On the Uglies series

Naturally Unnatural

The Postnatural Politics of the Uglies Series

By Will Shetterly

Certainly nothing is unnatural that is not physically impossible.

–Richard Brinsley Sheridan

1. What are we?

In the Academy of Athens, Plato gave a famous definition of a human: “A featherless biped.” Everyone admired that until Diogenes of Sinope tossed a plucked chicken on the ground and said, “See, Plato’s human!” Plato quickly changed his definition to “A featherless biped–with broad nails.”

For centuries, that answer was as good as any. We had no choice in the matter. We were what nature made us: a mash-up of genetic material provided by a male and a female parent.

But what would we be if we could ignore nature and give ourselves feathers, four legs, or claws? Would we still be human? If what nature gives us is natural, would we become unnatural by changing ourselves? Would we become so different that we should be called nonhuman, ex-human, or formerly human? Might changing ourselves make us so very different that we should be inhuman– monsters whose existence would threaten every natural member of the human race?

These questions are as old as science fiction. In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Dr. Frankenstein creates a monster that is hideous and inhumanly strong, but in many ways may be more human than its creator. It thinks and loves and feels the pain of rejection. In Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Jekyll invents a formula that he hopes will turn him into a more perfect human. Instead, he becomes Mr. Hyde, who looks human but whose cruelty and  …

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