1. Frankenstein: Or, the Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley
2. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
3. The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
4. My Sister's Keeper: A Novel by Jodi Picoult
5. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
6. Beggars in Spain, Beggars Ride, and Beggars and Choosers by Nancy Kress
7. Beaker's Dozen by Nancy Kress
8. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
9. The Secret by Eva Hoffman
10. The First Century After Beatrice by Amin Maalouf
11. Mendel's Dwarf by Simon Mawer
12. A Number by Caryl Churchill
13. The Golem by Isaac Bashevis Singer
14. Sequence, The Silent Assassin, and Immunity by Lori Andrews
15. The Maximum Ride series by James Patterson
16. Clones edited by Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois
17. Darwin's Radio and Darwin's Children by Greg Bear
1. Frankenstein: Or, the Modern Prometheus (1818) by Mary Shelley
Frankenstein, loved by many decades of readers and praised by such eminent literary critics as Harold Bloom, seems hardly to need a recommendation. If you haven't read it recently, though, you may not remember the sweeping force of the prose, the grotesque, surreal imagery, and the multilayered doppelgänger themes of Mary Shelley's masterpiece.
- Amazon.com review
This classic is virtually synonymous with the dangerous of uncontrolled technologies.
Online at http://www.literature.org/authors/shelley-mary/frankenstein/
2. Brave New World (1932) by Aldous Huxley
Aldous Huxley's novel Brave New World is both one of the best science fiction books and one of the most brilliant pieces of satire ever written. BNW takes place on a future Earth where human beings are mass-produced and conditioned for lives in a rigid caste system. As the story progresses, we learn some of the disturbing secrets that lie underneath the bright, shiny facade of this highly-ordered world.
Huxley opens the book by allowing the reader to eavesdrop on a tour of the Fertilizing Room of the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre, where the high-tech reproduction takes place. Into this seemingly advanced civilization is introduced John, a "savage" from a reservation where old human culture still survives. Thus, BNW is also a tale of "culture shock" and conflict.
Huxley creates a compelling blend of bizarre comedy, serious character study, futuristic extrapolation, and philosophical discussion. His writing style is crisp and witty, and cleverly incorporates references to canonical works of literature. Probably the scariest thing about BNW is the fact that, in many ways, humanity seems to be moving closer to Huxley's dystopian vision.
- Review by Michael J Mazza
Online at http://www.huxley.net/bnw/index.html
3. The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer (2002)
Fields of white opium poppies stretch away over the hills, and uniformed workers bend over the rows, harvesting the juice. This is the empire of Matteo Alacran, a feudal drug lord in the country of Opium, which lies between the United States and Aztlan, formerly Mexico. Field work, or any menial tasks, are done by "eejits," humans in whose brains computer chips have been installed to insure docility.
Alacran, or El Patron, has lived 140 years with the help of transplants from a series of clones, a common practice among rich men in this world. The intelligence of clones is usually destroyed at birth, but Matt, the latest of Alacran's doubles, has been spared because he belongs to El Patron. He grows up in the family's mansion, alternately caged and despised as an animal and pampered and educated as El Patron's favorite. Gradually he realizes the fate that is in store for him, and with the help of Tam Lin, his bluff and kind Scottish bodyguard, he escapes to Aztlan. There he and other "lost children" are trapped in a more subtle kind of slavery before Matt can return to Opium to take his rightful place and transform his country.
- Review by Patty Campbell
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4. My Sister's Keeper: A Novel by Jodi Picoult (2005)
Anna is not sick, but she might as well be. By age thirteen, she has undergone countless surgeries, transfusions, and shots so that her older sister, Kate, can somehow fight the leukemia that has plagued her since childhood. The product of preimplantation genetic diagnosis, Anna was conceived as a bone marrow match for Kate - a life and a role that she has never questioned…until now.
Like most teenagers, Anna is beginning to question who she truly is. But unlike most teenagers, she has always been defined in terms of her sister - and so Anna makes a decision that for most would be unthinkable…a decision that will tear her family apart and have perhaps fatal consequences for the sister she loves.
My Sister's Keeper examines what it means to be a good parent, a good sister, a good person. Is it morally correct to do whatever it takes to save a child's life…even if that means infringing upon the rights of another? Is it worth trying to discover who you really are, if that quest makes you like yourself less?
- Synopsis from the author's website
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5. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (2005)
Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy come to terms with their destinies as Never Let Me Go slowly unveils its secrets to readers. Not before, not after - though readers may return to certain passages after experiencing the "a-ha!" moment that's sure to come. Many of Ishiguro's works have a purposeful ambiguity to their plots, but his sixth novel's play on memory, experience, and design may be the strangest yet. Despite its Twilight Zone-meets-Kafka sensibility, Never Let Me Go is heartbreaking, powerful, and chillingly possible.
The title, taken from a folk song Kathy imagines to be about an infertile woman's miracle baby, suggests the novel's troubling themes: how we define human, accept our station in life, forge a better future for some of us, and interpret memories. Answers surface slowly in the alternative reality Ishiguro pieces together from Kathy's distorted recollections. His approach is deceptively simple; each tightly controlled piece of information contributes to a portrait of an ethically questionable society. As Ishiguro explained to London's Daily Telegraph, the novel "offers a version of Britain that might have existed by the late 20th century if just one or two things had gone differently on the scientific front."
While a few critics questioned the characters' acceptance of conditions they might have challenged, others assumed the system Ishiguro introduced precluded even pondering escape. In fact, a few found this world more interesting than the characters themselves. If some thought the scientific/technological premise polemical, others considered it highly provocative. In this age of major scientific debate over the future of humankind, Never Let Me Go will captivate you.
- Review from Bookmarks Magazine
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6. Beggars in Spain (1994), Beggars Ride (1996), Beggars and Choosers (1997) by Nancy Kress
Nancy Kress' Beggars trilogy begins with a designer-baby experiment. The good news is that the child surpasses the design specs laid out by her corporate mogul father: She not only needs no sleep, but is hyper-intelligent and practically immortal as well. Unfortunately, the fertility doctor has made one small mistake. Somehow he has implanted a second embryo - undesired and unenhanced - into the womb of the uneasy but submissive mother.
The relationship between the decidedly non-identical twin sisters provides an intimate launching point for this "hard sci-fi" epic that spans several hundred years and more than a thousand pages. Kress' story moves from discrimination and mob violence against the Sleepless, to the machinations of the next-generation (or rather, new-release) SuperSleepless, to a nuclear exchange between the now radically divided human subspecies, to an almost-happy ending in which altruistically motivated genetic enhancement gives the normals the ability to photosynthesize.
Kress is well attuned to the dire social and political risks of human genetic enhancement. And she is clearly aware of - and often unabashedly didactic about - the divergent political values and visions in play. Her plot is driven, and at times bogged down, by the irresolvable conflict between radical libertarianism and a commitment to human solidarity.
At the end of it all, Kress seems unable to make up her own mind about either the political theory or the technological path she prefers. But she raises key questions about the possible social consequences of future human redesign. She also poses an urgent challenge that too many of us manage to dodge: What do we make of the fact that human beings today live in biologically distinct realities? (Think life span, infant mortality, access to clean water, caloric intake.) What are the responsibilities of "choosers" when social structures and power arrangements consign billions to be "beggars?" Will we dismantle the walls that enforce those divisions, or head toward a world in which they're inscribed in our genes?
- Review by Marcy Darnovsky, 2003
7. Beaker's Dozen by Nancy Kress (1999)
The twenty-first century, it's often remarked, will transform our knowledge of biology, in the same way that the twentieth century transformed physics. With knowledge of course, comes application. And with the application of all we are learning about genetic engineering come social and ethical questions, some of them knotty.
This is where science fiction enters, stage left. Scientific laboratories are where the new technologies are rehearsed. Science fiction rehearses the implications of those technologies. What might we eventually do with out new-found power? Should we do it? Who should do it? Who will be affected? How? Is that a good thing or not? For whom?
Of the thirteen stories in this book, eight of them are concerned with what might come out of the beakers and test tubes and gene sequencers of microbiology. Not everything in these stories will come to pass. Possibly nothing in them will; fiction is not prediction. But I hope the stories at least raise questions about the world rushing in onus at the speed - not of light - but of thought.
- Nancy Kress, from her introduction
8. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (2003)
Oryx and Crake begins shortly after a catastrophe triggered by a combination of genetic manipulation, climate change, corporate excess, and popular complacency. Jimmy, who seems to be the sole human survivor of a global pandemic caused by a biotech marketing scheme gone awry, shares the ruined landscape with the Crakers, a tribe of human-like folk from whom impulses to hierarchy, competition, territoriality, and sex out of season have been genetically eliminated.
