The term, “cyborg” was coined by Manfred Clynes and Nathan Kline in 1960. They used it in an article to describe the idea of a “self-regulating human-machine systems in outer space.” In science fiction it generally refers to some type of hybrid human/machine device. It shares both human and mechanical characteristics. Usually a human has technological enhancements for missing limbs or sensory organs.
Brief History of Cyborgs in Literature
While the term is new, the concept of a mechanical/organic interfacing being has been around since at least the mid nineteenth Century.
- The Man that was Used Up by Edgar Allen Poe (1843)
- The Man who Can Live in the Water by Jean de la Hire (1903)
- The Comet Down by Edmond Hamilton (1928)
- No Woman Born by C. L. Moore (1944)
These stories and others were a definite part of the science fiction world long before Clynes and Kline created the term “cyborg.” Cyborgs were not mindless, all-mechanical, robots, but contained organic elements, and a human intellect.
We Can Rebuild Him
In 1968, Martin Caidin wrote a novel titled The God Machine. In it he introduced the idea of combining man and machine through the use of “bionic” replacement parts. This would be the underlying technology in his 1972 novel Cyborg. That novel became the basis for the successful television series The Six Million Dollar Man (1974-1978) and the spinoff series The Bionic Woman (1976-1978). A re-imagining of The Bionic Woman was attempted in 2007 but never made it to a second season.
Six Million Dollar Man/Steve Austin: Both legs, right arm, and left eye were bionic. The bionic modifications in the novel were much more extensive with ribs and skull reinforced with titanium and certain internal organs were repaired. In the pilot movie for the series, the eye couldn’t be used for sight but just to take pictures. The opening narration at the opening of the program was made by Oscar Goldman (Richard Anderson): “Steve Austin, astronaut. A man barely alive. Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to build the world’s first bionic man. Steve Austin will be that man. Better than he was before. Better, stronger, faster.”
Bionic Woman/Janie Sommers: Both legs, right arm, right ear. In the 1970s series, Jamie Sommers/Bionic Woman (Lindsay Wagner) was Steve Austin’s childhood sweetheart. She has a fatal accident and because of Austin’s loyal service, OSI decides to give Jamie the same bionic treatment. There is a price however. She must do work for the agency that provided her with her bionics.
Resistance is Futile
The next television experience with cyborgs comes in 1987 on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Here the audience is introduced to an entire species of cyborgs. These cyborgs are intergalactic and multi species. They have only one purpose and that is to reach perfection. To do this they assimilate one species after another. They forcibly perform this assimilation by substituting mechanical and cyber parts for original organics. This allows for a gigantic hive collective. There are no individuals, just Borg. The concept of “I” doesn’t exist. While the Borg quickly adapt to any threat, somehow the Federation manages to stay ahead of them most of the time.
- In Next Generation the Enterprise captures a lone Borg and manages to introduce him to the concept of individuality.
- In the Star Trek Voyager series, a Borg actually becomes a trusted member of the crew.
Doctor Who is Available
Probably no television series has had more cyber characters than the Doctor Who series. The two most persistent enemies were the Daleks and the Cybermen.
Daleks: “Exterminate! Exterminate!” Probably the greatest threat to the universe since all they wanted to do was “exterminate” everything and everybody. The organic element of the Daleks is a very fragile looking creature but they are interfaced inside a tank like body with nearly unpiercable armor and many weapons of mass destruction at their disposal.
Cybermen: These cyborgs developed when a humanoid race of people began implanting ever increasing numbers of artificial parts, ultimately making themselves coldly logical with no empathy whatsoever.
From Little Screen to Big Screen
Just as heroes have moved onto the big screen, so have the evil cyborgs. (For more about movie cyborgs see Cyborgs on the Big Screen (Movies))
- In 1965, Dr. Who and the Daleks appeared on the big screen. The infamous Dr. Who (Peter Cushing in this incarnation) is there to keep the universe safe.
- In Star Trek First Contact (1996), the Next Generation crew find themselves at odds with the Borg. This time the audience is introduced to a Borg hive queen. She becomes infatuated with Commander Data, an android, and tries to convert him to become Borg.
On television cyborgs are usually portrayed as super powerful organic/mechanical hybrids. But a broader view of the term cyborg could be applied to the real world. People with pacemakers, insulin pumps, and prosthetic limbs do exist. Cyborgs aren’t just in fiction anymore.
Cyborgs: Future, and …a Long Time Ago…
In the movies, the best cyborgs are just as complex and perhaps more so than humans. Since none exist in the world today (at least not to the level of those in the movies) they fascinate audiences. Their psyche is open to all sorts of conjecture. With the power they have will they be on the side of good or evil?
Robocop: (1987): In the near future Detroit police officer Alex J. Murphy is murdered and his body almost completely mutilated by criminals. The only human parts that are still alive reside in his head. All the rest is computer and servo mechanisms after corporate technicians finish with him. But the heart of the story is what’s in that head. As much as they attempt to destroy his personality and his memories, his corporate benefactors cannot remove his humanity. He has corporate-imposed limitations in his program but is free thinking and finds ways around them. It represents one of the most prolific franchises in the cyborg movie industry today. Thus far there have been:
- 2 sequels
- a television series (1 season, 23 episodes 1994–1995)
- a cartoon series (12 episodes, 1988)
- a four-episode miniseries (2001)
- a new Robocop movie rumored for 2013. (For more cyborgs on television see Cyborgs on the Small Screen (Television))
Terminator: (1984): In a little more distant future a supercomputer, Skynet, becomes sentient (for more about sentient computers see Sci Fi Computer Characters Becoming Human). It takes a look at the state of the world and determines that humans must be destroyed because they are the only creatures that pose a threat to Skynet. Therefore the humans must be ended or terminated by (drum roll) Terminators. In the prequel of the series, Terminator Salvation (2009), the first prototype Terminator is given a human heart. In the three movies that take place in present time, the Terminators that follow have an outer organic covering that can regenerate and “bleeds” when damaged. All other human traits have been removed and the Terminators exist only to destroy humans. This franchise too has been very successful for Hollywood with:
- 4 films to date
- a television series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2008-2009, 31 episodes).
Star Wars: This next cyborg is not from the future but from “…a long time ago in a universe far, far away.” This cyborg was once a man, a Jedi knight, named Anakin Skywalker. First he lost an arm in battle Star Wars: Attack of the Clones (2002), which was replaced. Then he was mutilated further by Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith (2005). The dark lord, Supreme Chancellor Palpatine provides Anakin with all the replacement parts he needs that make him more powerful than ever. He is no longer Anakin Skywalker but Darth Vader. So far there have been:
- 6 Star Wars movies
- a cartoon series spinoff.
Lesser Known Cyborg Movies
The above represents the cyborg superstars. But there are more cyborgs out there for those that are looking. They have a variety of jobs: police officer, soldier, savior, prophet, pilot, concert pianist and more (see Most Popular Titles With Plot Matching “cyborg”).
- Cyborg (1989)
- Cyborg Cop (1993)
- Guyver (1991)
- Hardware (1990)
- Steel and Lace (1991)