December 18, 2016



Using the panel discussions of the most recent World Science Fiction Convention in Kansas City in August 2016 (to which I was invited and had a friend pay my membership! [Thanks, Paul!] but was unable to go (until I retire from education)), I will jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the Program Guide. This is event #2270. The link is provided below…

Whose DNA is It? Panelists discuss DNA, privacy and the law. What can be done with your DNA without your permission, and what is your recourse if you discover yours has been used?

Marguerite Kenner: Story teller from CAST OF WONDERS (who read one of my stories, long ago!) also British lawyer
Mr. Howard Rosenblatt: Lawyer from Gainesville, FL
Kenneth Schneyer: prolific short story writer
Dr. Helen Pennington: “Helen Pennington, a doctoral training student at Imperial College London” (July 2015, Royal Society for Biology Blog,

The obvious “textbook” for this discussion is THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS (Rebecca Skloot) and the answer is, “nothing”. Not really. Not yet.

Even so, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this and in my RIVER Universe books, the Confluence of Humanity has no trouble genetically re-engineering Humanity to fit whatever purpose is needed. In the short story I’m working on now, the main character will soon find out he has a clone brother – one who has been engineered into a kilometer wide manta ray creature with a bladder in the center that contains an nitrogen-oxygen atmosphere – and can be used as an ambulance in the atmosphere of the gas giant, River.

Are they still related? Genetically, yes. Was he informed about the use of his DNA to create another, alien-like Human? Absolutely not. But he was soldier and was ordered to sign away his rights to his DNA. He didn’t care, so he did. The military had a clear purpose though. Did I mention he was a direct-line descendant of Henrietta Lacks? No? Oops. Turns out the HeLa cells are also perfectly cloneable.

Anyway, this is a discussion I probably would have skipped initially, but now that I’ve had time to ponder the PERSONAL implications of genetic engineering, I’d have taken it up in a heartbeat.

Another reason would also be that the conflict in my stories will arise primarily from the fact that the opposition to the Confluence is the Empire of Man. Imperials have set a clear divider between those who are Human and those who are not. If your DNA is less than 65% original Human, you are not Human – and subsequently either a slave or “livestock”.

In a completely different direction, I’ll also add that during the Civil War, children were not regarded as Human, either. It wasn’t until 1874 that the US was able to prosecute a case of child abuse…under the auspices of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Children weren’t granted legal rights in England in the late 1760s.

So, I often explore what it means to BE Human. In fact, I’ve discovered that as a theme, it rises up in several pieces of my published writing. Looking at the stories I’ve done in the “What Went Right” series – even when I look at the “Can This Story Be Saved?” – I see that I’m trying to do the same thing. Just not as effectively.

Take-away? I guess to take advantage of opportunities to learn, even if you’re not certain that you can use the ideas in your writing. You never know!

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