If you’re someone who prefers staring at a TV, I’ve put out another article on the site with the top 10 transhumanist movies, but you’ll find strongly transhumanist films in short supply compared to the wealth of fiction and nonfiction literature.

Making a top ten list of books with a transhumanist theme was pretty tough! I think this list represents a good mix of classic fiction and modern nonfiction on the subject. You may even get introduced to a few new (and living) authors you’ve never heard of before. This list is ranked, but the books themselves aren’t scored, so don’t think the distance between 10 and 9 is the same as the distance between 2 and 1.

11. Post-Human Series by David Simpson

Although a lot of science fiction includes elements of transhumanism and post-human ideas, there aren’t that many that put the Singularity and what life might be like afterwards at the center of the narrative. The four books that make up this series are not going to go down in literary history, but Simpson writes a story with lots of pace and interesting things happening. Apart from the plot, these books are worth reading simply because of the well thought-out speculation on what life in a post-human future would actually be like.

The story itself is middle-of-the-road and would have been better as a TV show, to be honest, but as a pulp foray into transhumanism it’s worth a look, and pretty cheap too!

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10. Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein

This famous science fiction novel probably needs no introduction, but you may be surprised to see it described as a “transhumanist” story. In case you didn’t already know, the book follows the life of Valentine Michael Smith, a human born from the people on a lost Martian mission. When Earth sends another ship to investigate the disaster they find Michael, who has been raised by Martians as a Martian. His psychology is so fundamentally different, and his abilities outstrip what any normal human can do, that Michael really is an alien in a human body. The “strange land” is actually Earth, and the book gives us a chance to see our mundane existence through the eyes of someone to whom it is alien.

While this book has had a deep influence on modern culture and many radical social movements over the decades, it also gives us insight into the alien psychology that post-humans could adopt in the future. Valentine Michael Smith is a post-human in all but name because he predates the term. Like other Heinlein books (such as The Moon’s a Harsh Mistress), Stranger in a Strange Land also lays out radically different relationships and social structures – ones that people in the 60s found so uncomfortable that the book was banned from school libraries and reading lists.

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9. Man Plus by Frederik Pohl

The idea that we can technologically adapt ourselves to survive in places other than Earth is very much a core concept in post-human literature. All the way back in 1970, the legendary author Frederik Pohl told the story of an astronaut that undergoes radical and extensive cyber-modification in order to jump start humanity’s colonization of Mars.

The real focus of the story is the psychological and physical challenges the main character has to go through by having almost all of the things he considers to be part of his humanity stripped away. It’s a story about becoming post-human and the epiphanies that go with it.

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8. Solis by A. A. Attanasio

I’ve written an article or two about cryogenic preservation, but no one has outlined the potentially weird future that revived humans may go through if they are thawed in the far future.

When “Mr. Charlie” wakes up after his death, he finds himself repurposed as a biological computer used for industrial purposes. Under the laws of the future, Mr. Charlie doesn’t have any rights. His brain isn’t his at all, it’s just property; wetware to be bought and sold. Obviously this is not what he signed up for, and Mr. Charlie devises his own escape, setting out on an adventure to find a solution to his bodiless state.

Apart from being a great yarn of an imaginative world, Solis asks some really tough ethical questions about the rights and responsibilities that go with resuscitation after death. I’m not sure if this will make someone for or against cryogenic preservation, but it’s a great read regardless!

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7. Transmetropolitan

I’m cheating a bit here, because technically this is a graphic novel. Nonetheless, Transmetropolitan gives us a fictional take on transhumanism that they wouldn’t dare do on film or television.

It follows the exploits of 23rd century reporter Spider Jerusalem. His full name is Spider Django Heraclitus Jerusalem, if that helps at all. Think of him as a far-future Hunter S. Thompson. Spider has to come back to a city of varied human and human-ish citizens to work back the book advance he squandered during five years of self-imposed exile. He hates authority and a whole lot of other things. Taking up a job at a paper for some money, he quickly gets embroiled in the complex politics of a post-human world.

Seeing this transhumanist vision through Spider’s eyes is quite the trip, and it’s no wonder he often makes it to top lists of comic book characters.

