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EP127: Results

By Kristine Kathryn Rusch.
Read by Heather Welliver (of A.D.D.Cast and Grailwolf’s Geek Life).
First appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, December 2000.

Special closing music: “Faithful” by The Shillas.

She should have called her folks last night. They paged her three separate times after the test. But she wanted to wait until she had results, until she had something new to say instead of going over the same old arguments. She’s twenty-five, old enough to make her own choices. Old enough to make her own mistakes.

Her parents thought the testing was mistake number one. It certainly was expensive enough, but the doctor said he advised it for any couple about to get married. If they’re genetically incompatible, he’d said, they have the choice of terminating the relationship, planning for an expensive future, or tying tubes ‚Äî practicing irreversible infertility, as one of her friends called it.

Options. That’s what her parents don’t get. It’s all about options.

And results.

Rated PG. Contains serious themes involving family planning and childbearing.

Comments (33)

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  1. Baus says:

    Oh, dear. Steve, I’m a quarter into the story, and right at about 11:34 the reader stops and clears her throat sharply and takes up on the previous few words again. Eeek.
    No biggie, of course, but I thought as a pro, you’d want to know.
    The story’s good so far, and I enjoyed the intro bunches (per usual).

  2. SFEley says:

    Argh. Fixed. The corrected version now replaces the old one. Thanks for pointing it out, Baus!

  3. Zippy says:

    Brian 90% chance of being a pathetic looser.

  4. Greyboar says:

    Steve,

    This episode is not showing up on iTunes yet.

  5. Jennifer says:

    Ugh. Just didn’t like this all the way around and I can’t even really say why. I think everyone’s behavior just irritated me.

  6. Dave-T says:

    Another, intelligent, disturbing, and all too plausible near future story. I didn’t find the characters’ actions as disturbing as the idea of genetic enhancements only for those wealthy enough to afford them. Brian is a jerk, but in that society he may have a point.

    P.S. Maybe my throat clearing copy will become a collectors item like misprinted stamps and comic books ;-)

  7. nooker says:

    Having a son (he’s 10 months old) and friends that I can honestly call geniuses (members of MENSA, recruited by prestigious colleges, etc.) I have to say that I would never do what this couple has done. My wife and I have looked at our super intelligent friends and seen how miserable they as such high aptitudes have so often been accompanied by serious problems such as depression and other mental problems that in one case led to suicide. We are really hoping, as the woman in the story seemed to be as well, that he’ll grow up happily mediocre & never consider enhancement. Given this, I do find this possible future somewhat terrifying.

  8. PodcastJunky says:

    As I write this my 16 month old is sitting next to me in his highchair, looking at me with his big brown eyes, giggling and repeating a recent addition to his vocabulary “Mommy”. He has his flaws as do we all. So sad to think that technology could rip this perfect moment I am having away from future generations.

  9. Walter says:

    Reminds me of the movie Gattaca.

  10. Ron says:

    I loved the closing music by The Shillas. Unfortunately, “Faithful” only appears to be available on PodShow. After signing up for click to pay and agreeing to some obnoxious terms, I still got an error when trying to complete the purchase. I’d love to know if this music is available anywhere else.

  11. stePH says:

    Didn’t like the story at all; not my cup of tea. For one thing, I can’t identify with wanting children — I’ve never really wanted any; I’d just always expected to have them someday (thankfully realized it wasn’t mandatory before it was too late).
    More to the point, both of the characters exemplify one of the aspects I find most abhorrent in the breeder mindset: ending a relationship because one chooses a non-existent, hypothetical person of unknown potential over the partner that one already has (and presumably loves). The man was the worse of the two in this, but the woman was guilty of this also — the idea to stay together never crossed the mind of either, because the possibility of having offspring was apparently the most important thing about their relationship, and with that possibility removed there was no point in continuing.
    (The movie Gattaca also crossed my mind as well, but while I disliked this story I did enjoy that movie [apart from the unnecessarily long expository introduction) because the focus was on the offspring rather than on the parents.]

  12. J.Sharp says:

    I really liked this story. I find the idea of a genetically-engineered upper class and natural-born underclass to be one of the most unsettling and plausible scifi dystopia settings.

    I’ve had a couple of friends involved in long-lasting relationships which ended rather abruptly when they found out their goals regarding hypothetical future children did not agree. The emotions ad the actions of the characters really hit home with me.

  13. artifex says:

    The story had a good premise, but I don’t think the author was really able to articulate her “real” argument very clearly- that the test would imply that a child’s value is determined by their viability in society, as opposed to something inherent.

    She seemed to sort of skirt that point, and then justify her position with much less valid arguments, such as a negative association with “cold numbers”, and the possibility that such a test could hurt relationships.

    Also, I didn’t think the ending was very moving or tragic– a guy who would end a relationship based on the possibility that their child wouldn’t be slightly above average according to some arbitrary social standards clearly wouldn’t have made a very good father or husband.

  14. Shane says:

    I think that this story, like a lot of more traditional Sci-Fi, seemed to spend all it’s energy establishing it’s setting and then just sort of let the plot fall like dominoes. If that setting had been an intergalactic war we’d be hearing a lot of complaints.

  15. Adolfo says:

    I felt this story was lacking. I feel this story is in the vein of Eternal Sunshine on the Spotless Mind (where only a small element added to our current society), which I often proclaim to be one of my favorite forms of sci-fi. But this story falls flat.

    The genetic potential of the haves versus the Have-nots wasn’t pushed enough to make the side comment about upcoming class struggle feel as just filler. Ecpecially the only lens through which we see the potential conflict changes views at the end.

    The main characters were shallow enough in the beginning that by the end, when one becomes just less shallow enough to feel differently about children, I just don’t care.

    forgettable characters.
    Forgettable conflict.
    A foregettable story.

  16. […] diease. The second is literary, as the science fiction podcast Escape Pod presented the story Results by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, originally written in […]

  17. PK says:

    What happened to all the download links??

  18. I loved K.K. Rusch’s singing, but the story didn’t do much for me. It hinges on the assumption that genetical superhumans are possible. In fact, our phenotype is not that strongly determined by our genotype, and neither is genetic variation large enough among us that selective breeding or genetic cherry-picking would make much difference.

    The only way the science in the story would make sense is if mutation rates had been drastically heightened (by nuclear war?) and the only way to get a half-healthy child was to spend pregnancy in a lead-insulated box. Then there would be a large genetically damaged underclass. But there’s no hint of such a scenario in the story.

    Anyway, great singing.

  19. Seth Shaw says:

    I have to respectfully disagree with several of the comments that I just read but I am struggling to find how to address them. For one, the argument that “in fact” it is not realistic that a feat can be preformed (we can modify genetics) and thus the story makes less sense, seems ridiculous when applied to the science fiction genre. The story sets a world where this is possible. The question is not if it is feasible with our knowledge of genetics but are the actions, thoughts, and reasonings of the actors within the given stage reasonable? I believe that they are.

    There seemed to be some criticism that the ‘real issue’ not adequately aired was socio-economical / genetic class struggle. I agree that the premise is like Gattaca; a great story illustrating the individual and socio-economical implications of the ability to genetically modify ourselves. That was a major point of Gattaca. However, I don’t believe that it was or ought to be the primary issue addressed by this story. Instead, I believe that the focus was the impact of a society with an ability to test and modify genetics (for those with sufficient funds) has on an individual, a (potential) couple, and (again, potential) family. The author noted that there is a socio-economical aspect to the problem the character is facing. It is an important part but it is still only a part. Personal struggle against socio-economical implications of this ability is a theme better left to Gattaca and other stories that take this course.

    This piece feels to me more like a thought experiment. It touched on many ways of reasoning while emphasizing the one that gave the character the most hope. She wanted to have a family with him and was trying to find a way, some source of hope, that it could work. What this story, for me, really does is attempting to throw off the ‘rational actor’ and recognize that emotion and desire, hopes and dreams, have just as much, if not more, of an impact on decisions regarding love and family. She recognizes that his hopes (of a symmetrical relationship and higher probabilities of genetic success) were in direct conflict with hers (a family with him). I am glad she realizes this fatal flaw to their relationship. I wish that his dreams had been in line with hers, but we don’t always have that. Most things in a relationship don’t have to be symmetrical: e.g. talents, personality, physical features. But the most important part of an enduring relationship does: hopes, dreams, and love.

    I love my wife. We ave very asymmetrical in terms of abilities, tastes, and other things. But we are symmetrical in our dreams of life together despite differences and our hopes for our young (20 months) daughter who will, despite her inherited genetics and many similarities, will be very different than the both of us.

