Stronger, Faster and More Beautiful by Arwen Elys Dayton: Part Six and Final Thoughts

Is it read-worth? I’m going to be completely honest. This was my least favorite short story in the collection. However, that being said, I really liked the entire collection… so it’s hard to say it wasn’t worth the read. Curiosities just didn’t really have the same impact on me as the prior stories did, possibly because the scenario it described seemed so far-off and somewhat underdeveloped compared to the previous shorts. The entire collection is worth a read, but you wouldn’t pick up Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful for this specific short story.

Like I said in my brief review, this portion of the book didn’t have the same impact on me as previous sections did. Perhaps that’s partially my fault though. After reading so many amazing short stories, I had high expectations for the last part of the series. What I actually received felt like a let down and didn’t touch on a lot of the topics that interested me so much in the beginning.

Plus, I really wanted to find out what happened to Jake and Kostya. And I didn’t.

But that’s not to say Curiosities was without merit. It was still a very interesting short story and I did enjoy the relationship between the two main characters, Starlock and Luck. They were essential star-crossed lovers doomed to never be together.

Of course, that does mean they end up together, but I was alright with that. I don’t mind predictable endings every now and again. 

I also thought this review touched on a lot of the topics mentioned previously. It didn’t involve the theme of parenting and raising your child that was so prevalent in previous sections, but it had little reminders towards that theme. It mainly focused on how far society was willing to go to alter themselves. In America, they were willing to entrap and essentially enslave a group of people in order to harvest their genetic codes. While the officials in charge undoubtedly justified this behavior by being a “last resort” for mankind and by treating the Protos pretty well, the Protos were designed to live as second-class citizens, or pets, in a highly protected zoo. Just so humans could have red hair or dark skin. It feels strange to think that they judged Russia for their mechanical convicts just to enslave a group of people themselves.

It also feels realistic. 

Governments do horrible things every day.

I didn’t really enjoy the ending, however. You’d think there would be more safe guards for the procedures they perform in place. How had no one planned for a crop disease if they’re adding the genetic information of a crop to humans? Even in theory, someone

 would have written a plan for this. They had so many scientific resources available to them. I also didn’t feel like it was necessary to kill off everyone who had undergone extensive procedures. With the extent of the changes being made to people, it was obvious that mankind had been irreversibly changed and, in my opinion, damaged. Many were completely unrecognizable as human. If you take the extent of their changes further into the inhumane, I think that would have been more realistic than wide-spread immediate death or, vice versa, if you killed the entire population off in a less immediate manner. We didn’t need a return to normal humanity in my opinion, but, if the author felt it was necessary, it could have been done in a better way.

That’s nitpicking though. It was still a good short story, just not a great one.

Overall, I really did enjoy this series a lot. The last story may not have interested me a lot, but it was well written overall and did briefly touch upon the topics I had enjoyed in previous sections. I really enjoyed asking myself questions I had never asked before like: What would I do for my children? What is my right? Are extensive physical alterations moral? When can they be immoral? What would the world look like if we started to drastically, physically change ourselves? I still don’t know the answers to most of those questions, but I do know that everything would be very different.

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

Is it read-worth? Yes, absolutely, but I don’t know how to even begin talking about this section of Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful. It was extremely well-written (unsurprisingly) and I really enjoyed it, but there is just so much to talk about. It was really jam packed. Homophobia, parenting, tough decisions, Russia. I don’t even know where to begin. So please forgive me if this sounds like the ramblings of a mad woman! I’m going to try my best to come up with a concise train of thoughts, but no promises.

SPOILER ALERT

I don’t know how to even begin talking about this section of Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful. It was extremely well-written (unsurprisingly) and I really enjoyed it, but there is just so much to talk about. It was really jam packed. Homophobia, parenting, tough decisions, Russia. I don’t even know where to begin. So please forgive me if this sounds like the ramblings of a mad woman! I’m going to try my best to come up with a concise train of thoughts, but no promises. 

The beginning of this short story was very obviously designed to catch a reader’s attention, just like every other short story in this collection has been. And it very much so succeeded. Instead of offering a lot of lead up (like in part two), it put you right in the middle of a high-risk, scary situation. Jake and Kostya are trying to escape the Russian men chasing them. They are both swearing in Russian, although Jake admits he is an English-speaking American. It comes across as strange, but immediately piques your interest. Why does an American man feel more comfortable with Russian swear words than English ones? He mentions that his bosses have made American swear words feel fake after yelling at him in Russian for so long. Who are his bosses?

