Transhumanism and the Singularity in SciFi


An Old Friend
A ‘showcase of contemporary science fiction’

“Transhuman,” edited by Mark L. Van Name and T.K.F. Weisskopf, Baen Books, $22, 287 pages.

The Singularity is the point predicted by futurist Ray Kurzweil at which machines become smarter than humans and the human era ends.

You can tell how important the concept is because the term is capitalized. Come The Singularity, ultra intelligent machines — or man-machine hybrids — will supplant mere humans and rule the Universe.

Mind — there are lots of skeptics. Futurists are notorious for cloudy crystal balls. The Singularity might be our fate — or it might be one with personal jet packs and housecleaning robots.

Regardless, the Singularity has provided a stock science fiction plot device since the 1980s when Vernor Vinge popularized the concept in his novels.

“Transhuman” is an original science-fiction anthology that uses the Singularity as a springboard. The 11 short stories in the collection examine the potential impact of advances in computer technology on humans.

The result is kaleidoscopic. The 11 authors examine the topic from individual perspectives that present vastly different futures — and different conclusions about how technology will affect the definition of being human.

The authors are a showcase of contemporary science fiction talent. They range from old standbys like James P. Hogan to new talents, like Wen Spencer and John Lambshead.

The settings are equally diverse. Some stories take the reader from a moon base in the near future, a college laboratory in Chicago and a deep space battleground. Others are set closer to home — including one at a high school reunion.

Even the most prosaic settings gain an odd twist in this anthology. In one, the reader realizes all of the participants at a family gathering are dead — biologically dead.

They exist as self-aware computer simulations. Are they “real?” That depends upon how you define reality.

Another story shows how computers, androids and virtual reality can add a whole new level to keeping up with the Joneses. That story adds a new twist on neighborhood holiday competition.

Other stories examine how privacy and individual identity can survive in a society where computer networks and sensors observe everything.

The main thread linking the stories is that despite technology, people matter. None of the authors postulate a society where machines replace people.

Despite differences of style and topic, all of the stories are entertaining and optimistic. “Transhuman” offers a light, yet thought-provoking examination of its theme. It provides an excellent sampler of work by writers that merit the attention of anyone that enjoys science fiction.

Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian and model-maker, lives in League City.