     This was Heinlein re-working an unpublished story called "All" by John W. Campbell.
     The United States is conquered by an Asian Empire called PanAsia. But at the last moment, a hidden military lab makes a scientific breakthrough. The lab now has the secret to weapons of Doc Smithian power and other cool gadgets. Unfortunately they are only seven men in a nation occupied by zillions of PanAsia troops. What can they do?
     The scientists want to start an underground rebellion. But you need large groups to spread the conspiracy, and the Empire has forbidden large gatherings. However there is one loophole: religious worship allows large gatherings. The asians know how touchy an occupied nation is about their religions.
     So the scientists invent a crazy religion with ridiculous deities. The asians don't notice anything odd since this new religion looks just as inscrutable as the other US religions. The occupied populance can see this is odd, but the religious services offer a free lunch. The high tech devices can do things like cure cancer and other diseases, which also attracts "worshipers." The congregations soon notice things such as all the hymns are being to the tune of forbidden US patriotic songs. And the sermons are full of dog-whistles about undercover resistance. The priests are on the look out for particularly intelligent and motivated members of the congregation. They are vetted and recruited into the rebellion.
     For "religious" reasons the priests have to wear large floppy robes with turbans, to allow more space to hide high-tech devices hidden about their person. The turbans conceal communciation devices, and a bit of tech that makes the illusion of a halo. Their sacred walking staffs are energy projectors, emitting rays that can heal, transmute lead into gold, and disintegrate. Since the staffs are important to the religion this gets around the PanAsian ban on weapons. Their belts contain a force field generator.
     When the final battle occurs, there is a particularly striking image. For psychological purposes, they use a holographic feature to create the illusion of one of the priests as tall as a skyscraper, sending rays of death and destruction into the PanAsia troops.
ALL by John W. Campbell, Jr.
This is Campbell story that Heinlein reworked into The Sixth Column. In Heinlein's version the rebellion is using a scam religion as a cover. In Campbell's version the leaders of the rebellion actually seem to believe that their made-up religion is true, and they are the incarnation of the made-up deities. Heinlein included one of the leaders going insane and believing they are a god, perhaps as a commentary on Campbell's version. Also of significance is Heinlein naming the character "Calhoun". As editor of Astounding, Campbell would not accept science fiction stories where space aliens were in any way superior to Earthmen.
In the Babylon 5 TV show, Technomages use high-tech to create the illusion of magic. But since their technology can do things like spy on everybody within several kilometers, cure disease, vaporize people with balls of fire, infiltrate and hack any computer system in existence, and create killer nanotechnology; it is safest to just treat them like real wizards.
In the Captain Future universe, our hero's arch enemy is Ul Quorn, the Magician of Mars. This super villain creates all sorts of high tech weapons and gadgets with effects that seem like magic. All the better to impress the superstitious rubes.
DEATHWORLD 2 by Harry Harrison
On the old abandoned Terran colony the level of technology has regressed to about medieval level. But some of the clans have "magic" powers, jealously guarded. The d'zertanoj clan alone knows how to pump petroleum and distill gasoline from it (though they call it the Water-of-Power). The Trozelligoj clan alone has the secret of building gasoline steam-engine powered carts (the engines contain containers of poison gas to discourage reverse-engineering). The Hertug clan has a monopoly on electricity, so can send telegraph messages, yank soldier's swords with electromagnets, and make crude electric lights. The Mastreguloj clan knows chemistry so they can make fire that burns in water, smoke that will burn the lungs, water that will burn the flesh (acid), and so forth.
THE FIRES OF PARATIME by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.
The Time Guards (who have names like Loki and Odinthor) have wrist gauntlets that can throw deadly thunderbolts and carry miniature antimatter bombs. However, since they have the inate ability to travel in time and teleport, it becomes debatable whether they are pretend or real wizards.
The extragalactic alien Korob appears to be a human dressed in wizard robes and possessing magical powers. In reality he is a one decameter tall creature with a squid face. And all his magic powers come from a magic wand shaped technological item called a Transmuter.
Arguably Oz the Great and Terrible falls into this catagory. Certainly the giant head with shooting flames qualifies as a prop designed to convince people you have magic powers.

