While science and philosophy offer the most rigorous approaches to these questions, the literary imagination is an important source of insight as well. Indeed, it is not uncommon for the rigorous approaches to rely, at certain junctures in their arguments, on distant extrapolations of current trends or assertions about which counterfactuals are or are not plausible. As long as we are conjuring imaginary scenarios – for example, by projecting that a mood-enhanced population might become emotionally shallow, or that humans with sufficiently augmented cyborg brains might consider themselves a new species – we might as well draw upon the extrapolations and counterfactuals created by real authors of fiction! The short stories, novels and films listed here contain interesting insights on the many ways in which our growing understanding of the brain, and our advancing ability to manipulate it, could alter the future of humanity.
When brain modification has been featured in books and film, the scenarios have generally been dystopian. Beginning with Aldous Huxley’s (1932) Brave New World, in which a totalitarian state controls its citizens by manipulating brain development and brain chemistry, through the current genres of Cyberpunk (e.g., the Matrix) and Biopunk (e.g., Gattaca), we have seen mainly the dark side of neurotechnology. Judging from fictional portrayals, the idea of neurotechnology seems much more threatening than the idea of space travel, an earlier sci fi mainstay. This is not all that surprising. Our brains are us. Exile me to another star system and my life may be rough, but reprogram my brain and I’m not even sure whose life it is.
Of course, “yesterday’s science fiction is today’s science fact” is a cliché, and often wrong to boot. Most of the scenarios envisioned by science fiction authors have never eventuated, often for good reasons involving physical laws that cannot be violated! But some imagined technologies have been realized many decades after their appearance in a work of science fiction, and this teaches us something: What is pure fiction at one point in time – unrealistic, far out, silly – can be reality a generation or two later. Some of the readers of this website were alive when the idea of a “test tube baby” was so far beyond the capabilities of medicine as to be purely science fiction. Other readers were conceived by in vitro fertilization.
So, explore the books and movies listed here by clicking the tabs at the top of this page for the enjoyment they offer as well as the insights they may contain, and please contact us with additional suggestions for inclusion!
Narrative Perspectives: Films
The films listed here treat neuroethical issues such as mind control, brain enhancement, personal identity after brain alteration, brain-machine hybrids, and artificial mind/brains. Those that engage these issues particularly insightfully are marked with a “*“. Unless otherwise noted, movie descriptions are directly from imdb.com or blockbuster.com.
Director Steven Spielberg’s A.I.: Artificial Intelligence was not only a box-office disappointment, it also did something that his previous films have rarely or never done — it alienated the audience and divided the critics. Perhaps with the release of the film onto DVD, Spielberg’s misunderstood science fiction fairy tale will find a more receptive audience. Dreamworks Home Entertainment has released the film as a two-disc special edition, in either its preferred letterboxed version (1.85:1 enhanced) or in a pan-and-scan format. The image on the letterboxed version is excellent throughout. The soft smoky interiors of the first part of the film have a nice auburn glow to them, which nicely contrasts the sultry colors that take over for the second part. There is no evidence of color bleeding or flaring up and the image is consistently balanced. Many scenes, which are filmed purposefully dark, still manage to keep a richness and depth that is difficult to replicate outside of a movie theater. The disc also comes equipped with various soundtrack options, including an English language 5.1 track, 2.0 Dolby Surround, and a 5.1 DTS option. The first two tracks are vigorous and active, though always keeping the dialogue clear. The first disc contains the film itself and a short ten-minute documentary on the making and origins of the film. But it’s with the second disc that one finds a plethora of supplemental material. The disc contains numerous mini-documentaries on all stages of A.I.’s production, from its initial planning stage with Kubrick to its final release. There are some nice interviews with actors Jude Law, Haley Joel Osment, and others. Also of interest are the interviews with the storyboard artists, production designers, and the many special effects technicians from Stan Winston’s factory of wonders and Lucasfilm’s ILM studio. The disc also contains a couple of theatrical trailers, a multitude of storyboard sketches, production photographs, some interesting interviews with sound designer Gary Ryndstrom and composer John Williams, and much more. ~ Derek Hill, All Movie Guide
The war on drugs has been lost, and when a reluctant undercover cop is ordered to spy on those he is closest to, the toll that the mission takes on his sanity is too great to comprehend in director Richard Linklater’s rotoscoped take on Philip K. Dick’s classic novel. With stratospheric concern over national security prompting paranoid government officials to begin spying on citizens, trust is a luxury and everyone is a suspected criminal until proven otherwise. Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves) is a narcotics officer who is issued an order to spy on his friends and report back to headquarters. In addition to being a cop, though, Arctor is also an addict. His drug of choice is a ubiquitous street drug called Substance D, a drug known well for producing split personalities in its users.
