This one probably falls into the realm of science fantasy — but then, people have said that before about a number of things and turned out to be wrong.
There have always been fanciful ideas about how to solve the perennial human problem of famine and plain old food insecurity. They started, I assume, with the first person to say “hey, let’s stay in one place instead of wandering and we can plant these seeds in the ground near our place so we always know where to find food.”
Unless the first person to say that was persecuted as a blasphemer against the nomad gods. Then, maybe it was the second person to say it, or the tenth. Which is a scenario that has occurred to me before — it’s the premise of my short story, The Always-House People. (which happens to be free, by the way)
But back to the subject at hand.
There was Swift’s A Modest Proposal with its satirical suggestion of roast children dinner; more seriously, churches and monarchs and charitable organizations and nation-state governments have taken hands at feeding the famine-stricken throughout recorded history. Even more time and energy has been devoted to increasing crop yields through all sorts of means — different growing methods, developing better fertilizers, breeding plants and livestock for improved yields, and lately (and controversially in many cases) directly manipulating the DNA of plants and livestock. And so on.
Closer to this somewhat fanciful idea of green humans sunbathing for part of their sustenance is the proposal to shrink the future human race to an average height of 50 centimeters (about 20 inches). Less biomass, less food and fewer resources to maintain, and therefore less famine — plus less pollution, less scarcity of other resources, and so on.
It would be easy enough to do both, I suppose. Imagine being a tiny green human sunbathing for breakfast and then lunching on a slice cut from a rabbit ham so large in comparison to you it’ll last your family a week.
Any suggestion to fiddle with the genes of just about anything, though, wakes the memory of thousands upon thousands of science fiction tales of technology gone wild. Or, mostly ancestral to those, tales of magic and wishes gone wrong — think of the old tales of the Golem and Pandora’s Box and the Garden of Eden and the Tower of Babel. All stories in which the quest for knowledge is somehow destructive.
Those tales are pretty irresistible as a reader or a writer. Things do go wrong. Actions have unintended consequences constantly. Human history and storytelling revolve around such stories because they’re stories of life and trying. Tryers fail.
So I hope this story gave you a little chuckle, and maybe inspired a thoughtful moment. As for how possible it is… I’m not a biologist of any description. But it would amuse me to no end if we turned out to be the LGMs, the little green ‘men’ aliens, accidentally pollinating one another.
(PLEASE SHARE THIS STORY IMAGE ANYWHERE YOU WANT BECAUSE IT WILL HELP ME REACH MORE READERS — AND THAT WOULD BE AWESOME!)
I’m going to guess most of you have heard of good ol’ Monsanto. To many people and according to many opinion pieces, “good ol'” translates to “sonsofbitches” or worse. Among their many unpopular moves is the infamous crop seed that grows just fine, but the seed that crop yields is infertile, good for making food (how good or not-so-good is the subject of much debate) but not for growing more crops.
That way, the ages-old practice of saving seed can no longer “steal” Monsanto’s profits. Every time a farmer wants to grow a crop, they must buy new seeds. No more freeloading on the bounty of nature the way the last ten or twenty thousand years’ worth of humans have for you, 21st century farmers! And there are other entanglements Monsanto and their bretheren in agribusiness offer, but this is the one I’m concerned with here.
The imagination doesn’t have to stretch terribly far to imagine this principle of planned obsolescence (or rather, planned sterility) applied to things other than corn and wheat. If it could be pulled off with chickens and pigs and cows, the potential profits soar.
It seems villainous, but if it could be pulled off with humans, involuntarily, carried and spread perhaps by a common hearty virus or bacterium or similarly unicellular and ubiquitous — something common, like a cold or herpes or e coli or yeast — people would flock to whoever held the “baby-key,” cash in hand.
Unless they didn’t have enough cash.
There are enough people around now who despise the “leeches,” the “forty-seven percent who won’t take responsibility for their own lives,” the “useless eaters,” the “[massively racist or other -ist assumption about demographic X all being poor and shiftless],” or the class I belong to, “people who viciously choose to be born to parents who don’t have a hell of a lot of money.”
Can you think of someone who, given the chance, would happily release this hypothetical reproduction-ransoming virus and take joy in the idea of restricting reproduction to couples who can scrape together $100,000 cash, for example?
Some execrable Martin Shkreli of a human being, perhaps?
The only hope the poor would have would be the services of some gallant Robin Hoodesque genehacker, stealing the intellectual baby-unlocking property of the rich and giving pregnancy to the poor. There’s something very cyberpunky about the whole idea, isn’t there?
Let’s hope this scenario stays in my imagination.
(This story appeared on my Patreon page on the 19th – become a patron, because you see posts early, get FREE ebooks 30 days ahead of release, and also because I am straining mightily to make writing and dreaming into a family-supporting business. I need your help to do it, whether it’s by pledging or by reading and sharing my posts and stories!)
I’ve been posting a piece of microfiction each month for Patreon patrons (a whole buck a month is the minimum pledge to see them) since March. This month’s offering is a vignette about a young man fishing in a place that makes the familiar Earth seem very alien indeed. It’s about hope and death and life and duty, and maybe a few other things, too. While a vignette isn’t quite a story of its own, this one sketches the edges of at least three big stories for your — and maybe my, in future works — imagination to work on.
You should read it. I think it’s worth seeing.
SFNN FASHION & TRENDS
Ever since the United Nations guaranteed the freedom of parents to tailor their authorized offspring in 2132, the unveiling of the new model year’s babies has been a rolling gala affair sweeping the world’s capitals every March the first. Hopeful parents the world around observe the ritual of choosing their favorites before the UN issues denials or –joy!– acceptances of parenthood on the fifteenth.
Between the first and the fifteenth, everyone dreams. And I mean everyone, not just parents. With projected lifespans due to medical advances outstripping the very passage of time (over the last decade, projected average age of death worldwide was pushed back eighteen years), the rare sight of a real, living child is a thrill for the most jaded among us.
For the 2165 model year, the top audience-voted choice for male babies is based on pop star Idris Van Styrx. Age progressions show the basic Van Styrx for 2065 will grow a bit taller and huskier than the star himself, with additional musculature especially in the thighs, shoulders, and chest further accentuating the topheavy look that was so popular in last year’s male babies. A full range of options are available and vary by manufacturer. Red-Gold Rice Basket of Beijing, top baby vendor for the East Asia and Pacifica regions, made a particular splash with a controversial option for prehensile thumbed feet pitched to the microgravity living market.
The most popular female model is a sharp departure from last year’s choice of popular political figure Isbel Fleischer of the South America region after her late-2064 embroilment in a scandal related to labor contract awards for the region’s second space elevator. This year, Fleischer’s namesake baby model did not make the charts at all, replaced by historical stage actor Akiko Nakamura of Pacifica. The actor is physically diminutive and the baby modeled after her preserves those basic dimensions, though a taller model with her proportions is expected to outsell the original.
The Intersex/Genderqueer model favored by viewers, unlike last year’s beefy, male-trait-weighted choice of military reenactor Chadforth Farthington of the Western Europe region, is markedly androgynous and sleek. Olympic swimmer Gloria Gary Beers of Mobile, Alabama, North America Region is the basis for this model baby, promising long arms, broad chest, and hips with both a surprising flare and muscular strength. Popular modifications, predictably with an athlete model, focus on physicality. A newly revealed, highly flexible cartilaginous spine developed by MicroGene in Beers’ home region seems particularly promising in the market.