And so it begins, my look at the stories and novels in Brian Stableford’s Tales of the Biotech Revolution series. I will be looking at them in order of publication. The list is drawn from ISFDB, the introductions of the
six seven collections of Biotech Tales that have been published, and The Brian Stableford Website.
I’m not going to spend a lot of time noting internal chronologies and cross references between stories because it’s not that kind of series. It explores the many implications and possibilities of genetic engineering. As explained in the introduction to The Cure for Love and Other Tales of the Biotech Revolution,
most involve relatively moderate variations of the future history sketched out in a series of novels . . . which was itself a modified version of a future history mapped in The Third Millennium . . .
The broad sweep of this future history envisages a large-scale economic and ecological collapse in the twenty-first century brought about by global warming and other factors, followed by the emergence of a global society designed to accommodate human longevity (although that is not necessarily obvious in stories set in advance of the Crash).
In the introduction to Designer Genes: Tales of the Biotech Revolution, Stableford says the series is “an eccentric propaganda campaign” inspired by J. B. S. Haldane’s 1923 lecture Daedulus; or, Science and the Future which argued for the necessity and plausability of “biological inventions” to remake the world.
The idea was taken up in fiction by two brothers: Julian Huxley in the 1926 story “The Tissue-Culture King” and his far more famous brother Aldous’ Brave New World. The former was ambivalent about Haldane’s ideas, the latter was more obviously against their application if not possibility.
Stableford describes the series as a “wildly optimistic” attempt to change minds about the desireability of biotechnology. Being congenitally pessimistic and somewhat contrarian, my own takes on the series may be a bit reactionary on occasion.
But, if I didn’t find Stableford’s style usually pleasing and very often thought provoking, I wouldn’t spend time reading him and certainly wouldn’t be reviewing him.
All that said as prelude, I should also say that, this is actually not the first story in the series. That was “The Growth of the House of Usher”, and I’ve already reviewed it.
Essay: “The Man Who Invented Good Taste”, Brian Stableford, 1991.
Naïve utilitarianism battles a keen understanding of human nature in this one. Their champions are brilliant genetic engineer Jon Roriston and adman Eddie Farante. It’s also a rumination on how the seemingly trivial and non-utilitarian spurs true utilitarian technology.
A week after the death of Roriston, Farante is willing to tell what he knows of Roriston’s life to a hungry writer looking to score a quick biography.
Farante’s voice is sarcastic, the kind of voice, I suspect, that comes naturally to Stableford since he has said he was quite a sarcastic and cutting young lad. In Designer Genes‘ introduction, he says most of the entries in this series are framed as domestic comedies rather than featuring melodramatic action plots.
Farante was a product manager for Ecomech, the number one product manager in fact, and given the task of managing Roriston’s researches. Roriston resents a mere adman having veto power over his projects.
It’s a profession whose sole purpose is to persuade people that they ought to spend money on things they don’t need . . . It deals promiscuously in false promises, cynical glamorization and low-key psychological warfare.
To which Farante responds by describing what an economist would call “revealed preferences”:
I meet a lot of people who talk that kind of utilitarian guff, Dr. Roriston. . . . Although I must confess that I never yet met one of them who really acted utilitarian. It isn’t easy to separate out people’s needs from their desires, son, and the whole of history proves that people are very often willing to sacrifice things which you’d say they really needed in order to get things which they wanted for reasons you might not approve of – things which would enhance their images. Admen didn’t invent desire, or vanity, or envy, Dr. Roriston – we just recognize their power as motivating forces.
Farante even goes on to argue the adman increases the placebo effect of drugs and helps people be healthy.Continue reading