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In science fiction, uplift is a developmental process to transform a certain species of animals into more intelligent beings by other, already-intelligent beings. This is usually accomplished by cultural, technological, or evolutional interventions like genetic engineering. The earliest appearance of the concept is in H. G. Wells's 1896 novel The Island of Doctor Moreau.[1] The term was popularized by David Brin in his Uplift series in the 1980s.[2]

History of the concept

The concept can be traced to H. G. Wells's novel The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896),[3] in which the titular scientist transforms animals into horrifying parodies of humans through surgery and psychological torment. The resulting animal-people obsessively recite the Law, a series of prohibitions against reversion to animal behaviors, with the haunting refrain of "Are we not men?" Wells's novel reflects Victorian concerns about vivisection and of the power of unrestrained scientific experimentation to do terrible harm.

Other early literary examples can be found in the following works:

David Brin has stated that his Uplift Universe was written at least in part in response to the common assumption in earlier science fiction such as Smith's work and Planet of the Apes that uplifted animals would, or even should, be treated as possessions rather than people.[4] As a result, a significant part of the conflict in the series revolves around the differing policies of Galactics and humans toward their client races. Galactic races traditionally hold their uplifted "clients" in a hundred-millennium-long indenture, during which the "patrons" have extensive rights and claims over clients' lives and labor power. In contrast, humans have given their uplifted dolphins and chimpanzees near-equal civil rights, with a few legal and economic disabilities related to their unfinished state. A key scene in Startide Rising is a discussion between a self-aware computer (the Niss) and a leading human (Gillian) about how the events during their venture (and hence the novel's plot) relate to the morality of the Galactics' system of uplift.

