Terraform, January 19, 2015

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Terraform, January 19, 2015

Re-Homing” by Debbie Urbanski

Reviewed by Joshua Berlow

This story begins with an intriguing science-fiction premise. In the future when parents can genetically design their offspring, what do you do with a child in whom the gene selection has gone wrong? As the story cleverly calls it, an “oops child?”

The problem with the story is that after the first two paragraphs, the science-fictional elements of the beginning are more or less ignored. The remainder of the story is a familiar tale about a young child being adopted by new parents. It seems that Debbie Urbanski came up with an intriguing premise but didn’t know what to do with it. The rest of the story is nice enough, but the same tale could be told without the first two paragraphs whetting the reader’s appetite for genetic design gone wrong.

If your genetically designed child turns out not how you expected, you can “re-home” them with new parents and try again. It’s pricey to design a child, so there are couples that can’t afford to design their own. It’s these couples who get the budget kids, the “seconds” or “remaindered” children. Because genetic design of offspring is a new technology, not all the kinks have been worked out. The result is plenty of “seconds” for couples who can’t afford to design one of their own.

The story then follows a poorer couple who are adopting an unwanted child from a wealthy couple. I would have liked to have found out how the genetically designed child didn’t meet the wealthy couple’s standards. We are never told what went wrong with the child, or why the wealthy couple wants to give her up. It’s an obvious question that unfortunately isn’t answered. Instead there’s a familiar adoption tale where the original Mom has bonded to the child and the inevitable tension when she brings the child over to the new home to drop her off. It seems like we’ve heard it before.

An intriguing aspect of the tale is the way these genetically designed children are treated. They’re products or pets rather than people. This aspect of the story is handled subtly and well. The couple who are adopting the “remaindered” child have adopted children before. Apparently a previous child they “re-homed” ran off into the woods like a runaway dog, and was never heard from again. So this new child gets a tracking ankle bracelet.

Overall it’s a decent but familiar tale well told. It’s just that my science-fiction expectations were raised too high at the beginning.

Joshua Berlow is the founder of the International Psychogeography Institute.