A blend of science fiction and noir detective fiction, Blade Runner (1982) was a box office and critical bust upon its initial exhibition, but its unique postmodern production design became hugely influential within the sci-fi genre, and the film gained a significant cult following that increased its stature. Harrison Ford stars as Rick Deckard, a retired cop in Los Angeles circa 2019. L.A. has become a pan-cultural dystopia of corporate advertising, pollution and flying automobiles, as well as replicants, human-like androids with short life spans built by the Tyrell Corporation for use in dangerous off-world colonization. Deckard’s former job in the police department was as a talented blade runner, a euphemism for detectives that hunt down and assassinate rogue replicants. Called before his one-time superior (M. Emmett Walsh), Deckard is forced back into active duty. A quartet of replicants led by Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) has escaped and headed to Earth, killing several humans in the process. After meeting with the eccentric Eldon Tyrell (Joe Turkel), creator of the replicants, Deckard finds and eliminates Zhora (Joanna Cassidy), one of his targets. Attacked by another replicant, Leon (Brion James), Deckard is about to be killed when he’s saved by Rachael (Sean Young), Tyrell’s assistant and a replicant who’s unaware of her true nature. In the meantime, Batty and his replicant pleasure model lover, Pris (Darryl Hannah) use a dying inventor, J.F. Sebastian (William Sanderson) to get close to Tyrell and murder him. Deckard tracks the pair to Sebastian’s, where a bloody and violent final confrontation between Deckard and Batty takes place on a skyscraper rooftop high above the city. In 1992, Ridley Scott released a popular director’s cut that removed Deckard’s narration, added a dream sequence, and excised a happy ending imposed by the results of test screenings; these legendary behind-the-scenes battles were chronicled in a 1996 tome, Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner by Paul M. Sammon. ~ Karl Williams, All Movie Guide
Unlike most teen horror movies, Brainscan relies more on atmosphere and plot than gore and bloodsoaked effects. Edward Furlong plays Michael, a 16-year-old horror movie fan, computer whiz, and misfit who responds to an ad for Brainscan, an CD-ROM virtual reality game that promises to “interface with your unconscious.” Once involved with the game, Michael dreams that he brutally stabs a stranger and slices off his foot — only to awaken and find the foot in his refrigerator. Out of Michael’s computer comes Trickster (T. Ryder Smith), a sardonic, malevolent creation who advises Michael to keep playing new editions of Brainscan to evade capture by a suspicious cop (Frank Langella). With a death count that is relatively low and mostly offscreen (amputated feet notwithstanding), Brainscan doesn’t make up for its lack of onscreen violence with a particularly original script, although it should be commended for not taking the easy way out. ~ Don Kaye, All Movie Guide
The second feature from director Michel Gondry (Human Nature) finds the filmmaker reteaming with screenwriter Charlie Kaufman for this off-the-wall romantic comedy. Jim Carrey stars as Joel Barish, a man who is informed that his ex-girlfriend Clementine (Kate Winslet) has had her memories of their relationship erased from her brain via an experimental procedure performed by Dr. Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson). Not to be outdone, Joel decides to have the same procedure done to himself. As Mierzwiak’s bumbling underlings Stan (Mark Ruffalo) and Patrick (Elijah Wood) perform the operation on Joel — over the course of an evening, in his apartment — Joel struggles in his own mind to save the memories of Clementine from being deleted. Kirsten Dunst, David Cross, and Jane Adams also star. ~ Matthew Tobey, All Movie Guide
In the wake of his success on the hit NBC sitcom Scrubs, actor Zach Braff made his debut behind the camera writing, directing, and starring in this bittersweet romantic comedy. Braff plays Andrew Largeman, a young man who has just received word of his mother’s passing. With this news, Andrew returns to the town in which he grew up, where he is greeted by his father, Gideon (Ian Holm), a psychiatrist. In addition to mourning the loss of his mother, Andrew is also attempting to adjust to life without the emotionally numbing antidepressants that he has recently opted to discontinue using. Gradually, with the absence of the pills, his reconnection with his past, and the introduction of Sam (Natalie Portman), a woman who would seem to have little in common with him, into his life, Andrew is able to see the potential for some positive changes. Also starring Jean Smart and Peter Sarsgaard, Garden State was once titled Large’s Ark and premiered at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival. ~ Matthew Tobey, All Movie Guide