(ed note: Ul Quorn, the evil Magician of Mars, is the arch-enemy of the heroic Captain Future {Curt}. Future has disguised himself as one of Quorn's crew {Xexel} using blue skin-dye. Unfortunately Quorn suspects Future.)

      A bright yellow light suddenly played around Curt Newton's head. He turned, surprised Ul Quorn was holding a tubular lamp whose yellow beam was turned on Curt’s face.
     “Why, what —" Curt started to ask bewilderedly in shrill tones.
     Ul Quorn handed the lamp to N’Rala, its yellow beam continuing to bathe Curt's head. A triumphant flare lit the eyes of the mixed breed.
     “So we finally meet again, Captain Future," he said softly.
     "Are you crazy, Chief? " blurted Thikar amazedly. "That's old Xexel."
     " Look at his face,” snapped Quorn. "The fluoric beam cuts through the inorganic blue stain he's put on it. You can see for yourself. "

     Curt realized that his imposture was a thing of the past. Under the fluoric yellow beam, his own tanned face showed through the blue stain. Instantly, Curt snatched for the proton pistol inside his jacket.
     Captain Future's draw was legendary in its phenomenal swiftness. But this time, Ul Quorn was swifter.
     The Magician of Mars drew no weapon. Instead, he simply extended his hands toward Curt. From his outstretched fingers shot red rays of crackling energy. They struck Captain Future, and he felt a paralyzing electric shock that froze him in the very act of drawing his weapon.

     “Get his gun, Thikar,” snapped Quorn. “And then cover him — he'll recover in about ten minutes.”
     The brutal Jovian snatched the proton pistol from Curt’s hand. And Curt could not resist. His whole body was paralyzed by that shock. Ul Quorn stood enjoying his triumph a striking figure in his striped Martian turban and yellow-sleeved purple robe.

     “Your famous draw is slow compared to my electrostatic finger rays, Captain Future,” he mocked. "They're my newest weapon. The charge of energy comes from a compact electrostatic battery inside my robe. When I extend my hands full length, a contact is made which allows the electric charge to flash along wires in my sleeves, and radiate from tiny wires that are attached on the under side of my fingers.

     “You see, a weapon like this is not only swift — it enormously impresses people by its seeming magic.

     Curt Newton made no answer. He could not speak, paralyzed as his muscles were by the stunning electric shock. But his gray eyes flamed.

From THE MAGICIAN OF MARS by Edmond Hamilton (1969)

(ed note: In the novel the protagonist and the villain use an amusing bit of technobabble called the Release Flame. It is a handwaving method of converting iron into energy. I suppose Campbell chose Iron-56 because it is at the basin of the binding energy curve, but I digress. The point is the handwaving Release Flame produces unreasonable amounts of energy and can be set to produce the energy in convenient forms: electricity, magnetism, electromagnetic waves, gravity waves, etc.

Anyway anti-hero Atkill manages to get his ship thrown through a space warp to an alien solar system and all his release flames are snuffed out. The ship has no power, though he manages to jury-rig a solar power unit. If there are technologically inclined aliens in the system who have space ships, they can rescue him. Assuming he can convince them that Atkill is a superior being and not something the aliens can butcher for food.

So Atkill is making Release Flame powered miniature gadgets that he will hide about his person in order to fool the aliens into thinking he is some kind of demigod with magic powers.)

