This Friday Rise of the Planet of the Apes hits theaters with its story of a lab ape named Caesar, "uplifted" to human intelligence by scientists, who leads a revolution against humanity. But he's hardly the first brain-augmented creature to question human values. Here are ten great stories of animal uplift and its consequences.
Art by Simen Johan.
What happens when we finally figure out how to make non-human animals into better slaves by giving them implants to help them speak? Or genetically engineer them to have human-like intelligence? One thing is for sure: they aren't likely to be thrilled. In fact, science fiction about "uplifted" animals generally represent the newly-brainy creatures turning into violent revolutionaries, running away, or killing themselves. If you're intrigued by the idea of creating non-human intelligence here on Earth with our fellow fauna, read our list of some of the best tales in the genre.
1. Planet of the Apes.
As we learn in the fourth movie of the original series, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, humans "uplifted" apes in order to make them into janitors and lab assistants. This movie, while it suffers from the cheese factor, is nevertheless an interesting portrait of an oppressed group of uplifted animals as they revolt against their human masters. It's pretty obvious that the filmmakers, lensing in the early 1970s, were obsessed with the civil rights movement of the 1960s and modeled their ape revolutionaries on Malcolm X. An updated version of Conquest, called Rise of the Planet of the Apes, is coming out in theaters this week.
2. We3, by Grant Morrison with drawings by Frank Quitely.
We3 is the story of a dog, cat, and rabbit who are given brain implants and body armor and forced to become secret assassins for the military. Of course, they hate it — the cat calls all the humans "stink boss" — and eventually a sympathetic scientist helps them escape. The book follows their bloody adventures as they flee the military and a giant, evil cyber-pitbull. Quitely's drawings are incredible, and Morrison's spare, urgent dialog is heart-wrenching. You may shed a tear if your heart is made of a material softer than tungsten.
3. The Uplift Series, by David Brin.
4. The Lives of the Monster Dogs, by Kirsten Bakis.
This is quite simply an incredible book about dogs given human-like intelligence and upper-class manners by an early-twentieth-century mad Austrian. It's gorgeously written from the point of view of the Vanity Fair reporter assigned to cover the dogs' story when they come to live in New York. What's brilliant about this novel is that the dogs feel like aliens not so much because they are humanoid canines, but because the United States is so modern compared to the tiny backwoods berg where they came of age. So they feel like anachronisms, early twentieth-century creatures thrust into a contemporary world of cell phones and televisions that they can never understand. Step inside Bakis' gothic dog world and you won't be able to leave until the novel is done.
5. The Island of Doctor Moreau, by H.G. Wells
Made into several movies during the twentieth century, including one with Val Kilmer and Marlon Brando, this is perhaps the first scientific animal uplift tale — previous tales of talking or humanoid animals generally involved magic or sorcery of some kind. Here the titular mad scientist has created an entire race of human-animal hybrids on a remote island, subjecting them to cruel mistreatment. Eventually the experiment is discovered by a shipwrecked sailor, who lives among Moreau's beast-folk but is terrified to discover that without authoritarian rule they all return to their bestial ways.
6. Tank Girl.
Among the mutants in this comic book (and movie) are humanoid kangaroos who apparently make the best lovers. Tank Girl's boyfriend is a kangaroo, and some of her best friends are too. Because society has already fallen, there isn't much revolting against evil human masters here. It's just anarchist, interspecies love.
7. The Mount, by Carol Emschwiller.
This is a terrific reversal of the usual uplift fare — here, invading aliens turn humans into animals. The tiny, weak-legged aliens fit perfectly onto human shoulders and use people as "mounts," breeding them for speed and muscle. The story focuses on one young mount, bred to be ridden by a prince, and his dawning realization that maybe freedom is better than a warm stall and a few pats.
8. We, The Underpeople, by Cordwainer Smith.
This collection of Smith's "instrumentality of mankind" short stories and one novel is in part about a posthuman world where human-animal hybrids fight for civil rights. C'mell, a cat-derived human, figures as a main character in some of the tales. Written mostly during the 1960s, and strongly influenced by the literature of China (Smith grew up partly in China during the Revolution), these linked tales ask questions about humanity that are satisfyingly ahead of their time.
9. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, by Robert C. O'Brien.
When the mouse Mrs. Frisby discovers that a farmer is going to destroy her nest, leaving her and her child homeless, she calls up on her dead husband's old associates, a group of escaped lab rats from the National Institute of Mental Health. She discovers that the rats were part of an experiment that gave them super intelligence, and they live in a hidden, high-tech society. Naturally, they have a scientific solution to Mrs. Frisby's problem — but accomplishing it isn't easy. This novel, written in the early 1970s, was made into an animated feature film in 1982 called The Secret of NIMH.
10. Slave Ship, by Frederick Pohl.
In this short war novel, Pohl introduces the idea that humans have developed psychic powers; one consequence is that we can communicate with animals, all of whom have their own languages. The American and Russian military have begun to use animals as soldiers in a series of secret experiments. It's unclear whether these animals are uplifted, or simply able to join human culture because at last they can understand us (and vice versa). But animals in this novel, as in We3, are clearly victims of military science, exploited for use as low-level soldiers.
Bonus Round: Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes.
A strange spinoff of the animal uplift genre is this novel, made into a drippy movie called Charly, about a drug that allows a developmentally-disabled guy to become a super-genius for a short period of time. Yeah, there's some creepy stuff here with low-IQ humans being treated like animals — just like in real life. There is actually a whole subgenre of tales in this vein, including Lawnmower Man and an awful episode of Star Trek: TNG where a dork named Barkley merges his brain with the ship.
A previous version of this article appeared on io9 in 2008.