A New World in Embryo
Public Law 10927 was clear and direct. Parents were permitted to watch the genetic alterations of their gametes by skilled surgeons . . . only no one ever requested it.
When Lizbeth and Harvey Durant decided to invoke the Law; when Dr. Potter did not rearrange the most unusual genetic structure of their future son, barely an embryo growing in the State's special vat-the consequences of these decisions threatened to be catastrophic.
For never before had anyone dared defy the Rulers' decrees . . . and if They found out, it was well known that the price of disobedience was the extermination of the human race . . .
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Frank Herbert (1920-1986) created the most beloved novel in the annals of science fiction, Dune. He was a man of many facets, of countless passageways that ran through an intricate mind. His magnum opus is a reflection of this, a classic work that stands as one of the most complex, multi-layered novels ever written in any genre. Today the novel is more popular than ever, with new readers continually discovering it and telling their friends to pick up a copy. It has been translated into dozens of languages and has sold almost 20 million copies.
As a child growing up in Washington State, Frank Herbert was curious about everything. He carried around a Boy Scout pack with books in it, and he was always reading. He loved Rover Boys adventures, as well as the stories of H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, and the science fiction of Edgar Rice Burroughs. On his eighth birthday, Frank stood on top of the breakfast table at his family home and announced, "I wanna be a author." His maternal grandfather, John McCarthy, said of the boy, "It's frightening. A kid that small shouldn't be so smart." Young Frank was not unlike Alia in Dune, a person having adult comprehension in a child's body. In grade school he was the acknowledged authority on everything. If his classmates wanted to know the answer to something, such as about sexual functions or how to make a carbide cannon, they would invariably say, "Let's ask Herbert. He'll know."
His curiosity and independent spirit got him into trouble more than once when he was growing up, and caused him difficulties as an adult as well. He did not graduate from college because he refused to take the required courses for a major; he only wanted to study what interested him. For years he had a hard time making a living, bouncing from job to job and from town to town. He was so independent that he refused to write for a particular market; he wrote what he felt like writing. It took him six years of research and writing to complete Dune, and after all that struggle and sacrifice, 23 publishers rejected it in book form before it was finally accepted. He received an advance of only $7,500.
His loving wife of 37 years, Beverly, was the breadwinner much of the time, as an underpaid advertising writer for department stores. Having been divorced from his first wife, Flora Parkinson, Frank Herbert met Beverly Stuart at a University of Washington creative writing class in 1946. At the time, they were the only students in the class who had sold their work for publication. Frank had sold two pulp adventure stories to magazines, one to Esquire and the other to Doc Savage. Beverly had sold a story to Modern Romance magazine. These genres reflected the interests of the two young lovers; he the adventurer, the strong, machismo man, and she the romantic, exceedingly feminine and soft-spoken.
Their marriage would produce two sons, Brian, born in 1947, and Bruce, born in 1951. Frank also had a daughter, Penny, born in 1942 from his first marriage. For more than two decades Frank and Beverly would struggle to make ends meet, and there were many hard times. In order to pay the bills and to allow her husband the freedom he needed in order to create, Beverly gave up her own creative writing career in order to support his. They were in fact a writing team, as he discussed every aspect of his stories with her, and she edited his work. Theirs was a remarkable, though tragic, love story-which Brian would poignantly describe one day in Dreamer of Dune (Tor Books; April 2003). After Beverly passed away, Frank married Theresa Shackelford.
In all, Frank Herbert wrote nearly 30 popular books and collections of short stories, including six novels set in the Dune universe: Dune, Dune Messiah, Children of Dune, God Emperor of Dune, Heretics of Dune, and Chapterhouse: Dune. All were international bestsellers, as were a number of his other science fiction novels, which include The White Plague and The Dosadi Experiment. His major novels included The Dragon in the Sea, Soul Catcher (his only non-science fiction novel), Destination: Void, The Santaroga Barrier, The Green Brain, Hellstorm's Hive, Whipping Star, The Eyes of Heisenberg, The Godmakers, Direct Descent, and The Heaven Makers. He also collaborated with Bill Ransom to write The Jesus Incident, The Lazarus Effect, and The Ascension Factor. Frank Herbert's last published novel, Man of Two Worlds, was a collaboration with his son, Brian.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
They would schedule a rain for this morning. Dr. Thei Svengaard thought. Rain always makes the parents uneasy...not to mention what it does to the doctors.