In his stylish, vividly realized movie Her, Oscar-nominated director Spike Jonze imagines a not-too-distant future in which these seismic shifts lead to love between man and machine. Likewise, by working within the framework of a romantic drama, Jonze creates an emotionally honest film that feels endearingly familiar, yet enticingly unique. ~ Jason Buchanan, All Movie Guide
Director Alex Proyas (Dark City, The Crow) helmed this sci-fi thriller inspired by the stories in Isaac Asimov’s nine-story anthology of the same name. In the future presented in the film, humans have become exceedingly dependent on robots in their everyday lives. Robots have become more and more advanced, but each one is preprogrammed to always obey humans and to, under no circumstances, ever harm a human. So, when a scientist turns up dead and a humanoid robot is the main suspect, the world is left to wonder if they are as safe around their electronic servants as previously thought. Will Smith stars as Del Spooner, the robot-hating Chicago cop assigned to the murder investigation. Bridget Moynahan, Bruce Greenwood, James Cromwell, and Chi McBride also star. ~ Matthew Tobey, All Movie Guide
In a near-future world in which the fast-paced digital lifestyle has given rise to a worldwide plague called Nerve Attenuation Syndrome, Johnny (Keanu Reeves), a data courier, accepts an assignment that he hopes will allow him to pay for the restoration of the childhood memories he dumped in order to outfit his brain with the microchip necessary for him to carry out his profession. Narrowly escaping a Yakuza ambush in which his employers are killed and the mnemonic trigger capable of unlocking the data in his brain is partially destroyed, Johnny travels from Beijing to New Jersey, where he hopes to recover the data before “neural seepage” destroys his mind. Teaming up with would-be bodyguard Jane (Dina Meyer) and a rebel group known as the LoTeks who live in an abandoned bridge, he tries to outrun the assassins of mysterious businessman Takahashi (Beat Takeshi Kitano) — and the Street Preacher (Dolph Lundgren), a bionic madman. Along the way, he meets a mysterious electronic entity, a sentient dolphin, and Spider (Henry Rollins), a cybernetics expert, all of whom attempt, with various degrees of success, to learn why the data in Johnny’s head is so important. Science fiction author William Gibson’s original short story Johnny Mnemonic helped usher in the age of cyberpunk when it appeared in Omni magazine in 1981; it later appeared in the collection Burning Chrome (alongside the story that provided the basis for Abel Ferrara’s New Rose Hotel). Although Gibson himself wrote the screenplay for Johnny Mnemonic, the film diverges considerably from the story. Molly Mirrors, a recurring character in Gibson’s fiction, was replaced by the figure of Jane to fend off licensing conflicts with any future film version of Neuromancer, the author’s most celebrated novel. Other plot elements — most notably the LoTeks’ bridge habitat — were borrowed from later Gibson fiction such as the novel Virtual Light. ~ Brian J. Dillard, All Movie Guide
In an age where the greatest baseball players of their era are being kept out of the Hall of Fame for taking performance-enhancing drugs as millions of uninsured Americans struggle to pay for medications they need to live, Neil Burger’s Limitless certainly has topicality on its side. The movie stars Bradley Cooper as Eddie Morra, a disheveled struggling writer scraping out a meager living in New York City while he procrastinates starting his novel, even though he’s already spending the advance he’s been given. After his girlfriend, Lindy (Abbie Cornish), dumps him for being so directionless, Eddie bumps into his ex-brother-in-law, Vernon (Johnny Whitworth), a shady drug dealer who gives Eddie a new pill. Turns out NZT, as it’s called, fills Eddie with the capability to not only fulfill his potential, but it makes him smarter, more observant, and gives him encyclopedic recall of anything he’s ever read or heard. He finishes his novel in one day, the publisher loves it, and now Eddie just needs more of the super-drug. That becomes problematic when Vernon is killed. Eddie finds the stash of NZT, and starts to turn his life around; however, he also begins to suffer seriously adverse side effects. On top of that, there’s a ruthless Russian gangster on the hunt for the same drug. Limitless is absolutely fun to watch.~ Perry Seibert, All Movie Guide
