Monday, March 26, 2007

Beasts into Men


She was a girlygirl and they were true men, the lords of creation, but she pitted her wits against them and she won. It had never happened before, and it is sure never to happen again, but she did win. She was not even of human extraction. She was cat-derived, though human in outward shape, which explains the C in front of her name. Her father's name was C'mackintosh and her name C'mell. She won her tricks against he lawful and assembled lords of the Instrumentality.
- From "The Ballad of Lost C'mell" by Cordwainer Smith (1962)
Animals shaped into the likeness of men have been a staple of science fiction for more than a century. The classic of the genre, of course, is H.G. Well's 1896 novel, The Island of Doctor Moreau in which a mad scientist uses vivisection to create beast-humans. His creatures are ultimately unable to overcome their innate animal nature. I much prefer the human-like animals created by Cordwainer Smith in the 1960s. In his universe, the governing Instrumentality of Mankind maintains an enslaved class of animal-derived underpeople. Unlike the creatures of Dr. Moreau, however, Smith's underpeople eventually rise up and gain their rights within human society.

While talking human-like cats may not ever become a reality, experiments in "humanizing" sheep have recently made the science news. Professor Esmail Zanjani at the University of Nevada, Reno has created sheep in which up to 15% of the cells are of human origin. Zanjani and his colleagues inject adult human bone marrow stem cells into the sheep fetus, and those cells are incorporated into the developing liver, heart, lungs, brain and other organs. The ultimate goal is to grow custom organs for human transplant. For those of you in the UK, there will be a segment on Zanjani's research in the TV series "Animal Farm"*. While Zanjani's sheep are human on the inside rather than the outside, they raise similar ethical questions as to how human an animal must be to be considered one of us.

I recommend reading Smith's short story, The Dead Lady of Clown Town, which features a dog-girl, D'joan, in a Joan of Arc-like role (free from Baen). If that whets your appetite for more about the Instrumentality, Smith's stories have been collected in We The Underpeople (amazon.com) and The Rediscovery of Man: The Complete Short Science Fiction of Cordwainer Smith (amazon.com).

You can read H.G. Well's The Island of Doctor Moreau for free at Project Gutenburg.

ETA: On the Posthuman Blues blog Mac Tonnies recommends Paul DiFilippo's short story collection Ribofunk if you are interested in biotech-based science fictional look at man-human fusions.

*For a technical report see Narayan et al. "Human embryonic stem cell–derived hematopoietic cells are capable of engrafting primary as well as secondary fetal sheep recipients." Blood 107: 2180-2183 (2006).

The image is the cover of the October 1962 Issue of Galaxy Magazine, illustrating "The Ballad of Lost C'Mell" (from the Pulps & Magazines Americains web site).

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3 comments:

Zonk said...

I despise all felines :p

rosemerry said...

oh what about "Planet of the Apes" Although they aren't books as far as I am aware. They are humanized monkeys and apes.

Peggy said...

Zonk: you are going to be in trouble when the cats take over the world.

rosemerry: "Planet of the Apes" is an interesting example. It's been a long time since I saw the movie (Charlton Heston version), but I think that the premise was that the apes were the result of evolution, rather than engineering. Good idea for a post though! (Wikipedia says the movie was based on a French novel by Pierre Boulle).