      And curiously, from that time Atkill’s observations became fewer and fewer. He spent all his time in the machine shop now. Making something. Texas watched quietly, and played cards. It was evidently a release-flame apparatus — but a tiny thing. Scarcely larger than a book.
     “Be any power in that when you get through?” he asked once.
     “Not unless I can get it started somehow after we are picked up. Then about thirty thousand horsepower. The Flame could give more. A million or so. The apparatus wouldn’t handle it.”
     Atkill worked on, refining and adding to the tiny mechanism, calculating fields and effects and building it into the apparatus. He changed the entire apparatus finally, and made it almost hemispherical, with a depression on the flat side. On one side however seven tiny openings appeared, and one cup-shaped device the size of a quarter-dollar. Nine thin wires dangled from it to a broad, thick bracelet of silver, set with a score of brilliant colored bits of stone cut with infinite pains on a device he set up himself. The rings and stickpins of the dead gangsters had furnished those stones. His own magnificent emerald stickpin had gone into it too. And also several synthetic stones he made by fusing aluminum oxide and adding minute traces of various materials — chromium, nickel, cobalt — He smiled to himself as he worked and hummed a tune softly. Week followed week as he worked lovingly over his little mechanism. He seemed to expect great things of it.

(ed note: Atkill cannot ignite his release-flame because it needs a 16 megavolt electrical discharge but biggest open space inside the ship is only 10 meters. And they have no airlock. However, over the last month the huge star they are orbiting has bombarded the ship with solar electrons so the hull has quite a charge. Atkill rigs a discharge rod attached to his release-flame apparatus. When an alien ship comes, it will have to touch its equivalent of a discharge rod to Atkill's, and the charge will ignite Atkill's release flame.

When the alien ships show up, Atkill makes hurried arrangements.)

     Atkill was busy with something else now. A robe he had made. It was made of the thick, strong silk sheets he had brought with him. They were pure white, beautifully clear, and the robe was made with a surprising skill. It draped about his powerful figure gracefully, caught at arms and shoulder with three clasps of highly polished stainless steel, set with more of the magnificent gems he had synthesized, and cut.
     On one side lay a turban-like head-dress he had made, wound of silk dyed with a slightly fluorescent dye, with the result that in the light of this sun, rich as it was in ultra-violet, it shone of its own accord with a rich, brilliant scarlet. It was a magnificent headpiece.
     Finally a sash was added, one of magnificent, deep purple, clasped with a metal device shaped like twin crocodile heads, their eyes four gleaming stones as deep in color as the sash, touched with a trace of pomegranate.
     “I heard some sky-pilot say that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like this here guy. I don’t know who this Solomon was right well, but you sure got him beat,” grinned Texas. “That what you been working on so hard?”
     Atkill looked at him pityingly. “It’s a shame to disturb his mind. Tex, brace yourself. You’ve got to wear a rig like this too.”
     “Me? Me wear that? Hombre, you got wrong ideas,” affirmed Texas.
     “Tex, if you don’t wear one of these, we are extremely apt to die promptly and unpleasantly. I’d rather convince the populace that we are strange and wonderful gods than have them believe us strange and delectable foods, perhaps. You know, they may have a domestic animal that looks something like us, and is considered a delicacy — like chicken or something. In that case we would be in an unpleasant situation unless we could change their opinions.
     “So stimulate that thing you call your ability to reason, and don these garments.” Atkill extended a similar turban and robe to Texas, but these were made of fine linen instead of silk. The turban was not-unpleasant green, and the sash black as night, held with a stainless steel clasp set with a single blood-red stone.

(ed note: the discharge ignites the release-flame. Both Atkill's ship and the high-tech devices hidden about his person now have full power)

