Genetic engineering in science fiction  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Genetic engineering is a popular subject of fiction, especially science fiction.



During the early twentieth century, science fiction writers began to consider the possible alteration of human beings and other species, either through the natural alteration of genes or by the use of deliberate genetic engineering. Stories of mutated humans first became common in the 1930s pulp magazines and in the British scientific romances of the time, mutation often providing the justification for stories of supermen. Such narratives provide scientifically rationalized accounts of the transformation of human beings and nature, a theme of timeless fascination, as shown by the many examples in ancient mythology and earlier forms of fiction.

While narratives that depict unexpected and uncontrolled mutation (e.g. as a result of radioactivity from nuclear tests) are usually often pessimistic in their attitudes to science and technology, more optimistic (or at least ambiguous) attitudes are sometimes found in narratives that deal with the deliberate alteration of human or other beings. In many comic book series, genetic engineering is sometimes used as a "plausible" explanation for superhuman powers or abilities.


Eugenics is a recurrent theme in science fiction, often with both dystopian and utopian elements. The two giant contributions in this field are the novel Brave New World (1932) by Aldous Huxley, which describes a society where control of human biology by the state results in permanent social stratification.

There tends to be a eugenic undercurrent in the science fiction concept of the supersoldier. Several depictions of these supersoldiers usually have them bred for combat or genetically selected for attributes that are beneficial to modern or future combat.

Brave New World

The Brave New World theme also plays a role in the 1997 film Gattaca, whose plot turns around reprogenetics, genetic testing, and the social consequences of liberal eugenics. Boris Vian (under the pseudonym Vernon Sullivan) takes a more light-hearted approach in his novel Et on tuera tous les affreux ("And we'll kill all the ugly ones").


In Frank Herbert's Dune series of novels, selective breeding programs form a significant theme. Early in the series, the Bene Gesserit religious order manipulates breeding patterns over many generations in order to create the Kwisatz Haderach. In God Emperor of Dune, the emperor Leto II again manipulates human breeding in order to achieve his own ends. The Bene Tleilaxu also employed genetic engineering to create human beings with specific genetic attributes. The Dune series ended with causal determinism playing a large role in the development of behavior, but the eugenics theme remained a crucial part of the story.


In Gene Roddenberry's science-fiction television series Andromeda, the entire Nietzschean race is founded on the principals of selective breeding.

Immortel (Ad Vitam)

In the movie Immortel (Ad Vitam), Director/Writer Enki Bilal titled the name of the evil corrupt organization specializing in genetic manipulation, and some very disturbing genetic "enhancement" eugenics. Eugenics has come to be a powerful organization and uses people and mutants of "lesser" genetic stock as guinea pigs. The movie is based on the Nikopol trilogy in Heavy Metal comic books.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Genetic engineering in science fiction" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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