We all have ethical perspectives, but what happens when a writer tries to get inside the head of someone with a, shall we say, truly unique take on the ethical responsibilities of the human race? Deb Taber, author of Necessary Ill, may have an insight into this particular trick.
Survival is an instinct. Despite the complexity of the human brain, on a basic biological level our bodies, our genes, want to survive. Not just survival of the individual, but survival of the species as a whole. But what do you do about survival of the species if reproduction is out of the question? That’s the big idea—or rather, the big question—behind Necessary Ill.
The science fiction that has always fascinated me most is that which takes a scientific fact or premise and stretches it into a shape it was never meant to fit. For me the ideas began with a book titled Cats are Not Peas by Laura Gould.
Ms. Gould found herself the owner of a male calico cat. Sounds benign on the surface, right? But if you know much about cat genetics, then you know that in the XX-or-XY-only world we’re taught in science classes, male calico cats cannot exist. This is (in very simplified language) because the genes for black fur and orange fur in cats are both on the X chromosome, so to get both black and orange on the same cat, you need two X chromosomes. What Ms. Gould found out in the search to understand her pet genetic anomaly was that genetics are far, far more fascinating and complex than Mr. Mendel’s peas.
Humans are far from exempt from such genetic possibilities, and with a few simple changes to our basic sex chromosomes you get things that shouldn’t be possible, like our friend the male calico cat. Add a liberal dose of science fiction and you get humans who have a whole different perspective on the survival of the species; one not centered on reproduction.
In Necessary Ill, the neuts (naturally genderless humans) have many pursuits to satisfy this basic urge of mammals to ensure survival of their own species. Some go into medicine, others teach, others research and develop methods for helping the human race overcome its need to overconsume and create long-lasting waste. But what if, with the drive to reproduce removed and the aptitude toward science in place, all that you learned, all that you could see, told you the primary threat to human survival, and the solution was clear and logical: cull the population to more manageable levels?
That’s where the spreaders come in: neuts who spread carefully engineered plagues with the end goal of survival of the species over survival of individuals. And they must do so without promoting one type of human over the other, bypassing racial, socioeconomic, and all other bias they can quantify. The challenge here was to create the story’s main protagonist, Jin, a spreader who firmly believes in the rightness of mass murder for mass survival, yet make that character an engaging, even sympathetic, character.
For me, the key to Jin was understanding the background of the thought process Jin comes from: Jin’s own quest to understand the reason why the answers it sees so clearly are considered so wrong.
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