Following in the recent tradition of high-concept sci-fi action thrillers like Inception, Lucy is at its best when it’s either reveling in explosive action sequences, or delving into deep, metaphorical philosophy. The moments in between, when the characters actually attempt to explain the pseudo-science that drives the plot, as always, are this genre’s weak points. But while you’re in the middle of enjoying the ride, it probably won’t matter. The story rests entirely on the oft-quoted factoid that human beings only use 10% of their brains, proposing that thus, activating that unused 90% could offer us wild and crazy superpowers. Of course, any nerd worth their salt knows this figure isn’t even true — it’s a bastardization of the assertion by early 20th century neurologists that they only understoodhow we use around 10% of the brain. But in the end, this probably isn’t a deal-breaker for most viewers, because director and writer Luc Besson (The Fifth Element, The Professional) is adept at distracting us with sweet car chases and tense shootouts. ~Cammila Collar, All Movie Guide
Jonathan Demme directed this updated remake of John Frankenheimer’s 1962 cult favorite The Manchurian Candidate, a pioneering examination of political conspiracy and psychological reconditioning. Major Bennett Marco (Denzel Washington) and Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Liev Schreiber) are two soldiers who served in the same company during Operation Desert Storm, but their paths following their tours of duty have been very different. Shaw, the son of powerful congresswoman Eleanor Shaw (Meryl Streep), has used his reputation as a war hero to quickly scale the ladder of American politics, and with the help of his mother earns the Vice Presidential nomination. Marco, on the other hand, has been troubled with mental illness, and is convinced that something strange happened to him and his compatriots during the war. As Marco struggles to find the truth behind his nightmares and emotional torment, he unearths some disturbing facts about how his mind and body have been reworked by shadowy forces, as well as those of his fellow soldiers — including Raymond Shaw. Featuring a stellar supporting cast (including Jon Voight, Miguel Ferrer, Ted Levine, and Dean Stockwell), The Manchurian Candidate credits George Axelrod’s screenplay for the 1962 film as its source, as opposed to Richard Condon’s 1959 novel from which Axelrod adapted his script. ~ Mark Deming, All Movie Guide
What if virtual reality wasn’t just for fun, but was being used to imprison you? That’s the dilemma that faces mild-mannered computer jockey Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) in The Matrix. It’s the year 1999, and Anderson (hacker alias: Neo) works in a cubicle, manning a computer and doing a little hacking on the side. It’s through this latter activity that Thomas makes the acquaintance of Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), who has some interesting news for Mr. Anderson — none of what’s going on around him is real. The year is actually closer to 2199, and it seems Thomas, like most people, is a victim of The Matrix, a massive artificial intelligence system that has tapped into people’s minds and created the illusion of a real world, while using their brains and bodies for energy, tossing them away like spent batteries when they’re through. Morpheus, however, is convinced Neo is “The One” who can crack open The Matrix and bring his people to both physical and psychological freedom. The Matrix is the second feature film from the sibling writer/director team of Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski, who made an impressive debut with the stylish erotic crime thriller Bound. ~ Mark Deming, All Movie Guide
