The idea of being able to hack the human genome to create prettier people and stronger soldiers has been kicking around since we first discovered genes were the blueprint of humanity. Some see it as playing god and a recipe for disaster; others a way to solve our problems. In the following email interview with writer Arwen Elys Dayton, she discusses why her new novel Stronger, Faster, And More Beautiful (hardcover, Kindle) explores all sides of this possible future.
To begin, what is Stronger, Faster, And More Beautiful about?
Stronger, Faster, And More Beautiful is a fictional look at human genetic modification in the near and distant future. The book is told in six interconnected pieces, each exploring a different aspect of our future world and the evolving face of humankind.
The novel is full of debatable scenarios: Semi-identical twins, both dying. When one lapses into a vegetative state, the decision is made to harvest the healthy parts of her organs to give her brother a chance at life. A girl who is hiding the extent to which her body has been rebuilt, knowing that many of her friends, and in particular the boy she cares about, will not approve of the artificial elements that are now keeping her alive. A child who had been designed to have high intelligence, with disastrous results. And many more.
Where did you get the idea for Stronger, Faster, And More Beautiful and how did the story evolve as you wrote it?
DNA editing, growing human organs in livestock, extending the human lifespan, genetically altering mosquitos so they can no longer carry malaria — these things are all being developed right now, in labs across the world. I’d been reading about these advances for a long time, and one day a few years ago, the characters in Stronger, Faster, And More Beautiful began to show up in my head.
There was a moment during my research when I thought, “This is it. Soon we’ll be able to eradicate disease, extend our life spans, turn humans into superhumans!” But a few minutes later, I had a quite different thought: “We will definitely find some way of messing this up in spectacular fashion.”
Stronger, Faster, And More Beautiful exists in the space between those two thoughts. It shows us our possible future as a species, and it asks, “How will you grow up, fall in and out of love, and figure out who you are when the very essence of youis changing?”
I always knew the characters belonged in related stories, but as I wrote, the connections between the pieces of the novel became more clear and eventually I understood that I was writing one story that happened to be in six parts. They work together to tell a unified narrative.
It sounds like Stronger, Faster, And More Beautiful is a science fiction story. Is that how you see it, or are other genres, subgenres, or combinations of them at work in this story as well?
It’s science fiction in the strictest sense, because it extrapolates from real science and tech to create a future world that is both recognizable and very different. But I like to think of the book as speculative fiction because when you say “science fiction” readers often think of space opera-type stories, and Stronger, Faster, And More Beautiful is definitely set in our world…it’s just our world as human genetic modification becomes more accepted, available, and pervasive.
Some of the possibilities in the book are beyond current science, but some are starting to happen right now. What are the questions we need to be asking? Should parents have a right to manipulate a child’s brain? Should a government be permitted to physically modify convicts if it makes them more “useful” to society? Who gets to choose what makes humans human?
Now,Stronger, Faster, And More Beautiful is not your first novel. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that were a big influence on Stronger, Faster, And More Beautiful but not on your earlier work?
Hmmm, Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age, which I’ve read a few times, has been a big influence on me. I am fascinated by the world-building in that book and the details of his characters’ interaction with their future environment. However, I’ve never directly felt the influence of that book until I wrote Stronger. The stories are not similar, it’s more of a subtle kinship.
How about non-literary influences; are there any movies, TV shows, or video games that had a big impact on Stronger, Faster, And More Beautiful?
I can’t say for sure, but maybe Pan’s Labyrinth played a role in shaping how I think of altered worlds. That movie makes such elegant leaps between the “normal” and the fantastic that you hardly notice when you’ve crossed lines and arrived somewhere else. I think there’s a strong element of that inStronger, Faster, And More Beautiful as well.
You’ve written such stand-alone novels as Resurrection as well as the Seeker series. Is Stronger, Faster, And More Beautiful a self-contained story or the beginning of a series?
Stronger, Faster, And More Beautiful is a stand-alone book. I feel that, in the interaction of its six pieces, it completes itself.
That said, it now looks like I may be writing a companion novel set in the same world. I wouldn’t call it a sequel, though. It will be further exploration of the world and the future history of humanity against the backdrop of a genetic smorgasbord.
Earlier I asked about the movies, TV shows, and video games that may have had an influence on Stronger, Faster, And More Beautiful. But has there been any interest in adapting Stronger, Faster, And More Beautiful into a movie, show, or game?
I can’t give specifics just yet, but we’re wrapping up negotiations for the TV rights to the novel. There should be an announcement soon.
I definitely chose selling the novel as a series over selling it as a film because, with the many distinct parts of the story, there would be too much to try to cram into two hours. I’m excited about the vision for the TV series.
If Stronger, Faster, And More Beautiful is made into a TV show, who would you like to cast in the main roles?
The main roles in Stronger are six teenagers — one in each section of the book — each of whom is grappling with circumstances beyond their control and often beyond their understanding.
The beauty of casting young actors is that you can find someone new and amazing to embody the roles. I’m eager to see who the producers find.
Finally, if someone enjoys Stronger, Faster, And More Beautiful, what similar book of someone else’s would you suggest they read next and why that?
Well, The Diamond Age, for sure! But also Margaret Atwood’s Oryx And Crake. Both feature modified humans — or in the case of the latter, a completely different species based on humans — in a future world that is increasingly hard to recognize. The Diamond Age deals more with deciding for yourself which groups of humans you’d like to ally with, while in Oryx And Crake, most of the choices have been taken away.