     Atkill straightened instantly, ripped off the five leads, dropped them into a box, and ran to his room — dove, rather, for the ship was still weightless. In an incredibly short time he had fixed his little rounded mechanism to clamps in the framework of the turban, snapped the lead-wires into their jacks, concealed the wires in his loose sleeve, and donned the jeweled bracelet.
     He was a magnificent figure of a man, the white robe, the brilliant turban glowing softly with scarlet light, his tall, powerful body erect and commanding. His features were powerful and rugged, his black eyes snapping with life and energy. Slowly he lowered his arms and beckoned to the strange ship.
     “Now what in hell is that thing?” demanded the horrified Tex.
     “That is our new friend,” replied, Atkill calmly. “He saved your life — course he didn’t mean to, but he did. Now remember what your mother told you, Tex, never stare at freaks. Be grateful to the little — monstrosity, shall we say? He did you a good turn, and I plan to be the high Muckamuck among them presently. You are about to see the powers of my new head-dress. Never learned what it was for, did you? Watch!”
     Atkill folded his powerful arms across his chest, and scowled. He scowled at a chair that was clamped to the floor near him. About his head a misty, bluish light appeared; it projected forward somewhat — but hung close to his head. And suddenly — half the chair puffed away into nothingness! “Now that — thair’s a right cute trick,” said Texas in admiration. “If I didn’t know the secret it shore would take me in. Got any more?”
     Atkill’s face relaxed, his arms fell to his sides, and he laughed. “Lots, Tex, lots. It will work a lot quicker when I want it to.

     Atkill lowered his ship in a swift dive, then turned abruptly and landed like a feather just beside the cradle. Instantly a troop of guards arranged themselves about the ship, a small party of higher officers in resplendent clothes marched forward.
     “I greet you, High Rulers, but greet me, for I am Atkill!”
     The officers looked at him skeptically, their eyes wandering over him disconcertingly. Their long, flexible necks craned in a way that required all Atkill’s control to prevent laughter.
     Atkill looked back at the ship suddenly. An officer of some sort was headed for the still open door.
     “Stop!” roared Atkill. His voice was a deep, powerful bass, and the tone of command brought the man to a sliding stop. Atkill walked angrily forward. “Away!” he ordered, and waved the man away. The officer hesitated. A ring of guards had hastily drawn up around Atkill. The man seemed to make up his mind, for he bowed his long neck several times and started firmly forward.
     Atkill folded his arms and scowled at the man’s back. A glow sprang suddenly into being about his head, flashed bright for an instant — and died. The officer slumped slowly and gently to the ground without a sound. There was a sudden movement among the guards as they sprang toward him calling. Atkill merely swept his glance around them and they fell like ripe grain, to lie motionless where they had fallen.
     Weapons were appearing now in the hands of guards further away, but now the officer, first affected, moved, rolled over, and jumped suddenly to his feet. Atkill waved him away with calm assurance and walked back to the assembled generals.
     He had scarcely moved when a score of men rushed him from behind the curve of the ship. Their soft feet were almost soundless on the smooth metal. Atkill turned and scowled again, pointing his left hand at them in anger. They hesitated, slowed and vanished! A slight shimmer in the sunlight, a few sparkling dots of light, and the clink of metal objects that had been’ in their pockets was all that remained.
     The physicist turned once more and walked toward the officers. The richly garbed men were fleeing rapidly toward the nearest ship.
     “Halt!” roared Atkill. The men turned, jerking weapons from their pockets, and simultaneously a dozen crackling explosions sounded. Atkill had stopped with folded arms. He smiled, and waited. The air before him was suddenly filled with bright explosive flame, and smoke. It blew away and left him standing with eyes closed, his brows contracted in concentration.
     The officers returned slowly at his gesture now. Frightened and worried. They came hesitantly before him. “Down!” snapped Atkill, pointing. They sank on their flexible, double-jointed legs, and looked up at him.
     “I am Atkill!” he roared at them.
     “Ahut-Kuhl!” they whistled uncertainly.

