Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Genetically-Modified Lit

A story in the Wall Street Journal today tells me that Tor Books (part of Macmillan now) has established a collaboration with NASA to produce science fiction. To quote: “The partnership pairs up novelists with NASA scientists and engineers, who help writers develop scientifically plausible story lines and spot-check manuscripts for technical errors.”

“Aha,” I thought. “Genetic modification in literature has now reached visibility.” Such things, of course, go back a long time. Writers who produce books based on publishers’ tightly written formulae are as old as certain popular romance fiction series. I recall once seeing very elaborate specifications—up to some 12 or more points described as “must” contents—for each of some five different sub-categories of romance fiction by one publisher. The process also began in science fiction much earlier. At least twenty years ago, one publisher approached me to write sci-fi novels for them based on specific content. I turned them down.

Consider the parallels. Literary talent is clearly in-born, present early. It is shaped by the person’s family and life experiences and indirectly by his or her times and circumstances. The works produced echo their producers and their times. Now to modify this natural talent from the outside artificially so that it will produce a uniform “fruit” matched to “market demand” in look, feel, sound, and smell is quite the same thing as genetically modifying all manner of agricultural products so that they will appeal to the Kroger and Safeway shopper instantly. The taste is sometimes off. Just recently Brigitte said something rather startling—quite spontaneously. She was eating an oddly shaped strawberry and said: “Amazing, actually. It almost tastes like a strawberry.”

Almost. Yes. Almost.

Full disclosure. Long ago Tor turned down my Ghulf Genes (the novel), despite efforts by my agent to get it read. I never imagined that, at some future time, I might be glad that they did.

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