Great Mambo Chicken & The Transhuman Condition: Science Slightly Over The Edge

By Ed Regis

Addison-Wesley, 1990

Reviewed by Howard Rheingold

Whole Earth Review has been a hotbed of technological hubris for a long time: what else would you call "We are as gods and we might as well get good at it?" The core beliefs of several different technology cults immortality via cryonics, space colonies, biospheres, Dyson spheres, nanotechnology, artificial life, downloading minds into computers -- were gleefully seeded by Catalogs and Co-Evs of years past. There are people behind all of these notions: people who want to freeze their heads in liquid nitrogen and store their brains until future scientists figure out how to reconstitute them, people who are worried about the fate of the galaxy because they plan to live that long, people who worry about the heat-death of the universe billions of years from now and start brainstorming ways to escape the End of Everything.

Ed Regis, often funny but never condescending to his subjects, plays the role of an anthropologist on an ethnographic expedition to the subcircles of American culture where cryogenic re-animation, galactic-scale engineering, and homebrew space travel are commonplace objects of conversation. Regis doesn't make fun of the people he describes, but he does show how the grandiosity of their ideas -- dismantling the outer planets to capture enough of the sun's energy to fuel a population of trillions, for example -- reflects that immensely confident view of our own capacities that has distinguished the human race. We're bigger than ameba, smaller than planets, our ancestors were swinging in the trees very recently, we're good with tools, and we've already started tinkering with the forces that light the stars. Regis evokes humor, awe, and continued reflection on the sheer chutzpah of Homo sapiens in this informal but well-informed joyride through the territory of the high-tech, high-hubrists.

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