     Tex wrinkled in annoyance. “I don’t mind that there heat thing so much, nor the knock-out thing. But that thing that makes a man burn like a barrel of gas gets me, and that thing that makes ‘em just go poof and they ain’t gets me, it makes my belly wiggle.”
     Atkill smiled. “Get over it. We are gods. The gods do as they will, and are not disputed. The knock-out is just a paralysis ray — and quite harmless. It is a warning. The thing that makes them burn is a cosmic that turns them into hydrogen and they burn. The other is just a simple transmutation field. I could make them change to hydrogen with that if I wished, but I usually change them to oxygen.
     Tex looked unhappy. “What th’ hell did yuh do to that guy that tried to stab yuh yesterday? Uh — he just turned stiff, and then went all brown, and glowed — and just blew away like a brown gas, and stank.”
     “That,” said Atkill sharply, “was a warning. That was the tenth assassin I had after me that one day, and I was getting peeved. I have a little electro-static balance in the apparatus you know — an idea borrowed from Warren by the way — that tells me when some one comes near. So when that fellow tried creeping up on me, I got peevish, and turned him into bromine.
     Atkill suddenly stiffened as a red light began to glow on the panel before him. “Damn!” he muttered. He snapped on a screen, that glowed in dark, somber red, and black. Three strange long-necked Bay-Raonii (aliens) were training some sort of a weapon on the ship. Atkill stepped to the open lock and through it, and looked toward the men. He could not see them in the dark, but suddenly they began to glow in weird, greenish colors. Their startled faces looked up stupidly.
     “Your masters are stupid,” said Atkill calmly, in perfect Bay-Raonii. “I am Atkill.”
     The figures of the men began to glow more vividly. They stiffened suddenly immobile. The one on the left began to shake violently; his outline grew hazy and a scream rang out from his open mouth. Presently it stopped, and he slumped suddenly downward; but as he fell, the light that shone from him grew brilliant, and the clothes he wore, and the flesh of his body, melted like snow in the path of a heat-ray, and a skeleton fell to the ground surrounded by bits of metal and glass and crystal.
     The one on the right shrieked, trembled, and melted as had the first, till a bare skeleton fell to the ground.
     “Go, and tell your masters I am Atkill!” roared the Terrestrian. Something gripped the remaining Bay-Raonii in a vise of force and hurled him half a mile away, to land dripping in a small lake.

     “I have learned to quench the Eternal Flame — see!” Atkill stood upright, his eyes staring at the little pinpoint of white flame over the gigantic ruby. An aura of faint violet light built up about his head as his brows drew together, and his chest heaved. His breath came harshly (to cover the slight sound of the straining Flame within his turban) and his cheeks paled.

From THE SPACE BEYOND by John W. Campbell, Jr. (1976)

      “Just a moment, Major.” It was Dr. Brooks, who had been sitting quietly, as usual, while the others talked. ” I think it would be a good idea if we waited a day or two, until Scheer can make certain changes in the power units of the staffs.”
     “What sort of changes?”
     “You will remember that we established experimentally that the Ledbetter effect could be used as a sterilizing agent?”
     “Yes, of course.”
     “That is why we felt safe in predicting that we would help the sick. As a matter of fact we underestimated the potentialities of the method. I infected myself with anthrax earlier this week—”
     “Anthrax! For God’s sake, Doctor, what in the world do you mean by taking a chance like that?”
     Brooks turned his mild eyes on Ardmore. “But it was obviously necessary,” he explained patiently. “The guinea pig tests were positive, it is true, but human experimentation was necessary to establish the method. As I was saying, I infected myself with anthrax and permitted the disease to establish itself, then exposed myself to the Ledbetter effect in all wave lengths except that band of frequencies fatal to warm-blooded vertebrates. The disease disappeared. In less than an hour the natural balance of anabolism over catabolism had cleared up the residue of pathological symptoms. I was well.”
     “I’ll be a cross-eyed intern! Do you think it will work on other diseases just as quickly?”
     ” I feel sure of it. Not only has such been the result with other diseases in the animal experimentation that I have conducted, but because of another unanticipated, though experimentally predictable, result. I’ve suffered from a rather severe cold in the head lately, as some of you may have noticed. The exposure not only cured the anthrax, it completely cleared up my cold. The cold virus involves a dozen or more known pathogenic organisms, and probably as many more unknown ones. The exposure killed them all, indiscriminately.”
     “I’m delighted to get this report, Doctor,” Ardmore answered. “In the long run this one development may be of more importance to the human race than any military use we may make of it now. But how does it affect the matter of establishing the branch church in Denver?”

