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New Book: Editing the Soul

“Written with clarity and an appealing balance, Editing the Soul makes an original contribution to an important topic—the way novels, films, and television about genetics are reshaping our understanding of human nature.” —Jay Clayton, author of Charles Dickens in Cyberspace: The Afterlife of the Nineteenth Century in Postmodern Culture

Editing the Soul plumbs contemporary literature, film, and comics dealing with genetic modification. Drawing on postsecularism, Hamner shows how these works enable us to balance the drive for technotranscendence with the continuing demand for deep human meaning. Standout readings of the fiction of Octavia Butler and Margaret Atwood are some of the many pleasures of this important, accessible, and highly timely book.” —Susan Merrill Squier, author of Epigenetic Landscapes: Drawings as Metaphor

Personal genome testing, gene editing for life-threatening diseases, synthetic life: once the stuff of science fiction, twentieth- and twenty-first-century advancements blur the lines between scientific narrative and scientific fact. This examination of bioengineering in popular and literary culture shows that the influence of science on science fiction is more reciprocal than we might expect.

Looking closely at the work of Margaret Atwood, Richard Powers, and other authors, as well as at film, comics, and serial television such as Orphan Black, Everett Hamner shows how the genome age is transforming both the most commercial and the most sophisticated stories we tell about the core of human personhood. As sublime technologies garner public awareness beyond the genre fiction shelves, they inspire new literary categories like “slipstream” and shape new definitions of the human, the animal, the natural, and the artificial. In turn, what we learn of bioengineering via popular and literary culture prepares the way for its official adoption or restriction—and for additional representations. By imagining the connections between emergent gene testing and editing capacities and long-standing conversations about freedom and determinism, these stories help build a cultural zeitgeist with a sharper, more balanced vision of predisposed agency.

A compelling exploration of the interrelationships among science, popular culture, and self, Editing the Soul sheds vital light on what the genome age means to us, and what’s to come.

Everett Hamner is Associate Professor of English at Western Illinois University.