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Top 25 Post Human Science Fiction Books

Best Post Human Science Fiction Reads

In 1859, prompted by the similar ideas being developed by Alfred Russell Wallace, Charles Darwin finally published On the Origin of Species, perhaps the most revolutionary book in the history of modern civilisation. The notion of evolution had been around for a long time, but now there was a mechanism for evolution, and with that came an understanding of the way it affected every living thing on Earth. Well, for some it did. For a lot of people there was an assumption that humanity marked an evolutionary peak, specifically that there could be nothing higher on the evolutionary scale than a Victorian Englishman.

But H.G. Wells, who had studied for a while at the Normal School of Science under Darwin’s disciple, T.H. Huxley, recognised that evolution was an unending process, and in his first novel, The Time Machine, introduced a future humanity that had divided into two separate and antagonistic species, the Morlocks and the Eloi. For the first time, science fiction raised the question of what might come after humanity as we know it today.

To be fair, the vast majority of the science fiction that followed over the next 100 or so years didn’t give the question a second thought. There are countless stories set in the immensely distant future in which the characters are indistinguishable from whoever we might have encountered in a mid-20th century American city. But some have asked what comes next if we are not the end, enough to make a substantial if sometimes disturbing list.

Basically, there are four answers to the question of what comes next. 1: Evolution; following on from Wells, a few writers have considered how we might be changed by the natural processes of time. 2: Usurpation; there is a large body of work that simply assumes that humanity will die out, will kill itself, or will be killed by others, and the Earth will be taken over by another race, whether ants or robots. 3: Alteration; by far the most common assumption is that we will simply change ourselves to suit different circumstances. After all, this is something we already do, from artificial limbs to hearing aids, from pacemakers to dialysis machines, so it seems like a natural not to say inevitable progression. The only issue is whether the alteration is mechanical, biological or digital. 4: Exogamy; the final route, which is not really as common as you might expect, involves some form of merger with the alien, whether willingly (marriage) or unwillingly (infection).

All of these four approaches to posthumanity are represented in the following selection of novels. Some are set long after the moment of change, by which time the posthumans are familiar and unexceptional; some leave us with no more than a harbinger of change, a hint of what might follow; and some attempt to convey some of the processes involved in that change. But all assure us that you and I and everyone we see around us is not the end of the story.

The best way to start is by diving in at the deep end, and when it comes to posthumanity you won’t find deeper. Uploaded personalities, clones, advanced technologies, extraordinary developments in biology, a person born with no parents: what can it possibly mean to be human in among all of this? When even humans who have been enhanced so that they can live longer or live under water are looked upon as rather old fashioned, we are in a future where posthumanity has become more established and more diverse than us. The result is a dazzling, at times confusing display of the different ways of being human that technology and biology might open up to us. Why it tops the list: No-one writing science fiction is more alive to the ideas of posthumanity than Egan. He approaches the idea, sometimes tangentially sometimes directly, in a lot of his work, including Permutation City, Distress and Schild’s Ladder; but nowhere does he deal with the subject so directly and with such startling invention as he does in Diaspora.
And if Diaspora is one of the most developed works of posthumanity, this is probably the first. Wells brings ideas of Darwinian evolution squarely into science fiction, and uses it to cast a caustic light upon ideas of human development and Victorian social policy. A Victorian gentleman travels hundreds of thousands of years into the future and finds two distinct races, the childlike Eloi and the dark, chthonic Morlocks who prey on them, while the learning and wisdom of humanity is dust. Only gradually does he discover the two races are the descendants of humanity, effete aristocrats on the one hand, workers driven into a subterranean existence on the other (Wells’s novella, “A Story of the Days to Come”, illustrates this coming about). It’s a chilling condemnation of Victorian industrial policy and a revelatory account of how evolution has not finished with humankind. Why it’s on the list: Evolution is one of the most important themes in science fiction, and the key to the whole notion of posthumanity, and it all begins here.

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H.G. Wells was an incredibly busy writer, producing three or four books every single year between 1895 and 1946, but among these were an awful lot of science fiction books. They are all very readable and exciting, but the early ones in particular virtually invented some of the most important ideas in the genre. 

