Monthly Archives: August 2012
What if we could use DNA for that purpose?
These were questions I pondered, not for myself in person but for my candidate villain. I was searching for a theme for my book, the one I had decided to write, using NaNoWrimo as a base for creating the first draft.
Thinking about it a little bit more, I came to the conclusion that both questions – the selection of people as well as the DNA method for doing it – rewarded the book a classification as science-fiction.
But as I found out, this was not completely true! After having done some research, I had to change the book category to the single word fiction.
This was in 2011, in the pre-november time frame. I was not yet a fully evolved Kindle addict, so I used also other e-book readers on my phone. I started with the Aldiko reader, which I found interesting since it was easy to download free books.
Among the free books one could download, most were old classics like Robinson Crusoe and Moby Dick. For some reason – I do not remember exactly how – I had come to know the term Eugenics. I downloaded a book with that name, by a man called Gilbert Keith Chesterton. I found it a bit interesting, but mostly rather dry and a bit old-style (it was written in 1922).
But there were some interesting passages. Like the claim that the Eugenic moral basis is that “the baby for whom we are primarily and directly responsible is the baby unborn”. As I understood it, this was not a statement relating to abortion but rather a statement on the possibility to prevent a child from even being conceived, by controlling which couples were allowed to be formed, between man and woman. In this way, one could indirectly control the types of children being born.
Thinking about it, we still have that control, at least here in Sweden. If you want to get married, you have to ask the state for permission, and then the state will check if there are any impediments to the marriage. Currently, it is used for checking that you do not marry more than one person, and that you do not marry a close relative, but of course, in the wrong hands, such a law can be used for advanced population planning (assuming for the moment that children are conceived only by married couples).
Another way to control the population would be to go directly to the men and women, selecting those who had the least suitable traits for a productive society, and simply ask them to not have any children.
So state-controlled programs for sterilization, as a way to prevent less suitable genes from propagating through to new generations, were indeed carried out, and thinking about if this could be an interesting angle for a book, I had the idea to create an organization that would revive these ideas, now, in the modern world, where much more advanced DNA technology is available.
The next question then becomes: can we use DNA technology for the selection part? If I put on my most scientific manner I can say that I doubt it, but you never know! For example, here is an article where researchers claim that they can filter out people using intelligence as a criterion.
This made me decide on the overall plot structure. Yes there would be an organization revisiting the Eugenics ideas, and yes there would be some good guys – perhaps an absent-minded professor-type with at least some resemblance to the aspiring author – and there would be an interesting way of thinking, done by the bad guys, to actually decide whom to single out as victims.
And of course they need a method for effectuating their plans. They need some channel of distribution and some network of operators that can do the actual work.
And their goals will be noble (from their point of view), I mean after all they are doing a good thing for society, by making it more efficient and productive.
And most of all, their main plan will eliminate many unwanted persons. And this will be done without casualties. In fact, not a single person will be physically harmed!
This also led to the title being decided.
The book will thus be called Prevention, and it will be ready soon …
Do we have to make a choice?
Do we have to choose between art and science?
Is it so that science covers what we do for a living, which in turn make our companies earn money, which generate taxes and welfare and growth, and then we use art for our recreation?
I did not think so much about these things before. I started out in the art department you could say. I wrote my first (and still my only) two novels when I was ten. I typed them in, on my father’s typewriter, and I also made photocopies, typing them once more, using blue carbon papers in between, so as to make fresh copies, obviously to be sold with great success!
One of the books was a mystery novel. It featured two boys, I think they were cousins. They discovered a hidden treasure, tucked away in the woods outside their grandparents house, and following the strange note they found on a piece of paper, placed suspiciously just beside the treasure coffin, they were led to an abandonded house, even deeper into the woods. After some twists and turns, they discovered and cracked the criminal gang, conveniently labelled X03, a league whose members then all became prisoners for a long time to come.
The other book was called Knight John, and here there was an even clearer line of inspiration. I was a great fan of Ivanhoe, I had read the book several times, and I had also found some interesting connections between Ivanhoe and Robin Hood, hinted to me in some black-and-white film, but not clearly enough explained to me by my parents. So there was place for more investigations into this unsolved problem. Did they know each other, these two heroes? And wasn’t it so that Robin Hood was perhaps also a real person? In contrast to Ivanhoe, who was invented by Sir Walter Scott.