You immediately want to know more. Who is this guy? What’s he doing?

While being chased, Jake deploys his “secondary left arm” and attacks one of their pursuers with a knife. This description of a secondary arm continues throughout the entire story, but I personally have a very difficult time imagining what the author means. Has Jake been redesigned to resemble a centipede? How has he gained such easy use of an extra limb? Even after months of practicing with spare arms, I don’t know if I could ever grasp their usage. Can the human mind really adapt to the addition of unnatural limbs?

You’re also told, during this first chase scene, that Jake can only raise a small amount of force against a human. His “full-sized” arms are mostly incapable of exerting any amount of force against a human; the one that can do so is only due to poor maintenance. His secondary arms are both weak and feeble, designed only for delicate work. Later in the short story, when the scene where he first realizes this limitation, this inability to harm humans is what makes him fully understand that he was a slave and, as a slave, he was designed not to harm his masters.

I really enjoyed those little details. I also really appreciated this line of Jake’s internal dialogue when he is rushing through mid-afternoon traffic trying to escape his pursuers and is shocked by the continued existence of normal human things like city blocks and sidewalks: “How could such old-fashioned, everyday things still be here? How was the world so ordinary when Jake himself had become something else?” Dayton is absolutely excellent at capturing core ideas and feelings in short statements or questions. The depth of Jake’s changes are undisclosed at this point, but they are obviously extensive and far reaching. He has been changed to the point where he barely recognizes himself. 

In contract to the following description of Yulia, an average Russian girl entering her home, it feels especially powerful that Jake has been changed by so much. Compared to most of the book, Yulia is almost entirely unaltered. She is a natural human girl.

Jake’s reaction to her is not as natural. While he found her to be curious at first, she almost seemed to repulse him. Her hair in particular bothered him. He himself is unable to grow hair due to his mostly robotic frame. The bosses who had monitored him in the mines kept their hair shaved. It seemed animalistic and unclean to grow hair. He had become a sterile being and she was a lowly beast. 

I wonder if others in his shoes would have the same reaction. Would the sight of hair repulse them too? Or does that depend on the individual? I believe that many people who had undergone the same process as Jake would feel jealousy when viewing a woman with hair instead of disgust. They would want to return to a state where they too could look so human. I personally can only imagine myself being overwhelmed with envy. 

It is also interesting that Yulia seemed to feel the same level of curiosity towards Jake that he felt towards her. While I was glad that their relationship never evolved into something pseudo-romantic, their curiosity towards each other felt powerful in a new way. It was almost like viewing each other was a new discovery on both of their ends. Once she got past her initial feelings of fear, she couldn’t seem to help but question him. 

The process of Jake “becoming” human was very intriguing as well. Honestly, most of this short story was just incredibly interesting to think about. Most of this series has been. The majority of his frame and appearance is technological with metallic limbs and control panels. Jake doesn’t look human. He looks like a robot. But a switch in his chest allows him to create fake skin that gives him a very humane appearance. From a distance, he is indistinguishable from others. Up close? You could tell the difference. 

However, as the story progresses, it is unbelievably disturbing to realize that the extent of his alterations are not the full extent to which Russia edits mankind. Based on the previous short story, I was not expecting such horrible alterations to take place in Russia. Convicts, or other people deemed less than the ideal Russian citizen, are built into garbage collecting systems, machines that put out fires, and machines that mend the sewage system. They’re intentionally modified to service one purpose until their sentence is served. They are not human in any regard. It’s hard to imagine this taking place, but it’s also hard to comprehend how such substantial observations could ever be reversible. Do their sentences ever end? Is this the future of our criminal system? 

How could someone do this to another person?

In Jake’s case, the reasons for his alterations seem very shallow to me. He was changed into a robotic being because Russians need platinum in order to create their technology. It is an important reason, but it is a complete injustice. He was chosen because Russian officials view Americans as prisoners of war and, therefore, as inherently less than themselves. He lost his body and his freedom. I understand the rationalization, and it’s very realistic, but I absolutely hate it, perhaps due to my lens as an American citizen. How could they do this to someone, anyone? It is absolutely horrific. Even the worst criminals don’t deserve this. Perhaps the Russians feel it is a fair trade for bringing him back to life.