The Island of Doctor Moreau tells of a mad scientist, hidden away on an isolated island, who performs vivisection that turns wild animals into debased humans; it is a powerful tale of horror and the misuse of science. 

The War of the Worlds is the first alien invasion story, which tells of Martians landing on the outskirts of London and proving technologically superior to the most powerful nation on Earth.

The Invisible Man is a version of the Jeckyll and Hyde story, in which a researcher invents a potion that makes him all but invisible; but he cannot regain visibility. This makes him an outcast whose only recourse is to ever more extreme crimes and acts of terrorism. 

The First Men in the Moon is the story of an inventor who creates an anti-gravity material that he uses to construct a spacecraft in which he an a friend travel to the moon. But there they discover a regimented and dystopian society.

Almost as important as Greg Egan’s work in describing posthumanity is Bruce Sterling’s sequence of Mechanist and Shaper stories in which posthumanity is divided between those who use mechanical means to augment the human body and those who use biology to shape the body. And that sequence reaches a glorious climax in this novel. The novel follows two one-time friends who become bitter enemies in the on-going battle between the Mechanist and Shaper factions to control the Solar System. In a novel filled with betrayals, assassinations, battles, alien encounters and much more, the central story concerns the constant reimagining of what it is to be human and still cope with the wildly varying conditions of life throughout the universe. Why it’s on the list: To some extent, all four of the routes to posthumanity come into play in this novel, which is a vast, panoramic vision of what humanity may become in space.

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The political nuances that play such an important part in Schismatrix are also there in much of his other work. For instance, Distraction, which won the Arthur C. Clarke Award, is a subtle account of the different political factions at play in a balkanised future America. While Heavy Weather looks at how climate change leads to extreme storms, and the knock-on political and social effects of this change.

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Mirrorshades, which Bruce Sterling edited, is the definitive cyberpunk collection, containing William Gibson's story "The Gernsback Continuum", along with work by key cyberpunk authors including Pat Cadigan, Paul Di Filippo, Lewis Shiner, James Patrick Kelly, Rudy Rucker and others.
The Shaper/Mechanist stories had a profound influence on many of the writers who have emerged in the new century. Perhaps the most significant of these is Accelerando by Charles Stross, which won the Locus Award. A series of linked stories take us from tomorrow's 24-hour online society to a space voyage as digitised information, to the dismantling of the planets to make a vast, solar powered computer.

This huge, panoramic novel takes us from the present, where we First Men are confined to Earth, to the 18th Men of the far distant future. In between we see evolution and technology produce incredible changes on the nature of humanity, as different forms of humankind rise and fall, adapt for life on other worlds, take on extraordinary new shapes, destroy themselves and rise from the ashes. No other work in the entire history of science fiction has such an extraordinary sweep, taking the story of mankind onward over millennia after millennia, and out across the solar system. Why it’s on the list: This is simply the most comprehensive, the most gobsmacking, the most awesome account of posthumanity you are ever likely to encounter.

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Last and First Men is grand enough and awesome enough in scale for anyone, but Star Maker is even grander, it is nothing less than the entire history of life in the universe. It begins on a small scale with one man in contemporary England who is somehow taken up into the universe where he explores another civilisation on a planet not unlike earth. Then his mind merges with one of the people from this world, and they go on to explore another, then another, each time the cosmic mind grows until eventually they meet the Star Maker himself, and realise that this universe is only one among many.

Two other books by Stapledon are well worth checking out. Sirius is the story of a scientist who creates a dog with human-like intelligence that is raised alongside the scientist's daughter as if they are brother and sister. Odd John, on the other hand, is about a super-intelligent human, homo superior (this is the first appearance of that phrase), and about the conflicts this intelligence creates with ordinary humans.

Two other works deserve to be read alongside Odd John. The Hampdenshire Wonder by J.D. Beresford is one of the earliest stories of this type, being a biographical account of the upbringing of a deformed but preternaturally bright child. Another World by J-H Rosnyaîné is the story of a mutant child whose extraordinary perception allows him to see another order of life existing alongside our own, both unaware of each other.