    I wasn’t planning on carrying on like that. I hope it came out and across well enough. Take or reject my opinions as you will. After all, they are just mine.

    P.S. For additional conversation on the ethics and morality of genetic engineering I recommend this talk: “How Do We Think about What Is Human?: C. S. Lewis and The Abolition of Man” by Jean Bethke Elshtain (http://speeches.byu.edu/?act=viewitem&id=1650&tid=2)

  20. Bob says:

    I found the piece to be very powerful, it speaks to me about the shallowness of our society and how technology (and statistics) can exacerbate that. Also that we geeks can submerge those difficult human feelings with ‘answers’ guaranteed through research. I felt the reader did a nice job other than the aforementioned throat clearing. Nice emotion in the reading!

  21. ruthling says:

    I agree with stEPH above regarding the characters’ attitudes. If they were only together to “have children” I guess neither of them have lost much by breaking up. Too bad for the new partners who are sucked into the position as breeding stock. Overall, the story bored me.

    I was intrigued by the reading style, but I couldn’t decide if I liked it. The slow pace and flat accent kind of accentuated the idea that the characters had originated in the midwest. But it wasn’t really that nice to listen to.

  22. Hank says:

    GREAT READING! Wonderfully articulated, earthy and smoooth voice.
    Good story, (but makes me wish I had better teeth). The frustration of wasted potential and the human need for a better life for our own progeny. A perfected I makes a better us?
    Somebody give the girl a mic!

  23. Dan the Man says:

    I must echo artifex’s sentiment that the guy leaving at the end said more about him than about the future. The story doesn’t present any problems that society doesn’t already have (though to some, that may be why it’s good sci-fi), though it does combine them uniquely. Ask Jonathan Kozol or anyone who studies economic disadvantages in schools about children whose die is cast before they’re even out of diapers. Ask anyone in a mixed-race marriage about perceived incompatibilities. People have been and will continue to be willing to have children in spite of indications that they will be disadvantaged in life. If somebody in real life walked away the way the narrator’s partner did, I’d guess he wanted out anyway and was just looking for an excuse.

  24. […] Results by Kristine Kathryn Rusch […]

  25. phignewton says:

    highly improbable! what planet is this fellow from who has such a thing about ‘symetry’?! genetic sellection has been and will always been womens work… the male threshhold for what constitutes a possible breeding partner is just to low to count for much.

  26. Jess says:

    Strange and creepy: My name is Jessica, I’m in my mid-twenties, and I was standing on the NYC subway in the morning when this story started. Woah.

  27. […] related escape pod story here Related NY Times article: […]

  28. This is often a conversation we have in our group. We universally say that given the chance we would “enhance” our children. Give them the best passable start on life. But at what cost? what would you give up to bump the percent chance that your child will have 10 more points IQ or is a better artist.

    The story was good, but nothing I haven’t hear before. The voice was out standing, and I would like to hear more of her pod casts.

    Thanks.

  29. Bookman 12pt says:

    This plot was a downhill race. When the finish line was not plainly in sight the author dangled the carrot to get us there.

    The stake to the heart of cheuvanism didn’t even really work. She had the same feelings toward the whole thing or she wouldn’t have consented to the test in the first place.

    The speculative element seemed mundane, and the story unconvincing and overstated.

  30. Brent says:

    People get on my nerves constantly with thinking their children are soooo perfect. This story just reminded me of that and got on my nerves. Just take what you have and be happy people. You’re never going to have it all and you’ve only got one life.

  31. scatterbrain says:

    Watery.

  32. dnaknitter says:

    I seem to have been touched by something in this story that the comments above don’t reflect. That is, it presents one of those moments in life when you very suddenly realize that some decision/action/set of choices/etc. that seemed rather simple is in fact not at all so. When the woman realized that her parenting-partner-to-be had completely different goals from hers, she was confronted with the complexity of her choices (in terms of both children and partners) in a way she had never been before, and could not have foreseen until it happened. Also we see her parents transformed in her eyes from old-fashioned simpletons to wise sages.

    Again, the most important point here is that this knowledge of the true complexity of real life is something you can only gain by living–as a very young person you can’t know these things. I’ve had only a few of these preconception-shattering insights in my life, but once they hit you you never forget…