It is extremely hypocritical to think that Russians judge Americans for not staying pure to the human form and then they turn their convicts and prisoners of war into highly manipulated machines. Jake is hardly even human after what they did to him. Their Genome War with America is entirely a philosophical war based off of what is okay to do to people and what is not. Russia was supposed to be the ones fighting for the simplicity of the human form, but they have not done so. While their general population may be “pure”, their criminals are made into mechanical monsters.

In contrast to Jake’s current existence, the flashbacks to his life in California are a welcome break. They seem so full of color and liveliness in comparison. The competition with his friends to have sex with more girls is a bit gross in my opinion, but adds context and believability to the extent of his youth. He was just a teenage boy. Even though he had been frozen in time due to the cancers in his body, Jake was really still a teenage boy. He shouldn’t have had to go through any of this. He hadn’t done anything wrong. He was just a victim of cancer and of Russia’s search for platinum. Because of it, he lost almost all of his physical reminders of being human.

As a side note, the extent of his changes did remind me of the Unsullied from Game of Thrones. They were designed to be the ultimate warrior slaves in the Game of Thrones universe and Jake was designed to be the ideal working slave. Both groups had been castrated, maimed, and enslaved by organizations with no concern for their individual well-beings. I wonder if, like the Unsullied, he will search out contact in other forms once he is able. Simple human touch could end up meaning as much to him as sexual intercourse could have in his former life. After all, Jake was almost without human touch for so long. Any gentleness and signs of affection could become so much more meaningful than they would have been previously.

It seemed to me, at first, that Yulia was supposed to be the missing piece in Jake’s search for home. Again, I’m glad that she wasn’t. It wasn’t the right time and would have felt small against the grandeur of his problems. Kostya, if anything, was closer to being Jake’s humanity than I think anyone else could be. 

Speaking of Kostya, It is strange to use rampant homophobia in a futuristic context. I always imagine the future as a place free of baseless biases. The idea of homophobia and racism and sexism continuing far into the future bothers me. Of course, it is unrealistic to expect for all those things to just stop one day. You might argue that small hatreds are built into humanity. In order for you to truly love the people around you, can you be without hate for something else? On a small scale, of course. On a large scale? I’m not so sure. 

Kostya was given to the Russian government by his father because he is gay. Immediately after finding out, it was like he had died in the eyes of his father. Kostya was no longer even worth looking at. He killed Kostya’s lover immediately upon finding them. I wonder if he was punished for his violence, made into a convict, or rewarded for ridding the world of a gay man. It is disgusting to think that he was probably rewarded for killing another person. Kostya was not entirely excited to return to Russia when they escaped the bossy, as a result. He felt like returning to Russia was another kind of dying.

Similarly, I wonder if Yulia will actually be rewarded for turning them in. It is obvious that the Russian government didn’t want the general population to find out about what they are doing. She didn’t even know that platinum came from outside the planet. They were told otherwise. Will they really allow her to just leave and live with that knowledge? I highly doubt it. Her fate will probably be similar to the one she almost condemned Kostya and Jake to.

It is also difficult, in my opinion, to imagine a future that is so dirty. How can the world have such highly futuristic technology and such a run-down landscape? When Jake describes the train station, it is a whirlwind of advancement. The trains were the science fiction transportation devices everyone imagines. But the train station itself was still run-down and dirty. There was old chewing gum on the ground and dark tobacco stains on the wall. Again, completely realistic, but somehow still unexpected. The future we are always shown in films and movies, outside of apocalyptic fiction, is always bright and clean. 

It is curious that religious morality has mostly faded by this section of the collection. The first three parts included a lot of religion. I didn’t note that the last section had no religious beliefs involved. Is this intentional or accidental? The decline of spirituality has always been a consequence of increasing scientific knowledge. Or was the inclusion of homophobia supposed to be the bridge towards religious beliefs? 

However, this storyline did continue with a lot of the same themes that previous short stories had run with as well, particularly concepts that have to do with parenthood. In the first short story, we were asked if we would give up the life of one child in exchange for the life of another. Would we shorten the life of one in order to give the other a normal life? In the previous section, we were asked what changes we would make in our children to give them a better life. Would we give them intelligence or beauty beyond belief? Would that be our right, as parents? Or would that be an encroachment on their own lives? In this section, we are asked if we would give up our child to the unknown on the small chance it will save their life. I really enjoy the continuation of this line of questioning. Asking people about parenthood and love will always be universal, even into the far off future. What would you do for your child? Is it your right to do it?

In the case of Jake, his parents were willing to give him up to the unknown with the hope he could be revived and live a full life later on. Of course, they couldn’t imagine what he would experience. I wonder if they would think his life is worth living. Was it worth giving him up just for him to be used and changed and hurt? Was it worth curing his cancer just for them to make him into a slave?

