Super Agent Man: Martin Caidin’s ‘Cyborg’ Novels, 1972 – 1975

Exhibit / March 6, 2018

Object Name: Cyborg series (Cyborg, 1972; Operation Nuke, 1973; High Crystal, 1974; Cyborg IV, 1975)
Maker and Year: Arbor House, publisher, 1972-1975
Object Type: Books
Image SourceInternet Speculative Fiction Database
Description: (Michael Grasso)

The most famous and prominent fictional man-machine hybrid in 1970s pop culture was Colonel Steve Austin, as portrayed by Lee Majors in the television series The Six Million Dollar Man. Over the course of three television movies (all airing in 1973) and five seasons (1974-1978), Austin introduced the idea of a human “cybernetic organism” (cyborg) to the wider American public. The “cyborg” was originally defined in a 1960 paper as any biological organism with one or more technological implants; in the case of Manfred Clynes’ and Nathan Cline’s paper, these implants would make an Earth-born organism able to withstand the stresses of space travel. Steve Austin’s creator, aeronautics and space exploration expert Martin Caidin, found this idea intriguing and used it in multiple works. The basis for The Six Million Dollar Man, Caidin’s Cyborg series of novels (1972-1975) features test pilot and astronaut Steve Austin implanted with powerful cybernetic legs, a left arm (itself equipped with all kinds of spy gadgets such as a tranquilizer dart mechanism), an internal radio transmitter, and a bionic eye after a test flight accident. In both the book series and the television movies/series, Austin becomes a somewhat reluctant secret agent for a government agency known as the Office of Special Operations (in the novels and movies) or the Office of Scientific Intelligence (in the TV series).

Caidin’s four Steve Austin novels thus give us a high-tech futuristic James Bond, traveling across the world (and into space) to do the U.S. government’s dirty work. In the first Cyborg novel, Austin engages in real-world-style espionage against the Soviets and the Arab enemies of early-’70s Israel (his assignment in Cyborg is to team up with a female Israeli agent to steal a Soviet-provided MiG prototype from a fictional Arab country). But, like the film version of Bond, in subsequent novels Austin mostly goes up against “international criminal syndicates” instead of the Soviets. In Operation Nuke and High Crystal, Austin must beat these syndicates to MacGuffins that would upset the balance of power (a nuclear weapon and an ancient astronaut power source, respectively). In 1975’s Cyborg IV, Austin travels to space to fulfill the original promise of the “cyborg” by fusing his consciousness with a cutting-edge spacecraft computer system.

Caidin’s personal expertise in aeronautics and space exploration was obviously used to great effect in all four books, much as his close contemporary Michael Crichton used his own medical and scientific expertise in his hit 1970s technothrillers (note the reference to Crichton’s 1969 The Andromeda Strain and 1972 The Terminal Man on the paperback edition of Cyborg above). But Caidin was also interested in much of the popular pseudoscience of the 1970s, and used many of the occult touchstones of the era— including ESP, the Bermuda Triangle, and ancient astronauts (in 1974’s High Crystal)—in his books. A true believer in these phenomena, Caidin was the recipient of a challenge from legendary skeptic James Randi in the early ’90s, a few years before Caidin’s death, to prove his ability to move a “psi wheel” with the power of his mind.

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