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Happy Arguing, a guest post by Arwen Elys Dayton

Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful is a novel in six parts that looks at the unlimited possibilities of biotech advances and the ethical quandaries they will provoke. Arwen Elys Dayton shows us a near and distant future in which we will eradicate disease, extend our lifespans, and reshape the human body. The results can be heavenly—saving the life of your dying child; and horrific—the ability to modify convicts into robot slaves. Deeply thoughtful, poignant, horrifying, and action-packed, this novel is groundbreaking in both form and substance. Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful examines how far we will go to remake ourselves into the perfect human specimen, and what it means to be human at all.

 

strongerThe librarian of my middle child’s high school got wind of my upcoming novel on the topic of human genetic modification and asked if I had a few ARCs she could use for a book group. And would I like to come talk to the students while they were reading it? I’ve done many school visits, often to huge schools where I speak to hundreds of kids. But I was excited all out of proportion by this particular invitation—possibly because I thought it would make me seem fascinating and popular to my middle child. (Side note: I think it might have worked!)

 

Here’s what I loved about discussing Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful with eight teenage girls: there was a lot to argue about. The book is full of debatable scenarios. Semi-identical twins, both dying. When one lapses into a vegetative state, the decision is made to harvest the healthy parts of her organs to give her brother a chance at life. A girl who is hiding the extent to which her body has been rebuilt, knowing that many of her friends, and in particular the boy she cares about, will not approve of the artificial parts that are now keeping her alive. A child who had been designed to have high intelligence, with disastrous results. And more.

 

The theme of Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful is this: What will it be like to grow up, to fall in and out of love, to figure out who you are, when the very essence of “you” may be changing? Before writing the book, I’d done lots of research about how scientists are using CRISPR to edit DNA, how they are attempting to grow human-compatible organs in livestock, how they are delaying old age, and how they are pursuing countless other near-miraculous advances. The point of the research was to fill me up to my eyeballs with the realities of bioengineering until I could dream of how it might play out into the future. But the actual writing of the book involved pushing those details into the background and letting the six main characters walk out onto stage and invite us into their stories.

 

On the days when I joined the book club, we talked about the science, sure. (I’d sent a list of recent articles on gene editing, and the students had read those alongside the book.) But we didn’t argue about the science. We argued instead about what the characters were doing with the science. We debated the book’s sticky decisions. Do parents have a right to manipulate their child’s brain? Should anyone be allowed to make a piece of a dead loved one live on…in a place they were never meant to be? Should a government be permitted to physically modify convicts if it makes them more “useful” to society? What makes us human? What keeps us human?

 

The students didn’t always agree with the choices my characters made—nor do I. And that is by design. As we become more and more able to alter the human species, we will often disagree. And yet we must all be a part of making those choices. It was invigorating to discuss why the characters made the decisions they made and to challenge eight outspoken, contentious, and thoughtful teenagers to explain what they would have done differently, and why. Soon the dispute was being carried on without me.

 

And that is what I hope people will take from Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful. Characters they understand, even if they can’t agree with them. Some appreciation of what lies ahead in genetic manipulation and human evolution. And, of course, arguments with friends. What would you do? What should we do?

 

The future of our species is already unfolding around us. Sometimes it’s easier to understand it in fiction. If we start telling ourselves stories now, maybe we can fashion that future into what we’d like it to be.

 

Meet Arwen Elys Dayton

ARWEN ELYS DAYTON’s new novel is Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful, out on December 4, 2018. She is the best-selling author of the Egyptian sci-fi thriller Resurrection and the near-future Seeker Series. She spends months doing research for her stories. Her explorations have taken her around the world to places like the Great Pyramid at Giza, Hong Kong, and the Baltic Sea, as well as down many scientific rabbit holes. Arwen lives with her husband and their three children on West Coast of the United States. You can visit her and learn more about her books at arwenelysdayton.com and follow @arwenelysdayton on Instagram and Facebook.