When he is frozen, it is painless. 

I do wonder if Jake will ever find out what happened to Dehlia or vice versa if we will ever hear about what ends up happening with Jake. When we leave off at the end of this short story, him and Kostya are still running from the police. They jump off of a train. Does he ever make it to America? The hopeful part of me believes he does, but the cynical part of me believes Russia must have some type of system of catching escaped convicts. Jake and Kostya can’t be the only ones on Earth with such extensive upgrades. The author had mentioned earlier that Russians had had no problems with upgrading people for military purposes after all. Will they follow and capture them? 

And I wish he had said goodbye to Dehlia. I understand why he didn’t, but it felt very unfair to her. He seemed to love her. I wonder if she ever recovered from the loss of him.

After Jake wakes up, he is pierced and cut with needles and knives. His cancer is removed from him and, then, his limbs. The skin and muscles were removed from his body. He couldn’t feel it, but he could see it happening. I wonder why, when they were so willing to do such extensive physical alterations, the Russians did not tamper with his mind. Why did they not make him crave performing the operations and tasks he was given? Why not make him like his role in life? You will not have escaped robots if you make the robots enjoy what they’re doing. And how are these alterations worth the money? It must be expensive to perform these operations. Unimaginably expensive. They are curing diseases and then stripping someone of their humanity. It also sounds extremely expensive to then train these people how to use their new bodies and, then, to get them to the asteroid belt. How can platinum cover all of those costs? Do these procedures extend their lives by quite a bit, beyond protecting them from most manners of death? 

It is horrifying to imagine going through these things. It is not difficult to think that, after being altered and cut up and made into a slave, you would want to die. Kostya says that many of the first batch of slaves tried to kill themselves. It  is very hard for them to die. The fake skin they were given is all that saved Jake and the others from feeling the same suicidal tendencies as the prior group. It gave them a sense of remembered humanity. And the journey to the asteroid sounds impossible to live through in itself. The slaves were crammed in cargo bay racks, fed by twos, and bombarded with messages from a learning screen meant to teach them Russian. They were not even allowed to talk to each other most of the time.

But some of the moments were, of course, beautiful. Jake undoubtedly lost more than he gained, but the experience he gained was not entirely without value. He got to see a sight few people would ever see: the sight of the galaxy. It seemed to have a large impact on him. He would also get the sense that in such a large universe, he was something new. But remembering that he was only an object after that thought continuously hurt him. “He could see the infinite universe, but he was looking with the eyes of a slave.”

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.

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

Is it read-worth? Yes. This section of the collection is a bit gruesome though. It makes you stare at human nature and not really like what you see. But it does catch your attention almost immediately. You find yourself concerned for Elise Tadd. Where is she? Why is she there? Who did this to her? Why are you so scared for a character you just met? The pure hypocrisy of this section is just jaw-dropping. And, to be honest, it’s completely believable human behavior. What happens when you warn others to stay away from the gates of hell just to turn around and storm them? Or to just buy the property next door? What happens when you become the demon? Part three is the most true to the point short story within this collection to date and I love that. I absolutely adore stories that don’t shy away from their main points and, instead, fully embrace them. 

Especially when their main points are a little bit disturbing and make you question yourself.

And, interestingly enough, this was the first part of the collection where I fully realized that each section has a title. I don’t know how I didn’t notice this before. What have I been doing? But the titles do set you up for that better understanding of what you’re going to read that I had complained about lacking in the prior section.

SPOILER ALERT

The beginning to part three of Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful immediately captured my interest. Elisa Tadd woke in a strange place she didn’t recognize at first. I was instantly concerned for her, worried for what was about to happen next. A woman waking up in a strange place? No thank you, let’s read more.

Thankfully, that strange place was her father’s old church basement so my concern lessened by quite a bit, but Dayton’s excellent foreboding tone didn’t allow me to dismiss all my worries. After all, the previous sections had shown me what an awful person Reverend Tadd is. What was he like with his own daughter? I knew his religious beliefs wouldn’t allow for a lot of flexibility.

It was interesting that, since getting to know him in previous shorts, Reverend Tadd had apparently lost his way. He was no longer a minister at his church. He hadn’t even set foot in the church for a year and a half. Elisa disclosed that they had been in Africa, trepidation in her voice. She remembered protesting with her brother, Teddy, and her mother. 