When the Earth is destroyed, the only hope for human life is in the form of the alien Oankali, who have rescued a precious few survivors. But will humans cope with having to interbreed with the repulsive-seeming aliens, and what hybrid form will appear as a result? Over the three novels, Dawn, Adulthood Rites and Imago, Butler explores the conflicts that arise from the human relationship with the Oankali, and between the human survivors and the hybrid children. Why it’s on the list: Exogamy, the marriage between human and alien, has never been more thoroughly explored than in this trilogy.

Books in Xenogenesis Series (3)

If Xenogenesis explores the emergence of posthumanity through exogamy, Blood Music explores it through infection. A renegade biotechnologist faces having his research shut down, so he injects himself with the “noocytes” he has created. These are biological computers that quickly multiply inside his body, and then become self aware. At first the noocytes improve his health, but in time they don’t just take over the researcher, but everyone else they can infect, until the whole of North America becomes one biosphere. Why it’s on the list: Expanded from an original novelette that won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards, Blood Music is both a terrifying and an exhilarating account of how something so small can have such a monumental effect.

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Greg Bear also dealt with nanotechnology in Queen of Angels and its sequel, Slant. In the near future, nanotechnology has been used in psychotherapy so that now the vast majority of people have gone through the technique that ensures they are well-integrated, happy and content. Then a famous writer commits a gruesome murder, the sort of crime that should not exist in this therapied world. At the same time, an AI operating a space probe discovers signs of life around Alpha Centauri and simultaneously achieves artificial intelligence.  The two novels together tell a fascinating story in which questions of identity, who we are and how we got there, are always central.

Bear has also written some monumental hard sf, of which the best is probably Eon, in which a mysterious asteroid comes close to earth and is revealed to contain mysterious tunnels and long-abandoned cities, and at the end the corridor opens out way beyond the physical limits of the asteroid, taking us into an extraordinary pocket universe.

For as long as we have had the technology to do so, we have attempted to improve our own bodies, from pulling teeth to using glasses to correct poor eyesight. But how far can such technological change go, and how will it affect what makes us human? When the cold war threatens to turn hot, the push to colonise Mars is accelerated, and one man is gradually turned into a cyborg in order to withstand the pressures of life on the red planet. His body is enhanced, and changed, his ability to process sensory information is radically altered. But with every new improvement to his own body, he becomes more and more detached from humanity. Only when he gets to Mars does his new body make sense to him, but by then he is totally separated from everything that made him human. Why it’s on the list: Transforming our bodies is one of the common themes of science fiction, but this novel, which won the Nebula Award, shows the human cost of that transformation better than any other.
Like both Blood Music and Man Plus, The Ship Who Sang deals with the transformation of one person’s body in a way that comes close to horror. But this novel, a fix-up of six linked stories, transforms the horror into delight. Helva is born into a world where the severely disabled are liable to be euthanised, but because her brain is fully developed she has the chance to become a shell person. Her body is further broken and crammed into a titanium shell, which she will never be able to survive outside, and her brain is then connected directly to computers. She is then placed in a spaceship, a brainship, which she controls, discovering a freedom and ability that her body would never otherwise have known. M. John Harrison includes an overt reference to The Ship Who Sang in the character of Seria Mau in his novel Light. Why it’s on the list: This is another example of the way direct interface between human and computer can open the way for a host of new posthuman possibilities.

Books in Brainship Series (5)