     “Well, sir, perhaps it doesn’t. But I took the liberty of having Scheer modify one of the portable power units in order that healing might be conveniently carried on by any one of our agents even though equipped only with the staff. I thought you might prefer to wait until Scheer could add the same modification to the staffs designed to be used by Thomas and Howe.”
     “I think you are right, if it does not take too long. May I see the modification?
     Scheer demonstrated the staff he had worked over. Superficially it looked no different from the others. A six-foot rod was surmounted by a capital in the form of an ornate cube about four inches through. The faces of the cube were colored to correspond with the sides of the great temple. The base of the cube and the staff itself were covered with intricate designs in golden scroll-work, formal arabesques, and delicate bas-relief-all of which effectively concealed the controls of the power unit and projector located in the cubical capital.
     Scheer had not changed the superficial appearance of the staff; he had simply added an additional circuit internally to the power unit in the cube which constrained it to oscillate only outside the band of frequencies fatal to vertebrate life. This circuit controlled the action of the power unit and projector whenever a certain leaf in the decorative design of the staff was pressed.
     Scheer and Graham had labored together to create the staff’s designing and redesigning to achieve an integrated whole in which mechanical action would be concealed in artistic camouflage. They made a good team. As a matter of fact their talents were not too far apart; the artist is two-thirds artisan and the artisan has essentially the same creative urge as the artist.

     “I would suggest,” added Brooks, when the new control had been explained and demonstrated, “that this new effect be attributed to Tamar, Lady of Mercy, and that her light be turned on when it is used.
     “That’s right. That’s the idea,” Ardmore approved. “Never use the staff for any purpose without turning on the color light associated with the particular god whose help you are supposed to be invoking. That’s an invariable rule. Let ‘em break their hearts trying to figure out how a simple monochromatic light can perform miracles.”
     “Why bother with the rigamarole?” inquired Calhoun. “The PanAsians can’t possibly detect the effects we use in any case.”
     “There is a double reason, Colonel. By giving them a false lead to follow we hope to insure that they will bend their scientific efforts in the wrong direction. We can’t afford to underestimate their ability. But even more important is the psychological effect on nonscientific minds, both white and yellow. People think things are wonderful that look wonderful. The average American is completely unimpressed by scientific wonders; he expects them, takes them as a matter of course with an attitude of 'So what? That’s what you guys are paid for.'
     “But add a certain amount of flubdub and hokum and don’t label it 'scientific’ and he will be impressed. It’s wonderful advertising.”
     “Well,” said Calhoun, dismissing the matter, “no doubt you know best-you have evidently had a great deal of experience in fooling the public. I’ve never turned my attention to such matters; my concern is with pure science. If you no longer need me here, Major, I have work to do.”

From THE SIXTH COLUMN by Robert Heinlein (1951)

"We are dreamers, shapers, singers, and makers. We study the mysteries of laser and circuit, crystal and scanner, holographic demons and invocations of equations. These are the tools we employ and we know — many things." —Elric the Technomage to Captain Sheridan

"The true secrets, the important things. Fourteen words to make someone fall in love with you forever. Seven words to make them go without pain, or to say goodbye to a friend who is dying. How to be poor, how to be rich, how to rediscover dream the world has stolen from you." —Elric the Technomage to Captain Sheridan

"I do think there are some things we don't understand. If we'd be back in time a thousand years, trying to explain this place (the Babylon 5 space colony) to people, they could only accept it in terms of magic." —Captain Sheridan

"Then perhaps it is magic. The magic of the human heart, focused and made manifest by technology. Every day you here create greater miracles than a burning bush." —Elric the Technomage


(ed note: In the Babylon 5 universe, the Technomages use science to create the appearance of magic. Technmages are implanted with alien technology called "The Tech" which they use for their most powerful "spells." Apprentices use a training wheel version of the Tech called a "chrysalis"

Techomages have to create their own customized "spell language" that is used to communicate with The Tech. Some use words as incantations, some use gestures, some use music, one even uses knitting and weaving of cloth

Galen is a novice apprenticed to Elric the Technomage. As part of the graduation ceremony, an apprentice is to demonstrate a new spell of their own devising. Galen is having trouble thinking of something original.)