A perturbing image of Teddy claiming to love the hole in his heart, instead of getting it fixed, enters her head. It’s hard to imagine a family that would rather doom a child to a short life than have him undergo a medical procedure, but it is realistic. It just hurts to think that people would rather sentence a child to death than allow them to live. 

She also remembered a small Congolese girl who was being injected with ‘Castus Germline,’ the medical substance her family was in Africa protesting. Castus Germline is an injection, almost a vaccine, that will edit diseases out of human eggs and add protections against malaria and other infections. Any child born from a woman who had received an injection would have close to perfect health. Reverend Tadd and his family believed that this was yet another blasphemy against God’s plan. How could mankind play God in this way? 

And to be honest I don’t entirely disagree, but I have completely different reasons. What if something was wrong with this vaccination? Would they be dooming children to stunted, half-lived lives? What if it caused unexpected infertility? Overwriting someone’s genetic code sounds more risky physically than spiritually, especially if you’re overwriting everyone’s genetic codes. One mistake in the vaccination could have dire consequences for the girl, her children, and civilization at large. Of course, the injection had probably already been studied, but it is difficult to imagine the consequences of what could go wrong.

Elisa’s musings are interrupted by her father’s voice. She is frightened by him and wishes she had heard her mother’s voice or Teddy’s instead. She follows his voice to a room where he is praying, murmuring about us all being the fish. He brought her here because he was not yet ready to go home. Elisa’s mother and Teddy were dead. 

But, according to Reverend Tadd, Elisa wouldn’t need to worry nor miss them. They were not yet in heaven. Instead, they were living on in them. Reverend Tadd admits he had always been wrong about the procedures and the medical advances the human world was making. It was not wrong to advance. It was right. God would not have given mankind the ability to do such things for them to not do them. Reverend Tadd believed that God had blessed them with the ability to become all of the rest of the world, all of the animals and creatures within it. 

We are Nephesh, living beings, and all other living beings are also Nephesh. According to his sudden realization, mankind is supposed to become all Nephesh during the final stage of human evolution. And then Elisa sees him and the scene becomes extremely unsettling. 

His left eye was her mother’s. Part of his face was her mother’s. His eyebrow had changed. His hair had belonged to Teddy. It is completely disquieting to imagine his monstrous appearance. He is a chimera of loss. 

And when Elisa looks at herself? She is the same way. Her hair and her skin and her eyes do not entirely belong to her. Pieces and parts of her mother and brother have been added to her. She is equally as disturbing to gaze upon.

It is so insanely disgusting to imagine a person being made of bits of their lost loved ones, but it does get Dayton’s point across immediately and strongly. The religious beliefs of anyone will be called into question when they are given the chance to go against their beliefs to save, or preserve, the ones they love. People who call you out for bad behavior will likely exhibit the same behavior if it benefits themselves. And the people who claim your actions are against God? They can be demons themselves. 

Young Goodman Brown by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Is it read-worth? Let’s get real here: the reason why 90% of people read stories like Young Goodman Brown are because a class they are taking them requires them too. The writing itself is fine, but it can be hard to understand from a modern perspective. I enjoyed the piece, but don’t necessarily recommend it to others. However, you can find it here if you wish to read it. It’s completely free.

I mostly wanted to make a post about this short story because I found a very short essay I wrote that might help people better understand the story. Or at least pretend to. Not that I’m saying it’s a bad piece of writing, it’s very good, but most people don’t really enjoy reading stories like this.

SPOILER ALERT: My Young Goodman Brown Essay

Faith is the young wife of Goodman Brown. They’ve been married for only a short period of time, but he relies on her heavily as a symbol of all things good and pure. In the story, her faith in God strengthens his own. If she, his lovely wife, is not faithful, how can Goodman expect to be? However, she does not seem to feel the same way about Goodman. At the very beginning of the book, she questions what he is going to go do in the middle of the night. Why does he need to leave her? While he may love her as a symbol of all that is good, Faith does not entirely trust her husband and mentions that she also has questionable thoughts when she is left alone, particularly at night. While she may try to resist temptation and sinful behavior, and he believes she is the image of good faith and godly behavior, she isn’t entirely free of human weaknesses. She questions, she wants, and she struggles with the same challenges we all face. In the book, Faith may be used a symbol for Goodman’s own faith, but, as a character, she’s just another person. 

