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In science fiction, uplift is a developmental process to transform a certain species of animals into more intelligent beings by other, already-intelligent beings. This is usually accomplished by cultural, technological, or evolutional interventions like genetic engineering but any fictional or real process can be used. The earliest appearance of the concept is in H. G. Wells' 1896 novel The Island of Doctor Moreau, and more recently 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 titular scientist transforms animals into horrifying parodies of humans 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:
- Mikhail Bulgakov's Heart of a Dog (1921) tells the story of a stray dog, who is found by a surgeon, and undergoes extensive brain surgery for experimental purposes to create a New Soviet man.
- 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 (1944) 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 events during their venture (and hence the novel's plot) relate to the morality of the Galactics' system of uplift.
Uplifting in science fiction
Timeline of works
|1896||The Island of Doctor Moreau||H. G. Wells||Novel||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 humans 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.|
|1921||Heart of a Dog||Mikhail Bulgakov||Novel||One of the first examples, tells the story of a stray dog, who is found by a surgeon, and undergoes extensive brain surgery for experimental purposes to create a New Soviet man.|
|1938||"Johnny Black" stories||L. Sprague de Camp||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||Olaf Stapledon||Novel||Olaf Stapledon's Sirius explores a dog with human intelligence.|
|1947||Jerry Was a Man||Robert A. Heinlein||Short story||The story is about an attempt by a genetically modified chimpanzee to achieve human rights. The main theme of the story is civil liberties, in this case extended towards a group of genetically enhanced chimpanzees to allow them equal rights under the law.|
|1959||Flowers for Algernon||Daniel Keyes||Short story||Algernon is a laboratory mouse who has undergone surgery to increase his intelligence by artificial means. The story is told by a series of progress reports written by Charlie Gordon, the first human test subject for the surgery. The technique is at first successful but then reverts in both patients.|
|1963||Planet of the Apes||Pierre Boulle||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. The series also explores the opposite of uplift, the reduction of the human species to a regressed, atavistic, savage-like animal state.|
|1966||Thor||Stan Lee & Jack Kirby||Comic book||Marvel comics villain the High Evolutionary is attended by a group of evolved animals known alternately as the New Men and the Knights of Wundagore.|
|1968||2001: A Space Odyssey||Arthur C. Clarke||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 life forms indigenous to Europa are later uplifted by the same alien technological artifacts.|
|1977||Traveller (role-playing game)||Game Designers' Workshop||RPG||The Ancients, the precursor alien civilization of the Traveller universe, abducted Earth wolves 300,000 years ago and genetically altered them into the Vargr race.|
|1979||Instrumentality of Mankind||Cordwainer Smith||Novel series||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||Novel series||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||Dean Koontz||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.|
|1989||Rama II||Arthur C. Clarke & Gentry Lee||Novel||In Clarke's and Lee's 2nd instalment of the Rama book series there are two uplifted species. One are dolphins which were trained to perform complex mathematical and visual exercises with some results comparable to humans (citation needed). The other are Simians - genetically alters chimpanzees that have been bred and trained to perform menial tasks on spaceships (such as cleaning and cooking), they have also had their aggressive behavioural characteristics removed as well as their sex drive. (cit. needed)|
|1993||Moreau series||S. Andrew Swann||Novel series||In the Moreau series by S. Andrew Swann, genetically engineered human-animal hybrids have been 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 (based on Brin's works), 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 an 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 delves quite a bit into uplift.|
|2000||Schlock Mercenary||Howard Tayler||Webcomic||In the space opera webcomic Schlock Mercenary, humans have uplifted elephants, gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans and polar bears who appear to enjoy equal social status to other species.|
|2001||Chasm City||Alastair Reynolds||Novel||Scorpio, one of the major characters in Reynolds’ Revelation Space series of interconnected novels, is a “hyperpig”, swine that had been uplifted both mentally and physically through genetic modification and surgery to serve as menial crew members on spacecraft. This series also features great apes that served as skilled mechanics on spacecraft that had only been uplifted mentally. Chasm City also makes mention of spacecraft piloted by the brains of cetaceans, as they were evolutionarily more well-suited for maneuvering in three-dimensional space than human pilots.|
