It’s from a recent article discussing the topic at some length.
This means we’ve reached the point in history when we can realistically dialog about the creation of entirely new species through genetic engineering.
This isn’t a new topic, of course. It’s been around at least as long as Mary Shelley’s, Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus from 1818. Although Shelley’s monster isn’t genetically engineered in the modern sense, it was certainly created out of grafted human material.
Shelley’s story elegantly shows the monster’s heart-breaking journey of self-exploration. Is he human or not? If not, then what is he? The answer is in the book’s title. Frankenstein is a unique gift to mankind, one that makes us question our humanity.
Today, we have the ability to manipulate genes, clone animals, and bioengineer foods and viruses. So why not create a new type of human being?
Any student of speculative science fiction can give you a list of cautionary tales about the dangers of tampering with the construction of man.
I’m going to give you two more…both directly addressing the engineering of Martian colonists and what could come of it.
In Heir Apparent (1950) by Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore (written under the pseudonym, Lawrence O’Donnell), mankind is spreading out to the other planets (and moons) in the solar system.
These worlds will need adaptation, terraforming, in order to sustain human life. To do the terraforming, scientists create “Thresholders,” humans genetically-adapted to living on Mars, Venus, or Ganymede.
The Thresholders are meant to be a temporary measure, they’ll do the physical work of terraforming and then, as the planet develops into more human-friendly conditions, their descendants will slowly adapt back.
But a problem arises with the Ganymedans, they’re too well adapted to their environment. They want to remain on the moon as it is and decide to secede from Earth’s rule.
Their spark ignites other Thresholders on Mars and Venus who also rebel against Earth.
The Ganymedans are not shown as bullies or agitators, but as decent “people” who are fighting to stay free on their new world.
We don’t know the results of the rebellion, but we’re promised that the Ganymedans will fight for the right to live free on their alien world, just as they were created to do.
We’re not like you
In Fredrik Brown’s Keep Out (1954), we see a similar scenario carried to a chilling conclusion.
Humans have determined that Mars is not suitable for colony life and in the early 21st Century (2034) develop a new drug to create forced genetic adaptations. They begin adjusting a group of infants to Martian conditions.
When the children are five, they travel to Mars with their caretakers. The trip takes five years and when the 10-year-olds arrive, they’re told that they are Martians and that Mars is now their planet.
The boys and girls will live under protective domes with their human teachers for ten years, and then GRADUATE to full-time living outside in the Martian atmosphere.
The new Martians are already quite different from Earthly humans — they have larger lung capacities, fur to guard against the cold, and move in Martian gravity, normally.
As the years pass the children develop a seething hatred of their human caretakers, finding their bodies misshapen and ugly and their pasty white and hairless skin, horrific.
Their graduation present to themselves will be to kill the humans and smash their protective domes. Their intent is to send a clear message to the Earth that this is their planet, and they want all the ALIENS gone for good!
Did Shelley have it right?
We have the technology to genetically engineer new types of human beings. But should we? And what will they think of us, their creators?
I think it’s worth considering these questions as we read about exciting new developments in bioengineering, genetic manipulation, and gene splicing.
If we create a population of Martian colonists who are predisposed to democracy will they start a Martian revolution to break free of the mother world, just as American colonists fought to be free of English rule in the 18th century?
Or, would an engineered population of true democrats believe in the principles so strongly that they’d revert to mob rule?
It’s easy to consider a perfect world with humane and transparent politics. But mankind is far from ready for that, just look at the 2016 election campaign.
Until humanity advances past conflict and division, can we really hope that genetic engineering will create Utopia?
Think about it…
Here’s a link to a free copy of Fredrick Brown’s “Keep Out.”
The uncredited illustration seen above is from “Keep Out” in Amazing Stories, March 1954.