CYBORGS


CYBORGS
   The term "cyborg" is a contraction of "cybernetic organism" and refers to the product of human/machine hybridization. David Rorvik popularized the idea in As Man Becomes Machine (1971), writing of the "melding" of human and machine and of a "new era of participant evolution". Elementary medical cyborgs - people with prosthetic limbs or pacemakers - are already familiar, and have been extrapolated in fiction in such works as Bernard WOLFE's LIMBO (1952; vt Limbo '90 UK) and Martin CAIDIN's Cyborg (1972); the tv series The SIX-MILLION DOLLAR MAN - which popularized the term "bionic man" - was based on the latter. A more recent example of the cyborg SUPERMAN can be found in Richard LUPOFF's Sun's End (1984) and Galaxy's End (1988).There are two other common classes of cyborg in sf: functional cyborgs are people modified mechanically to perform specific tasks, usually a job of work; adaptive cyborgs are people redesigned to operate in an alien environment, sometimes so completely that their humanity becomes problematic. The subject of the earliest major cyborg novel, The Clockwork Man (1923) by E.V. ODLE, belongs to the latter category, featuring a man of the future who has a clockwork mechanism built into his head which is supposed to regulate his whole being, and which gives him access to a multidimensional world (DIMENSIONS). The most common form of cyborg portrayed in the early sf PULP MAGAZINES was an extreme version of the medical cyborg (MEDICINE), consisting of a human brain in a mechanical envelope. These are featured in Edmond HAMILTON's "The Comet Doom" (1928) and CAPTAIN FUTURE series, in Neil R. JONES's Professor Jameson series, and in Raymond F. JONES's The Cybernetic Brains (1950; 1962). Brains immortalized by mechanical preservation often became monstrous, like the ones in Lloyd Arthur ESHBACH's "The Time Conqueror" (1932; vt "Tyrant of Time") and Curt SIODMAK's much-filmed Donovan's Brain (1943). Some later writers approached the existential situation of humans in mechanized bodies in a much more careful and sophisticated manner; outstanding examples include C.L. MOORE's "No Woman Born" (1944) and Algis BUDRYS's WHO? (1958), both of which focus on the problems of re-establishing identity once the familiar emblems are gone. Existential problems are also to the fore in The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe (1974; vt The Unsleeping Eye) by D.G. COMPTON, which features a man with tv cameras implanted in his eyes.An early example of the functional cyborg is strikingly displayed in "Scanners Live in Vain" (1950) by Cordwainer SMITH, which features cyborgs designed for SPACE FLIGHT; this particular theme dominates stories of both functional and adaptive cyborgs. Cyborg spaceships are central to Thomas N. SCORTIA's "Sea Change" (1956), Anne MCCAFFREY's The Ship who Sang (coll of linked stories 1969), Kevin O'DONNELL Jr's Mayflies (1979) and Gordon R. DICKSON's The Forever Man (1986), while Vonda MCINTYRE's Superluminal (1983) features space pilots who require mechanical replacement hearts. Stories dealing with the use of adaptive cyborgs to explore other worlds include Arthur C. CLARKE's "A Meeting with Medusa" (1971), Frederik POHL's MAN PLUS (1976) and Paul J. MCAULEY's "Transcendence" (1988). Barrington J. BAYLEY's The Garments of Caean (1976) has two races of cyborgs adapted to the environment of outer space. Another major theme in stories dealing with functional cyborgs concerns their adaptation to the needs of espionage and war; examples include "I-C-a-BEM" (1961) by Jack VANCE, "Kings who Die" (1962) by Poul ANDERSON and A Plague of Demons (1965) by Keith LAUMER. Relatively few stories treat more mundane manipulative functions, although Samuel R. DELANY's NOVA (1968) makes significant observations en passant. Many recent stories feature humans modified in such a way as to be able to plug in directly to COMPUTERS, sometimes working in harness with them to do many kinds of work. Particularly graphic images of this kind can be found in ORA:CLE (1984) by Kevin O'Donnell Jr, SCHISMATRIX (1985) by Bruce STERLING, Hardwired (1986) by Walter Jon WILLIAMS and Escape Plans (1986) by Gwyneth JONES; the notion is a staple background element of CYBERPUNK. Not all functional cyborgs involve human flesh: The Godwhale (1974) by T.J. BASS features a massive food-collecting cetacean cyborg.Sf in the cinema and on tv has often used the cyborg as a convenient figure of menace; examples include the DALEKS and Cybermen of DR WHO. Images of cyborg evil in written sf include the Cyclan in E.C. TUBB's Dumarest novels and Palmer Eldritch in Philip K. DICK's THE THREE STIGMATA OF PALMER ELDRITCH (1964). A more sympathetic cyborg is featured in Dick's Dr Bloodmoney (1965), and tv has presented at least one memorable sympathetic image in Harlan ELLISON's The OUTER LIMITS script "Demon with a Glass Hand" (1964).One work which transcends categorization to deal in semi-allegorical fashion with the relationship between human and machine via the symbol of the cyborg is David R. BUNCH's Moderan (1959-70; fixup 1971), an assemblage of vignettes about a world where machine-men gradually forsake their "fleshstrips" and retire into mechanized "strongholds" to plot the destruction of their fellows.A relevant theme anthology is Human Machines (anth 1976) ed Thomas N. Scortia and George ZEBROWSKI.
   BS
   See also: CYBERNETICS; ROBOTS.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Encyclopedia. . 2011.

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