Transhumanism — ever heard of it? Honestly, I myself hadn’t for quite a long time. The Cambridge Dictionary defines the term as “the theory that science and technology can help human beings develop beyond what is physically and mentally possible at the present time. Transhumanism asserts that with all the new technologies available, mankind will be able to solve every challenge it faces.”

This concept builds upon the concept of Humanism, sparked in the 13th-century. Humanism is a philosophical theory that instigated a movement towards secularism and rationalism, based on the belief that the needs and interests of humans should take top priority in the universal order of hierarchy. I myself learned about Humanism throughout my college education, since the topic infiltrates not only philosophy but science, religion, technology, history and sociology.

Transhumanism, meanwhile, reveals what is potentially the next thought-provoking — and often disturbing — path to the future of humankind. Here, we’re discussing it in conversation with another (and my personal favorite) field of study: literature.

The following books all have unique and visionary approaches to the subject, each with a full capacity for thrilling new storytelling. All of the books present vivid characters and expanded universes, from the depths of the ocean to the untapped reaches of outer space. Each has its own take on transhumanism; some involve drug enhancements, others technological advances, and yet others genetic change, whether by natural evolution or purposeful modification.

Taken as a whole, there’s no shortage of brave new worlds for the curious mind to explore within these seven novels.

The Nexus Trilogy by Ramez Naam (Axon Press)

Kicking off this list with not one but three books, Nexus, Crux, and Apex comprise the praiseworthy and highly intelligent Nexus trilogy. It derives its name from the earth-shatteringly powerful new Nexus drug, which, in this near-future year of 2040, can connect two human minds. Obviously, such a breakthrough scientific development causes a flurry of controversy, with responses ranging from a fervor to take it to the next step to a desire to eliminate it. Kaden Lane, a young scientist, finds himself caught in the middle of the debate, and passionately chooses a stance, opening the door to a terrifying book in which the stakes couldn’t be higher; the results of his decision are a catalyst for the future of the physical, and ethical, world.

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The Rage Colony by Shanon Hunt (Narrow Ledge Publishing)

This second-time author has delivered another thought-provoking but more complex and sinister thriller highlighting the impact — and dangers — of genetic engineering and manipulation. This dystopian future shows transhumanism in a decidedly dehumanizing light; the Colony, a beautiful, campus complex in Mexico positioned to its “guests” — society’s misfits and those down on their luck — as an exclusive club, promises an opportunity for a second chance at life by washing away memories of the current poisoned world. But might it also be cult? With 15 years as a pharmaceutical executive to her name, Hunt has a marvelous knack for creating page-turning suspense founded in scientific theory and overlaying it with dark horror. Read our review here.

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It Takes Death to Reach a Star and In the Shadow of the Valiant Moon by Stu Jones and Gareth Worthington (Vesuvian)

After the end of the Third World War, when countries fought over oil, power, and religion, an epidemic struck, and within five years, the Earth was annihilated. The lone city that survived is starkly divided into two classes — one that has become immune through natural selection and one that has been genetically modified to be immune — and serves as a reminder of what has become of the human race and where it has now advanced out of necessity. When two people from each class discover a sinister plot that threatens all the people that remain on Earth, they must work together to save their world, and stop a permanent extinction. Written before our current pandemic, the novel imagines how social divisions could deepen, even as we attain immunity. Check out our review of the first novel in the duology here.

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Breed by Colet Abedi (Rostam LLC)

The year is 2999, and humans aren’t really human anymore. Through every fault of our own, the earth is now almost entirely uninhabitable, and life has evolved to match the new circumstances. One breed of this new species is forbidden, and one seventeen-year-old girl, our protagonist named Siren, is their last hope. To potentially save not only herself but her entire race, Siren must team up with the very man who may simultaneously be her undoing; the powerful reigning king Aedan. Combing science fiction, romance, adventure, and incredibly thought-provoking prose, Breed is a new kind — or, if you will, breed — of book. 

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Angels in the Mist By Ryan Southwick (Water Dragon Publishing)

The first installment in The Z-Tech Chronicles trilogy also incorporates elements of practically every genre, including exhilarating action-adventure, riveting sci-fi, urban fantasy, and breathtaking romance. The lynchpin of the inventive plot, however, is transhumanism. Anne Perrin, a reclusive thirty-six-year-old waitress, is very single, suffers from extreme PTSD, and approaches everything in her life with extreme trepidation and extremely low expectations. Then she experiences a horrific attack, the cause and consequences of which exceed all preexisting expectations, both good and bad. A menacing supernatural force is actually quite real, but some tech geniuses have masterminded a way to fight back; the only way to survive against these creatures is to become more powerful than what is thought “normal,” thanks to top-secret and extremely eye-opening scientific and technological developments. Anne is thrown into the thick of it and experiences a new, advanced reality. Read our review of the book here.

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The Mother Code by Carole Stivers (Berkley)

What will happen in a future where the most essential part of being human — parenthood — is automated? That’s the premise of this novel which deals with a particularly problematic example of transhumanism. After a deadly agent of biowarfare spreads across the globe, scientists scramble to ensure the survival of the human race. They place genetically engineered children inside the cocoons of large-scale robots, who are to be raised by machines. These machines are encoded with a special artificial intelligence: The Mother Code. But as the children come of age, the Mothers change too — in unexpected ways. When the government survivors then decide to destroy the Mothers, these children are faced with a choice: breaking the bond with their Mothers or saving the only parent they have ever known.

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Dune By Frank Herbert (Ace Books)

Called astonishing, incomparable, and monumental, among other choice adjectives, is it any wonder that Dune, though written in 1965, is relevant enough to be made into a movie in 2021 starring some of the best talents of our day? This landmark novel is set on the desert planet Arrakis and centers around the protagonist Paul Atreides. Paul is heir to nobility and aristocracy and thereby bred to preside over a world unlike any in prior fiction. This world prizes and protects “melange,” a drug capable of extending life expectancy and enhancing consciousness, and the drama surrounding this transhumanist substance fuels the worldbuilding and character arcs within the bestselling series.

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