I recently published in Foundation: The International Review of Science Fiction on the use of collective consciousness in science fiction, Issue 110. The first example of a science fiction author using this concept in their work can be traced back to the earliest days of the genre. Aside from the interlude of 400-1600 AD, one can always find examples of fiction that has been influenced by some scientific thesis (see the paper for a brief account of natural superorganisms). Despite the quality of the work produced by some of the earliest science fiction authors, namely Kepler, Holberg, Shelley and Verne, it wasn’t until the 1930s that the genre gathered true momentum. Throughout this decade, what had until now been loosely referred to as “scientific romance”, became more clearly defined as a literary genre, and in turn, more widely accepted as a form of popular culture. It was in this period that Olaf Stapleton released Last and First Men, the first fictional novel to draw on a collective consciousness, in this case facilitated through telepathy.
The concept of a collective consciousness has only grown in significance, since the release of Stapleton’s novel, and one can now draw reference to a great many examples of its use in science fiction, both in literature and in film. Examples of its use in literature include the Giants in Adam Roberts’ New Model Army, Blindsight, by Peter Watts, in the book’s portrayal of Amanda Bates, the Bugs in Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, and the Phindin, from the Star Wars franchise, first cited in the Jedi Apprentice series written by Dave Wolverton and Jude Watson. In film, one can point to the Rutan Host from the Doctor Who television series, Star Trek’s Borg, the Xenomorph species in Ridley Scott’s Alien, and the Machines from The Matrix Trilogy. Many video games have also made use of the concept, including Mass Effect and Halo.
Of all the works of science fiction that I have encountered, New Model Army makes the most apt use of the idea of collective consciousness because it does so in a way that relates directly to us. The collective intelligence of the internet is something which most members of the human race have by now experienced. In novels like Blindsight, the hive minds that we encounter are based on a scientific foundation the likes of which most of us will never witness. New Model Army, conversely, draws on networking technology, and the applications of such, like wikis, that are common now, in our own time. The approach that Roberts takes allows authors to chart both the opportunities and dangers of collective intelligence in a way to which we can all relate. Throughout his novel, we are presented with ways by which collective consciousness can facilitate greater social interaction, cooperation and democracy – true democracy. At the same time, it underlines the fears associated with such an advance, primarily the improved efficiency and cost effectiveness of war, an important aspect of many of the works in the genre. Those other works of science fiction that make use of the notion of collective consciousness do the same. Take, as a final example, the Borg from Star Trek. I would suggest that the Borg represent anxieties that surround the assimilation that one might associate with society’s continued progression toward collective intelligence. The collective consciousness that the Borg share also highlights fears in relation to our own constant supervision by some higher authority, reflecting some of the themes found in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, as the Borg, like the Xenomorphs, are connected directly to their queen. By the same token, the Borg underline the opportunities that collective consciousness can present, particularly when one considers the sophistication of their social organisation, and the benefits of being part of a collective intelligence in terms of their own knowledge and adaptability, much in the same way as these benefits are portrayed in New Model Army. What remains open to debate is whether the benefits of collective consciousness outweigh the dangers. As John Robb puts it in Brave New War: “What if warfare was reinvented and nobody bothered to tell the Pentagon?”
 Adam Roberts, The History of Science Fiction, New Ed. (Palgrave, 2007).
 Olaf Stapledon, Last And First Men, New Ed. (Gollancz, 1999).
 John Robb, Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of Globalization (Wiley, 2007). Page 112.