After creating an international sensation with the visually dazzling and intellectually challenging sci-fi blockbuster The Matrix, the Wachowski brothers returned with the first of two projected sequels that pick up where the first film left off. Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) have been summoned by Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) to join him on a voyage to Zion, the last outpost of free human beings on Earth. Neo and Trinity’s work together has been complicated by the fact the two are involved in a serious romantic relationship. Upon their arrival in Zion, Morpheus locks horns with rival Commander Lock (Harry J. Lennix) and encounters his old flame Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith). Meanwhile, Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) has returned with some surprises for Neo, most notably the ability to replicate himself as many times as he pleases. Neo makes his way to The Oracle (Gloria Foster), who informs him that if he wishes to save humankind, he must unlock “The Source,” which means having to release The Key Maker (Randall Duk Kim) from the clutches of Merovingian (Lambert Wilson). While Merovingian refuses to cooperate, his wife, Persephone (Monica Bellucci), angry at her husband’s dalliances with other women, offers to help, but only in exchange for a taste of Neo’s affections. With The Keymaker in tow, Neo, Trinity, and Morpheus are chased by Merovingian’s henchmen: a pair of deadly albino twins (Neil Rayment and Adrian Rayment). Filmed primarily in Australia and California (the extended chase scene was shot on a stretch of highway build specifically for the production outside of San Francisco), The Matrix Reloaded was produced in tandem with the third film in the series, The Matrix Revolutions. ~ Mark Deming, All Movie Guide
Back-to-back with The Matrix Reloaded, the third and final installment of Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski’s sci-fi action saga picks up where the second film left off. Neo (Keanu Reeves) remains unconscious in the real world, caught in a mysterious subway station that lies between the machine world and the Matrix, and Bane (Ian Bliss) is still a conduit for Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), who continues to grow out of control, threatening to destroy both worlds. Meanwhile, as the sentinels get closer and closer to Zion, the citizens of the earth’s last inhabited city prepare for the inevitable onslaught. By bargaining with The Merovingian (Lambert Wilson), Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) and Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) are able to free Neo who, after meeting with The Oracle (Mary Alice stepping in for the late Gloria Foster), decides that he must leave Zion and head for the machine mainframe. As Neo and Trinity venture into the dangerous machine world, with hopes of stopping both the machines and Agent Smith, their comrades in Zion attempt to fight off the attacking sentinels with the odds stacked greatly against them. Other cast members returning include Monica Bellucci, Ngai Sing, and Harold Perrineau Jr. ~ Matthew Tobey, All Movie Guide
Steven Soderbergh often fills what seem to be his lightest projects with unexpectedly meaty themes, but while his psychological thriller Side Effects features hot-button issues like mental health, drug companies, and the country’s economic woes, it’s more or less a straightforward popcorn movie — a smart piece of escapist entertainment. Rooney Mara stars as Emily Taylor; her husband Martin (Channing Tatus) is a young businessman who, as the film opens, is soon to be released from prison after serving a few years for financial fraud. Overcome with stress, the mentally fragile Emily performs a quasi-suicide attempt and is put in the care of Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), a workaholic psychiatrist who convinces Emily to see him once a week for therapy. Jonathan is intrigued enough by Emily’s story to seek counsel from her former therapist, Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones). One night Emily commits a horrific act that she claims not to remember because she was taking the medication prescribed to her by Jonathan. This leads to a criminal and ethical examination of the psychiatrist that digs up past indiscretions and also forces him to eventually consider that he might not be getting the whole story from his patient. Side Effects is the third collaboration between Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns. ~ Perry Seibert, All Movie Guide
Les Franken (Michael Rapaport) leads a painfully unremarkable life as a metermaid until he enrolls in a drug study for an experimental anti-depressant. An unexpected side effect of the drug convinces Les he is developing special powers and must quit his job to answer his new calling in life… as a superhero. A very select group of people in life are truly gifted. Special is a movie about everyone else.
As the result of a head injury, brilliant computer scientist Harry Benson begins to experience violent seizures. In an attempt to control the seizures, Benson undergoes a new surgical procedure in which a microcomputer is inserted into his brain. The procedure is not entirely successful.
