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I suspect that Brave New World was the first book to have humans develop in vitro, but I am asking if any prior story had the development shaped (especially, but not limited to, by stunting) before birth. This would include genetic engineering, which is probably relatively recent in science fiction. Brave New World's tech did not operate at level of genes.

I read that Brave New World was banned in some places, and perhaps any book that dealt with fetuses and human "engineering" would have been considered obscene, and so publishers would have been reluctant to gamble on such a book. In fact, I suspect that The Island of Doctor Moreau may have had problems getting published and/or, for example, getting sent through the mail, although I do not see anything yet online about this.

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    BNW wasn't banned for those reasons at all. "With its themes of sexual promiscuity, drug use and suicide, 'Brave New World' tells a story in a bleak future where the populace is manipulated and controlled by the state. Schools in Miller, Mo., banned 'Brave New World' in 1980 because of its characters' acceptance of promiscuous sex." (Source) Banning is done by (e.g.) libraries & communities, not publishers. There's always a publisher for any kind of content so long as at least one segment of society accepts the content.
    – JBH
    Commented Feb 20, 2023 at 23:33

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Actually, Aldous Huxley's brother Julian beat him to the punch.

For two days we were marched through pleasant park-like country, with villages at intervals. Every now and then some new monstrosity in the shape of a dwarf or an incredibly fat woman or a two-headed animal would be visible, until I thought I had stumbled on the original source of supply of circus freaks.

In Huxley's 1926 novella "The Tissue-Culture King", a certain biological researcher named Hascombe was trekking in the African jungle when he stumbled across the the realm of King Mgobe.

The narrator is captured about fifteen years later, by which time Hascombe has created a whole religion around cell cultures of the King, at first a fad, then a subscription model where any self-respecting subject had to have a culture of the King's cells.

By the close of the third year there was hardly a family in the country which did not possess at least one sacred culture. To be without one would have been like being without one's trousers--or at least without one's hat--on Fifth Avenue.

And then, Hascombe gets the idea of modifying humans :

The first thing was to show Bugala how, by repeated injections of pre-pituitary, I could make an ordinary baby grow up into a giant. This pleased him, and he introduced the idea of a sacred bodyguard, all of really gigantic stature, quite overshadowing Frederick's Grenadiers.

My God, what a crowd! I was getting used to giants by this time, but here was a regular Barnum and Bailey show; more semidwarfs; others like them but more so--one could not tell whether the creatures were precociously mature children or horribly stunted adults; others portentously fat, with arms like sooty legs of mutton, and rolls and volutes of fat crisping out of their steatopygous posteriors; still others precociously senile and wizened, others hateful and imbecile in looks.

Hascombe manipulates animal embryos to produce monstrosities for the consumer market:

Then we passed to the next laboratory, which was full of the most incredible animal monstrosities. This laboratory is the most amusing," said Hascombe. "Its official title is 'Home of the Living Fetishes.' Here again I have simply taken a prevalent trait of the populace, and used it as a peg on which to hang research. I told you that they always had a fancy for the grotesque in animals, and used the most bizarre forms, in the shape of little clay or ivory statuettes, for fetishes.

I thought I would see whether art could not improve upon nature, and set myself to recall my experimental embryology. I use only the simplest methods. I utilize the plasticity of the earliest stages to give double-headed and cyclopean monsters. That was, of course, done years ago in newts by Spemann and fish by Stockard; and I have merely applied the mass-production methods of Mr. Ford to their results.

Our Ford!

There's a lot more about telepathy (plus the introduction of the tinfoil hat), but this "Heart of Darkness" meets The Island of Doctor Moreau story appears to contain what you're looking for.

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  • wow, quite a writer -- how come they did not make a movie from this wonderful book??
    – releseabe
    Commented Feb 21, 2023 at 4:12
  • @releseabe It's rather short and there's a lot of infodump.
    – Spencer
    Commented Feb 21, 2023 at 4:17
  • i was being sarcastic -- this is typical of the unsophisticated story telling of the early 20th century. olaf stapledon wrote the same way.
    – releseabe
    Commented Feb 21, 2023 at 5:01

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