Uplift (science fiction)

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In science fiction, uplift is a developmental process to transform a certain species of animals into sentient beings by other, already-intelligent beings. This is usually accomplished by evolutional interventions like genetic engineering but any fictional or real process can be used. The concept appears in David Brin's Uplift series and other science fiction works.[1]

History of the concept[edit]

The concept can be traced to H. G. Wells' novel The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896),[2][dead link] in which the eponymous scientist transforms animals into horrifying parodies of men through surgery and psychological torment. The resulting animal-people obsessively recite the Law, a series of prohibitions against reversion to animal behaviors, with the haunting refrain of "Are we not men?" Wells' novel reflects Victorian concerns about vivisection and of the power of unrestrained scientific experimentation to do terrible harm.

Other early literary examples can be found in the following works:

David Brin has stated that his Uplift universe was written at least in part in response to the common assumption in earlier science fiction such as Smith's work and Planet of the Apes that uplifted animals would, or even should, be treated as possessions rather than people.[3] As a result, a significant part of the conflict in the series revolves around the differing policies of Galactics and humans toward their client races. Galactic races traditionally hold their uplifted "clients" in a hundred-millennium-long indenture, during which the "patrons" have extensive rights and claims over clients' lives and labor power. In contrast, humans have given their uplifted dolphins and chimpanzees near-equal civil rights, with a few legal and economic disabilities related to their unfinished state. A key scene in Startide Rising is a discussion between a self-aware computer (the Niss) and a leading human (Gillian) about how the events during their venture (and hence the novel's plot) relate to the morality of the Galactics' system of uplift.

Uplifting in science fiction[edit]

