smarter hero

Read an exclusive excerpt from new sci-fi story collection, 'Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful'

Contributed by
Nov 30, 2018

We live in an era of remarkable advancements in computer technology, sports science, astronomy, and medicine, with the digital age giving rise to new and faster innovations in every corner of our restless lives. Humanity's quest to enhance longevity, health, and mental capacity is a notion explored in countless novels, movies, TV shows, comics, and video games, and never seems to fade in interest as a topic of conversation.

SYFY WIRE is poised to propel you into that near future where the yearnings of personal perfection meet a bold frontier of possibilities with an exclusive excerpt from an exhilarating new sci-fi "novel in six parts" titled Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful.

cover

Launching on Dec. 4 via Delacorte Press, this fresh collection of provocative stories from author Arwen Elys Dayton (The Seeker Series) aims to enlighten and warn against our preoccupation with self-improvement beyond what might seem natural and socially acceptable. Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful is an inspired gathering of six interconnected tales that delve into the essence of what it means to be human and where the blurred boundaries exist beyond tomorrow.

Crafted with a dash of Black Mirror and a wild rush of Westworld-like imagination, Dayton's visionary work of speculative fiction explores the amazing realms of genetic manipulation, intelligence augmentation, and life extension in all their glorious and monstrous forms, and examines the inevitable ethical paradoxes that might arise.

hero

Dayton's interest with genetic engineering dates back to 2009, when she read an article in the New Yorker about synthetic biology and the scientists who were assembling genetic parts to create novel life forms—such as a version of E. coli that could produce a desperately needed malaria drug.

"My obsession eventually grew into Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful," she told SYFY WIRE. "But while the novel will make you think about the real scientific leaps that are happening right now, at its core it’s a series of intimate stories: Now that we can alter the course of our own evolution, how will we as a species evolve? And what will it be like to grow up, to fall in and out of love, to discover who you are, when the very essence of 'you' may be changing?

covers

"The part of Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful that you're about to read explores one of the trickier aspects of 'improving' humans—making them smarter," she explains. "Alexios is a boy whose parents wanted to give him every advantage. When he was merely an embryo, his brain was modified, his neurons multiplied, and his potential, in theory, greatly enhanced.

"When his mother and father paid for that procedure, they were probably imagining an articulate grade-schooler reading physics textbooks at the dinner table while making witty and loving conversation. It turns out that Alexios is smart, but as to the rest of his traits, well, they’re quite different from what was anticipated. And there are, when it comes to designer children, no refunds."

Enjoy this chapter preview courtesy of Delacorte Press, then tell us if this mind-blowing book sounds like an intriguing present for perfectionists on your gift list this year!

arwen 2

EIGHT WADED

The Clinics

We begin the IQ test, but after only a handful of questions (metaphor, by the way), Caroline is called from the room. She sets the tablet on the tray by my bed and lets me finish on my own.

While I answer the questions, I allow my mind to scramble and unscramble words in the background:

Genetic Radiance. 

Ice teen cardigan. 

Incinerated cage. 

Aptitude tests.

Attitude pests.

I have just answered . . .

Six drinking glasses stand in a row, with the first three full of wine and the next three empty. By moving only one glass, can you arrange them so empty and full glasses alternate?

. . . when I notice that Caroline is in the hallway outside my room, speaking to someone.

“I’m afraid there’s no change,” Caroline is saying. 

“None at all?”

I become slightly interested, because that is the voice of my mother! Her name is Philomena, and she visits the clinic from time to time. Sometimes she even brings a man called Paulos, who is my father, though it has been more than two years since I last saw him.

I continue with the test, because I very much want to beat my fastest time, but I am still listening to the conversation in the hall as I work. Caroline often forgets the strength of my mod for long-distance hearing. I can hear them out there, whispering, as well as I could if they were standing inside my room speaking at a normal volume.

“I thought you felt he was improving,” my mother says. “The report from six months ago gave us the impression that, you know . . . there was reason to be optimistic.”

There is a pause. After a time, Caroline says apologetically, “I hoped he would improve. Perhaps that report reflected my hope more than it should have. We were all so eager for improvement that small changes appeared much larger than they actually were. In reality, the only change we’ve been able to document over the long term has been a slight worsening in his empathy scores.”

“But his intelligence . . .”

“IQ is still climbing,” Caroline tells my mother. “That’s a certainty. You have a very intelligent son. But not . . .”

“. . . in any way that matters.” My mother has finished Caroline’s thought, it seems.

