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SF Subgenre Guides
Mind Transfer Science Fiction
What is Mind Transfer Science Fiction?
The transference of a mind into another body, a computer, a mechanical object, or an alien body is a popular theme in Science Fiction. The mind may be transferred in various ways: via computer, some kind of psi power, the ability of an alien, physical brain transplantation, or by some other means an author has imagined. The process may be surrounded in mysticism or more scientifically grounded. The transfer of a mind can be temporary or permanent. The process may destroy the original, or copies may be made.
All of these possibilities make for an interesting sub-genre in which each story can be truly unique and address all sorts of questions about what it means to be human—not to mention legal, philosophical, theological, and moral questions. Like, do you really want to give up your body and live as a spaceship? Do you want to live as an AI with the possibility of being hacked or edited? Surely this is an idea-rich sub-genre full of questions fit for exploration.
Other Features of Mind Transfer Science Fiction
- Level of Real Science
Variable. This sub-genre runs the gamut of real science. The transfer of a mind into another body can be borderline mystical, or it can be nearly Hard Sci Fi, because well, real scientists are actually interested in the idea of transferring the contents of a brain.
- Level of Grand Ideas/Social Implications
High. The big question Mind Transfer Sci Fi deal with, whether overtly or not, is the idea of identity. Philosophers have pondered the nature of identity for centuries. Surely the ability to transplant an identity from one body to another or from a body to a machine will have an impact on the nature of identity.
Plus, there are plenty of legal, moral, and theological questions that come up here. For example, if a human mind is transferred into a computer is this new artificial copy a person? If so, is it responsible for the debts or crimes of its predecessor? Also, what does mind transfer mean for the value of a human life?
- Level of Characterization
Moderate-High. When a story deals with minds, brains, and identities to the extent that this sub-genre does, characterization is pretty important. In order to know that a character's mind has transferred successfully readers must first know the character well. However, in this sub-genre in particular, characters run the risk of being mere symbols and can therefore seem a bit hollow.
- Level of Plot Complexity
Variable. Mind transfer, when used as a plot device, can create complex and interesting plot lines. Other times mind transfer is a theory explored and the plot development may suffer under the weight of the related ideas being explored.
- Level of Violence
Variable. Mind Transfer Sci Fi can have little or no violence, as in the case of stories where mind transfer techniques are used to prolong the lives of ailing and aging people. Or, Mind Transfer Sci Fi can be incredibly violent, as in the case of more militaristic Sci Fi where minds of soldiers are transferred repeatedly so that their knowledge and experience is never lost.
Related Science Fiction subgenres
Immortality Science Fiction. One benefit of mind transfer technology is the seeming ability to live forever—your body may die, but your mind lives on.
Wetware Science Fiction. The mind is considered software running on the body's hardware, or wetware. So, when the mind is transferred via technological means there are often elements of Wetware Sci Fi.
Transhumanism Science Fiction. Transhumanism is about how humans may transform in the future, mind transfer can be seen as a mechanism for human transformation.
Psi Powers Science Fiction. Temporarily taking over the mind of someone else is an ability sometimes found in the Psi Powers sub-genre and is often depicted as a form of telepathy.
Mind Transfer Science Fiction isn't for you if...
If you're hung up on the complexity of the human mind and can't get over just how something so complex can be transferred into another body or machine or alien being. Science really is exploring the idea of mind transfer, but the complexity of the brain—not to mention the soul—is a real obstacle. If you find the idea that the mind is quantifiable upsetting—transferring a person's mind to a computer or through a computer into another body means the mind must first be quantified, and that can be an upsetting thought.
- 1 The World of Null-A
By A.E. van Vogt. Protagonist lives in one body and then dies, and awakens in another.
- 2 Kiln People
By David Brin. Humans can create disposable, clay duplicates of themselves. These duplicates have the memories of the creator and are used to experience things for their human archetype and then, after their time is up, they upload the memories back to the archetype.
- 3 Dramatic Mission
By Anne McCaffrey. A story within The Ship Who Sang series—in this particular story characters can sojourn into alien host bodies.
- 4 Lord of Light
By Roger Zelazny. Clones and transfer technology make the doctrine of reincarnation a literal truth.
- 5 Old Man's War
By John Scalzi. Geriatrics are transferred into healthier bodies and enhanced soldier bodies.
- 6 I Will Fear No Evil
By Robert A. Heinlein. Literal brain transplantation of an older man's brain into an attractive female body.
- 7 A Private Cosmos
By Philip José Farmer The third book in the World of Tiers series, this book is an action packed adventure story where our hero must fend off an invasion by artificial lifeforms who transfer and store memories.
- 8 The Muller-Fokker Effect
By John Sladek. Bob is the first truly modern man, having been turned into data and uploaded to computer tape. This novel features other modern and interesting characters and has plenty of fun with words.
- 9 The Forever Man
By Gordon R. Dickson. A military pilot's mind is transferred into a spaceship, at the expense of his human body. He learns as much about himself as he does an alien race humanity has been at war with for 200 years.
- 10 Mind Transfer
By Janet Asimov. This novel draws on the background of Isaac Asimov's Robot series and considers the technique of imprinting human minds on robot brains. There is social backlash and an exploration of robotic culture.
- 11 Altered Carbon
By Richard Morgan. Humans can transfer their conciousness into new bodies. This sets up a detective style story about a murder.
- 12 Commonwealth saga
By Peter F Hamilton. Hummanity can live forever by uploading themselves into new bodies.