The variety of biotech in science fiction novels is inspiring and mind-boggling. Some of it is even literally for mind-boggling! From super-soldiers, to brain implants, to hormone glands, to extracorporeal pregnancies, you nominated an eclectic assortment of biotech on this blog and on the Discover Sci-Fi Facebook group which you would most like to have or see in existence in the real world.
Our definition of biotech was “any biotechnology that has modified humans, or another species to soup them up to anything more than they were when they were born, for example, a fancy eyeball, extra appendages or replaced appendages, brain implants, a productivity drug etc.” Some of the nominations are a little on the fringe of that, as is always the case in the weird and wonderful world of science fiction, and the discussion has been interesting particularly on the Facebook group. Click here to view the original poll that inspired this list. As always, if you don't agree with the nominations, make your voice heard! Are you a fan of one of the books below and want to add more details? Post here in the comments and be sure to participate in the next poll so our democracy can be perfected!
Finally, from 10th to the most desirable piece of biotech, we present the top 10 selections for the best pieces of bio-tech from a sci-fi book or series of all time.
Click on the links to check out the books featuring these favorites to add to your collection, and then add your comments at the bottom of this post (or in our Facebook group) to let us know if you agree (or not!).
10. Gamera Special Forces in “Old Man’s War” by John Scalzi
Old Man's War by John Scalzi was also in last week's poll. It is a six-book, military space opera series and an extra short fiction. Each book is set in the same world, but follows a different main character.
The first book in the series opens with John Perry, a 75-year old whose wife has just passed and he has become a volunteer recruit for the Colonial Defense Forces who protect human interplanetary colonists. He joins other retirees who all obtain souped-up bio-tech younger bodies to fight the war. The story follows Perry's tale from recruit through battles and challenges to his eventual promotion as captain.
The Gamera Special Forces are a new humanoid special-forces race. One could argue that calling the Gamera Special Forces a unique option isn't fair, because they also use BrainPal, a computer in their brains that enable things like communication, but there is more to them than just that. They have also been engineered to survive in open space! Their need for communication via Brainpal is because their unusual bodies have no audio.
9. Uterine replicators from the “Vorkosigan” series by Lois McMaster Bujold
The Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold is another series that has been nominated on previous Discover Sci-Fi polls. It includes a remarkable series of 30-publications and counting, including novels and a few shorter stories. While it is a series, each book is written intended to be a stand-alone piece, so a reader could theoretically jump in anywhere. Works in the series have received numerous awards and nominations, including five Hugo award wins including one for Best Series. The order of recommended reading is a bit up for debate since the chronology of publication does not follow the internal chronology of the Vorkosigan world. The author recommends reading the books in order of the internal chronology. So that's probably the best place to start!
The uterine replicators is a technology that allows for unborn human fetuses to be gestated in vitro, rather than in a woman's body. This is what spurred all sorts of experimentation on the human species and triggered the development of Quaddies and Betan hermaphrodites. This fascinating biotech definitely fits into our local definition of a piece of technology that has modified humans! It's also related to something that current scientists research, namely, a biobag that is used to support prematurely delivered lambs.
8. Protomolecule enhancement from “The Expanse” series by James S.A. Corey
Yet another novel series that has been previously nominated on Discover Sci-Fi polls, the Expanse is a series of (so far…) eight science fiction novels (and related novellas and short stories) by James S. A. Corey, the joint pen name of authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck.
The first novel, Leviathan Wakes introduces Captain James Holden, his crew, and Detective Miller. When they are confronted with a case of a single missing girl they realize it leads to a solar-system-wide conspiracy. With fantastic character development and truly Space Opera-tic levels of adventure, it seems almost cinematic.
The protomolecule is used to create enhancements in humans by infectious means. It is used for alterations like creating super-soldiers, and the creation of a hive mind out of an entire population which then links to a computer.
7. The gland options in “The Culture” series by Iain M. Banks
The Culture series by Iain M. Banks has been a top 10 lister for Discover Sci-Fi readers before! The series gets its name from an extremely advanced, post-scarcity society called The Culture comprised of various humanoid races and AIs. There is little need for laws or enforcement since there are no dramatic needs such as food, or work. The members live in spaceships and other off-planet constructs. However, The Culture is just one of several “Involved” civilizations that take an active part in galactic affairs. And the differences between these civilizations has landed them in inter-galactic warfare.
The glands are an interesting hormonal source of drugs that a Culture individual can use for hundreds of enhancements. A handful are described on the ScifiFandom Wiki:
These allow owners to secrete on command any of a wide selection of synthetic drugs, from the merely relaxing to the mind-altering: ‘Snap' is described in Use of Weapons and The Player of Games as “The Culture's favourite breakfast drug”. “Sharp Blue” is described as a utility drug, as opposed to a sensory enhancer or a sexual stimulant, that helps in problem solving. “Quicken”, mentioned in Excession, speeds up the user's neural processes so that time seems to slow down, allowing them to think and have mental conversation (for example with artificial intelligences) in far less time than it appears to take to the outside observer. “Sperk”, as described in Matter, is a mood- and energy-enhancing drug, while other such self-produced drugs include “Calm”, “Gain”, “Charge”, “Recall”, “Diffuse”, “Somnabsolute”, “Softnow”, “Focal”, “Edge”, “Drill”, “Gung”, and “Crystal Fugue State”. The glanded substances have no permanent side-effects and are non-habit-forming.