These were interesting things, but at the time I did not pursue my writing career any further.
Now, some years later, I will make a retry. As I said in a previous post, I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo. So the challenge then was of course to choose a topic, to write about, and of course also to find out how it is actually done, this task of writing a novel. Being an educated person I soon started to look for instructions, manuals, and HOWTO-guides (such things were not needed in 1971 right?).
I found some good books, which were really helpful. I will say more about them later but since there is no reason to being secretive I give you their titles here, and some comments. So these were the first books I found to be very helpful for the task of writing a novel.
- Do the Work by Steven Pressfield – purchased April 26, 2011. I mentioned this one in the previous post also, and although it is not a handbook in novel-writing of any sorts, it is a fantastic source of inspiration for the actual act of doing the writing. It is very interesting to take part in the stories told, and I especially remember some low points of having a film manuscript finally turned into a movie, and no one is showing up at the cinema, and how this is used to fuel the spirit to actually continue, in spite of this anti-success. I also remember the phrase “Henry Fonda was still throwing up before each stage performance, even when he was seventy-five”, as an illustration that Resistance never gives up. And I learned that Steven King works every day, including Fourth of July, his birthday, and Christmas.
- The 90-Day Novel: Unlock the story within – Watt, Alan – purchased September 30, 2011. I found this book interesting since it did not directly focus on structure and outlining. Instead Alan Watt recommended us to imagine the world where the story, not yet known to us, would take place. This was very helpful, and there are many good exercises in the book that you can do, where often stream-of-consciousness writing is used (just let it flow, do not at all make it anyway close to perfect and stylish), for the purpose of getting to know your characters, both the good guys and the bad guys, better. An interesting example is “As your hero, write for five minutes 1) the bravest thing I’ve ever done, and 2) the most cowardly thing I’ve ever done”.
- Reading Like a Writer (P.S.) – Francine Prose – October 25, 2011. If I must pick a favorite, this one wins! Francine Prose does not give instructions on how to write. Instead she shows, by example, how other writers write, and have written, by quoting from their books and commenting on their writing. I will tell you more about my impressions in a later post, but personally I highly recommend this book. It made me see books with a quite different eye, and helping a lot when trying to write. And it gave good pointers to authors I had never read before, such as current favorites like Edward St Aubyn, Alice Munro, and Scott Spencer (I finished A Ship Made of Paper with almost no breaks – I am a notorious book-zapper so this is a good credit for me)
Professionally, I am now in the science department. Well, to be more specific, you might call it the Engineering Science Department. My job is to be an Associate Professor in a system oriented topic (think computers, software, control systems, mobile phone technology) at a university in Sweden. Now that might sound fancy, but I can say at least that it is a lot of fun, and at times also a bit strange, especially when I compare to earlier jobs in industry, where I was an engineer working with software and system simulation, and many more managers and time plans than you will ever see in a university.
I wanted to relate to this when I chose a topic for my novel. Being a little bit tired of all the talk on TV and in newspapers about how we must be a competitive nation, and all the worries that our kids are so bad in mathematics, I found, and liked, this article, properly named Dehumanized. I thought that this divide, between the rationalistic thinking of those obeying only the physical laws and their mathematical incarnations, and those who are perhaps a little bit more interested in the why-side of all things, looking for not only useful and economical things in their chase and search to find meaningful stuff.
So this was my mindset as I enterned the NaNoWriMo challenge, to come up with a story, rather thriller-like if I could make it, after all I wanted people to read at least a little bit more than the first pages, and in the mean-time throw in some bad guys representing the firm believe in the rational stuff, and some good guys doing their best to prevent large-scale bad things to happen.
And most of all, the large-scale bad things would be engineered and directed towards the weak, so that we once and for all could arrive at a more effective and rational society, where the fluffy bloggers and wannabe-artists do not occupy the complete media space, showing off their new things in more and more real-life soap operas and almost monopolizing the social mediasphere.
Now wouldn’t that be a nice place to live – in the art-free world?