I have a distinct memory of an episode of The Simpsons that came out when I was probably still in middle school. It was one of their Halloween specials where the writers get to explore ideas that are even wackier than what usually shows up in the series. I don't remember much about the episode except for one part.
It took place in the distant future and near the end we were shown that Mr. Burns had been able to survive for centuries by turning his natural body into a cyborg. All that remained of his biological body was his head, encased in a transparent chamber and connected to his now mechanical body by means of tubes and cables. I was intrigued by the idea. It left me wondering whether it would really be possible to do something like that. I was well aware that people were able to replace individual parts of their bodies- limbs, organs, even hearts- with man-made mechanical devices that could perform the same functions.
Could humanity, one day, replace an entire body with a man-made one, leaving just the head, or even just the brain, to control it? What would it be like to be a person with a completely mechanical, man-made body. Would you still be a person?
These were the questions the image of the Mr. Burns cyborg left with me and they've managed to pop up in my head a few times since then. Anyone who has read a little science fiction knows that this topic is common fodder for writers in the genre. Eric James Stone's story In Memory takes the idea one step further, to a world where man has discovered how to transfer not just our bodies, but our very consciousness to a man-made home. It's a fascinating story that shows us that humanity is defined by more than the shape of our bodies or the location of our souls. If you like it as much as I did you'll be glad you read it.
The other short story I read this week that I want to share with you is by Peter S. Beagle. This one is fantasy, not science fiction, so no cyborgs here. No unicorns either, for those who might have been wondering. To be a little more to the point, it's contemporary fantasy.
What if you could make something happen just by saying that it did? No, I'm not talking about making something happen right now. I'm talking about making something already have happened. What if I could point out someone on the street and tell you that person had been run over by a truck and killed last week and the next thing you know, that's what really happened? What would that kind of power do to a person? What duty would that kind of person have to use his power responsibly? Those are the questions Mr. Beagle asks in We Never Talk About My Brother. You should read it. I think you'll enjoy it.