     He’d studied those great spells extensively. One difficulty every mage faced, though, was translating the work of other mages into his own spell language. Each mage had to discover and develop his own spell language, because a spell that worked for one mage would not work for another. Elric had explained that the tech was so intimately connected with one’s body and mind that conjuring became shaped by the individual. Since each person’s mind worked differently, mages achieved the best results in different ways. An apprentice trained to achieve clarity of thought, and his preferred method of thought formed his spell language. His chrysalis learned to respond to the spell language, and when he received his implants, this knowledge was passed to them through the old implant at the base of his skull.
     Galen’s spell language was that of equations. Elric had been concerned at first as Galen’s language had developed. Most spell languages were more instinctive, less rigid, less rational. But Galen wasn’t a holistic, lateral thinker who jumped from one track to another, drawing instinctive connections. His thoughts plodded straight ahead, each leading logically and inexorably to the next. Elric had expressed fear that Galen’s language would be cumbersome and inflexible. Yet as Elric had worked with Galen on the language and seen how many spells Galen had been able to translate, his reservations had seemed to fade.
     Translation was one of the most difficult tasks facing any mage. It was only after looking at many spells that Galen was able to understand how another mage’s spell language related to his, then translate those conjuries. He had managed to translate most of Wierden’s and Gali-Gali’s spells, as well as many spells of other mages. With different levels of success, he had translated spells to create illusions, to make flying platforms, to conjure defensive shields, to generate fireballs, to send messages to other mages, to control the sensors that would soon be implanted into him, to access and manipulate data internally, to access external databases, and much more.
     He had memorized them all.
     But since each spell language possessed its own inherent strengths and weaknesses, he found it impossible to translate some spells, such as those for healing. Others, such as the spells used to generate defensive shields, he believed he had translated correctly, yet when he cast them, the results he achieved were weak, inferior.
     Galen wondered, and not for the first time, if his spell language hampered his attempt to conjure something original. As his thoughts plodded straight ahead, so did his spells, equation after orderly equation. In his language, it made no sense to simply make up a spell. An equation must be sensible in order to work; all the terms must possess established identities and properties. So how could he discover an equation that somehow reflected him, revealed him? He had been uncomfortable with the idea of revealing himself, but now that hesitance faded to insignificance beside the undeniable necessity: he could not disappoint Elric.
     Galen brought up a different section of text on the screen, his translations of some of the spells of Wierden. They varied in complexity and involved many different terms, some of which were used in multiple spells, others used only once. Again it seemed to him that there could be no truly original spells, only more complicated ones. Frustrated, Galen started to reorder the spells on the screen, from simplest to most complex. As he did, he noticed that some of the spells formed a progression. A spell with two terms conjured a translucent globe. A spell with those same two terms, and one more, conjured a globe with energy inside. A spell with those same three terms, and yet another, conjured a globe with the energy given the form of light. Add another term, and it conjured a globe filled with light and heat. And on it went.
     Several of Gali-Gali’s spells furthered the complexity. If he could work his way to the last spell in the progression, could he think of one that would go beyond it?
     But wasn’t this just what others were doing, building ever more elaborate spells without really creating something new? He didn’t know if the other mages thought of it this way; since they didn’t formulate their spells as equations, their spells didn’t have multiple terms in them. Elric, he knew, simply visualized what he wanted to happen, and if it was within his power, it happened. One simple visualization for any spell.
     Galen’s eyes went back to the top of the list, to the spell containing only two terms. Why was there no spell with only one term? No such spell existed in Wierden’s work, or, as he thought about it, in any of the mages’ conjuries he’d yet translated. Most of them had many, many terms. In fact, he couldn’t even remember another equation with only two.
     Perhaps spells had to have more than one term. But why? He stared at the two terms that began the progression. If there was an initial spell in the series, a spell with only one term, which term was it?
     The first of the two terms was common, used in this progression and elsewhere. Galen had come to think of it as a sort of cleanup term, necessary for everything to balance, but having negligible impact.
     The second term, on the other hand, existed only within the spells of this progression. As far as he knew, at least. That seemed very odd. Surely it could have other uses.
     That second term, then, seemed the defining characteristic of the progression, and the obvious choice for the first equation in it. But what would the term do when used alone?
     Perhaps it would have the same effect as the second equation, conjuring a translucent sphere. If the cleanup term truly was negligible, that’s what would happen. The sphere itself, as he’d discussed it with Elric, was an odd construct, not a force field as it first had seemed. It didn’t really hold things in, or keep things out. It simply demarcated a space within which something would be done.
     If removing the cleanup term did have an effect, what might it be? Perhaps the sphere wouldn’t form at all. Perhaps it would be opaque or have some other property. Or perhaps it would be deformed in some way. In any case, it wouldn’t be very impressive.