A gust of winter wetness rattled against the window behind his desk. He stood, thought of muting the windows, but the Durants--this morning’s parents--might be even more alarmed by the unnatural silence on such a day.
Dr. Svengaard stepped to the window, looked down at the thronging foot traffic--day shifts going to their jobs in the megalopolis, night shifts headed toward their tumbled rest. There was a sense of power and movement in the comings and goings of the people in spite of their troglodyte existence. Most of them, he knew, were children Sterries...sterile, sterile. They came and they went, numbered, but numberless.
He had left the intercom open to his reception room and he could hear his nurse, Mrs. Washington, distracting the Durants with questions and forms.
That was the watchword. This must all appear normal, casual routine. The Durants and all the others fortunate enough to be chosen andto become parents must never suspect the truth.
Dr. Svengaard steered his mind away from such thoughts, reminding himself that guilt was not a permissible emotion for a member of the medical profession. Guilt led inevitably to betrayal...and betrayal brought messy consequences. The Optimen were exceedingly touchy where the breeding program was concerned.
Such a thought with its hint of criticism filled Svengaard with a momentary disquiet. He swallowed, allowed his mind to dwell on the Folk response to the Optimen, They are the power that loves us and cares for us.
With a sigh, he turned away from the window, skirted the desk and went through the door that led via the ready room to the lab. In the ready room, he paused to check his appearance in the mirror: gray hair, dark brown eyes, strong chin, high forehead and rather grim lips beneath an aquiline nose. He’d always been rather proud of the remote dignity in his appearance-cut and h ad come to terms with the need of adjusting the remoteness. Now, he softened the set of his mouth, practiced a look of compassionate interest.
Yes, that would do for the Durants--granting the accuracy of their emotional profiles.
Nurse Washington was just ushering the Durants into the lab as Dr. Svengaard entered through his private door. The skylights above them drummed and hissed with the rain. Such weather suddenly seemed to fit the room’s mood: washed glass, steel, plasmeld and tile...all impersonal. It rained on everyone...and all humans had to pass through a room such as this...even the Optimen.
Dr. Svengaard took an instant dislike to the parents. Harvey Durant was a lithe six-footer with curly blond hair, light blue eyes. The face was wide with an apparent innocence and youth. Lizbeth, his wife, stood almost the same height, equally blonde, equally blue-eyed and young. Her figure suggested Valkyrie robustness. On a silver cord around her neck she wore one of the omnipresent Folk talismans, a brass figure of the female Optiman, Calapine. The breeder cult nonsense and religious overtones of the figure did not escape Dr. Svengaard. He suppressed a sneer.
The Durants were parents, however, and robust--living testimony to the skill of the surgeon who had cut them. Dr. Svengaard allowed himself a moment of pride in his profession. Not many people could enter the tight little group of subcellular engineers who kept human variety within bounds.
Nurse Washington paused in the door behind the Durants, said, “Dr. Svengaard, Harvey and Lizbeth Durant.” She left without waiting for acknowledgements. Nurse Washington’s timing and discretion always were exquisitely correct.
“The Durants, how nice,“ Dr. Svengaard said. “I hope my nurse didn’t bore you with all those forms and questions. But I guess you knew you were letting yourselves in for all that routine when you asked to watch.”
“We understand,“ Harvey Durant said. And he thought, Asked to watch, indeed! Does this old fake think he can pulled his little tricks on us?
Dr. Svengaard noted the rich, compelling baritone of the man’s voice. It bothered him, added to his dislike.
“We don’t want to take any more of your time than absolutely necessary,“ Lizbeth Durant said. She clasped her husband’s hand and through their secret code of finger pressures said: “Do you read him? He doesn’t like us.”
Harvey’s fingers responded, “He’s a Sterrie prig, so full of pride in his position that he’s half blind.”