In the short story, Young Goodman Brown, Goodman Brown seems to lose the naive view he had of the people around him. In the beginning, Goodman assumes that all people are inherently good. He does not question his deacon, his governor, and he holds his wife, Faith, in extremely high esteem. They all are good God-fearing members of the community. However, when he leaves his house to meet with an old man in the woods, he loses all innocence he once had. The old man, who represents the devil throughout the story, tells him of how he regularly drinks with highly esteemed members of the church, advises the governor, and how he played a role in Goodman’s own family’s decisions. Goodman then finds that most of his community, who he labels witches and evil-doers, meet with this devil regularly. He even sees his own wife being tempted by the devil’s promises. As a result, when he finds himself waking up in the middle of the woods, his view of the world is irrevocably changed. Goodman does not trust the people around him. He doesn’t even love his wife anymore, fearing her to be doing the work of the devil. He has lost all innocence and, in a manner of speaking, has lost his connection with God by blocking out the love, blessings, and behavior of the people around him. While most people do lose a portion of their innocence at one time, Goodman shows what happens when you lose all innocence and all faith. 

Faith is perhaps the most important symbol throughout Young Goodman Brown. She represents Goodman’s faith in god – his goodness, purity, and ability to connect with others. When Goodman sees her being tempted by the devil, he loses all hope and emotionally disconnects from the church, his community, and his wife. If she is unable to be godly at all times, he has no hope for himself. 

What happened to Goodman Brown was both a dream and a reality. I believe the actual events that occurred were a dream that resulted from his fear of being in the woods, his actions being questioned by his wife, and his own budding sense of distrust. However, the lasting effect is the reality that matters. He wasted the rest of life distrusting the people around him, he lost all love for his wife, and he failed to connect with any of his children in a meaningful way. It does not matter if those events occurred as much as it matters that Goodman believes that they did. He wasted his life by believing that the people around him had given in to evil.

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

Is it read-worth? Absolutely. The characters in this section of the overall story are so completely relatable. You can almost imagine yourself living their lives and being faced with the same decisions. What would you do if your religious beliefs told you not to do something that would save your life? What if everyone hated you for it?

Switching from Part One to Part Two of Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful was a complete and total tone shift. Unlike Part One, where everything comes across as familial and almost innocent, Part Two starts off a little bit sexy. To be perfectly honest, the transition was a little bit jarring for me. Again, I wasn’t expecting this to be a collection of short stories. I was expecting a novel. The back of the book didn’t set me up for an easy comprehension of what was happening. I was confused as to the change in writing style and, during my first read-through, kept wondering where Julia and Evan were. That was my fault, though, for not looking into this book before buying, but it was a bit difficult to understand as a reader.

I’ll save you the trouble: STRONGER, FASTER, AND MORE BEAUTIFUL IS A COLLECTION OF SHORT STORIES.

And very well written ones at that. Once I got past the original confusion, I loved this second part of the collection. I especially enjoyed the way it is written. It starts off at the moment before a big event and then keeps going back in time to explain the background story. The main character, Milla, keeps warning you that you’re going to hate her for what happens. Spoiler alert: I didn’t, but I can see how many people would. 

Plus, it was really nice to have a completely normal girl as the main character in a book. It is especially nice in comparison to Midnight Sun where the emphasis is always on how different Bella is than other girls. I’ve been reading that lately and I don’t particularly enjoy books that spit out “not like other girls” rhetoric. I like reading about normal girls. I like the fact that Milla would normally blend into the crowd. I like imagining regular people in extraordinary circumstances. It feels more real to me than anything else.  It feels more like I could be her.

I really do recommend reading this collection so far. It’s extremely interesting and the writing is just phenomenal. Even with the tone shifts, I have enjoyed both parts I’ve read so far. And once you have read it, read the rest of my review below so we can talk about it!

SPOILER ALERT

Like I was saying, I really enjoyed Milla as a character. She seemed so completely normal. There she was, in a coffee shop, watching a book who hasn’t noticed her yet. It seemed to me like she had a crush. She is just a completely average, normal girl who’s a little bit nerdy and a little bit smart and a little bit pretty, but mostly just blends into the crowd. She could be anyone. I felt like I could relate to her. 

When she mentions her mesh line at first, I mostly just glazed right over it. I didn’t understand what that meant, but it couldn’t be that important? It was mentioned so casually I hardly noticed it the first time through. But then it ends up that it matters quite a bit. 