Year Series Creator Media Type Notes
1896 The Island of Doctor Moreau H. G. Wells Book (novel) The concept can be traced to H. G. Wells' novel The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896),[4][dead link] in which the eponymous scientist transforms animals into horrifying parodies of men through surgery and psychological torment. The resulting animal-people obsessively recite the Law, a series of prohibitions against reversion to animal behaviors, with the haunting refrain of "Are we not men?" Wells' novel reflects Victorian concerns about vivisection and of the power of unrestrained scientific experimentation to do terrible harm.
1938 "Johnny Black" stories L. Sprague de Camp Books (short stories) Other early literary examples can be found in L. Sprague de Camp's "Johnny Black" stories (beginning with "The Command") about a black bear raised to human-level intelligence, published in Astounding Science-Fiction from 1938-1940.
1944 Sirius (novel) Olaf Stapledon Book (novel) Olaf Stapledon's Sirius explores a dog with human intelligence.
1963 Planet of the Apes (novel) Pierre Boulle Book (novel) The 1963 science fiction novel by French author Pierre Boulle was adapted into the 1968 film Planet of the Apes, launching the Planet of the Apes media franchise.[5] The series explores the opposite of "Uplift", the reduction of the human species to a regressed, atavistic, savage-like animal state in a process that might be called "Downfall".
1968 2001: A Space Odyssey Arthur C. Clarke Book (novel) 2001: A Space Odyssey implies at least cultural uplift if not outright biological uplift of humanity by the monoliths. The novel's sequels imply that, later, life forms indigenous to Europa are uplifted by the same alien technological artifacts.[6]
1979 Instrumentality of Mankind Cordwainer Smith Books (novels) In Cordwainer Smith's Instrumentality of Mankind series "underpeople" are created from animals through unexplained technological means explicitly to be servants of humanity, and were often treated as less than slaves by the society that used them, until the laws were reformed in the story The Ballad of Lost C'Mell (1962). However, Smith's characterizations of individual underpeople are frequently quite sympathetic, and one of his most memorable characters is C'Mell, the cat-woman who appears in The Ballad of Lost C'Mell and in Norstrilia (1975).
1980 Uplift Universe David Brin Books (novels) The Uplift Universe is a fictional universe created by science fiction writer David Brin. A central feature in this universe is the process of biological uplift.
1987 Watchers (novel) Dean Koontz Book (novel) Dean Koontz's 1987 novel Watchers deals with genetic engineering that uplifts a Golden Retriever named "Einstein" to near-human intelligence for the purpose of espionage. In a separate experiment, a hominid creature with near-human intelligence and crude language ability is also engineered, destined for potential use as a guard or attack creature.
1993 Moreau series S. Andrew Swann Book (novels) In the Moreau series by S. Andrew Swann genetically engineered human-animal hybrids were developed as soldiers and are now incorporated as second-class citizens in human society.
1993 seaQuest DSV Rockne S. O'Bannon TV series Darwin is an intelligent dolphin from the TV series SeaQuest, who is able to communicate to the crew of an advanced, futuristic submarine, the seaQuest DSV 4600, through the assistance of a translation device known as the vo-corder.
1993 Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rick Berman & Michael Piller TV Series In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the Founders, a shapeshifting species that founded the Dominion, genetically engineered the formerly primitive Vorta into an intelligent species who then served as Dominion administrators and politicians.
1997 GURPS Steve Jackson Games RPG In the role playing games GURPS Uplift, GURPS Transhuman Space and GURPS Bio-Tech uplift is a major theme. The same goes for Eclipse Phase and the Orion's Arm universe (not a RPG by itself).
2000 Orion's Arm Bernd Helfert, Donna Malcolm Hirsekorn, M. Alan Kazlev & Anders Sandberg Online Sci-fi Project The Orion's Arm universe additionally delves quite a bit on uplift.
2000 Schlock Mercenary Howard Tayler Web Comic In the space opera webcomic Schlock Mercenary, humans have uplifted elephants and gorillas, who appear to enjoy equal social status to other species.
2006 Eureka (U.S. TV series) Andrew Cosby & Jaime Paglia TV Series Season One of the TV series Eureka includes a genetically modified dog named "Lojack" who is said to have an IQ of 130.
2007 Assassin's Creed Various Computer Game In the Assassin's Creed universe, the characters from the "First Civilization" implied to have not only uplifted Humans (such as the original Adam and Eve), but continued to interfere with human culture, technology, and historical events; even a hundred-thousand years -after- their extinction.
2007 Mass Effect BioWare Computer Game In the Mass Effect universe, it is implied[citation needed] that in permissive regions on Earth, in the early 22nd Century, it was quite common for humans to uplift native animal species and even have custom-built lifeforms, but that this practice was eventually outlawed over the ethical and environmental questions raised by such acts.
2007 Race for the Galaxy Thomas Lehmann Board game In Race For The Galaxy, uplift is a major theme. Some cards have "UPLIFT" highlighted in the title and can help score points and achieve goals. Designer Tom Lehmann attributes the inspiration for uplift from David Brin's Uplift series.[7]
2008 Spore (2008 video game) Maxis Computer Game In a similar manner to 2001: A Space Odyssey, players in the game Spore can use monoliths to uplift species for fun or for other purposes.
2009 Eclipse Phase (role-playing_game) Posthuman Studios RPG Eclipse Phase also delves quite a bit on uplift.

Related terms and ideas[edit]

  • Accelerated (Evolution): In the graphic novel Grease Monkey Tim Eldred uses the term "Accelerated" to describe gorillas uplifted in this fashion.
  • Cultural Uplift: Cultural uplift is distinguished from biological uplift in that it does not physically alter the organism. A real cultural uplift experiment started with bonobos in 2005 in Great Ape Trust in Iowa, USA.[8]
  • Progressor (Evolution): Boris and Arkady Strugatsky coined the term "Progressor" for those who carry out this sort of work. Sergey Lukyanenko used it also in two of his novels.
  • Provolution: Orion's Arm uses the term provolution (proactive or progressive evolution) to describe the act of accelerating evolution: a species which has had its evolution accelerated is called a provolve.
  • Raelian Uplift: Several UFO cults including Raelianism believe that humanity was biologically uplifted in the past or will be uplifted in the future. The Urantia Book claims Adam and Eve were beings whose job it was to biologically uplift humanity.[citation needed]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]