The woman’s no-nonsense tone annoyed Dr. Svengaard. She already was staring around the lab, quick, searching looks. I must keep control here, he thought. He crossed to them, shook hands. Their palms were sweaty.
Nervous. Good, Dr. Svengaard thought.
The sound of a viapump at his left seemed reassuringly loud to him then. You could count on the pump to make parents nervous. That was why the pumps were loud. Dr. Svengaard turned toward the sound, indicated a sealed crystal vat on a force-field stand near the lab’s center. The pump sound came from the vat.
“Here we are,“ Dr. Svengaard said.
Lizbeth stared at the vat’s milky translucent surface. She wet her lips with her tongue. “In there?”
“And as safe as can be,“ Dr. Svengaard said.
He cherished the small hope then that the Durants might yet leave, go home and await the outcome.
Harvey took his wife’s hand, patted it. He, too, stared at the vat. “We understand you’ve called in this specialist,“ he said.
“Dr. Potter,“ Svengaard said. “From Central.” He glanced at the nervous movements of the Durants’ hands, noting the omnipresent tattooed index fingers--gene type and station. They could add the coveted “V” for viable now, he thought, and he suppressed a momentary jealousy.
“Dr. Potter, yes,“ Harvey said. Through their hands, he signaled Lizbeth, “Notice how he said Central?”
“How could I miss it?” she responded.
Central, she thought. The place conjured pictures of the lordly Optimen, but this made her think of the Cyborgs who secretly opposed the Optimen, and the whole thing filled her with profound disquiet. She could afford to think of nothing but her son now.
“We know Potter’s the best there is,“ she said. “and we don’t want you to think we’re just being emotional and fearful...”
“...but we’re going to watch,“ Harvey said. And he thought, This stiff-necked surgeon had better realize we know our legal rights.
“I see,“ Dr. Svengaard said. Damn these fools! he thought. But he held his voice to a soothing monotone and said, “Your concern is a matter of record. I admire it. However, the consequences...”
He left the words hanging there, reminding them that he had legal rights, too, could make the cut with or without their permission, and couldn’t be held responsible for any upset to the parents. Public Law 10927 was clear and direct. Parents might invoke it for the right to watch, but the cut wouldbe made at the surgeon’s discretion. The human race had a planned future which excluded genetic monsters and wild deviants.
Harvey nodded, a quick and emphatic motion. He gripped his wife’s hand tightly. Bits of Folk horror stories and official myths trickled through his mind. He saw Svengaard partly through this confusion of stories and partly through the clandestine forbidden literature grudgingly provided by the Cyborgs to the Parents Underground--through Stedman and Merck, through Shakespeare and Huxley. His youth had fed on such a limited past that he knew superstition could not help but remain.
Lizbeth’s nod came slower. She knew what their chief concern here had to be, but that was still her son in the vat.
“Are you sure,“ she asked, deliberately baiting Svengaard, “that there’s no pain?”
The extent of the Folk nonsense which bred in the necessaryatmosphere of popular ignorance filled Dr. Svengaard with resentment. He knew he’d have to end this interview quickly. The things he mightbe saying to these people kept intruding on his awareness, interfering with what he hadto say.
“That fertilized ovum has no nerve trains,“ he said. “It’s physically less than three hours old, its growth retarded by controlled nitrate respiration. Pain? The concept doesn’t apply.”
The technical terms would have little meaning to them, Dr. Svengaard knew, other than to emphasize the distance between mere parents and a submolecular engineer.
“I guess that was rather foolish of me,“ Lizbeth said. “The...it’s so simple, not really like a human yet.” And she signaled to Harvey through their hands, “What a simpleton he is! As easy to read as a child.”
Rain beat a tarantella against the skylight. Dr. Svengaard waited it out, then: “Ah, now let us make no mistakes.” And he thought what an excellent moment it was to give these fools a catechism refresher. “Your embryo may be less than three hours old, but it already contains every basic enzyme it’ll need when fully developed. An enormously complicated organism.”
Harvey stared at him in assumed awe at the g...
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