Disability in Science Fiction Literature: A Reflection on Technology and Mental Disabilities

Philip Albert Steiner

Abstract


Disability in SF novels is a quite multifaceted phenomenon. On the one hand, many positivistic fictional visions of the future simply avoid disabilities, presuming that one day humanity will be able to cure any disability through advanced medicine and technology. On the other hand, however, many SF authors speculate about disabilities that such highly developed societies could bring forth. Consequently, a frequently underlined assumption is, that every society, no matter how highly developed, has its own unique set of disabilities.

            In this short reflection, I aim to highlight notions of disability in works by Isaac Asimov, William Gibson and Dan Simmons. The texts which I will touch upon are, Robots and Empire by Isaac Asimov, Neuromancer, “Wintermarket” and “Dog Fight” by William Gibson ( and in the case of “Dogfight” also Michael Swanwick), and  The Hyperion Cantos by Dan Simmons. In these stories, the authors portray different forms of disabilities, some of which are decisively speculative concerning the future of human societies. In Robots and Empire, Asimov foregrounds a number of hypothetical mental disabilities each of which is causally connected to a certain path that human social development could take. Gibson’s stories foreground the treatment of disabilities through technology and biotechnology and the possible shortcomings of such applications. Lastly, Simmons in The Hyperion Cantos deals with disabilities well known to today's societies, displaying them in futuristic and often metaphoric form.

            What all of these texts have in common is the theme of technology overdependency. Will the positivistic urge to eliminate disabilities through technology, lead human evolution into a downward spiral? Are our human shortcomings, the boundaries of our mortal flesh, necessary? These are the questions that Asimov, Gibson and Simmons deal with. The goal of this reflection is to highlight these diverse visions.  


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References


Asimov, Isaac (1985/2018). Robots and Empire. HarperCollins Publishers. London

Gibson, William. (First published in 1984). Neuromancer. Gollanez London

---. “The Winter Market”. [First published in 1986/2016]. In Gibson, William. Burning Chrome.

Gollanez. London. P. 126-151

---. And Swanwick, Michael “Dogfight”. [First published in 1985/2016]. In Gibson, William. Burning Chrome. London: Gollanez, P. 152-178

Simmons, Dan (1989). Hyperion. Doubleday. USA

Simmons, Dan (1990). The Fall of Hyperion. Doubleday. USA


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