|2005||Doraemon||Fujiko Fujio||Manga series||The progression or regression gun is one of Doraemon's gadgets of the 22nd century. It can evolve or devolve the subject. Doraemon and the gang ended up accidentally creating a civilization of humanoid cats and dogs in the past, who left the earth in search of a new planet before the ice age, allowing the rise of humans.|
|2006||Eureka||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 "First Civilization" uplifted humans (such as the original Adam and Eve) and continued to interfere with human culture, technology, and historical events, even a hundred thousand years after their extinction.|
|2007||Mass Effect||BioWare||Computer game||The Mass Effect universe contains numerous instances of uplift: The Drell were uplifted by the Hanar to save them from the desertification of their home planet; the Elcor and Vorcha were uplifted by the Asari; the Krogan were uplifted by the Salarians for use as soldiers in a war against the Rachni. These species are referred to as "client races" and are largely reliant on the species who uplifted them for representation in the wider politics of the galaxy. On Earth, it was once quite common for humans to uplift native animal species and even have custom-built lifeforms. This practice was eventually outlawed over the ethical and environmental questions raised by such acts.|
|2007||Race for the Galaxy||Thomas Lehmann||Board game||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 to David Brin's Uplift series.|
|2008||Spore||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||Posthuman Studios||RPG||Eclipse Phase delves quite a bit into uplift.|
|2011||Rise of the Planet of the Apes||Film||Will Rodman, a scientist at the San Francisco biotech company Gen-Sys, is testing the viral-based drug ALZ-112 on chimpanzees to find a cure for Alzheimer's disease. ALZ-112 is given to a chimp named Bright Eyes, greatly increasing her intelligence. Ape Caesar inherits his mother's intelligence and is raised by Will. Later Caesar releases gas with drug and allows it to enhance the intelligence of the other apes. The apes flee the facility, release the remaining chimps from Gen-Sys, and free more apes from the San Francisco Zoo. A battle ensues as the ape army fights their way past a police blockade on the Golden Gate Bridge to escape into the redwood forest.|
|2012||XCOM: Enemy Unknown||Firaxis Games||Strategy game||In XCOM: Enemy Unknown, the Ethereals have been uplifting all of the alien species the player encounters during the invasion of Earth, yet none have anywhere near the potential that the human species does of being truly uplifted. By allowing humanity to copy alien technology a few steps at a time, the Ethereals determined that humanity would be the one species they could adequately prepare for "what lies ahead".|
|2014||Dawn of the Planet of the Apes||Film||Ten years after the pandemic of the deadly ALZ-113 virus, or Simian Flu, the worldwide human population has been drastically reduced, with only a few genetically immune to the virus. Apes with genetically enhanced intelligence, caused by the same virus, have started to build a civilization of their own.|
|2015||StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void||Blizzard Entertainment||Computer game||In the Legacy of the Void expansion to StarCraft II, it is revealed that the Xel'Naga are an advanced alien race who proliferate by uplifting the Zerg and the Protoss which each possess either "purity of essence" and "purity of form".|
|2015||Children of Time||Adrian Tchaikovsky||Book||Genetic uplift of arthropods, in particular spiders, is a central part of the novel.|
|2015||Barsk: The Elephants Graveyard||Lawrence M. Schoen||Book||In a distant future, no remnants of human beings remain, but their successors thrive throughout the galaxy. These are the offspring of humanity's genius-animals uplifted into walking, talking, sentient beings.|
|2016||Stellaris||Paradox Interactive||Computer game||In Stellaris, players can find planets inhabited by certain lifeforms that, given millions of years, will become sapient. Players can use genetic modification to accelerate the process and uplift and integrate these lifeforms into their empires.|
Related terms and ideas
- 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 the Great Ape Trust in Iowa, USA.
- Forced Evolution: In her Canopus in Argos series, Doris Lessing uses the term forced evolution to encompass the conscious influencing of both biology and culture.
- Progressor (Evolution): Boris and Arkady Strugatsky coined the term "Progressor" for those who carry out this sort of work. Sergey Lukyanenko also used it 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.
- Booker, Keith M. (2014). Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction in Literature. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 311.
- 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 Archived January 11, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
- David Brin at www.scifi.com
- David L. Ulin (July 14, 2014). "The transformation of 'Planet of the Apes,' from book to movie legend". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 15, 2014.
- 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". Iowaprimatelearning.org. Retrieved 2018-06-04.
- 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
- David Langford. "Uplift". The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction edited by John Clute, David Langford, Peter Nicholls and Graham Sleight. London: Gollancz, updated 21 December 2015. Web. Accessed 25 January 2016.