Stronger, Faster and More Beautiful by Arwen Elys Dayton: Part Four

Is it read-worth? Eight Waded was an extremely powerful and resounding short story. Somehow Dayton makes even the most unrealistic scenarios seem completely real and this section in particular had a large impact on me. I just really loved it. Even if you don’t read the rest of the collection, I definitely recommend reading this part. The ending just really hit me in a way I wasn’t expecting it to.

SPOILER ALERT

When I first started this section, I thought that the events of this part were so far into the future that the opposition to these scientific procedures and human alterations in general had died out. The extent to which Alexios had been altered before he was even born seemed impossible in a world where people still opposed the central idea of scientifically editing and improving mankind. They would never allow what was done to him to occur. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I was wrong. 

While people like Reverend Tadd had fully embraced these procedures, as discussed in the previous section of the collection and more elaborated on throughout this short story, entire organizations were emerging in opposition. Many people still believed human alterations were immoral. Elisa Tadd in particular started an organization that directly opposed the people who now followed Reverand Tadd. She spouted the dangers of frivolous human alterations. Life-saving medical procedures were one thing; glib use of this technology was another. 

This spirit of opposition also seemed to be occurring on a worldwide scale. Certain countries, such as the United States, seem to be leading the charge in supporting these human alterations. Many people within them go to extremes and a variety of new laws are based on supporting people as they undergo these procedures. For example, the US implemented heavy taxes on anyone who wants to live outside of the city. While politicians stated it was to protect the integrity of nature, Alexios’s tutor believes the law is likely intended to keep people close to hospitals and medical resources to help them after they have their various surgeries and procedures done. Mankind will need more support than ever after having everything from their skin to the way they breathe edited. Negative side effects will need close monitoring. 

Other countries, however, go the opposite way. Where the US has a more open approach, the Russian Republic, in particular, has entirely rejected cosmetic and frivolous upgrades. Russian citizens must take an oath to preserve “the simplicity of the human form,” and are forbidden from getting any of this very extensive work done.  Medical and military upgrades are allowed which plays directly into the fact that Russia believes they should spread the belief that the integrity of the human form must be maintained. The country is going to war with surrounding countries, similarly to many events in history where Russia tried to branch out. It’s interesting the similarities the author makes when writing about the spread of these beliefs versus the spread of communism. It’s obvious that these two world powers are meant to be in contention with each other. But it’s not so obvious who is doing the right thing.

Should people be allowed to medically and surgically alter themselves without restraint? Should these surgeries be their choice alone? Or should the government play a role in preventing these procedures from taking place? What are the dangers of controlling people? What are the dangers of allowing them to do whatever they want? There’s pros and cons to each side of the story. While it would be easy to say that it’s “their body, their choice,” it’s hard to actually implement that when procedures such as the one Alexios undergoes before being born can have dire and long-lasting consequences for people. Alexios’s parents doomed him to a life where he can’t even walk because of their desire to endow him with super intelligence. Is it worth it? Should they have had the right to make that decision for him? It’s hard to say. 

The tutor, Frances, seems to believe that they had no right to do so. She is the one who broadens Alexios’s view of the world, educating him about what modern day people feel about individuals like him and how the world is embracing these procedures. She asks him if, given the choice, he would live the way he does. And, of course, it’s hard to say that he would. Alexios spends most of his days with only marine animals for company. He cannot walk or interact with his world in the same way that others do. He is alone. Her belief that some people take these procedures too far is what caused her to leave the United States and immigrate to England. 

And, like I said in my review of the previous section, I feel like it’s difficult to know what the long term consequences of these procedures would be. While it sounds fantastic that children are being born protected from a wide variety of diseases, will that have lasting impacts on the human genetic code? Will all of those impacts be positive? From my perspective, it sounds impossible to upgrade human health and give up nothing in return. There is always a price for everything. What is it? 