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6. Neuromancer by William Gibson

While technically this book falls in the “Cyberpunk” genre, we owe Gibson a lot when it comes to inventing concepts and words to describe our digital information age. Gibson is the inventor of the word “cyberspace”, and his books have been largely prophetic.

Reading the Neuromancer books today, it may feel a little corny here and there, since the fact that it was written in the 80s is clearly stamped on a lot of stuff. Gibson didn’t foresee a lot of things we have today, such as really tiny computers. However, he’s probably spot on about the future of VR and brain-computer interfaces. He’s also a darn good writer and the stories are compelling and fun to read. No one who even cares about cyberpunk or transhumanism can take themselves seriously until they’ve read Gibson.

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5. The Night’s Dawn Trilogy by Peter F. Hamilton

Peter F. Hamilton is a modern master of hard science fiction, and his treatment of transhumanist technology and themes is right up there with the best of any contemporary sci-fi author. This trilogy is a real porker though – each volume weighs in at well over 1000 pages. If you do take the plunge, you’ll be let into one of the most detailed and varied visions of the far-future ever put to paper. This is an epic to end all epics, and it’s a wonder Hamilton had the strength to ever write anything else.

The story itself is a massive adventure detailing a war in the 27th century between humans and the souls of the dead. Yes, that part is pushing it a little, but the hard science part of this universe is enthralling. Humanity is pretty darn diverse and is filled with genetic engineering, bioengineering, cybernetics, and lots more. For books written in the 90s, Hamilton sure had a good feel for where science was going. The trilogy is incredibly detailed, down to the brand of the engines the ships use.

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4. The Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson

One of the primary goals of transhumanism is not only to go beyond our own bodies, but to go beyond our own planet and spread out into the universe. One of the first likely homes will be in our own solar system. Mars has been the target of a lot of colonization stories. For many years humans have believed that Mars already harbors life – from astronomers who thought they saw artificial “canals” on Mars to old fiction such as the stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Kim Stanley Robinson is one of the most factual stories about the settlement of Mars that you are ever likely to read – at least until we do it for real and have non-fiction records of the process. Robinson imagined the settlement and terraforming of Mars across three novels – Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars. It covers centuries of work and ties in the stories of the people who make it all possible through sacrifice and ingenuity.

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3. Old Man’s War by John Scalzi

I was incredibly surprised when I first read this book. It was the first time I had heard of John Scalzi and I had started to doubt that many modern writers could rival the enjoyable prose of some of the old masters. Scalzi is one of the most talented contemporary sci-fi authors, and Old Man’s War is an almost perfect book. It rivals novels such as Ender’s Game or Starship Troopers.

In this story, geriatric humans are given the option of joining the space armed forces once they are old enough. Their minds are transferred into perfect genetically-engineered combat bodies; if they serve two years and survive they’ll get a homestead and a whole new life on one of the new human colony planets. The catch is that alien enemies don’t leave many survivors. Old Man’s War is a blast from start to finish, but it’s also a really interesting look at many technologies such as life extension, artificial biology, and genetic engineering.

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2. Ending Aging: The Rejuvenation Breakthroughs that Could Reverse Human Aging in Our Lifetime by Aubrey De Grey

There’s no doubt that Aubrey de Grey is one of the leading voices in the field of life extension and anti-aging science. This book may be nearly ten years old as I write this, but it is still one of the most complete and accessible books on the topic.

Anyone who wants to live at least a bit longer, or who wants to understand how exactly we might achieve very long lives, needs to read this book. It outlines the many hurdles that need to be overcome to keep the human body machine running far past its expiration date. This is essential reading, without a doubt in my mind.

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1. The Singularity is Near by Ray Kurzweil

Ray Kurzweil is probably the closest equivalent to a prophet that the transhumanist movement has. It’s pretty hard to recommend one of his books over the other. Personally, my favorite is The Age of Spiritual Machines, but Kurzweil himself is in the habit of revising his predictions in light of new discoveries.

The Singularity is Near is not his latest book. That title belongs to the 2012 How To Create a Mind, which is a fascinating title in it’s own right. The Singularity is Near is, however, his last book that deals with transhumanism in broad terms, and is totally worth a read.

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