Follow TV Tropes


Cyborg Helmsman

Go To

In nearly every ship-based Science Fiction novel of relative hardness, your search for the most heavily augmented individual will usually end at one of two people, the grizzled war veteran, or this guy, the ship's navigator. Why? Maybe they need more brainspace for all the calculations necessary to adjust the ship's position in warp space, or they need better reaction times, or maybe they really need those Electronic Eyes to find and follow the normally invisible "safe zones" in hyperspace.

Appropriately, the word "Cyborg" derives from "cybernetic organism". Where does "cybernetic" come from? The Greek word "kybernetes", which means helmsman. Which makes this one a recursive trope.

See also Spaceship Girl and Psychic Starship Pilot.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • The pilots in Martian Successor Nadesico all have visible implants in their arms that let them interface with ships and mechs. On Earth, they're strictly military, but they're used for more mundane purposes on Mars, so when Martian civilian Akito is zapped to Earth during a Jovian attack, everyone assumes he's a deserter from the war.
  • Outlaw Star has Melfina, an Artificial Human, as a helmsman.

    Comic Books 
  • Gun Runner: Oracle, pilot of the Warbird, is a cyborg Enhanced soldier who’s now integrated with her spaceship.
  • Wonder Woman (1987): The fellow revolting slave who pilots Diana's revolutionaries' first couple of ships and acts as an Ace Pilot for the rebellion has cybernetic implants on the sides of her head.

  • Alien: Before Prometheus was released, the Space Jockey was intended to be this; H. R. Giger designed it as essentially an extension of the ship. Dallas remarks on how the creature appears to be fused into the chair.
  • Flight of the Navigator plays with this a little. The robotic ship needs to store some of its data in a human brain while it reboots itself. After redownloading that data, a little Humanity Is Infectious takes place, and the ship develops some very human emotions and personality.
  • Sleep Dealer: Zig-Zagged — with immigration having been reduced to near zero, poor countries host a massive workforce of people with cybernetic implants who remotely pilot robotic avatars that have replaced the "unskilled" labor positions those workers would have otherwise taken in richer nations. Every robotic taxi driver, mechanical orange picker, or construction robot toiling away in the United States is directly operated by a human in a cybernetic sweatshop somewhere in the global south, like Memo and his co-workers in Mexico. Even paramilitary enforcement is carried out by pilots with those same cybernetic implants flying unmanned drones thousands of miles away; Rudy and his fellow pilots remain safe in their command center in the United States while their drones patrol the skies over Oaxaca.
  • Star Trek Into Darkness has a background character named 0718 who has a cybernetic implant in the back of his head. Interviews with his actor say it's like a miniature version of the Enterprise computer and that he's telepathically connected to the ship's computer at all times.
  • A fully robotic example: one of the functions of astromech droids like R2-D2 in the Star Wars franchise is to plug into a ship and be its copilot.