6. Nano-tech enhancement from “The Jon and Lobo” series by Mark L. Van Name
Mark L. Van Name is the author of the five-book Jon and Lobo military sci-fi series. It opens with the book One Jump Ahead which introduces us to Jon Moore and Battlewagon Lobo. Moore is a nanotech-enhanced soldier-of-fortune who grew up in a prison laboratory, and Lobo an A.I.-equipped intelligence and weapons platform/assault vehicle. With a bounty on Moore's head, they attempt to rescue yet again the young woman they accidentally delivered into the wrong hands. But with the help of an old lover and under-the-table support from the mercenary outfit that made him, Moore just might beat the odds, save the girl, and get out of this one a little richer and one step closer to making it back to the strange world of his origin. Jon Moore's nanotech enhancements include nano-machines (and the ability to talk to machines) but it's difficult to describe much about them at risk of spoilers!
5. BrainPal in “Old Man’s War” by John Scalzi
The BrainPal is semi-organic computer, thoroughly integrated with the human brain which enables a number of extra-human functions including communication abilities. It also has other nifty feature, like the ability to suddenly charge your blood so you can pop mosquitos while they bite you! And much more…
4. The “sleeve” consciousness back-up from “Altered Carbon” by Richard K. Morgan
Altered Carbon is the first book in the Takeshi Kovacs Novels series by Richard K. Morgan. In it we meet ex-U.N. envoy Takeshi Kovacs. Having just been killed (again) he is dispatched one hundred eighty light-years from home, re-sleeved into a body in Bay City and thrown into the dark heart of a shady, far-reaching conspiracy.
It's the “sleeve consciousness” back-up that makes it possible for Takeshi to live again, of course. A sleeve is a body you can transfer your consciousness into via an implant is a spare body you can transfer your consciousness into by use of an implant called the Stack. Religious groups have condemned the company behind the body transfers, saying that the technology is immoral, and that lab-grown bodies and clones are an affront.
3. Super soldier enhancements from “The Portal Wars” series by Jay Allen
Jay Allen‘s Portal Wars series is an alien invasion/colonization series of (currently) three books. Although Jay's books have been nominated as Top 10's in our polls before, this is the first time for Portal Wars.
The series opens with Gehenna Dawn, a reference to the searing hot, hostile planet Gehanna where men from earth, like Jake Taylor, a regular New Hampshire farmboy, are sent to fight. In this alien hell, Jake and his cybernetically-enhanced comrades fight their never-ending war against the servants of the Tegeri, the manufactured soldiers they call simply, the Machines. When he finally discovers a terrible secret…that everything he’d believed, all he’d fought for his entire life, was nothing but a monstrous lie, he must decide who is the real enemy, and how far he is willing to go to right a horrific wrong.
The super-soldier enhancements are on both sides of the battles, including the protagonist, Jake Taylor himself, the aliens called Tegeri, and the Black Corps, a force created by Earth's government to destroy them. Some of the enhancements include things like being unable to go against orders, which creates fierce weapons out of humans!
2. The brain ships from the “Brain & Brawn” series by Anne McCaffrey
The “Brain & Brawn Ship series” (or Brainship or Ship series), written by Anne McCaffrey and others, is sometimes called the “Ship Who Sang series” based on the first book in the series.
The Ship Who Sang introduces us to a brainship, Helva. She was born human, but only her brain had been saved—saved to be schooled, programmed, and implanted into the sleek titanium body of an intergalactic scout ship. She must choose a human partner—male or female—to share her exhilirating excapades in space!
Although McCaffrey wasn't the first to come up with the concept of brainships, her original imaginings of it are unique:
I remember reading a story about a woman searching for her son's brain, it had been used for an autopilot on an ore ship and she wanted to find it and give it surcease. And I thought what if severely disabled people were given a chance to become starships? So that's how The Ship Who Sang was born.
— Anne McCaffrey, Anne McCaffrey: Heirs to Pern, Locus Magazine
Click here to find the first book in the Brain & Brawn Ship series on Amazon.
1. The Babel Fish from “The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy” (series) by Douglas Adams
Hitchhiker's Guide is a long-time, comic beloved classic of science fiction readers and is the title of a book series that has been adapted to film, TV, radio and even more forms of media.
With the opening book, author Douglas Adams introduces us to hapless hero Arthur Dent as he travels the galaxy with his intrepid pal Ford Prefect, getting into horrible messes and generally wreaking hilarious havoc. Dent is grabbed from Earth moments before a cosmic construction team obliterates the planet to build a freeway… and comedic chaos ensues.
Some famous pop-culture slogans are from The Hitchhiker's Guide, including “Don't Panic,” “42,” and references to a towel being the most useful thing a hitchhiker can have.
A “Babel Fish” is an admirably useful piece of biotech. According to one of the BBC broadcasts of Hitchhiker's Guide describes it thus:
“The Babel fish is small, yellow, leech-like – and probably the oddest thing in the universe. It feeds on brain wave energy, absorbing all unconscious frequencies and then excreting telepathically a matrix formed from the conscious frequencies and nerve signals picked up from the speech centres of the brain, the practical upshot of which is that if you stick one in your ear, you can instantly understand anything said to you in any form of language: the speech you hear decodes the brain wave matrix.”
Click here to find The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy on Amazon.
What do you think? Is there a piece of bio-tech your fellow readers should know about that didn't make it on the list? Join us here in our Facebook group to chime in on the debate, and then check out our most recent poll while you're there. Don't have Facebook? You can share your views in the comments below.
*Some book-related copy in this post was pulled from Amazon & Wikipedia.