Sep 30, 2009 by

Read Rhae 5 here (see “Similar Posts” at the bottom of this post for any earlier entries)

Round 6 Challenge: Incorporate a White Russian and the words “over the line” into your next passage, which should be no more than 500 words.


The binding and exigent lust for higher profit margins drove biotech firms into a DNA race to monopolize genome sequences. Although the August 28, 2005 kidnapping of a Harvard undergraduate’s golden retriever was conventionally referred to as the launch of the DNA race, the precursory scurry to patent genes had been as contentious.

Biotech lobbyists had fought for these patents, claiming that the funds required for therapeutic and diagnostic genome sequence research necessitated exclusivity guarantees on intellectual property. But as the technologies improved, practically anyone in a university laboratory could extract the extraneous sugars and proteins and render an isolated genome technologically and uniquely viable.

By late 2024, patents on manipulated gene sequences were irrelevant. More important was exclusive access to an individual’s genes. With its economic and political clout, the industry could have easily pushed through legislation to patent unmodified genes. But they knew legal protection was futile. Sampling a gene required only a quick and painless swab; an individual could easily hawk her or his sequence to any biotech company willing to pay.

Thus the kidnappings and murders began, first in Cambridge, then statewide, nationally, and finally internationally. Genomicide – the murder of an individual for exclusive access to her or his genes – replaced terrorism as the primary official U.S. threat to homeland security. This was not out of any genuine security concern since the State Department was staffed and funded by the same biotech industry whose research depended upon the proxy black market genomicidaires; rather, it was the coordinated million-strong protests, picket strikes and mass acts of civil disobedience – the threat of civil war – that forced the government to offer its dissembling and hypocritical condemnation of the genomicidaires.

As the genomicide black market expanded and non-violent protests escalated to looting, arson, and sabotage of government and corporate buildings, a consensus formed that a fresh system for monopolizing human genomes was needed. Biotech companies began constructing “genetration centers,” where individuals with valuable genes could contractually live in ease and luxury in return for exclusive ownership over their genome sequence. The inhabitants’ only obligation was to stay within the perimeter boundary. Anyone who tried to cross over the Line of Genetrification, as detractors called it, faced laser wire, holographic traps, and armed robot guards.

The largest genetration center, which housed every living Teleut, was in Siberia. It was hastily constructed after it was discovered that Teleuts among other Siberians possessed “The White Russian Sequence,” among the most prized genetic strains. The drab center became a rallying point for biotech’s critics, who called it the world’s largest gulagenetration camp.

As these genetration centers mushroomed throughout the 2030s and experimentation with DNA microchips continued at a breakneck pace, researchers at the Silicon Valley-based EvoGrid – a large interconnected network of high performance computers that modeled the pre-biotic chemical environment on Earth – made some troubling findings. They detected evidence of sophisticated self-organizing behavior among certain hyper-computers in tandem with high risks of genetic mutation. Their warning cries, however, went unheard amidst the triumphalist furor for unregulated research initiated by the fusion of corporate and scientific sectors.

Only when the hyper-computers declared war upon their creators did anyone listen. By then it was too late.

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  1. seldom seen

    ray, i think i saw this the first time when it was called “terminator 1”. you actually had something going and then managed to blow it all up with that needless and overused last paragraph. don’t push your luck.

  2. I couldn’t agree more, seldom scene. But even though you may have sensibly realized that the last paragraph detracted from the piece, the cliche closing action adventure trailer was a conscious editorial decision. Most people would rather watch Terminator than read about genome sequences so I thought I’d offer up the cheap lollipop at the end.
    It’s Rhae, not Ray.

  3. tetra

    I have been thinking Terminator rip off since day 1. Its the tone. Serious and boring. I suppose in film the remedy was action and the naked ape Arny hunking down. Go check out Nora if that is what you want. Not sure if this piece is working. Too much delayed gratification.

    • I’ve never seen Terminator and don’t plan to, just like I don’t plan on gratifying you. Not that you need it. I’m sure you find plenty of ways to take care of that online.

  4. Does RHAE stand for Really Heavy Abundance (of) Exposition?

    Sorry, Rhae. The thing is, I kinda want to read a story. Instead, I’m getting information overload. Week after week after week…and what happened to poor Melanie? She doesn’t even rate a mention this time around. Poor girl.

    Either your novella’s too dense for me, or I’m just too dense for your novella. Possibly the latter…

    • Only if you’re a neutron star.

      • Possibly I am. I looked up neutron stars on Wikipedia – they’re very small, kinda weird and rather dense. Sounds like me…

        But although I may be dense, I might be the only commenter here who can actually spell your name right.

  5. seldom seen

    i’ll pass on a little advice i got years ago, from people who know.
    excuses are like assholes- everyone’s got one, and they all stink.
    also, i’m betting no one wants that particular lollipop you’re offering. (although there is always the “blaster.”)
    stick with what worked and see if you can manage a new twist on an old subject.

