Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

27 Mar 2001, 11:55 a.m.

Kress & speciation

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2001 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

Argh. Here I am, trying to soak up enough DMV information to please them, and sneaking away to read Nancy Kress's Beggars Trilogy ten or twenty pages at a time, and now I've been trying to make a Wintel box perform like something better than the dadblamed spit-and-baling-wire contraption that it is. So, for those I haven't emailed in a few days, apologies; I'll get to you soon. *kicks CPU*

I'm on the third book, Beggars Ride. I read too fast; I always have. I used to think it was a good thing, a secret pride, that I read faster than others. Now I see that it keeps me from really nailing the things about a text that make me uncomfortable, until I've given in to the author's assumptions and uncritically accepted her logic.

Examples: Jennifer Sharifi is a fanatic, and she's a Muslim. Kress engages in discourse with the work of Ayn Rand, especially in the first and second books, and yet she's dropped only one tantalizing reference to any of Rand's work, and even that obscure. And a few weak spots -- in the second book, especially -- remind me of the worst aspects of Atlas Shrugged: the deterministic plotting based on characteristics, not characters; implausible philosophical soliloquies and dialogues; complete moral condemnation of a class.

That said, Kress plausibly explores the speciation, through genetic modification, of humans.

Long ago, I was at Black Oak Books with Anirvan and...Greg? Mike? What was the name of that guy from the other side of my cubicle, back when I was at Innomedia? Anyway, we ate at Cha-Am afterwards, I remember, and Anirvan and I talked ancient Hindu mythology, courtesy of Amar Chitra Katha, as Mike (?) ate on, silently bewildered and bemused.

But more importantly, we all went to Black Oak to hear Paulina Borsook, author of the then-recently-published Cyberselfish. The question-and-answer period included discussion of the Bionomics (think Biology+Economics) Institute, which predicted (I think I heard) speciation of humans within 200 years.

I thought I sensed the room go quiet for a moment.

Now, I imagine the Bionomics people were speaking of the scientific definition of speciation. As I remember from ninth-grade biology

(Mr. Porter's class, his windbreaker with his collar up, last I heard he was coaching the water polo team at UOP, the squish and strange hard shiny flexibility of frog parts, winning the Bone Challenge for my team, a t-shirt color-coding my anatomy,

his surprising gentle knowing that I needed to cry after I didn't win any points for my classmates in the biweekly classwide Challenge of the chapter tests, his dropping the femur that comprised a hall pass onto my desk so that I could run across Senior Circle to the Business building restroom to sob, his telling me that I didn't have to be Clarence Darrow)

, speciation is the divergence of two species so far apart that a member from each cannot mate to produce an offspring who can also have viable offspring. (So K'Eylar, Worf's mate, should have been sterile!)

But Kress is more concerned, I think, with cultural speciation. As is Asimov in the Foundation and Robots serieses. Earthers and Spacers, donkeys and Livers and Sleepless and SuperSleepless. The gated communities and the COPS trailer parks, core and periphery. Is the speciation already here?

As long as there is social mobility, up and down and sideways and east and west and full-circle, then we are one people, we humans. To the extent that someone is not part of my "we," my tribe, to that extent she may as well be a different species.

And --thank you Borsook, Kress, Card, Asimov, teachers -- genetic speciation will only heighten cultural speciation, not start it.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at