Critical reaction to Oryx and Crake was strangely polarized. A reviewer in The Independent (UK) expressed what seems to be the majority view (and mine): "Oryx and Crake is Atwood at her best-dark, dry, scabrously witty, yet moving and studded with flashes of pure poetry."
That a couple reviewers sharply disagreed with this assessment is not in itself remarkable. But it may be significant that these critics seemed reluctant to contemplate the future that Atwood extrapolates. Thus the Minneapolis Star-Tribune complained that Oryx and Crake "is preachy, and its apocalyptic catastrophe is unbelievable" and Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times called it "didactic, at times intriguing but in the end thoroughly unpersuasive."
On the other hand, Atwood's chilling futurology was unreservedly appreciated by The Economist: "The scary thing is that this latest book seems less contrived, less invented than [The Handmaid's Tale]." Another reviewer used nearly the same phrase in the Times Literary Supplement: "The truly frightening thing about Atwood's dystopia is that so little of it is far-fetched."
- Review by Marcy Darnovsky, 2003
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9. The Secret by Eva Hoffman (2002)
Iris lives comfortably in a small Midwest town circa 2020 with her beautiful, loving mother, but as she enters adolescence, she wonders why her mother refuses to talk about her father at all. And that's not all that's distressing: there's also the eerie resemblance between mother and daughter and their almost paranormal connection, which they call the "Weirdness."
The reader figures out that Iris is a clone long before first-time novelist Hoffman's troubled narrator does, but Hoffman, author of Shtetl (1997), is right to proceed slowly because her purpose in this elegant, smart, and unsettling tale is to imagine as acutely as possible what life would be like for a simulacrum, a "hand-made creature," a monster. These are terms Iris lashes herself with once she discovers the truth and leaves home to find her estranged parents/grandparents and to see if other "non-selfers" exist.
Hoffman succeeds brilliantly in creating a provocative, cautionary coming-of-age story set in a technologically ruled near-future when "human design" threatens to undermine every cherished idea about what it means to be a human being.
- Review by Donna Seaman
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10. The First Century After Beatrice by Amin Maalouf (1992)
One wouldn't normally choose an erudite, publicity-shy Parisian entomologist to narrate a story about gender and population politics set in the first decades of the 21st century. But that's what the Lebanese-born Maalouf does in this elegant novel, in which a popular drug that ensures women will give birth only to boys has sharply reduced the world's female population and cut fertility rates.
The industrialized nations, seeking to curb Third World population growth, have encouraged the drug's use in poorer countries, which collapse economically. Men everywhere, frustrated sexually and deprived of normal family life, turn to violence and delinquency. An American televangelist launches a massive airlift of impoverished newborn girls from Brazil, Egypt and the Philippines, transporting them to Europe and the U.S., where ethnic protest riots subsequently erupt.
Because of his love for crusading journalist Clarence Nesmiglou, his live-in female companion, the nameless narrator campaigns against the drug. But when their daughter, Beatrice, becomes pregnant at age 25, she wants a boy. Maalouf, who has lived in France since 1976, expertly constructs a dire allegory that is as much about the amorality of science as it is about sexism. His choice of narrator is perfect, for his writing is most eloquent in those passages in which the aging entomologist, accustomed to the study of insect species, expresses his hopes for his own.
- Review from Publishers Weekly
11. Mendel's Dwarf by Simon Mawer (1997)
Benedict Lambert, the protagonist of this imaginative and intelligent novel, is the great-great-great nephew of Gregor Mendel and a famous geneticist in his own right. He is also the dwarf of the title, obsessed with finding the marker for his condition and haunted by the all-too-easy assumptions/prejudices achondroplastics face when dealing with society at large. That a stunted body does not mean a stunted mind, feelings, or libido is brought clearly into focus through Lambert's relationship with a "mousy" librarian named Jean.
Mawer weaves a story that is in turns compassionate, erotic, and angry. In telling Benedict's story, Mawer also tells that of Mendel, a genius who died unappreciated but who ultimately had a more important impact on the world than even Darwin. His discoveries provide the base for modern genetic research and the possibility of identifying markers for disease (and possibly cures), but they also raise the possibility of our being able to select particular physical characteristics for our offspring. The ethical and moral implications are obvious, particularly when brought into focus through someone whose own strain is likely to have no place in this brave new world. A wonderfully crafted, thought-provoking tale in which the science never gets in the way of the story; highly recommended.?
