I spent this past Saturday at the Colorado Teen Lit Conference in Denver. I got to hang with greats like Todd Mitchell, Ron Cree, Aaron Ritchey and Maggie Stiefvater (And for anyone who is still wondering, I learned how to pronounce her name too – it’s Steve-Otter! I will never again have to refer to her as “Maggie Howeveryoupronounceherlastname”, which is great on lots of levels, the most important being that I fell in love with Maggie, just a little – and in a writerly way, not a creepy stalking way – at the conference. She is one seriously awesome, and totally badass chick. So I want to be able to pronounce her name in case she ever lets that restraining order lapse…)
I also attended a few amazing panels including: “How to Know if You Are Living in a Dystopian Novel” presented by Jessi, a librarian up at High Plains Library District.
Jessi broke it down for us, blue-collar comedy style.
“You might be living in a dystopia if…”
1. Decisions about marriage and reproduction are out of your hands. (Think The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, or Unwind by Neal Shusterman)
2. Technology controls your life. (Think Neuromancer by William Gibson, or The Uglies by Scott Westerfeld.)
3. You’re poor and hungry in a world where resources = power. (Think The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Blood Red Road by Moira Young)
4. Big Brother is not just a term from a novel your high school English teacher made you read. Big Brother is real, and HE IS WATCHING. (Think 1984 by George Orwell, 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami, The Maze Runner by James Dashner.)
Dystopian literature is a great way for us, as writers and readers, to explore the consequences of our decisions down the road. Seed by Rob Ziegler did a marvelous job of that, looking to a future so near that my children might live to see it.
Another book that I just finished last night also looks to the near future and examines the aftermath of our current war over fetal and embryonic rights.
The law of the land says that life begins at conception. That war is over – the “pro-life” side has won. Embryos are people, complete with all their inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Kira could have taken this premise in a lot of different directions. Even as I type, my head is shattering as I chase down innumerable “what ifs”. But Kira stays tightly focused – and her spotlights sits firmly on an angle I have never examined, not once.
For those of you who don’t know – at a fertility clinic that uses in vitro fertilization, the woman is given hormones to help her mass produce mature, viable eggs. Those eggs are harvested (I believe the book said 15-20 eggs was average), mixed with either her partner’s sperm or donor sperm and then incubated until they begin to rapidly divide – voila! Life!
Of course, the problem is that very few, if any, women want to birth 15-20 babies at once. In fact, it’s not even physically possible. So fertility clinics take the three strongest looking embryos and implant them in the woman’s womb, silently hoping that only one will take, two at most. (The risk for both mom and babies goes up exponentially as you start adding more of the little parasites to the womb.)
This means that every time a woman undergoes this process 12-17 babies are MURDERED.
Yeah, okay, I don’t actually believe that. But, in Living Proof this is the belief de jour. And this is the conflict. Doctors who run fertility clinics now must keep track of every embryo created and preserve them for… eternity. For embedded in each artificially inseminated embryo is LIFE.
Oh, did you just hear my head pop with the explosive unintended consequences of this law? Did your brain just go skittering down filthy back alleys to catch all the repercussions of this belief?
Kira touches on many, and dives deep into one. She also slides past quite a few. So, me being me, and this blog being mine and all… I’m going to shine my little flashlight in an overlooked corner before I get back to the book.
1. If what we are fighting to protect is the Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness of these little clusters of undifferentiated cells – how, exactly, does freezing them in a petri dish FOREVER do that? And do we really have to freeze them forever? I mean, seriously – we’re all going to die. Shouldn’t these little “people” have expiration dates too? Let’s say they get to be tossed out after they’ve lived to the national average lifespan. There, they lived! Phew.
But wait, did they? Did they LIVE?
Did they have liberty? No – they had no say at all in this. No one asked them if they wanted to be frozen. Maybe they don’t like the cold. Maybe all we did was trap a soul in an arctic hell for 76 years, while it screamed to be set free so it could infuse a new life with its warmth.
Did they pursue happiness? No. These embryos did not pursue anything. They were frozen before they had a single brain cell, a single heart cell, lungs, arms, legs, eyes, before they were anything that you could call human, they were frozen. Forever.
So, we have not protected their rights. They did not get to use their free speech, or their freedom of religion – I mean, what if they’re Atheist embryos…, they did not get to buy a gun without a waiting period, they did not get to vote. They were created, they multiplied like cancer, and then they were turned into fetusicles.
Kira makes a statement in Living Proof that really resonated with me. I forgot to mark it, so I’ll paraphrase.
An acorn has life. But no one would claim that it has the same life as an oak tree. An acorn has potential. An oak tree is.
An embryo has potential. A person is.
Living Proof is a romantic thriller that follows Arianna, a fertility specialist with a secret and Trent, an agent of the Department of Embryo Preservation (DEP) charged with investigating Arianna who his boss believes is a nefarious and evil baby killer. Trent must learn her motives and methods in order to bring her down and save his agency from the congressional budget cutting block. Along the way, Trent begins to see that there are two sides even to an issue as black and white as life and death.
If your oak tree was sick, and one of its acorns had the power to save it, would you be killing a tree, or saving one if you used the acorn to heal the oak? Would you be saving a life, or killing one, if you let the tree die to save the acorn, but never planted it?
Living Proof is sure to spark controversy, and hopefully conversation. I know it got me thinking in new ways and new directions. This is a timely and pertinent novel.
After Jessi, you remember Jessi, the librarian from the Teen Lit Con? After Jessi broke it down for us, she asked us to raise our hands if we thought we might be living in a dystopia. A few hands went up. Then she asked us to raise our hands if we thought we were getting close. Lots more hands went up.
Then, she dropped the bomb.
She said it’s up to us to stop our world from becoming dystopic. Remember those four clues that you might be living in dystopia? When you see them approaching, it’s time to take action. When you see headlines that say a new law has just passed allowing employers to fire women who take birth control pill… When you see headlines that say that a prominent politician currently running for president says that women who have been raped should just accept the gift of new life that God has put in their wombs… When a room full of old Catholic men is in charge of deciding whether or not it is legal to require private insurers to cover birth control for women, and when they refuse to hear from women because it’s not about women, it’s about religious freedom, and when one woman dares to speak and is slut shamed for it…
It is time. Men and women, friends and fans, it is time.
And Jessi was kind enough to give us a list of resources – so please, rise up in the cafeteria with your plastic sporks and…
Not sure? Then buy Living Proof and see the world 15 short years from now.