Entry updated 14 June 2021. Tagged: Theme.
A minor but persistent sf wish-fulfilment related to Medicine is the fantasy of regrowing amputated limbs and recovering from other normally irrevocable physical losses. The often invoked analogy is with primitive creatures like salamanders and starfish which are able to regenerate severed parts; can future science not confer a similar ability on human beings? One well-known sf example is the "Phillips treatment" introduced in E E Smith's Gray Lensman (October 1939-January 1940 Astounding; 1951), whereby stimulation of the pineal gland by appropriate Rays causes regrowth of lost limbs, eyes and even – to the discomfort of the oldsters who are the first guinea-pigs – teeth. This treatment also features in Smith's The Vortex Blaster (stories July 1941-October 1942 var mags; fixup 1960; vt Masters of the Vortex 1968). Similarly, exposure to radiation from an atomic engine in A E van Vogt's The Beast (fixup 1963; vt Moonbeast 1969) triggers a "toti-potent" state of the protagonist's body cells that leads to regrowth of his missing arm. The title of Madeleine L'Engle's The Arm of the Starfish (1965) foreshadows another innovative medical procedure which can regrow lost limbs, though here treated more as a McGuffin than an sf Novum; Asteroidea (2020) by Stephanie A Smith also centres on starfish regeneration, both literal and as a basis for metaphor.
Supermen of various stripes may have an inborn regenerative ability. That initiates would be able to grow new teeth was an early though unsurprisingly never verified claim of Scientology, recorded in Christopher Evans's Cults of Unreason (1973). The hero of Theodore Sturgeon's The Dreaming Jewels (February 1950 Fantastic Adventures; exp 1950; vt The Synthetic Man 1957) regrows damaged fingers – and, knowing he has this power, actually cuts them off again to horrify the Villain responsible for the original injury. A Mutant in Eric Frank Russell's Sentinels from Space (November 1951 Startling as "The Star Watchers"; exp 1953; vt Sentinels of Space 1954 dos) discovers his latent power by regrowing a severed hand; another in Preferred Risk (June-September 1955 Galaxy; 1955) by Edson McCann (Lester del Rey and Frederik Pohl) repeatedly diddles the insurance companies who run the world by claiming for "accidental" loss of limbs which he then regenerates. Corwin in Roger Zelazny's Nine Princes in Amber (1970) is blinded but slowly grows new eyes during a long incarceration. All members of the Mueller clan on the world of Orson Scott Card's A Planet Called Treason (1979; rev vt Treason 1988) have regenerative powers – which for the protagonist go awry, causing him to grow breasts and additional arms. George Clayton Johnson's "Sea Change" (October 1981 Twilight Zone) features a man who loses a hand at sea and grows another, while Under the Sea (again echoing the ways of the starfish) the hand is growing a new man. In David A Hardy's Aurora: A Child of Two Worlds (2003; rev 2012), the title character finds herself able to regrow an arm. The protagonist of Jack Skillingstead's Harbinger (2009) is exploited as an organ bank (see Organlegging) precisely because he can regenerate the removed parts. This echoes the torments of Cordwainer Smith's "A Planet Named Shayol" (October 1961 Galaxy), where criminals are punished by the painful stimulation of alien "dromozoa", causing them to grow surplus limbs and other organs which are duly harvested.
Advanced medical Technology that offers such repair as part of the service is also fairly frequent in sf. Among early examples are the process that restores humans from liquidized sludge in "A Witch City Mystery" (August 1901 Black Cat) by Frederick Van Rensselaer Dey, and the activities of the Mad Scientist figure Ras Thavas ("The Master Mind of Mars") in Edgar Rice Burroughs's Synthetic Men of Mars (7 January-11 February 1939 Argosy; 1940), which include experimental "reconstruction work":
Here heads were growing new bodies and headless bodies new heads. Hormads which had lost arms or legs were growing new ones. Sometimes these activities went amiss, when nothing but a single leg sprouted from the neck of a severed head.
An identical case was among those that we saw in this room. The head was very angry about it, and became quite abusive, reviling Ras Thavas.
"What good shall I be," he demanded, "with only a head and one leg? They call you The Master Mind of Mars! Phooey! You haven't the brains of a sorak. [...]"
Later instances include the reconstructor which recreates body, life, memories and personality from a sample fragment of skull in A E van Vogt's "The Monster" (August 1948 Astounding; vt "Resurrection" in The Other Side of the Moon, anth 1956, ed August Derleth); the limb-regrowing techniques available on the R&R planet Heaven in Joe Haldeman's The Forever War (fixup 1974); the regeneration tanks which in David Langford's The Space Eater (1982) can reconstitute characters from, essentially, mincemeat; and the autodoctor which in Larry Niven's "Procrustes" (in Bridging the Galaxies, coll 1993) rebuilds the protagonist, Burroughs-fashion, from his severed head. Such magic has latterly been routinely ascribed to Nanotechnology, as in John Scalzi's Old Man's War (2005).
In Cinema, Scientists' hubristic attempts at regeneration traditionally produce Monsters and horrors, as in The Alligator People (1959) and Atom Age Vampire (1960; vt Seddok, l'erede, di Satana Italy; vt Seddok UK). The menacing though unspiderlike "spider-women" of Mesa of Lost Women (1953; vt Attack of the Spider Women) can regrow lost limbs. The regeneration of the titular Dinosaur from a tail fragment in Reptilicus (1962) is not satisfactorily explained; neither is the near-instantaneous growth of a duplicate Frankenstein Monster from the original's severed finger when this is electrically stimulated in the horror spoof Carry on Screaming (1966).
Beyond the scope of this entry are innumerable sf Aliens and Monsters with inbuilt regenerative power; this ability, for example, is possessed by Sil the alien/human hybrid in Species (1995), while one bit-part alien in Men in Black (1997) has its head shot off and with comic swiftness grows another. The term "regeneration" is used in a different sense to denote forms of whole-body restoration in the sf Television series Doctor Who (1963-current), in which the Doctor necessarily regenerates and metamorphoses whenever a new actor takes over the role, and Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons (1967-1968), where the Captain's alien-derived Superpower is to return to life whenever killed. Such a power of repeated regeneration after death, though accompanied by cruelly incremental loss of Intelligence with each revival, is conferred or inflicted by the cruciform parasites (see Parasitism and Symbiosis) of Dan Simmons's Hyperion (1989). [DRL]
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