Milla had been in a horrific car accident a while back. She almost died, but, due to modern science, it was possible to replace her more damaged parts, such as her heart and eye, with new parts that were 50% artificially grown and 50% “her.” A mesh line is almost like a regulatory device between the “not so real” parts of Milla and the parts that are 100% herself. It’s a wonderful, life-saving technological innovation, but it comes out later in this part of the collection that not everyone agrees with the procedure. Some hate them. People like Reverand Tadd, the religious figure from the first part, believe that procedures go against God’s plan. The people who have them done are cursed to hell. 

It comes out that the boy Milla was staring at in the opening passage was Gabriel, someone she had been on a date with the night before. When she arrived at school that morning, Milla was barraged by her fellow students. Her friend, Lily, asked her “Did you really Milla? You hardly even know him.” Boys point and make gestures. Everyone seems in on a secret that the reader is not yet privy to. And I love the suspense. 

Strangely enough, it’s mentioned at this time that Milla is unable to blush, the second clue towards her current state. She says that “in her current configuration” it is almost impossible to do so. She also cannot cry. Her emotions seem to be locked down because of the mesh line. 

One kid, a person who was supposed to be her friend, mimics a robot vagina crushing a penis. It is a crude and disturbing thing to imagine, but these little details make the story much more realistic. Teenagers can be incredibly cruel, especially in regards to female sexuality. People in general can be extremely cruel to those they deem other than themselves. I really enjoyed the fact that, even with these clues, I didn’t really understand completely what was happening. The reason Milla was being mercilessly mocked had not come out yet. What the heck is a robot vagina?

I also liked reading about Gabriel and Milla’s date. It was easy to imagine myself in Milla’s shoes. Her crush on Gabriel seemed cute and understandable, almost like a long-distance crush that girls often have in middle and high school. He was cute and likable, but always seemed unreachable to her before her procedure. She couldn’t quite have him. Other girls liked him too. It was even rumored that he had girlfriends at other schools. He had never seemed to notice Milla. It all felt very approachable and honest. 

But the infusion of science fiction, Milla’s procedure, is what actually seemed to make Gabriel notice her and I liked that as well. It seemed to add a little bit to the power of such an intense medical procedure. Unbeknownst to him, the reason why she seemed more attractive and noticeable after returning to the hospital was that her eyes had been damaged in the car accident. Everyone at school thought only her legs and jaw were damaged. But she had actually lost one of her eyes and, because of that, the doctor performing the operations replaced both so that they would look like a matching set. It had the bonus of making her face more symmetrical and slightly improving her looks. It may have been a shallow reason for Gabriel to notice her, but that felt completely lifelike for the actions of a teenage boy. We’re all a little bit shallow sometimes.

It was also interesting that this section of the short story collection included such a large amount of religious background in it. Milla herself was named after St. Ludmilla of Bohemia who brought Christianity to her people. It is odd to think that Milla herself could have been the first student to bring those procedures to her school. Somewhat ironic maybe. During their date, Gabriel and Milla listened to the sermons of Reverend Tadd, warning of the spiritual danger of these medical procedures. He warned people that they would be doomed to hell if they approved of these procedures let alone had them. Fake livers and hearts and eyes were against Jesus. Just Milla being able to breathe violated his religious beliefs.

Milla and Gabriel had a theological debate regarding these issues, drawing away from their kissing. It came to Milla’s attention that Gabriel’s grandmother had extremely strong views against the procedure. She believed people with mesh lines were demons and that it was against God’s plans to save lives in this manner. Gabriel seemed unwilling or incapable of disagreeing with her views which seemed to wound Milla. Gabriel’s grandmother openly hated people who have had it done.

This felt very real in a plethora of ways. First is the fact that religious beliefs do stop scientific exploration and discovery from taking place. Stem cell research in particular has been partially prevented, especially in the US, due to people’s religious beliefs. Even though the results of this research could save a million lives, and improve the lives of many more, many people believe that it’s against God’s plan to delve into it too deeply. We cannot play God in this manner. I don’t necessarily agree with this perspective, personally. I think we should use every tool at our disposal to save and improve lives. I’m not super religious, but I can’t imagine a God who would give us such wonderful tools just to ignore them. I do understand that any type of stem cell research, or this procedure as discussed, comes with its own risks though. What is our limit? Do we have one? 

It also felt real because it seemed like this hatred towards people who have the procedure done was extremely similar in nature to racism or sexism. People hate other people just for one arbitrary reason. Many wouldn’t give Milla the chance to explain, or care. As she states, “How do I tell people that I’m so grateful to be alive, when I know they’ll never be able to look at me with anything but pity or, or, or judgement from here on out?” It’s such a powerful line and it struck me with how true it is. Because of her procedure, Milla will be judged the rest of her life. She cannot save herself from it.