In the case of Alexios, the price is obvious. He may have gained superhuman intelligence, but he has lost the full use of his human body. He lacks empathy. His parents have all but abandoned him even though he is incredibly young. They’ve left an eleven year old boy alone with scientists and researchers almost all of his life. He has never really known tenderness; even just asking for a birthday gift was met with surprise. He has lost a lot of his human ability to connect and, instead, prefers time spent with aquatic life. He has lost a lot even in comparison to the unique capabilities and lifestyle he has gained. 

And his parents have lost a lot as well. It is implied that they spent a lot of time and possibly money having Alexios designed to possessextraordinary intelligence. It also seems, during their discussions with the scientists, that they view Alexios as more of an investment than a child. They worry about having him as a burden for the rest of their lives. They worry about how they will always have to support him. His interest in puzzles has no financial benefit for them and they do not seem to attempt to foster a healthy relationship with him. Most of their discussions seem to be with researchers, asking about his future and not his current life. When you view your child as an investment, will you ever be capable of acting as their loving parent or will you always be worried about seeing a return on your investment? Alexios’ parents seem more concerned about future benefits and not their personal relationship. Of course, this is partially based on his lack of empathy and ability to connect. How can you connect to someone who is absolutely unable to emotionally connect with you? Perhaps they had just given up on that portion of their life. His mother used to bring him gifts. Maybe his lack of emotional response made her unwilling to continue. 

However, it is not to say that Alexios hasn’t gained anything from this procedure. He is obviously extremely intelligent. He is able to solve puzzles more quickly than anyone else. He is amazing at mathematics. But, more than that, he understands marine life to an extent that no one else in the world does. He can fully communicate with them and understands their language. That is absolutely insane to think about. 

It also makes it difficult to say that these procedures aren’t worth it. For some people the loss of empathy and human capabilities would be more than made up for with the ability to speak to animals. Alexios is extremely connected to nature in a way mankind has never been. The scientific procedure that failed him in other ways brought about a special relationship for him and an entirely unique and new human experience. 

It is also interesting to think that Alexios is probably prized for his unique upgrades and, particularly, his appearance. He looks monstrous, even in his own opinion. His head is large and misshapen, his body is small, his skin is gray, and his legs come together to form what looks like a dolphin tail. Some may want him because of his extreme intelligence and ability to solve puzzles. They may think he will help them in whatever endeavor they are pursuing, particularly in ones related to human upgrades. Others will want him as a warning beacon regarding the dangers of technological human development. He is terrifying to look upon and has stunted physical development. Many people would be scared to end up looking like him. 

In the end of the short story, people do try to steal him. They use sonic weapons to disable the dolphins that help him protect the manatee flock; they try to drug him. While their attack ultimately fails, I wonder what their aim was in stealing him away. Did they want to use Alexios or free him? 

After they fail. Alexios asks himself if he is human, inhuman, dead weight, or something else. Them trying to steal him combined with memories of his parents labeling him as a burden and his discussions with Frances seem to make him unable to continue in his current surroundings. Is Alexios a monster? Is he a person like everyone else? What is he? What should he do?

Alexios seems to have an existential crisis after being attacked. He is not human. He is probably inhumane. He would be dead weight in a normal environment. In his current condition, trying to live like an average person would be impossible. There is no correct way for him to live. He can only try his best. 

And I loved that realization. Alexios is utterly unique, but that realization is not. It applies to every person there is. You can only live your life to the best of your ability. Don’t try to live someone else’s. I especially like it in conjunction with his next realization: there may be more to him than what the researchers tell him. He may be more than his parent’s expectations. He is without a doubt more than the limitations other people place on him.

At eleven years old, Alexios is more fully realized than most adults. 
Part Three of Stronger, Faster and More Beautiful (Eight Waded) was an excellent short story. The final scene where he leaves the compound with his group of dolphins is incredibly powerful. The prose was powerful. The main character was powerful. Alexios is free. I loved it.

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