Uplift (science fiction)
In science fiction, uplift is the terraforming of a planet's biosphere, so as to artificially nurture the native and/or alien life-forms. It also implies the development, transformation, biological engineering, or evolutionary intervention of animals into an intelligent Type-I race by other, already-intelligent beings. The concept appears in David Brin's Uplift series and other science fiction works.
History of the concept
The concept can be traced to H. G. Wells' novel The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896), 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 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. Olaf Stapledon's Sirius explores a dog with human intelligence. 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).
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. 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 entire situation (and hence the novel's plot) is about the morality of the Galactics' system as compared to how humans treat their client species.
Uplifting in science fiction
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.
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.
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. In the space opera webcomic Schlock Mercenary, humans have uplifted elephants and gorillas, who appear to enjoy equal social status to other species.
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.
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.
Season One of the TV series Eureka includes a genetically modified dog named "Lojack" who is said to have an IQ of 130.
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.
In the Mass Effect universe, it is implied 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. The Citadel Council races are patrons of various client races. The drell, whom were on the verge of extinction, were relocated and uplifted on the hanar's homeworld. The elcor were uplifted as a client race of the asari, and attempts to uplift vorcha were also made by asari, with mixed results. The salarians uplifted the krogan, who were at the time living on the nuclear-ravaged Tuchanka, to fight for them. As of the events in Mass Effect 3, the salarians had planned to illegally uplift pyjaks, varren, and yahg into expendable soldiers.
Related terms and ideas
- 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.
- 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.
- In her Canopus in Argos series, Doris Lessing uses the term forced evolution to encompass the conscious influencing of both biology and culture.
- 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.
- In the graphic novel Grease Monkey Tim Eldred uses the term "Accelerated" to describe gorillas uplifted in this fashion.
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.
- David Langford, "Uplift", The Greenwood encyclopedia of science fiction and fantasy 2
- FROM THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU TO LIVES OF THE MONSTER DOGS: UPLIFTED ANIMALS, WISH FULFILLMENT, AND ORIGINAL SIN at web.syr.edu
- David Brin at www.scifi.com
- Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society at fanac.org
- Lehmann, Tom. "Designer Diary: Race for the Galaxy". Retrieved 5 June 2011.
- Interactive Lexigrams - Bonobo Hope Sanctuary
- All Together Now: Developmental and Ethical Considerations for biologically uplifting nonhuman animals by George Dvorsky
- Great Ape Trust
- Fiction with "Uplifted" Animals: An Annotated Bibliography