McIntyre-Modest Proposal

McIntyre-Modest Proposal - A Modest Proposal for the...

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Unformatted text preview: A Modest Proposal for the Perfection of Nature VONDA N. McINTYRE Vonda McIntyre was one of the first successful graduates of the Clarion Science Fic— tion Writers Workshop. She attended the workshop in I 970: by 1973 she had won her first Nebula Award, for the nouelette Of Mist, and Grass and Sand. This later be— came part of the novel Dreamsnake, which won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards. Her debut novel, The Exile Waiting, was published in 1975. Since then she has writ— ten many others, including Star Trek tie—ins. It was McIntyre who came up with Mr. Sulu’s first name, Hikaru. She lives in the Pacific Northwest, and her online home can be found at www.mndanmcintyrecom. The crop grows like endless golden silk. Wave after wave rushes across plains, between mountains, through valleys, in a tsunami of light. Its harvest is perfection. It fills the nutritional needs of every human being. It adapts to our tongues, creating the taste, texture, and satisfaction of comfort food or dessert, crisp vegetables or icy lemonade, sea cucumber or big game. It’s the pinnacle of the genetic engineer’s art. It’s the last and only living member of the plant kingdom on Earth. Solar cells cover slopes too steep and peaks too high for the monoculture. The solar arrays flow in long, wide swaths of glass, gleaming with a subtle iridescence, collecting sunlight. Our civilization never runs short of power. The flood of grain drowns marsh and desert, forest and plain, bird and beast and insect. Land must serve to produce the crop; creatures only nibble and trample and damage it, diverting resources from the service of human beings. Even the immortality of rats and cockroaches has failed. The grain stops at the ocean’s beach. No rivers muddy the seas surface or break the shoreline. The grain and the cities require fresh water, and di- vert it before it wastes itself in the sea. The tides wash up and back, smoothing the clean silver sand, leaving it bare of tangled seaweed, of foraging seabirds or burrowing clams, of the brown organic froth that dirtied it in earlier times. Now and then the waves erase a line of human footprints, but these are very rare. A Modest Proposal for the Perfection of Nature 195 The air is clear of any bite of iodine, any hint of pollution or decay. The sea undulates, blue and green, clear as new glass. Sunlight shimmers on its surface and dapples the bare sea floor. Underwater turbines cast shad— ows on the sand. The tides power the turbines, tapping the force of gravity. Far from shore, where its colonies will not interrupt the vista of clear water, a single species of cyanobacterium photosynthesizes near the surface, pumping oxygen into the crystalline air, controlling the level of carbon diox— ide. Its design copes easily with the increasing saltiness of the sea. Except for the cyanobacteria, the ocean’s cacophony of microscopic or— ganisms has followed redwoods, mammoths, and Hallucigenia into extinc— tion. The krill are gone. Krill would be of as little use to people as sharks and seabirds, fish or jellyfish, seashells or whales. They are all gone, too. The water deepens beyond the reach of light. The continental shelf ends in a precipice, dropping off into darkness. On the sea floor, the glass—lace shells of diatoms lie clean and dead, slowly settling. In a moment of geologic time, they will form white limestone. In the deepest trenches, black smokers gush scalding chemical soup. Ma- chines sense the vents of heat, swim to them, and settle over them to trap the energy from the center of the Earth. Nothing remains for the sustenance and evolution of primordial life in these extraordinary environments. The strange creatures that lived there, and died, were never any use to human beings. All the resources of sea and land serve our needs. Cities of alabaster and adamant grace the crests of mountains and span the flow of rivers. The cities’ people live rich, full lives, long and healthy, free of disease. We are well fed. We have interesting, challenging occupations and plenty of time for leisure, family, and virtual reality. We can experience any adventure, from wilderness to exotic ritual, without the expense, trouble, or danger of travel. We can experience any adventure that ever happened, any adventure anyone can imagine. The virtual experience matches reality or in- vention in every way: sight, sound, smell, touch, and movement. Our civilization pulses with vitality. We have unlimited opportunity: of thought, of achievement, of freedom, and of the pursuit of happiness. Whatever we require, human ingenuity can invent and provide. And if, in some unlikely but imaginable future, we should wish to re—create any or— ganism, the means to do so exist. DNA sequences, RNA sequences, are easy to write down and archive; there is no need to store messy biological material, 196 VONDA N. MCINTYRE either tough and persistent DNA or fragile and degradable RNA. We are magnanimous; we have preserved the blueprints for everything, even parasites and pathogens. No one has bothered to re—create an organism in a very long time. We have considered the question long and hard, and we have made our decision. No creation of nature has an inherent right to exist, independent of our need. We have perfected nature, for we are its masters. The Republic of George’s Island DONNA MCMAHON Donna McMahon has a degree in history from Simon Fraser University and currently works in biotechnology. She has written one novel, Dance of Knives, and is working on a sequel. She lives in Gibson’s Landing, British Columbia, and her Web site can be found at www.donna—memahon.com. On Tuesday afternoon, with the weather reports still forecasting hurricane- force winds, I hauled my decrepit fiberglass dinghy down to Davis Bay and rowed out to try to talk that old throwback into coming ashore. I knew it was futile, but I felt like I had to make an attempt. Westerly gusts drove whitecaps down the fetch of Georgia Strait. They rolled and crashed across the shallow shoreline, nearly overturning my clumsy boat. Icy spray slapped me as I strained at the oars, and within a minute I was soaked and achingly cold. In the lee of the house, I tied up to a rusty trailer hitch. Decades ago, George had started driving deep steel pilings into the sandy soil around his house. He built a concrete retaining wall using old car and truck frames as re— bar, and then piled up any other junk he could find for a breakwater. We kids watched With fascination while his neighbors, already besieged behind sandbag walls, shook their heads with a mixture of dismay and derision, but thirty years later, after three meters of sea level rise, his was the only original waterfront house remaining on the bay. And his sign, spray—painted on a full sheet of ply— wood nailed to the south side of the house, had become a local landmark: TI—IE INDEPENDANT REPUBLIC OF GEORGE’S ISLAND—PISS OFF! I picked my way cautiously along the rough, algae—coated breakwater and positioned myself to one side of George’s door before pounding on it and shouting. “George, it’s Logan. Let me in, OK?” Am- ...
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This note was uploaded on 09/25/2011 for the course ANTHROPOLO 111 taught by Professor Scott during the Spring '11 term at Rutgers.

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McIntyre-Modest Proposal - A Modest Proposal for the...

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