Timeline of works

This section may contain excessive or irrelevant examples. Please help improve the article by adding descriptive text and removing less pertinent examples. (February 2019)
Year Series Creator Media type Notes
1896 The Island of Doctor Moreau H. G. Wells Novel The concept can be traced to H. G. Wells's novel The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896),[3] in which the eponymous scientist transforms animals into horrifying parodies of humans through surgery and psychological torment. The resulting animal-people obsessively recite the Law, a series of prohibitions against reversion to animal behaviors, with the haunting refrain of "Are we not men?" Wells's novel reflects Victorian concerns about vivisection and of the power of unrestrained scientific experimentation to do terrible harm.
1921 Heart of a Dog Mikhail Bulgakov Novel One of the first examples; tells the story of a stray dog who is found by a surgeon and undergoes extensive brain surgery for experimental purposes to create a New Soviet man.
1938 "Johnny Black" stories L. Sprague de Camp Short stories Other early literary examples can be found in L. Sprague de Camp's "Johnny Black" stories (beginning with "The Command") about a black bear raised to human-level intelligence, published in Astounding Science-Fiction from 1938–1940.
1944 Sirius Olaf Stapledon Novel Olaf Stapledon's Sirius explores the concept of a dog with human intelligence.
1946 Hobbies Clifford D. Simak Short story The first of Cliff Simak's short stories to feature uplifted dogs as the central characters. Collected with other doggish stories as the sixth tale of the fixup novel City
1947 "Jerry Was a Man" Robert A. Heinlein Short story The story is about a genetically modified chimpanzee's attempt to achieve human rights. The main theme of the story is civil liberties, in this case extended towards a group of genetically enhanced chimpanzees to allow them equal rights under the law.
1959 Flowers for Algernon Daniel Keyes Short story Algernon is a laboratory mouse who has undergone surgery to increase his intelligence by artificial means. The story is told by a series of progress reports written by Charlie Gordon, the first human test subject for the surgery. The technique is at first successful but then reverts in both patients.
1963 Planet of the Apes Pierre Boulle Novel The 1963 science fiction novel by French author Pierre Boulle was adapted into the 1968 film Planet of the Apes, launching the Planet of the Apes media franchise.[5] The series also explores the opposite of uplift, the reduction of the human species to a regressed, atavistic, savage-like animal state.
1966 Thor Stan Lee & Jack Kirby Comic book Marvel comics villain the High Evolutionary is attended by a group of evolved animals known alternately as the New Men and the Knights of Wundagore.
1968 2001: A Space Odyssey Arthur C. Clarke Novel 2001: A Space Odyssey implies at least cultural uplift if not outright biological uplift of humanity by the monoliths. The novel's sequels imply that life forms indigenous to Europa are later uplifted by the same alien technological artifacts.[6]
1971 Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH Robert C. O'Brien Novel The novel relates the story of a widowed field mouse, Mrs. Frisby, who seeks the aid of a group of former laboratory rats in rescuing her home from destruction by a farmer's plow, saving her son from pneumonia, and of the history of the rats' escape from the laboratory and development of a literate and technological society.
1976 Rocket Raccoon Bill Mantlo and Keith Giffen Comic book Rocket Raccoon is a Halfworlder, which is a species of anthropomorphic animals created by being given experiments on Halfworld.
1977 Traveller (role-playing game) Game Designers' Workshop RPG The Ancients, the precursor alien civilization of the Traveller universe, abducted Earth wolves 300,000 years ago and genetically altered them into the Vargr race.
1979 Instrumentality of Mankind Cordwainer Smith Novel series In Cordwainer Smith's Instrumentality of Mankind series, "underpeople" are created from animals through unexplained technological means explicitly to be servants of humanity, and were often treated as less than slaves by the society that used them, until the laws were reformed in the story "The Ballad of Lost C'Mell" (1962). However, Smith's characterizations of individual underpeople are frequently quite sympathetic, and one of his most memorable characters is C'Mell, the cat-woman who appears in "The Ballad of Lost C'Mell" and in Norstrilia (1975).
1980 Uplift Universe David Brin Novel series The Uplift Universe is a fictional universe created by science fiction writer David Brin. A central feature in this universe is the process of biological uplift.
1987 Watchers Dean Koontz Novel Dean Koontz's 1987 novel Watchers deals with genetic engineering that uplifts a Golden Retriever named "Einstein" to near-human intelligence for the purpose of espionage. In a separate experiment, a hominid creature with near-human intelligence and crude language ability is also engineered, destined for potential use as a guard or attack creature.
1989 Rama II Arthur C. Clarke & Gentry Lee Novel In Clarke's and Lee's 2nd instalment of the Rama book series there are two uplifted species. One are dolphins which were trained to perform complex mathematical and visual exercises with some results comparable to humans.[citation needed] The other are Simians - genetically altered chimpanzees that have been bred and trained to perform menial tasks on spaceships (such as cleaning and cooking), and have had their aggressive behavioural characteristics removed as well as their sex drive.[citation needed]
1990 "Vacuum Diagrams" Stephen Baxter Short story In the short story "Vacuum Diagrams", part of the Xeelee Sequence of novels and short stories, an alien civilisation called the Xeelee are seen to use time travel to uplift their own species shortly after the Big Bang as part of their universe-spanning conflict with the Photino Birds, a lifeform composed of dark matter.
1993 Moreau series S. Andrew Swann Novel series In the Moreau series by S. Andrew Swann, genetically engineered human-animal hybrids have been developed as soldiers and are now incorporated as second-class citizens in human society.
1993 seaQuest DSV Rockne S. O'Bannon TV series Darwin is an intelligent dolphin from the TV series SeaQuest, who is able to communicate to the crew of an advanced, futuristic submarine, the seaQuest DSV 4600, through the assistance of a translation device known as the vo-corder.
1993 Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rick Berman & Michael Piller TV series In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the Founders, a shapeshifting species that founded the Dominion, genetically engineered the formerly primitive Vorta into an intelligent species who then served as Dominion administrators and politicians.
1994 Inherit the Earth The Dreamers Guild RPG In Inherit the Earth humans have disappeared from the world. Prior to this, however, they genetically modified a variety of mammalian creatures to have human intelligence, speech and grasping hands. These creatures, known as "Morph", now live on Earth with roughly Middle-Age level technology and a couple advanced devices from the age of humanity. Throughout the game there are ruins of human civilization and clues to what became of the humans who uplifted the Morph.
