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Science fiction and transcendence - Input Junkie
March 1st, 2015
06:11 pm


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Science fiction and transcendence

I'm going to do a bit of a summary because I realize not everyone reading this is on Facebook, or wants to be.

Alexei Panshin has been discussing on Facebook whether Heinlein was a Sufi. Not to keep you in suspense, but there's no evidence that Heinlein was a Sufi, or even knew about Sufism.

Cory Panshin brought up that Heinlein didn't seem to want the human race to become different, which led to me thinking about sf about transcendence.

Here's something I wrote:

When I was a kid, I really liked Childhood's End, and then it occurred to me that the Overmind might just be eliminating competitors, and the human race was eaten rather than achieving transcendence.

As I recall, humanity was stopped from investigating psychic powers so it wouldn't become "a telepathic cancer spreading through the stars". From one angle, humanity could become just that. From the other angle, the Overmind could already be just that.

It's a gamble in general. True religion or destructive cult?

Which authors see the human race as needing to become something very different?

John Varley ("Persistence of Vision", _The Ophiuchi Hotline).

Sturgeon (_More that Human_, _The Cosmic Rape_, and less drastically "If All Men Were Brothers, Would You Let One Marry Your Sister?")

John Brunner: (modest levels of change) (_Stand of Zanibar_, _The Stone that Never Came Down_)

Any suggestions for someone more recent?

Alexei Panshin has written The World Beyond the Hill - Science Fiction and the Quest for Transcendence.

This entry was posted at http://nancylebov.dreamwidth.org/1062115.html. Comments are welcome here or there. comment count unavailable comments so far on that entry.

(7 comments | Leave a comment)

[User Picture]
Date:March 2nd, 2015 01:32 am (UTC)
Robert Anton Wilson, fer sure ('Illuminatus')

Ursula LeGuin ('The Dispossessed')

Marge Piercy ('Woman On The Edge Of Time')

Gael Baudino ('Strands of Starlight')

.... Heinlein a Sufi?!? Oh puhleeze. Like a Sufi would ever have written 'Starship Troopers'.
[User Picture]
Date:March 2nd, 2015 07:03 am (UTC)
The Dispossessed was an awesome novel, but was it really about any sort of transcendence? It seemed to me that it was more about humans being very much their same flawed selves, but in a society that did its best to mitigate the worst bits. OTOH, it's been quite a while since I read it, so I might not be remembering it correctly.
[User Picture]
Date:March 2nd, 2015 05:39 pm (UTC)
The question asked for stories in which the human race is seen as needing to become very different. Stories in which they do become very different are another matter - if that had been the question, I would have named The Left Hand of Darkness instead.

If it is true that people are products of their societies, then changing human society will change humanity.
[User Picture]
Date:March 2nd, 2015 06:14 am (UTC)
Spider Robinson - especially the "Starseed" and "Deathkiller" stories, but even in Callahan's, there are an awful lot of stories that imply the human species can and will become more than it is today.
[User Picture]
Date:March 2nd, 2015 07:00 am (UTC)
Julian May's Galactic Mileau stories are about humanity moving (slowly) towards some sort of low level psychic transcendence, Arthur Clarke's The City and The Stars implies humanity improved a fair amount over time and Gregory Benford Beyond Infinity (a reworking of his sequel to Clarke's Against the Fall of Night) goes even further with this.

There's also a wealth of transhumanist SF that's all about this, from Ramez Naam's Nexus, Crux, Apex series, to Charles Stross' Accelerando, where the idea is some mixture of humanity needing to enhance itself to deal with the world & or cosmos combined with the idea that some sort of enhancement is inevitable, although not necessarily what sort.

There's also even more transhumanist SF which has only part of humanity trascending, but that's often rather different - a good example being David Zindell's Neverness series, which is all about quests for personal transcendence. Also, Iain M. Banks Culture series posits off-Earth humanity (and perhaps eventually Earth humans, once they make contact with The Culture) enhanced themselves to a moderate degree and will eventually go much further.
[User Picture]
Date:March 2nd, 2015 08:24 am (UTC)
Plus, of course, Vinge's "Marooned in Real-Time", which was the first SF novel to popularise The Singularity. And A Fire Upon The Deep.
[User Picture]
Date:March 2nd, 2015 09:37 pm (UTC)
A goodly proportion of Joe Haldeman's novels end with some sort of transcendence. It became enough of a thing that I rather expected it from all his books and was pleasantly surprised when the human race didn't go through some sort of shattering change in the last couple of chapters.
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