Back | Next


Ever since human beings evolved enough for us to become aware of ourselves as sentient beings with a physical existence in the universe, to know ourselves as living creatures alive and abroad in the world, we have also been made aware of the limitations of that physical existence. Lessons in the limitations of the flesh have been painfully ground home over so many countless millennia that we long ago came to take them for granted: You can’t pick a hot coal out of the fire without being burned, you can’t jump off a cliff and fly, you can’t breathe underwater, you can’t exist for long without food or water or sleep, there are weights too heavy to lift and distances too broad to leap, you can’t go where it’s too cold without freezing to death or where it’s too hot without passing out and dying. You can’t see what’s over the next hill or in the next valley without going there to look. You can’t make yourself heard farther away than your voice will reach. You can’t be in two places at once. You must grow old. You must die.

These limitations have always fretted human beings, though, and ever since the earliest beginnings of human culture, clever men and women have been trying to think up ways to get around them. Technology itself, in its most basic forms, can be seen as methods to get around the fundamental limitations of the flesh: fire and clothing made from animal furs to allow us to venture into the deepest winter (or even Ice Age) climates and survive, levers and pulleys to help us manipulate weights too heavy to be lifted, tools and knives to help us rip flesh and cut wood and stone when the teeth and claws that Nature started us out with as part of our basic human tool-kit proved inadequate to the jobs we wanted to do with them.

As technology increased in sophistication and power, so we have steadily been able to transcend more and more of the limitations of the flesh, of the basic human tool-kit, the basic human form, that we were all issued at birth—so that now, here at the beginning of the twenty-first century, you can jump off a cliff and fly (if you have the right technology, anyway!) and you can also fly higher and longer and faster than any bird possibly could, fly right out of the atmosphere, in fact, and into outer space; you can exist underwater for hours, and may someday be able to live underwater for as long as you’d like; you can lift and manipulate and ship over long distances weights so immense and unwieldy that even thousands of humans all straining together couldn’t shift them; you can talk to people and make your voice clearly heard even if they’re thousands of miles away, you can listen to the voices of the dead, and record your own voice so that it can be listened to someday by people who have yet to be born; and without leaving your chair, you can see what’s happening over the next hill or in the next valley, or on the other side of the world, or in the depths of interstellar space, or even in the secret and heretofore inaccessible inner regions of your own body.

And you ain’t seen nothing yet!

As the anthology that follows demonstrates, here at the beginning of the twenty-first century we stand poised on the brink of scientific revolutions that may do away with all the rest of the limitations of the flesh as well, even fundamental and seemingly unchallengeable ones such as not being able to go where flesh would burn or wither or freeze, or where there is no air for our lungs to breathe (or where the “air” is poison), or where the gravity is strong enough to crush an ordinary human like a bug. Or needing food and water or sleep. Or having to age. Or having to die. Or even not being able to be in two places at once!

So open the pages of this book, and let some of the world’s most expert dreamers show you what it might be like when human consciousness is no longer restricted to the prison of the flesh, or of the basic human form . . . where you can sit safely at home and still explore the deadly frozen ice-fields of Europa or the swirling poison-gas hell of Jupiter . . . where you can download your consciousness into a computer, or into an artificial body-environment the size of a molecule . . . or into a robot body that could last forever . . . or replicate yourself in a hundred different forms in a hundred different environments . . . or find a love that persists, and is reciprocated, even after death . . . or leave not only the flesh but all physical matter behind, and roam through space as discorporate intelligences until the end of the universe itself . . .


(For more speculations on these themes, check out our Ace anthologies: Genometry, Immortals, Clones, Nanotech, Hackers, Future War, and Space Soldiers.)

Back | Next