What makes us human? A question asked by many novels, particularly in science fiction. Arwen Elys Dayton’s take on this question is more literal and physical than most. In Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful, a novel that stretches far into the future, she imagines how genetic modification and stem-cell research might evolve and how humanity might deal with or, this being a somewhat dystopian vision, fail to deal with the consequences.
Here are five reasons why you should read Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful.
1. The Structure.
The structure of Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful is unusual. The book is broken down into six distinct sections, which work like short stories. Unspecified numbers of years separate each section, and we find that in each new chapter world events have moved on. Despite each story being separated by a large amount of time, there are common threads between them that tie everything together into a single narrative spanning generations. Most notably, the stories are tied together by evolving geopolitics and because characters from the first stories have become near-mythological entities by the time we reach the last.
This structure is perhaps discomfiting at first. The breaks can cause a disconnect between reader and narrative. After reading the third or fourth iteration, however, it becomes clear what the author is trying to do. The character we are most concerned with is humanity itself.
2. The Science.
The science in Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful is complex but the author’s descriptions of it are not. You don’t need to have written a doctoral thesis in genetics to understand this book. Instead, it’s an extrapolation of what might be possible. The use of stem-cell research to cure terrible illnesses, the growing of new organs that won’t be rejected by the host, or building new limbs to replace those lost due to trauma. All positive things, surely? Maybe.
Arwen Elys Dayton extends these positive, medico-scientific applications and imagines what else humanity might do with them and how the science may be further extended. It’s fascinating to read.
3. Societal Impact.
This book has superficial parallels with Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series. The idea that beauty can be created, that human appearance is no longer bound by its genetic code. Everyone can be made beautiful. Inevitably, this has massive repercussions for society.
Not only that, this tinkering has religious ramifications. Editing what it is that makes us human, is it for God or against God? This thread runs through the entire book, with the two factions steering events pretty much from the first page to last.
The strength of Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful lies in its depiction of how the human race will deal with its abilities to play god. I’ve already suggested this is a dystopian novel, so it’s not too hard to imagine how things will play out. Nevertheless, the novel is not without hope.
4. Practical or Cosmetic?
This is an extension of reason 3. Whilst the science behind the first genetic alterations was pioneered for practical and life-saving applications, it’s not long before more commercial, cosmetic applications are found. Interestingly, different nations have different ideas of what is important, and the moralities of gene manipulation, more generally. These differences manifest themselves as geopolitical differences, with a second cold war forming. In this climate, America very much plows its own furrow. Reading between the lines, the book has a strong opinion on the negativities of isolationism.
Attitudes of the U.S. to gene manipulation in the novel are thinly veiled swipes at the trivial uses many of us find for the powerful technology that governs our lives.
5. It Makes You Think.
The success of most science fiction books can be measured by how much it makes you think. Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful is deeply thought-provoking from start to finish. The science to create chimeras and eradicate diseases is almost upon us. Arwen Elys Dayton has clearly researched the topic in depth, not just the science but the moral and ethical question surrounding the technology too. I tend to see processes such as stem cell research as positive things, and I still do, but this book poses frightening possibilities about how letting the genetic genie out of the bottle might lead to terrible misuse.
In Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful, six interconnected stories that spread far into the future examine how genetic manipulation might change our understanding of what it is to be human. Arwen Elys Dayton poses many fascinating questions about the use and misuse of gene technology in a novel that continually surprises. This book’s quiet brilliance is sure to delight anybody who takes the time to seek it out.
If you wish to pick up a copy of Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful, you can so, here in the U.S. and here in the UK (Publication date, 9th February).
If you enjoyed this review, check out my other 5 Reasons to Read posts.
Disclosure: I was sent a copy of this book in order to write this review.