There was a period when science fiction tended to refer to the next stage in human evolution as homo superior, and one of the ways of achieving this state was through a gestalt, a number of individuals working as one. The idea is there, for instance, in The Inner Wheel by Keith Roberts, but it’s most successful expression was probably in this novel by Theodore Sturgeon. Through three linked stories, we follow the development of a gestalt, starting with a loner with telepathic abilities who begins to gather odd children around him. When he dies, a sociopath takes over the group, but in the last story an air force engineer who has been locked in an insane asylum becomes the group’s conscience, and so completes the homo gestalt. Why it’s on the list: The novel, which won the International Fantasy Award, is perhaps Sturgeon’s masterpiece, a brilliant account of how the collective outweighs the individual, and opens up new ways for human development.
Ever since the computer became a fixture in the ordinary life of every one of us, it has been one of the most potent images in the idea of posthumanity. Whether it is flesh and blood humans interfacing directly with computers, or the essence of our individuality being rendered in digital form, the computer has become the key to posthumanity. And no one has rendered the process that gets us from here to there with as much detail and conviction as Charles Stross does in this extraordinary novel. Through a series of linked stories, the novel takes us from the near future, where everyone is permanently connected to the internet (so much so that when the hero’s memories are stolen he has difficulty finding out who he is), to alien contact aboard a spaceship the size of a Coke can where the crew are stored as digital information, to a point where the planets of the solar system are dismantled to form a vast solar-powered computer to provide a digital home for infinitely more advanced intelligences than humanity. Why it’s on the list: Winner of the Locus Award, this is one of the very best accounts of a digital future.

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Practically all of Cordwainer Smithâs fiction belongs within a future history that starts just a few years from now and extends for tens of thousands of years into the future. At the heart of this, and the core of his very best work, was the Instrumentality of Mankind, the body that ruled an elegant, utopian realm that extended across space. But what makes these stories interesting in posthuman terms is the Underpeople. These are genetically enhanced animals, such as the cat-derived CâMell in âThe Ballad of Lost CâMellâ or the dog-derived DâJoan in âThe Dead Lady of Clown Townâ, which are originally treated as slaves, but gradually revolt and win their freedom. By the time we come to the stories set furthest in the future, they are fully integrated into the social order. Why itâs on the list:One of the persistent themes of posthuman fiction is that the future does not belong to humankind. Time and again we are shown that something else will replace man, or at least share the world with our descendants. This may be robots or AIs, or, as here, it may be evolved or enhanced animals. And nobody has shown those enhanced animals with as much elegance and delight as Cordwainer Smith.

Books in Instrumentality Of Mankind Series (7)

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Apart from his spectacular stories, Cordwainer Smith wrote only one novel, Norstrilia, which is also set in the future of the Instrumentality of Mankind, and which is also eminently readable. The hero amasses the biggest fortune in the history of the universe thanks to stroon, a drug that allows people to live extended lifespans. He is so rich that he is rumoured to have bought Old Earth, the legendary home of humanity. Touring Earth in the company of the bewitching cat woman C'Mell, he puts his immense fortune towards campaigning for the rights of the under people.

If you are looking for other distinctive voices in science fiction, you would do well to try the stories of R.A. Lafferty, for instance in Nine Hundred Grandmothers or Does Anyone Else have Something Further to Add? Idiosyncratic, wacky, weird, his stories are funny but unsettling, as if the only way to make sense of what happened is to accept that the world doesn't make sense. In the superb, "Narrow Valley", for instance, an old indian preserves his land from unscrupulous dealers by folding the landscape so the valley can only be seen by those who know it's there. Or in "Thus We Frustrate Charlemagne" a group of scientists use a time machine to change the past, but because everything has changed they don't realise it was successful, so they try again, and again.