  • Dune:
    • The Navigators arguably qualify, albeit without the usual biomechanical augmentation; they use Spice.
    • Odrade has a cyborg pilot for her shuttle on her trip to Junction in Chapterhouse: Dune.
  • The protagonist of Genome is a genetically and, to a lesser degree, cybernetically augmented starship pilot. In a subversion, though, almost every human in the story is similarly enhanced (except the "natural" navigator, and even that's a rarity, as the job requires one to plot a course in multiple dimensions).
  • The Master Captain in Great Ship. While she still looks fairly human on the outside, she is far larger than a normal person to help disperse heat as her skin is jam packed with computers, AI assistants, and communication systems to interface with the Great Ship.
  • A number of mentions regarding cyborg pilots are made in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. They never appear directly but are apparently superior to normal pilots. This doesn't stop the protagonist from regarding them with disdain, referring to one as a "wired-up ex-human".
  • Ship captains and pilots in The Night's Dawn Trilogy have extensive neural implants for controlling the ship and mapping out trajectories. Physically modified Cyborgs are primarily used as engineers and for patching up damage — some of them are so heavily modified that they don't even need space suits to survive in the vacuum, instead just needing a bottle of oxygen.
  • Katharine Kerr's Polar City Blues has Lacey, a former (space) Navy pilot who has a neural-link port implanted in the back of her neck for connecting to ships, which has since sealed over.
  • In the Revelation Space Series, the crews of interstellar spacecraft have formed their own culture, and most of them are cyborgs. A more extreme example is John Brannigan, a starship captain who became infected with a nanotechnological virus, causing his mind and body to merge with his ship in a very disturbing way. Even before the virus, he is described as being more robot than man, with the only visible trace of his humanity being his dreadlocks and the skin around his highly modified face.
  • The pilot of the Vandervacken in Space Assassin is a robot whose body is permanently connected to the pilot's seat due to its navel having a wire hooked into its control panel.
  • Starsnatcher: Tesla is the most heavily modified crewmember of the Dragonfly and its pilot. They have wires coming out of their head to steer the ship with whereas everyone else's modifications are more cosmetic. Most other spaceships don't have pilots at all.
  • In Star Wars: Annihilation, the Imperial battle cruiser Ascendant Spear is designed such that a Dark Side Force-user such as Darth Karrid can interface with and directly control the ship via the combination of cybernetics and the Force.
  • Vatta's War uses implants that allow access to certain functionalities not normally allowed, as well as allowing mental activation and use of some controls.
  • In the Vorkosigan Saga, starship pilots need special implants to interface with ship's navigation during wormhole travel. A recurring character is Arde Mayhew, who is unable to receive upgraded implants for medical reasons and so can't pilot more recent models of ship, and in The Warrior's Apprentice faces disaster with the decommissioning of the last remaining ship he is able to pilot.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Farscape:
    • The Living Ship Talyn (who is himself a cyborg) forms a telepathic link with his captain by way of a cybernetic interface implanted at the base of the captain's neck. It's less for navigation than an instinctual need for a captain due to his native biology with a healthy dose of genetic engineering thrown in.
    • Moya's Pilot was initially bonded to her by a cybernetic interface, but that's not normal for Leviathans and the Pilot species, it was installed by the Peacekeepers because they didn't have time for him to bond organically and he rips it out after discovering they killed Moya's previous Pilot.
  • Foundation (2021): "Modern" Imperial jumpships are crewed by genetically engineered Spacers who can handle the mental stresses of jump, but older ships like the Invictus needed a cyborg navigator with his brain wired into the main computer. It's possible for an unmodified human to chart a course, but has a high chance of killing them, as seen when Pirenne flies the Invictus back to Terminus.
  • Sandstrom the "augumented human" in Hyperdrive is a buggy prototype. It's not clear that her Unusual User Interface is actually any better than a normal helmsman would be.
  • Star Trek:
    • In spite of Star Trek's usual stance on cybernetics and transhumanism, Geordi LaForge from Star Trek: The Next Generation wears a VISOR that connects to his brain and allows him to see. In the first season, his role on the ship is as the Helmsman, although he eventually graduates to Chief Engineer.
    • In Star Trek: Voyager, Seven of Nine uses Borg technology to create Voyager's Astrometrics lab, a 3D map of the space they're traveling through.
    • Star Trek: Discovery has a couple:
      • Pilot Keyla Detmer has cranial and ocular implants, but it's unknown if they grant her any special qualities. She was established as an outstanding pilot prior to suffering the wounds that the implants repaired.
      • Paul Stamets gets cybernetic implants in his arms to facilitate his connection to the spore drive. He's able to get rid of them in season 4, when Adira finds an alternate connection method.
    • The Borg Queen in Star Trek: Picard is able to hack and control the Stargazer due to it being based on technology from a salvaged Borg cube and is able to mentally control La Sirena after being plugged into it to help with a slingshot maneuver.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Mechs in Rocket Age require a pilot with a neural interface to work correctly. The Nazis surgically add this to their pilots; the Ancient Martians may well have grown pilots with built in interfaces. The Europans also have technology that allows them to do the same; the only difference is that theirs is much less invasive.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • On top of being a Psychic Starship Pilot most Navigators are cyborgs on top of this, allowing them to directly interface with their ships' navigation systems during Warp travel. Since non-Navigators cannot perceive the Astronomicon or even conceptualize Warp travel without going mad (and computer systems cannot perceive the Warp at all outside very specialised sensors), this interface is pretty much mandatory to allow the rest of the crew to steer the ship based on the Navigator's sight.
    • On a more mundane level, many ship captains are so heavily augmented that they're often described as being more part of their ships than autonomous beings: This is doubly true on Adeptus Mechanicus ships. Similarly to Navigators, these augments allow them to interface with their ships' systems and helm them by mental command alone (albeit in real-space instead of the Warp).

  • In Homestuck, this is the ultimate fate of the Ψiioniic, with a dose of Body Horror thrown in for good measure; with his incredible psychic abilities, he's implied to not only steer but also power the Condesce's flagship, to which he is literally fused.

    Western Animation 
  • In Exo Squad, E-Frames and other machines connect to their pilots through a port built into the base of their skulls. This is shown being used to activate weapons systems or execute special commands.