     Carvin’s spell language was that of the body; specific, precise movements and their accompanying mental impulses comprised her spells.

(ed note: As part of his apprentice demonstration, Galen tries doing a one-term spell. To everybody's surprise, it starts to make a planet-devouring sphere of force. The one-term spell is far more powerful than any other known spell. Galen's teacher Elric manages to shut down the spell. Later in private they talk.)

     Elric set a mug of water on the table in front of Galen, which at last brought him to life. He looked up at Elric with large, hungry eyes. “What was it?” he asked.
     “I do not know.”
     “It was dangerous.”
     “So it seemed. With a power greater than any I’ve sensed from a conjury.”
     “I didn’t lose control.”
     “That,” Elric said, “is the most troubling aspect of it.” At the beginning of their training, chrysalis-stage apprentices often lost control and generated violent bursts of energy. But that wasn’t what Elric had observed today. Galen’s spell had been focused, controlled. This hadn’t been some outburst of undisciplined violence. It had been a carefully crafted, directed, outpouring of huge power. Elric had barely been able to stop it in time.
     Galen shook his head. “I didn’t know… what it would do.”
     “I realize that. Tell me how you arrived at this spell.”
     Galen brought his screen from his bedroom and led Elric through a progression of equations that he had derived from translating the works of Wierden and Gali-Gali. As Galen spoke, Elric was glad to see him become more animated.
     “I realized there was no first equation in the progression, with only one term. That is what I conjured.”
     Elric sat beside him. “The idea of a first equation in the progression. It makes perfect sense in your spell language. Yet there is no equivalent in mine.” Galen was a genius for coming up with it. Although Elric had helped Galen formulate and develop his spell language, it was vastly different from Elric’s: much more complex, much more regimented. Elric had thought this would limit Galen’s abilities; he had never imagined it would lead to new discoveries.
     “I thought it might be a fluke of my language, that it might do nothing. But it did… do something.”
     A spell like this might explain some of the mysteries in techno-mage history. But the implications disturbed Elric. “It gathered great energy and instability.”
     Galen’s hands tightened around the screen. He was still troubled about what he had done, and how he had come to do it. “The second term must stabilize the first. Perhaps it creates an opposing force of some kind.”
     “The result of the spell could not have been anticipated,” Elric said.
     Galen turned to him, brilliant blue eyes needy, unblinking. “How is it that my spell language led to this?
     “The same way that the study of the atom led to the atomic bomb, or the study of light to the laser. The potential was there. You discovered it.”

(ed note: As it turns out, Galan has discovered one of the five primal root spells encoded into the Tech by the creators of the Tech. The point is that no other technomage in history had discovered these, due to the nature of their spell languages. Galan's spell language had revealed an interesting hole.)

From CASTING SHADOWS by Jeanne Cavelos (2001)

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