1997 GURPS Steve Jackson Games RPG In the role playing games GURPS Uplift (based on Brin's works), GURPS Transhuman Space and GURPS Bio-Tech, uplift is a major theme.
1998 Freefall Mark Stanley Webcomic In the "hard" SF webcomic Freefall, a human space frontier exploring corporation has uplifted red wolves (to test the ability to artificially construct cooperative species in biospheres fundamentally hostile to Earth's biology), which will remain their property for 2 generations. However, events unfold in favor of one of the wolves.
1999 Manifold:Time Stephen Baxter Novel In Manifold:Time, scientists genetically engineer intelligent squid for the purposes of over-seeing long-duration missions in space. Sheena 5, an intelligent squid who is launched on a mission to a passing asteroid to begin a mining operation, hides her fertilised eggs from her human overseers. Alone on the asteroid, she lays her eggs and inadvertently starts an off-world squid colony, which eventually gains full control of the asteroid mining facilities.
2000 Orion's Arm Bernd Helfert, Donna Malcolm Hirsekorn, M. Alan Kazlev & Anders Sandberg Online sci-fi project The Orion's Arm universe delves quite a bit into uplift.
2000 Schlock Mercenary Howard Tayler Webcomic In the space opera webcomic Schlock Mercenary, humans have uplifted elephants, gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans and polar bears who appear to enjoy equal social status to other species.
2001 Chasm City Alastair Reynolds Novel Scorpio, one of the major characters in Reynolds’ Revelation Space series of interconnected novels, is a “hyperpig”, swine that had been uplifted both mentally and physically through genetic modification and surgery to serve as menial crew members on spacecraft. This series also features great apes that were uplifted only mentally, that served as skilled mechanics on spacecraft. Chasm City also makes mention of spacecraft piloted by the brains of cetaceans, as they were evolutionarily more well-suited for maneuvering in three-dimensional space than human pilots.
2005 Doraemon Fujiko Fujio Manga series The progression or regression gun is one of Doraemon's gadgets of the 22nd century. It can evolve or devolve the subject. Doraemon and the gang ended up accidentally creating a civilization of humanoid cats and dogs in the past, who left the earth in search of a new planet before the ice age, allowing the rise of humans.
2006 Eureka Andrew Cosby & Jaime Paglia TV series Season One of the TV series Eureka includes a genetically modified dog named "Lojack" who is said to have an IQ of 130.
2007 Assassin's Creed Various Computer game In the Assassin's Creed universe, the "First Civilization" uplifted humans (such as the original Adam and Eve) and continued to interfere with human culture, technology, and historical events, even a hundred thousand years after their extinction.
2007 Mass Effect BioWare Computer game The Mass Effect universe contains numerous instances of uplift: The Drell were uplifted by the Hanar to save them from the desertification of their home planet; the Elcor and Vorcha were uplifted by the Asari; the Krogan were uplifted by the Salarians for use as soldiers in a war against the Rachni. These species are referred to as "client races" and are largely reliant on the species who uplifted them for representation in the wider politics of the galaxy. On Earth, it was once quite common for humans to uplift native animal species and even have custom-built lifeforms. This practice was eventually outlawed over the ethical and environmental questions raised by such acts.
2007 Race for the Galaxy Thomas Lehmann Board game Uplift is a major theme. Some cards have "UPLIFT" highlighted in the title and can help score points and achieve goals. Designer Tom Lehmann attributes the inspiration for uplift to David Brin's Uplift series.[7]
2008 Spore Maxis Computer game In a similar manner to 2001: A Space Odyssey, players in the game Spore can use monoliths to uplift species for fun or for other purposes.
2009 Eclipse Phase Posthuman Studios RPG Eclipse Phase delves quite a bit into uplift.
2011 Rise of the Planet of the Apes Film Will Rodman, a scientist at the San Francisco biotech company Gen-Sys, is testing the viral-based drug ALZ-112 on chimpanzees to find a cure for Alzheimer's disease. ALZ-112 is given to a chimp named Bright Eyes, greatly increasing her intelligence. Ape Caesar inherits his mother's intelligence and is raised by Will. Later Caesar releases a gas containing the drug and allows it to enhance the intelligence of the other apes. The apes flee the facility, release the remaining chimps from Gen-Sys, and free more apes from the San Francisco Zoo. A battle ensues as the ape army fights their way past a police blockade on the Golden Gate Bridge to escape into the redwood forest.
2012 XCOM: Enemy Unknown Firaxis Games Strategy game In XCOM: Enemy Unknown, the Ethereals have been uplifting all of the alien species the player encounters during the invasion of Earth, yet none have anywhere near the potential that the human species does of being truly uplifted. By allowing humanity to copy alien technology a few steps at a time, the Ethereals determined that humanity would be the one species they could adequately prepare for "what lies ahead".
2014 Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Film Ten years after the pandemic of the deadly ALZ-113 virus, or Simian Flu, the worldwide human population has been drastically reduced, with only a few genetically immune to the virus. Apes with genetically enhanced intelligence, caused by the same virus, have started to build a civilization of their own.
2015 StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void Blizzard Entertainment Computer game In the Legacy of the Void expansion to StarCraft II, it is revealed that the Xel'Naga are an advanced alien race who proliferate by uplifting the Zerg and the Protoss which each possess either "purity of essence" and "purity of form".
2015 Children of Time Adrian Tchaikovsky Novel Genetic uplift of arthropods, in particular spiders, is a central part of the novel.
2015 Barsk: The Elephants' Graveyard Lawrence M. Schoen Novel In a distant future there are no remaining human beings, but their successors thrive throughout the galaxy. These are the offspring of humanity's genius-animals uplifted into walking, talking, sapient beings.
2016 Stellaris Paradox Interactive Computer game In Stellaris, players can find planets inhabited by certain lifeforms that, given millions of years, will become sapient. Players can use genetic modification to accelerate the process and uplift and integrate these lifeforms into their empires.

Related terms and ideas

See also


  1. ^ Booker, Keith M. (2014). Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction in Literature. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 311.
  2. ^ Langford, David (2005). "Uplift". The Greenwood encyclopedia of science fiction and fantasy. Vol. 2. ISBN 9780313329524.
  4. ^ David Brin at
  5. ^ David L. Ulin (July 14, 2014). "The transformation of 'Planet of the Apes,' from book to movie legend". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 15, 2014.
  6. ^ Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society at
  7. ^ Lehmann, Tom. "Designer Diary: Race for the Galaxy". Retrieved 5 June 2011.