The second sequel to the 1984 sci-fi action classic, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines is the first film without the involvement of director James Cameron. Instead, Jonathan Mostow, the man behind Breakdown and U-571, has stepped in to fill the shoes left vacant by Cameron. In addition, the role of John Connor from the second film has been recast, with In the Bedroom’s Nick Stahl taking over for Edward Furlong. Set ten years after the events of 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgement Day, the film finds Connor living on the streets as a common laborer. Sarah Connor, his mother, has since died, and their efforts in the second film have not stopped the creation of SkyNet artificial intelligence network. As he will still become the leader of the human resistance, Connor is once again targeted by a Terminator sent from the future by SkyNet. This new Terminator, T-X (Kristanna Loken), is a female and is more powerful than any of her predecessors. To protect Connor, the human resistance sends a new T-101 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) back from the future. Also starring Claire Danes, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines had its world premiere when it showed out of competition at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival. ~ Matthew Tobey, All Movie Guide
In Paul Verhoeven’s wild sci-fi action movie Total Recall, Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a 21st-century construction worker who discovers that his entire memory of the past derives from a memory chip implanted in his brain. Schwarzenegger learns that he’s actually a secret agent who had become a threat to the government, so those in power planted the chip and invented a domestic lifestyle for him. Once he has realized his true identity, he travels to Mars to piece together the rest of his identity, as well as to find the man responsible for his implanted memory. Verhoeven has created a fast, furious action film with Total Recall, filled with impressive stunts and (literally) eye-popping visuals. Though the film bears only a passing resemblance to the Philip K. Dick short story it was based on (“We Can Remember It For You Wholesale”), the movie is an entertaining, if very violent, ride. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All Movie Guide
With a thorough scan of his own brain, a mad genius can use the data to create a simulated version of himself, which is usually intended to make his knowledge and expertise available after his death via the spiffy/creepy interface of his own voice and personality. In some cases, this act prompts very little reaction from others, aside from some clunky exposition to explain the deus ex machina of him being there and a general appreciation for his helpful pointers. But in other cases, the mere idea that a person’s inner self can be replicated via a machine freaks everyone out, and poses terrifying questions related to the existence of the soul and the ultimate meaning of the human experience (see: Transcendence). The scientist who embarks on the ill-advised adventure in this instance is Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp), whom we first see giving a sort of TED Talk about his work with artificial intelligence. He explains, with guileless optimism, how he just can’t wait for that moment when computers become self-aware — a concept often called the “technological singularity,” which you may remember from the Terminator and Matrix franchises as the reason for the apocalypse. But Will isn’t worried; he thinks that humans will evolve to accommodate this leap and usher in a new era of human/machine consciousness. ~ Cammila Collar, All Movie Guide
Narrative Perspectives: Books
The books listed here treat neuroethical issues such as mind control, brain enhancement, personal identity after brain alteration, brain-machine hybrids, and artificial mind/brains.
Humanity is dying. Long live the Apex.
In the United States, the terrorists – or freedom fighters – of the Post-Human Liberation Front use Nexus to turn men and women into human time bombs aimed at the President and his allies. In Washington DC, a government scientist, secretly addicted to Nexus, uncovers more than he wants to know about the forces behind the assassinations, and finds himself in a maze with no way out.
In Thailand, Samantha Cataranes has found peace and contentment with a group of children born with Nexus in their brains. But when forces threaten to tear her new family apart, Sam will stop at absolutely nothing to protect the ones she holds dear.
In Vietnam, Kade and Feng are on the run from bounty hunters seeking the price on Kade’s head, from the CIA, and from forces that want to use the back door Kade has built into Nexus 5. Kade knows he must stop the terrorists misusing Nexus before they ignite a global war between human and posthuman. But to do so, he’ll need to stay alive and ahead of his pursuers.
And in Shanghai, a posthuman child named Ling Shu will go to dangerous and explosive lengths to free her uploaded mother from the grip of Chinese authorities.
The first blows in the war between human and posthuman have been struck. The world will never be the same.
As the treatment takes effect, Charlie’s intelligence expands until it surpasses that of the doctors who engineered his metamorphosis. The experiment appears to be a scientific breakthrough of paramount importance, until Algernon suddenly deteriorates. Will the same happen to Charlie?
When Chicagoan Russell Stone finds himself teaching a Creative Nonfiction class, he encounters a young Algerian woman with a disturbingly luminous presence. Thassadit Amzwar’s blissful exuberance both entrances and puzzles the melancholic Russell. How can this refugee from perpetual terror be so happy? Won’t someone so open and alive come to serious harm? Wondering how to protect her, Russell researches her war-torn country and skims through popular happiness manuals. Might her condition be hyperthymia? Hypomania? Russell’s amateur inquiries lead him to college counselor Candace Weld, who also falls under Thassa’s spell. Dubbed Miss Generosity by her classmates, Thassa’s joyful personality comes to the attention of the notorious geneticist and advocate for genomic enhancement, Thomas Kurton, whose research leads him to announce the genotype for happiness. Russell and Candace, now lovers, fail to protect Thassa from the growing media circus. Thassa’s congenital optimism is soon severely tested. Devoured by the public as a living prophecy, her genetic secret will transform both Russell and Kurton, as well as the country at large. What will happen to life when science identifies the genetic basis of happiness? Who will own the patent? Do we dare revise our own temperaments? Funny, fast, and finally magical, Generosity celebrates both science and the freed imagination. In his most exuberant book yet, Richard Powers asks us to consider the big questions facing humankind as we begin to rewrite our own existence.