If Last and First Men is the most spectacular, panoramic view of the future of life in our Solar System, Evolution runs it a close second. It begins 65 million years in the past, with early mammals struggling to survive in Africa; it ends 500 million years in the future, after the extinction of human life, with the beginnings of machine sentience. In between, we witness the course of evolution, both brutal and uplifting, with the death of the dinosaurs, the rise of the Neanderthals, the first tentative explorations of Mars, the consequences of genetic engineering, and the spread of replicator machines taking Humanity’s legacy throughout the Universe. Why it’s on the list: Whatever we may think, the forces of evolution are always likely to be the most important driver in creating what comes after humanity, even if we give evolution a little genetic and mechanical help. And this is a spectacular account of the forces involved.
In the far future, humanity has split into the Unevolved and the Augmented. The latter have been forged by biotechnology into forms that allow them to live anywhere, including acting as their own spaceship. It seems there is nothing they cannot do, no environment they cannot conquer, and when they encounter a solar system with seemingly abandoned alien technology, the Augmented plan to claim it as their own. Only then do they discover that the technology is far from abandoned; they have encountered an even more advanced form of life, one that is intent on subsuming them into its own Unity. Why it’s on the list: Natural History, along with its sequel, Living Next Door to the God of Love, offer an idiosyncratic and pyrotechnic account of humanity coming to terms with ever greater powers (including a pocket universe where New York contains genuine superheroes – what’s not to like!).
One persistent aspect of posthuman science fiction is that the future may not belong to humanity. It might be our creations, robots, that inherit the Earth; or it may be another creature that evolves to take over our ecological niche. Both appear in Simak’s best work. As humanity becomes ever more isolated and eventually dies out, their robot servants become ever more important, until it is the robots who eventually lead the few surviving humans to a new world. Meanwhile, it is the dogs left behind who build up a new, more peaceful civilisation, and whose stories about the near-mythical humans form the substance of this book. And all along, the ants are building up their own industrialised society. Why it’s on the list: The winner of the International Fantasy Award, City expresses a view common in the science fiction immediately after the Second World War that humanity would never be able to get along peacefully together. The idea that others might take our place is therefore a hopeful vision of the future.

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Another contender for the title of Simak's best novel has to be Way Station, which displays all the features characteristic of his best work: a love of the pastoral, a preference for quiet country people who relish their isolation, and a sense that humanity is inherently violent. In this case a Civil War veteran who has a small farm in Wisconsin has been given immortality in return for allowing his farm to be used as a way station, a transit point for aliens travelling across the galaxy by matter transmission. Nobody notices this until, a hundred years later, the government begins to wonder why he hasn't aged. Government action reveals factions among the aliens, while an alien gift to the farmer allows him to foresee the possibility of nuclear war. Winner of the Hugo Award, and regularly placed among the best all-time sf novels, Way Station is typically quiet and engaging while raising some very thorny questions.

As we have seen in books like Man Plus, one way to achieve posthumanity is to remake ourselves in a new form. But experimenting upon ourselves in that way comes at a cost for the subject of that experiment; it also reveals something unpleasant about those carrying out the experiment. Phoenix is the subject of such an experiment. Her development has been artificially accelerated, so although she is only two years old, she has the body and mind of an adult. She has been raised in Tower 7, and is quite happy there until her best friend discovers something and dies. Phoenix breaks out of the Tower, and as she slowly begins to realise her awesome powers (she has wings, she bursts into flame, she dies and is reborn), so she also uncovers the sinister motives of those who created and imprisoned her. Why it’s on the list: Like a strange mix of traditional oral storytelling and modern superhero adventures, with a powerful postcolonial subtext, this is the most extraordinary recent novel about the costs of creating a posthuman.
Czech is hardly a widely spoken language, and in the years immediately after the First World War Czechoslovakia had barely gained its independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire which had largely swamped Czech culture to that point. This was not exactly a promising source for a play that became a world-wide phenomenon, and one of the most influential texts in the history of science fiction. But within three years of the first performance of R.U.R. in January 1921, it had been translated into 30 languages, and the new word "robot" had become so familiar that it was already being used in English newspapers of the time. Why it's on the list If you know the word "robot" it is because of this play. It is derived from the Czech word "robota", meaning forced labour, and the robots in the play were biological creations closer to cyborgs than the metal creatures that came to dominate sf. But it was here that robots entered the world's consciousness.

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Karel Ã?apek was a prolific journalist, playwright and critic. As Arthur Miller said: "There was no writer like him...prophetic assurance mixed with surrealistic humour and hard-edged social satire: a unique combination...he is a joy to read." This unique combination is not just evident in R.U.R., but also in his amazing science fiction novel, War With The Newts. Like R.U.R., this is a story about the way people exploit others, in this case a race of intelligent newts discovered on a remote Pacific island. At first the newts are enslaved by an industrialist, but eventually clashes start, and the newts begin to destroy the landmass in order to create more living room for themselves.

