Organlegging

Tagged: Theme

A virtually self-defining sf term based on "bootlegging" and denoting the illicit acquisition of and dealing in human organs and other bodily parts. It was coined by Larry Niven in early stories of his Known Space series, in particular those collected in The Long ARM of Gil Hamilton (coll 1976), beginning with "The Organleggers" (January 1969 Galaxy; vt "Death by Ecstasy" in The Shape of Space, coll 1969). The premise is that if the rejection problem were entirely solved and transplant surgery (see Medicine) were to become universally effective and unproblematic, there is a huge potential market in human parts which could be exploited by murderous racketeers. Variations on the theme appear in Jack Vance's The Killing Machine (1964); as black comedy in Harry Harrison's Bill, the Galactic Hero (December 1964 Galaxy as "The Starsloggers"; exp August-October 1965 New Worlds; 1965); in Norman Spinrad's Bug Jack Barron (December 1967-October 1968 New Worlds; exp 1969), where the secret of Immortality lies in irradiated glands taken from disadvantaged, usually black, children who do not survive the process; in Alexei Panshin's Star Well (1968), where (with euphemistic synecdoche) the practice is known as thumb-running; and in Anne McCaffrey's Pegasus in Flight (1990), featuring organ farms that supply rich people's medical needs with parts from street children. A contemporary Technothriller treatment is Coma (1977) by Robin Cook, which was filmed as Coma (1978).

Elsewhere in various Dystopian sf scenarios, the practice is often institutionalized and made legal irrespective of its morality. Political prisoners are exploited in this fashion in The Reefs of Space (1964) by Frederik Pohl and Jack Williamson, and even minor traffic offenders in Larry Niven's would-be-cautionary "The Jigsaw Man" (in Dangerous Visions, anth 1967, ed Harlan Ellison); a further example is the colony-world society of Niven's A Gift From Earth (1968). Cordwainer Smith's "A Planet Named Shayol" (October 1961 Galaxy) adds a further Horror in SF twist, with extra parts repeatedly growing on and being painfully cut from prisoners of the titular hell-world. Clones, where transplants are not subject to the rejection problem since they are genetically identical, are treated as expendable sources of human parts in Spares (1996) by Michael Marshall Smith, The House of the Scorpion (2002) by Nancy Farmer and Never Let Me Go (2005) by Kazuo Ishiguro, filmed as Never Let Me Go (2010).

Earlier Cinema treatments are The Resurrection of Zachary Wheeler (1971; vt The Resurrection of Clayton Zachary Wheeler), apparently the first feature-film use of this theme; the already-cited Coma (1978); Parts: The Clonus Horror (1979; vt Clonus); and The Island (2005). [DRL]

see also: Crime and Punishment.

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