There is an uncomfortable feeling in my lungs, as if they are straining to get oxygen out of the air. My stomach is doing something odd as well. It is generating a feeling that is very like falling. I don’t care for the words either of them is saying, and yet I cannot stop listening.

“He is very good at puzzles,” Caroline says, as if this might be a consolation.

I can hear my mother sigh. Sighs, I have noticed, can mean a variety of things. Sometimes they communicate boredom, or monotony, or sorrow. This sigh strikes me as something more final than any of those feelings. “Thank you for your honesty,” my mother says. “You know my husband and I were considering legal action. The promises that were made back in the embryo stage . . .”

“I didn’t work for the clinic then, but I was brought on to evaluate the scientific basis for our genetic claims. In the most technical view, Genetic Radiance has delivered on its promises to you.”

“In the most ‘technical’—?”

“Philomena, IQ was what you listed on your questionnaire as the most important trait,” Caroline says, “and in test after test, Alexios has shown us an IQ that is far above average. In a strict legal sense, the clinic has fulfilled its contract.”

“But we were never told that—”

“That IQ is only a small piece of the picture? That being smarter does not make you kinder, or more interested in helping others, or even more useful? That these are inherent traits or sometimes learned traits? We broke new ground here, Philomena.” Caroline uses my mother’s first name to emphasize the friendliness of Genetic Radiance. “All of the patients in Alexios’s generation surpassed the limits of scientific understanding. We are reevaluating the whole program.”

“I’m—I’m relieved for others who are early enough in the process to make changes,” my mother says, “but where does this leave me? I’m stuck with a child who will only use his brilliance to unscramble words and calculate how many humans could be fit into boxes of different sizes and how long messages from each nearby star will take to arrive. It doesn’t seem to matter to him that there are no messages from nearby stars, and he will never be asked to fit any humans into boxes.”

Caroline doesn’t answer. I have stopped doing the puzzles. It is twilight outside, which means that the window in my room has become a mirror. Ordinarily, I cannot see myself in that window-mirror, but Caroline shifted my bed when she came to do the tests, and now I find myself staring across the room at my own reflection.

I am the size of a normal seven-year-old boy, if you are measuring by overall volume. The details of my proportions differ greatly from the average, however. My head is twice the size of a human adult’s. The intelligence mods that Genetic Radiance tried out on me—when I was just a few hundred cells in a petri dish—resulted in a vastly increased brain and skull size. Their intention was that my head would be slightly larger than normal—within the upper range of what would appear natural—but that this modestly increased volume would allow me to develop ten times the ordinary number of neurons. They did not achieve ten times, but they were still, for many years, pleased with the extra capacity I’d been given. The problem, which became evident around my third birthday, was that my head was much, much larger than anticipated. The other problem, which Caroline eventually explained to me, was that I didn’t seem to be using many of the extra neurons. I was employing a similar number to those existing inside an ordinary-sized brain.

And all of this came at the expense of the rest of my body. In the window, I can see my stunted legs, which dangle beneath my torso like the legs of a doll. I cannot stand on them, let alone walk. My arms are closer to the correct size, though they look huge because they hang down far below my shortened torso. I raise one of my arms, with a fist, toward the ceiling and shake it.

Curses and damnation. 

Scan dread mountains. 

Am Dad’s uncertain son.

Caroline is continuing to speak to my mother in the hall, using soothing tones. “You will have to find a life for him. A job, something he will be able to do. There are options we could help you with. As Alexios grows, his mind can be directed.”

My mother doesn’t seem to be listening very attentively. She says, “Caroline, we could have conceived a child in the ordinary way. We changed our lives to do this, in order to give Alexios every advantage. In that first consult, we were told to imagine what his life would be like with intelligence far beyond ours. New humans were coming, and our children would be disadvantaged if we didn’t do something.”

“There was possibly some hype involved,” Caroline admits. 

“Some hype? He’s dead weight. My son is dead weight, and will be for the rest of his life.”

“Philomena, would you consider moving Alexios out of the United States? There’s a program I’d like you to consider, run by a sister clinic in Greece. You’re of Greek descent, aren’t you? This could be perfect. ”

I can still hear them, but I choose not to. Nor do I wish to think about the modifications that came next, to my skin, to my eyes, to my legs, to allow me to live most of my life underwater. Instead, I recall the 60 percent of my attention that has strayed into the past and I lavish it upon Mr. Tavoularis in present time. 

Excerpt copyright © 2018 by Arwen Elys Dayton. Published by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.

Make Your Inbox Important

Get our newsletter and you’ll be delivered the most interesting stories, videos and interviews weekly.

Sign-up breaker
Sign out: