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 Post subject: Guidance requested
PostPosted: Mon Dec 29, 2008 7:10 pm 
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A fan in Budapest is teaching a course using SF with the theme of
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how enhanced or altered human capabilities would affect the human psyche (the individual) and the society (if the ability became common in the population). Therefore, the books we are looking for do not necessarily need to be realistic in terms of how such capabilities can be realized. Rather, we wish to discuss books in which the individual and social psychological effects of such capabilities are thoroughly thought through. Thus not only "soft" SF, but even fantasy can be interesting for us. A good example of a fantasy relevant to the planned course is Marion Bradley's society of telepaths in her famous Darkover series. At the other end of the range are stories describing various gadgets enhancing perceptual capabilities, some of which may reach design boards in the near future. Also, although we may spend one lecture on enhanced physical abilities, our focus will be on mental ones (perception, memory, empathy, etc. - the course will be given to psychologists). Finally, we shall restrict ourselves to human characters and human societies. The underlying issue is that SF and fantasy deals with human wishes and aspirations. For example, many people wish to be more intelligent. But how would one deal with it if this wish came true or how would society change if everyone was highly intelligent?

If you can think of some good books dealing with these issues, I'd be grateful for your suggestions. Also, do you recall some early SF dealing with enhanced (or altered) mental capabilities in humans? My impression was that early SF mainly dealt with physical capabilities (strength, speed, ability to fly or stay underwater, etc.). Mental ones became popular only in the late sixties, early seventies. But you may have come across some forerunners.

So I partly answered as follows
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Lots of AE van Vogt's 1940's novels and fix ups dealt with mental capabilities eg Slan and The Null A novels. Also Wilmar Shiras http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilmar_H._Shiras see http://www.sffworld.com/brevoff/227.html
the 50 and 60's produced a flood of 'psi' novels from Eric Frank Russell (Three to Conquer' ) through Henry Kuttner, 'Mutant', to John Wyndham, 'The Chrysalids', and Sturgeon's 'More Than Human' plus Zenna Henderson's People stories, though they may not count (aliens)
Plenty more since then so I'll think about some recent ones.

However the mighty intellect of Iz readers may well produce a much better list for our European friends so use this thread and if you have a link to the text by all means include it. The Clute/Nicholls Encyclopedia of SF has sections on Psi powers and Psychology in SF as well so I'll refer him to that. Anyone remember anything relevant in IZ?


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Dec 30, 2008 1:10 pm 
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Camp Concentration, Thomas Disch (enhanced intelligence)
Flowers for Algernon, Daniel Keyes (enhanced intelligence)
Jack of Eagles, James Blish (ESP)
Dune, Frank Herbert (prescience)
Brainchild, George Turner (enhanced intelligence)
The Morphodite trilogy, MA Foster (as well as metamorphosis, the title character can cause societies to catastrophically fall apart)

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Dec 30, 2008 1:11 pm 
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When speaking of enhanced intellects, Daniel Keyes' "Flowers for Algernon" springs immediately to mind. Not only do we have enhanced mental abilities, but they are enhanced from a starting point of impairment.

Philip K Dick featured people with enhanced brains in some of his novels, for example the 'New Men' that feature in 'Our Friends from Frolix 8'. I'm sure he used the idea elsewhere too, but I'm racking my non-augmented brains to think where! Of course he also used various precogs, telepaths and psychokineticists from time to time. The novel that explores these most in-depth is probably 'Ubik'.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Dec 30, 2008 1:13 pm 
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Borderline whether this would fall into the area of interest, but Frank Herbert also considered the implications of massively-lengthened lifespans in 'The Eyes of Heisenberg'.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Dec 30, 2008 7:15 pm 
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May I suggest the brilliant 'Dying Inside' by Robert Silverberg. The protagonist has not been enhanced by science, but rather has a natural ability.

The way in which the author makes us identify with the character is, in my opinion, brilliant. The whole book is about how he deals with his abilities and how it's affected his life so far.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Dec 30, 2008 7:41 pm 
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Good one. I should have remembered that.


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 Post subject: Istvan's course
PostPosted: Wed Dec 31, 2008 7:36 pm 
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Location: Uppsala, Sweden
Let's not forget Poul Anderson's BRAINWAVE.
Ian, I was very impressed by the little-read MORPHODITE trilogy. Besides being interesting and exciting, there are passages in it that are pure literary pleasures to read. I have often wondered why the books are not well-known. Maybe they are: I live in The Netherlands, the intellectual Wasteland of Northern Europe.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Dec 31, 2008 7:50 pm 
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Roy---I've been agreeing with Garryreynolds for several months now that DYING INSIDE is a masterpiece. I attended Columbia University in Manhattan a few years after the time in which the book's action takes place, and can attest to its veracity with respect to the area, the students, and the odd-ball characters who enlivened the place and who just might have been mentally enhanced. R.S. got it right. In those great years we were definitely mentally non-standard.


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 Post subject: Re: Istvan's course
PostPosted: Sat Jan 03, 2009 12:29 pm 
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George Berger wrote:
Ian, I was very impressed by the little-read MORPHODITE trilogy. Besides being interesting and exciting, there are passages in it that are pure literary pleasures to read. I have often wondered why the books are not well-known. Maybe they are: I live in The Netherlands, the intellectual Wasteland of Northern Europe.


The three books were later republished in an omnibus edition, but they've never really gained the reputation they deserve. I found the books very Vancian and I'm surprised fans of Vance have not championed them. Anyway, I did describe them as overlooked classics on my blog here.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sat Jan 03, 2009 7:14 pm 
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Location: Uppsala, Sweden
Thanks for correcting my memory, Ian. I read one Morphodite book but thought you were referring to another M.A. Foster trilogy: The Warriers of Dawn, The Day of the Klesh, and The Gameplayers of Zan. All excellent. I have the DAW edition of 75--79. A fine reading experience.


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