Also published as Trouble on Triton: An Ambiguous Heterotopia, the novel was conceived as a response to Ursula K. Le Guin’s Ambiguous Utopia, The Dispossessed. But at the core of the utopian society that Delany presents is the posthuman idea that people can make themselves whatever they want. The technology available on Triton allows individuals to take whatever form they wish. It is easy for people to change gender, change their physical appearance, their sexual orientation, even their personal tastes. Given that the government on Triton has no powers to control personal behaviour, the chance to be who and what you wish, and to try other genders is the key to the utopian society. Why it’s on the list: By freeing people from the limitations of how they are born, the ability to change oneself that is at the heart of Triton is an important step on the way to posthumanity.
It was in the isolated environment of the Galapagos Islands that Charles Darwin made the observations that were crucial to the development of his ideas of natural selection, and it is on the Galapagos Islands that another epic of evolution is played out. A small, mismatched group of people are shipwrecked on one of the Galapagos Islands just as the world economy collapses, and when a subsequent disease renders all humans infertile, this group are the only ones unaffected. The novel then follows their descendants over the next million years as they evolve into small, furry creatures with flipperlike hands and a smaller brain located in a streamlined skull better shaped for swimming and catching fish. Since Vonnegut acerbically maintains that the biggest problems human beings face are caused by their over-large brain, this is clearly meant to be a happy ending. Why it’s on the list: One of the consistent threads in a lot of posthuman science fiction is the idea that humanity as we know it is not the end point of evolution, and we have no right to consider ourselves the natural inheritors of the future. But the idea has rarely been expressed with the sour wit on display here.
Frederik Pohl’s Man Plus is, to say the least, ambiguous about the benefits of cyborgisation. But that is not how most people see it. The most popular examples of the idea are from film and television, specifically from films like Robocop and from television programmes like The Six Million Dollar Man. This last was based on Martin Caidin’s novel, Cyborg, and it suggests that the biotechnology used to rebuild Steve Austin after a near-fatal crash effectively turns him into a superman. Like Nnedi Okorafor’s The Book of Phoenix, novels like Cyborg bring posthuman fiction close to superhero fiction, but with fewer caveats. Prosthetic limbs in real life might be a fairly poor substitute for the real thing, but in fiction they give us unbelievable strength and speed. Cameras and radio transmitters can be integrated into the body, other devices might make us immune to injury. To make us posthuman is to make us superior in every way. Why it’s on the list: Quite simply, Cyborg and its television offshoot made everyone aware of one form of posthumanity.
Of course, we like to imagine that we won’t change; but nothing is going to stop the environment around us changing, and that is inevitably going to have an effect upon us. That is the theme of Kathleen Ann Goonan’s Nanotech Quartet, beginning with Queen City Jazz. Nanotechnology has changed everything. The countryside has been devastated by nan plagues, while cities have been transformed in extraordinary ways that are beautiful and threatening at the same time. In Cincinnati, where the novel is set, the skyscrapers have been transformed into nan flowers, with huge bees carrying information between them. You cannot live in that world and not be changed. Why it’s on the list: One of the simplest approaches to posthumanity is just adopting to an ever-changing environment; and by situating her heroine within a radically transformed environment, Goonan offers a radically different way of functioning as a human.

Books in Nanotech Series (5)