- Review by David W. Henderson, from Library Journal
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12. A Number by Caryl Churchill (2004)
On a routine visit to hospital, Bernard receives some shocking news: he's been cloned. When he confronts his father, he finds out it's worse: he is just one in an unknown number of genetically identical sons. But is Bernard the original or a copy? Does it matter? And what's going to happen when two other versions come knocking at the door?
A Number takes the ethical labyrinth of genetic engineering, and the timeless debate over nature versus nurture, and reconstitutes them as a bracing family drama. As Bernard and his "brothers" wrestle with a range of very human responses to the news - shock, anger, horror and delight - their anxious father ducks and weaves, grudgingly revealing their histories and the anguished choices he's made. The play's themes might be borrowed from science fiction and philosophy, but its scale is confrontingly domestic. There are no speeches, no grand pronouncements, no finely honed philosophical dialogues here. It consists almost entirely of the halting, taciturn exchanges that usually pass for conversation between men, especially fathers and sons.
- Review by Steven Reynolds (from amazon.com)
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13. The Golem by Isaac Bashevis Singer (1969)
The Golem is one of the best known Singer short stories. Its theme is a Golem, a mythical figure imbued with life by cabalistic magic to help the Jewish people in a time of need. This story begins with persecutions on Jews in Prague, which is when the Golem is sent to Reb Leib. After helping the Jews in their objective, Reb Leib decides to uses the Golem, with its incredible strength, for a less noble pursuit, which is when the golem starts to disobey him. The story unfolds with the Golem, a creature made of clay, turning more and more human, with a maturity of a child but enormous strength. The problems mount as Golem destroys all in his way, falls in love and gets drafted by the emperor.
The short story evokes many deep issues, such as what it means to be human, what one should do with unending power, what one should do to preserve peace, and many others.
- Review by Denis Benchimol Minev (from amazon.com)
14. Sequence (2006), The Silent Assassin (2007), and Immunity (2008) by Lori Andrews
The author of these three thrillers is one of the United States' best-known legal experts on biotechnology. Their protagonist is a brilliant and beautiful young geneticist whose work pulls her into murders and intrigues at the highest levels of the U.S. government.
In Sequence, Dr. Alexandra (Alex) Blake has just taken a two-year post at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Washington, DC, where she helps track a serial killer who is targeting women near Navy bases. In The Silent Assassin, Alex is assigned the delicate task of managing the return of several skulls that American servicemen took home from Vietnam. Even the president is involved, and the actual exchange will take place at a White House ceremony. In Immunity, Alex investigates the case of a DEA agent who died a gruesome and unexplained death on a Mob stakeout. Within hours, Alex tracks similar deaths throughout the Southwest. Is it a naturally occurring epidemic - or has a lethal bioweapon been released in the United States?
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15. The Maximum Ride series by James Patterson
There are currently four books in this action-adventure sci-fi series: The Angel Experiment (2005), School's Out Forever (2006), Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports (2007), and The Final Warning (2008). Each of the four has reached #1 on the New York Times best-seller list. A fifth novel, Maximum Ride: Water Wings, is due out in 2009.
The plot follows the adventures of Maximum Ride, more widely known as Max, and her group of human-avian hybrids (known as the flock), who have been the subjects of experiments leaving them 98% human and 2% bird. The experiments were conducted at a facility known as "The School," located in Death Valley, California. The flock is constantly being hunted down by Erasers, human-lupine (wolf) hybrids, that were also created at the School. The Flock works towards protecting the world from domination by mysterious figures, who have also shown an interest in their capture.
- Plot synopsis from Wikipedia
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16. Clones edited by Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois (1998)
Ursula K. Le Guin, John Varley, Pamela Sargent, Kate Wilhelm, and five other prominent science-fiction writers narrate stories of cloning and its implications, temptations, and hazards.
17. Darwin's Radio (1999) and Darwin's Children (2003) by Greg Bear
These science fiction stories explore the future of human evolution from a point of view that has met with enthusiasm by transhumanists (who support the genetic alteration of future children and generations). In a 1999 interview, Greg Bear said, "Nanotechnology and biotechnology point toward a time, not too far off, when we can have complete control of our bodies and even of the way we think. These choices lead to some fascinating possibilities, including designer bodies and designer minds - the rather disturbing notion of fashion adopting the bio-sciences!"
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