What is transhumanism? To put it simply, it’s the use of technology to augment or modify the human experience. In many ways, our very reality is transhumanist. I’m writing this article on my laptop. My smartphone is nearby. My smart watch is on my wrist. Many people wear glasses, which is a technology. Clothes are a form of technology, though they may not seem that way anymore.
But when we’re talking about transhumanist fiction, we’re largely talking about science fiction. We’re not talking about the mundane ways in which technology enhances our lives, but in the far-flung and inventive ways that authors imagine technology changing our lives. Bodily autonomy is a core theme. Metaphors for transgender struggles abound. In transhumanist sci-fi books, the body is just another thing that you own, another thing for you to change as you see fit. Your body does not define you.
If this sounds like cyberpunk, you’re not wrong. I’ve written about the best cyberpunk novels of all time. There is certainly a lot of overlap, though cyberpunk requires a “high technology, low life” theme. To be clear, all cyberpunk books are transhumanist, but not all transhumanist books are cyberpunk. As a result, I’ll try to keep the cyberpunk to a minimum on this list.
Keeping that in mind, here are 10 terrific transhumanist sci-fi books to add to your TBR.
Accelerando by Charles Stross
This book is like every transhumanist variation blended into one fascinating novel. AI has surpassed human intelligence. Biotechnological beings mean humans are yesterday’s news. This story focuses on three humans struggling to survive in this universe; all the while, something is trying to take our solar system apart.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
That’s right, the very first science fiction novel is also a work of transhumanism, though I’m not sure Mary Shelley would have used the term. After all, the monster wouldn’t even exist without technology. So even the earliest sci-fi novel was trying to warn us about the dangers technology poses to our humanity.
Dawn by Octavia E. Butler
Lilith has been asleep aboard an alien ship for centuries. She didn’t know until she’d woken that the aliens saved humanity, curing diseases and strengthening us. Now, they’re waking humanity up, but their salvation has a steep cost. As always, Butler explores race and gender in this incredible transhumanist sci-fi book.
Memory by Linda Nagata
Jubilee lives on an artificial world that is regularly swept by floods of “silver.” This silver takes people away and takes memories. Everyone knows that nobody comes back from the silver. But when a mysterious stranger comes asking after Jubilee’s lost brother, she sets off to find him. She just might discover her own memories along the way.
Nexus by Ramez Naam
This near-future transhumanist sci-fi book focuses on a drug called Nexus that allows humans to link minds. Some people want it gone; others want to exploit it. When one scientist works to improve it, he suddenly finds himself in over his head with political machinations and international intrigue.
Noor by Nnedi Okorafor
I couldn’t make this list without including at least a little cyberpunk, right? Noor leans really hard into the transhumanist elements with the disabled protagonist who uses technology to turn disabilities into advantages. This book is a really fun and high-octane adventure, too.
Queen City Jazz by Kathleen Ann Goonan
Verity lives in a world decimated by nanotech plagues. So she lives out on a farm, far from the worst of the plague. But when her best friend is shot and thrown into a nanotech cocoon, Verity will have to venture into nearby Cincinnati to save him. What she finds there is more than she’d bargained for, and she’ll need to rule this city if she wants to survive it.
Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds
Dan is a scientist trying to discover why an ancient civilization was wiped out just before they discovered space flight. He forms an uneasy alliance with a cyborg spaceship crew to find the truth, but someone is trying to kill Dan. That ancient civilization was destroyed for a reason, and that reason is a secret that some are willing to kill for.
Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang
Ted Chiang often writes about transhumanist themes, and this collection of his short fiction shows just how deep Chiang goes. These stories often focus on sudden changes, usually of the transhumanist variety, that make us question everything we know about humanity. “Story of Your Life,” the title story, was the basis for the movie Arrival.
The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
Okay, one more great cyberpunk novel for the list. And once again, it’s one that leans heavily into the transhumanist themes with bioengineered crops, food shortages, and androids trying to find a better place in society. This novel is high-stakes and full of fascinating political intrigue alongside deeply personal stories.
What are some of your favorite transhumanist sci-fi books? Anything in the post-cyberpunk or other non-cyberpunk varieties? I’m always on the lookout for more.