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The word "bionics" was coined in 1960 as a contraction of "biological electronics". Both inside and outside sf it has become the preferred term for Technologies which repair or augment the human body with greater sophistication than mere inert prostheses. Bionics is the biological aspect of Cybernetics theory. Sf's traditional term for people with mechanical enhancements was Cyborg, as in the title of Martin Caidin's Cyborg (1972). However, the popular image of the Bionic Man that was established by this novel's television adaptation, The Six Million Dollar Man (1973-1978) – not to mention his female counterpart The Bionic Woman (1976-1978) – has partly eclipsed the older word.

These two artificially created Superheroes typify the sf escalation of medical prosthetics into major physical enhancements – fantasies of overcompensation. The Comics character Iron Man has a heart injury and is kept alive by the Powered Armour that also makes him near-invincible; the Villain of Roger Zelazny's "The Furies" (June 1965 Amazing) is not easily killed because his mechanical heart drives his body beyond normal endurance; Prince Red in Samuel R Delany's Nova (1968) has a bionic arm so grotesquely overpowered that its hand can perform Superman's trick of squeezing coal into diamond, or at least sand into glass; there are many further examples. A combination of bionics with Nanotechnology offers a plausible route for linkage of human minds with machinery and AIs for the purpose of Communications, control or Upload, one example being the "neural-nanonics" interfacing of Peter F Hamilton's Night's Dawn trilogy which opens with The Reality Dysfunction (1996). [DRL]

Entry from The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (2011-current) edited by John Clute and David Langford.
Accessed 06:07 am on 19 June 2024.