Gabriel’s reaction to that seemed so kind and caring at first as well. He came across as so sympathetic and understanding. At least, until they had sex. And then I hated him.

He told her that, because she had robotic parts and had undergone such an invasive procedure, that it wasn’t like them having sex should be a big moment for her. She had already lost her virginity to either a doctor or a surgical device. Not to him. She was already damaged goods, based on the way he described it. I hate that. First off, women aren’t defined by their virginity. I understand that, as students of a Christian school, they might put a lot of weight on it, but it just comes across sexist and gross. The fact that her undermined her feelings immediately after having sex with her was degrading and cruel. It also shows how deeply rooted the prejudice against people with this procedure is in their society. She is less valuable, as a woman, because she has a mesh line. Yuck. 

And she begs him, afterwards, not to tell anyone about her procedure. He promises. And then he proceeds to tell everyone.

It is so startlingly real and cruel. Teenage boys do this to girls all the time. They brag about their hookups and act like the girl is a slut. It’s hypocritical and disgusting. But Gabriel’s actions are especially disgusting because of how he adds insult to injury with his descriptions of the sex. He tells his friends that she begged him to have sex with her, that she wanted to finally lose her human virginity. He tells fellow students that Milla is trying to convince herself that she’s a real girl, but based on how the sex felt? She’s anything but. 

It’s revolting. 

And I think it’s very honest and telling. It’s extremely relatable for how social interactions work today. People will always be cruel. 

But people will always be kind too. I really liked Mr. Kinross, the headmaster, as a character. He is introduced when he asks to speak with Milla after her interaction with Gabriel in the lunchyard. He tries to soften the blow of her peers’ words and comes across as such a genuinely kind person. He reminded me a lot of the teachers I’ve had throughout my school years. They care. Plus, I completely agreed with his line, “Something ugly is happening in our world… If God gave us minds, should we not embrace the fruits of those minds? Surely it is a mercy and a beautiful calling, to minister to the injured and the ill? … And yet, I see families with an entirely different view. They have taken it upon themselves to decide what God allows – which is surely exactly what they accuse doctors of doing.” It is a powerful statement and I can only imagine that his words would stick to Milla as she grows up. She’ll remember this small kindness and these impactful words Mr. Kinross spoke to her will resonate with her as she grows older. During her worst moments, she might even remember that her life is a miracle and not a curse. Even with the cold-heartedness others will show her, it is a miracle that she is still alive. 

It’s just a really wonderful scene. 

However, I feel like I could have done without the ending of this section. I kind of wanted this part of the overall connection to stay true to how people feel about those who have undergone the procedure. When Milla pushes Gabriel in front of a bus and he has to undergo a similar procedure himself, he apologizes to Milla and admits the reason why he told everyone about their sex and her mesh line. He didn’t want his grandmother to find out and he felt like she would know immediately. If he played it off like he was coerced into it instead, maybe it would lessen the blow of her disapproval. Maybe others wouldn’t ridicule him for it. 

But I didn’t need this addition. I didn’t need the hypocrisy of people’s beliefs to be beaten into me here. I understand that most people will take the chance to live or to save the lives of their families when given it. I really would have liked it if the author remained true to the core of this story: the hate and prejudices survivors will face. That felt more honest to me for this part of the overall story. Hypocrisy could be saved for other sections. 

However, I didn’t hate it. I just wish it was a little bit different overall. It was still excellent writing and I still understood the point of this storyline. It was definitely worth the read. 

Now, after I’ve already read this entire section of the story, I do find myself thinking about the fact that so much of the religious importance of virginity was ignored in exchange for the religious beliefs surrounding the procedure Milla faced. Not once did any of the students really ridicule her sexuality or call attention to that sin. They might have been shocked that she had sex with Gabriel after one date, but it didn’t feel like the normal amount of vicirol towards young women who have sex face. I wonder if the importance of virginity has decreased in comparison to the existence of such a technologically advanced procedure. Do they not care about the sin of premarital sex anymore? Does the religious community only care about this medical procedure? Even Gabriel, who was so embarrassed and ashamed to have sex with someone with a mesh line, didn’t seem to be embarrassed by his grandmother knowing he’s had sex. Are they weighing sins in their favor? I’m just curious and I wonder if future chapters will address the changing priorities of the religious community.