Transhumanist themes have become increasingly prominent in various literary forms during the period in which the movement itself has emerged. Contemporary science fiction often contains positive renditions of technologically enhanced human life, set in utopian (especially techno-utopian) societies. However, science fiction’s depictions of enhanced humans or other posthuman beings frequently come with a cautionary twist. The more pessimistic scenarios include many horrific or dystopian tales of human bioengineering gone wrong. In the decades immediately before transhumanism emerged as an explicit movement, many transhumanist concepts and themes began appearing in the speculative fiction of authors such as Robert A. Heinlein (Lazarus Long series, 1941–87), A. E. van Vogt (Slan, 1946), Isaac Asimov (I, Robot, 1950), Arthur C. Clarke (Childhood’s End, 1953) and Stanislaw Lem (Cyberiad, 1967).
The cyberpunk genre, exemplified by William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984) and Bruce Sterling’s Schismatrix (1985), has particularly been concerned with the modification of human bodies. Other novels dealing with transhumanist themes that have stimulated broad discussion of these issues include Blood Music (1985) by Greg Bear, The Xenogenesis Trilogy (1987–1989) by Octavia Butler; The Beggar’s Trilogy (1990–94) by Nancy Kress; much of Greg Egan’s work since the early 1990s, such as Permutation City (1994) and Diaspora (1997); The Bohr Maker (1995) by Linda Nagata; Oryx and Crake (2003) by Margaret Atwood; The Elementary Particles (Eng. trans. 2001) and The Possibility of an Island (Eng. trans. 2006) by Michel Houellebecq; Mindscan (2005) by Robert J. Sawyer; and Glasshouse (2005) by Charles Stross. Many of these works are considered part of the cyberpunk genre or its postcyberpunk offshoot.
Fictional transhumanist scenarios have also become popular in other media during the late twentieth and early twenty first centuries. Such treatments are found in comic books (Captain America, 1941; Transmetropolitan, 1997; The Surrogates, 2006), films (2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968; Blade Runner, 1982; Gattaca, 1997; Repo! The Genetic Opera, 2008), television series (the Cybermen of Doctor Who, 1966; The Six Million Dollar Man, 1973; the Borg of Star Trek: The Next Generation, 1989; manga and anime (Galaxy Express 999, 1978; Appleseed, 1985; Ghost in the Shell, 1989 and Gundam Seed, 2002), computer games (Metal Gear Solid, 1998; Deus Ex, 2000; Half-Life 2, 2004; and BioShock, 2007), and role-playing games (Shadowrun, 1989), Transhuman Space, 2002)
In addition to the work of Natasha Vita-More, curator of the Transhumanist Arts & Culture center, transhumanist themes appear in the visual and performing arts. Carnal Art, a form of sculpture originated by the French artist Orlan, uses the body as its medium and plastic surgery as its method. Commentators have pointed to American performer Michael Jackson as having used technologies such as plastic surgery, skin-lightening drugs and hyperbaric oxygen therapy over the course of his career, with the effect of transforming his artistic persona so as to blur identifiers of gender, race and age. The work of the Australian artist Stelarc centers on the alteration of his body by robotic prostheses and tissue engineering. Other artists whose work coincided with the emergence and flourishing of transhumanism and who explored themes related to the transformation of the body are the Yugoslavian performance artist Marina Abramovic and the American media artist Matthew Barney. A 2005 show, Becoming Animal, at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, presented exhibits by twelve artists whose work concerns the effects of technology in erasing boundaries between the human and non-human.
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