Cyberpunk, despite its interest in body modifications and computer interfaces, was never really concerned with the posthuman. But occasionally a cyberpunk work would start probing towards the posthuman, raising issues that clearly pointed in that direction. One such was Fools. It is set in a world in which memories can be bought and sold, and hence what goes on in the mind is separated from the body. This obviously raises key questions about the nature of identity and what it is that makes us human, and it is this that makes Fools a harbinger of the posthuman. When one character starts to play host to memories that are not her own, she finds herself at war within herself. Why it’s on the list: Fools won Cadigan’s second Arthur C. Clarke Award. It’s a novel in which the digitising of the mind, the fluidity of memory, open the way for the sort of digitised future that has become one of the common features of posthuman sf.
There was a time when the arrival of a new form of human, a homo superior as they tended to be called, would be signalled by the appearance of a sport, an oddity, someone with talents or abilities way beyond the ordinary, but usually in these stories someone to be pitied rather than admired. Such unlikely characters appear in Another World by J.-H. Rosny or Odd John by Olaf Stapledon, or, later, novels like Slan by A.E. Van Vogt; but one of the first and still one of the most interesting was this novel by the little-known English writer, J.D. Beresford. The Wonder is a child born with greatly enhanced mental abilities. To give room for his larger and more powerful brain, his head is somewhat deformed, which inevitably results in his being tormented by the other children of the village. But his mental powers mean that he feels himself superior to the lesser beings around him, so the isolation works both ways. In the end, his intelligence leads him to reject religion, and thus, it is implied, he is murdered by a jealous clergyman. Why it’s on the list: Beresford was himself slightly deformed and the son of a clergyman, so the suggestion is that there is an autobiographical element to the book. Be that as it may, it is a wonderful account of the isolation of a superior child.
As we have seen, in works such as Man Plus and The Ship Who Sang, body modification is often associated with making people fit to work in particular, usually hazardous, circumstances such as space. And, in R.U.R. or The Book of Phoenix, we see that people who have been made are often regarded as chattels, as possessions with no rights, until they revolt. Both those strands in posthuman fiction emerge in Bujold’s Falling Free. This is the story of the “Quaddies”. These are a special space labour force who have been manufactured to have a second pair of arms instead of legs, so that they are superbly adapted to work in zero gravity. But they are regarded as no better than slaves by the company that owns them; legally, they are not even classified as human. So when a new artificial gravity technology renders them irrelevant, the company plans to kill them all, until one man helps them to escape. Why it’s on the list: In a later novel, Diplomatic Immunity, Bujold shows that a couple of centuries later the Quaddies have a thriving society, so once again we see that biotechnology has created a new form of viable humanity.

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There's lots of military sf out there, but if you're looking for something that has the same romantic feel, you really need to try the Honor Harrington books by David Weber, there's 20 or more of them now, stories of the space navy that are closely modeled on the Horation Hornblower novels of C.S. Forester.

Another series worth checking out is the Familias Regnant sequence by Elizabeth Moon. There are seven novels to date, in which Moon draws on her own military experience to provide a convincing account of military operations in space.

The Belgian writer, who used the pseudonym J.-H. Rosny aîné, was possibly the leading continental rival to H.G. Wells, producing a string of vivid and inventive short novels. This one, for example, is set in a distant future when human life on Earth is coming to an end. The whole planet has become a desert, and small isolated communities huddle around any rare source of water. But they are only too aware that the water they have cannot last for long, and their whole life is built around conserving what little they have and seeking out any new source. But while human existence is in decline, out on the horizon something new, mysterious and menacing is stirring. The “ferromagnetals” are a barely comprehensible form of metallic life that has developed spontaneously and may even be achieving sentience, and they are getting ready to inherit the Earth. Why it’s on the list: This was one of the first stories to suggest that any posthuman life may not be human at all; it is also perhaps unique in positing a form of metallic life that has not initially been manufactured by humankind.
Strictly speaking, Banks’s Culture novels have nothing to do with posthumanity, since the humans of Earth are no part of the Culture, and many of the novels are actually theoretically set in our past. Nevertheless, the dominant biological race within the Culture is human, and many of the themes and ideas of posthumanity that we have laid out in this list emerge seamlessly in these novels. Thus machine intelligence, the AIs or Minds that control the ships and orbitals of the Culture, is fully part of Culture society. The body is no longer a restriction: as in Triton, people can and do change gender at will. Body modifications, as in Man Plus, are commonplace, and can be very imaginative: in Matter one character has taken on the appearance of a bush. As in Diaspora or Accelerando humans interface with machines constantly, personalities can be downloaded readily, and digital storage is one way that Culture citizens have developed to avoid death. And, as in Natural History, at the end of the day there is the prospect of Subliming, of being translated into an 11-dimensional state of existence and leaving the Real behind. Why it’s on the list: Without it ever being the focus of any of the novels, every volume in the Culture sequence is filled with images that are familiar from posthuman science fiction. In other words, the Culture makes the posthuman normal.