2. Felicity Shoulders, "Conditional Love" (pg. 32-43) ** 1/2
Read 28 Jan. 2010. This is a well-crafted near-future dystopia in which genetic engineering creates enhanced children -- and can go wrong, requiring special medical and social institutions to handle the mistakes, such as the "Gene-Engineered Pediatric In-Patient Center" (32). The main character, Dr. Grace Stellar, has been working for eleven years at GEPIC, treating and dealing with the children dropped off or "dumped" (32) by their parents: such as Minerva, born without arms or legs, but in the process of having her arms grown by a combination of a special gel and operations. Then there is the new kid, John Doe, genetically modified to be "above the mean for cuteness" (33), yet has what amounts to constant short-term memory loss (think Memento): each time he sees someone, he starts all over again with, "'Who are you?'" (33). Shoulders weaves in intriguing aspects of the wider sociocultural consequences of "guppies" (34), as children such as Minerva and John Doe are called by some: i.e., the police detective Bob Kafouri, who is trying to gather enough evidence to bring down not just individual "'opt-docs,'" but the entire "'industry'" (35). The story's setting feels wholly plausible, and unnerving. Also, Grace makes for an effective main character and point-of-view, for we gradually understand that she is reaching (or has already reached) a kind of crossroads, an internal crisis built up after years of treating and caring for discarded, genetically misengineered kids. John Doe, about six years old and named "Danny" by Bob, serves as the catalyst for Grace finally to take drastic action, as she knows the cruelty of his memory loss will make him a difficult case to find the proper care for. The decision Grace makes is revealed expertly by Shoulders, leaving the reader with a mixture of compassion and a bit of horror. Yet I feel about this piece much like I felt about Landis's: I just read the prologue to the real story; I just got the build-up to the truly interesting matter of how Grace deals with her act of resistance and its effects upon Danny (and Minerva). Again, I am asking a writer to give me a different story than what I read, but, again, my sense is of an opportunity missed for a more challenging, provocative, and dynamic story. For instance, Danny and his memory loss defect contains great potential for exploring more of the implications of seeing/not seeing, recognition/not recognizing, in a society that dumps and disowns its failed human experiments: why do parents and doctors and corporations engage in their various blindnesses? what would make them see the moral, ethical, and very material costs of their hubris? would Grace's act of resistance become a flashpoint for wider social change?