  6. Jay

    You’re writing a story about computers declaring war on their creators, and yet you swear you refuse to ever see the most famous film about the exact same subject? I’m not sure if I should believe you. And if I do, I have to wonder why you’d avoid your own genre.

    Anyway, I agree with the comments here. I’m torn with your writing between being kind of intrigued, and being overwhelmed with exposition that now seems unoriginal. I think you’re a good writer and you can bring it around, though.

    • I didn’t “swear to refuse to ever see” Terminator. I just stated that I’ve never seen it. But perhaps I’ll introduce Arnold Schwarzenegger into the next post to satisfy the Hollywood fan club.

  7. And the word count’s well over 500 words, too.

    But that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy reading it, because I did; I’m a big sci-fi fan. I love the tone you narrate in, as it told me exactly how I should be reading it.

    I have no problem with you veering from Melanie, as you are, of course, narrating in third person; it’s just that I think the narrative is too cyclical. Now, I know it’s an important element of your story, but I’m still trying to figure it all out, that’s all.

    All in all, I think you did a good job.

  8. this stinks like a bagful of assholes. reads like a history book; but whereas history books can be engaging, this is not.

    do your research and go see Terminator you idiot, then maybe you can insert some humanity into your writing.

    • Listening to you speak of humanity, Tony, is like hearing Bill O’Reilly talk about Fox News as fair and balanced reporting.

  9. Eros

    I really don’t get where you people are getting that this is a reap off of Terminator. In Terminator the adversaries were always machines. Rhea’s story is about genetically engineered humans turning against their progenitors. There is a big different here. You should really learn how to read a whole story and think before you start talking like miscreants.

    Rhea I love the story it has just taken me a little bit to get around to telling you. I do hope to see more of Melanie in the next round I like her. Good Luck. Love, Eros

    • Rhae, don’t think Eros is right in complaining about people’s understanding about what hyper-computers are but that’s irrelevant! I do agree with quite a lot of the earlier comments and did find this a bit boring. Wherever this is going, it does need more human involvement (Melanie) and for all the disappearances and killings not much has happened to make the story move. I thought this contribution was a bit of a step back in terms of losing momentum – it needs some action – human action. After all, for all the development towards homo mechanica, (was that it?), there are still a lot of humans around I assume in 2030 – 15,000,000,000 or there a-bouts I told – or have they now been killed off by the Hyper-computers? Homo mechanica, or whatever, is where you started and it was a good line but like Melanie it seems to have passed by.

      • Eros

        JD, Had it only been one person with the misunderstanding I wouldn’t have said a word. I wasn’t conplaining, I was informing.

        “He who is present at a wrongdoing and does not lift a hand to prevent it, is as guilty as the wrongdoers.” ~Omaha Proverb

        Love, Eros

  10. consistently the comments have been suggesting you insert some humanity into your writing. While the backstory is important (and interesting) there is NOTHING here for us to engage with.

    It is reading like a technical history. There are other ways in which to impart a back story/history which is not an info dump.

    You’ve dissed us out of whatever small investment we made as readers in the character of Melanie. Given how you have ended this section – I hope you provide us with some action or character based narrative in the next round.

    And yes as Kuyerjudd pointed out – this section is 530 words long.

  11. Have to agree with Jodie. This is info dump. Fiction is about character. Where have they gone?

  12. Why do you assume that because 500 words go by (forgive me, 530 words apparently) that I have dissed any of you out of your engagement, whatever that means, with Melanie? Fiction is not about character, or about anything for that matter, unless you live in an intellectually totalitarian society where some literary vanguard elite defines what writing should be about. I was never fond of Igor’s whining but he was correct to condemn the narrow and provincial prescriptions of writing clubs.

    • I have to agree with you that writing is completely up to the person writing. And, yes, fiction is not *entirely* about character … but that’s not to say the latter is not a fundamental element.

    • Okay. I would like to know exactly where the truly engaging fiction that doesn’t feature characters prominently is hiding. If I think of all the really great books out there they have one thing in common, engaging, interesting, sympathetic characters. Even those that have nasty main characters. Read American Psycho, Catch 22, Fight Club, Jude the Obscure, anything by Ali Smith, Kurt Vonnegut or any number of greats from the vast cannon of fiction published over the last few hundred years.

      Better still, read David Mitchell’s Cloud atlas and see how a writer can deal with big themes and futuristic worlds (while shining a bright light on contemporary life) and give us not one but multiple engaging characters/narrators.

      If you think you could find publication with text better left in a research/world building file you are only kidding yourself. The ideas are interesting, but the fact that people are struggling to engage with a 500 word section of your piece should tell you that you won’t hold their attention for a novella with this stuff.

      This far into the competition and I couldn’t describe your main character Melanie to anyone who asked. The fact that I have a vivid sense of Ivana, Corey, Ron, Catherine, hell even Frank, tells me that the other contestants are doing something right. I can’t care about your world or themes without a main character, I can only think they are interesting.

      And your assumption that cutting edge fiction forgets character is more than a little shortsighted.

      • http://ulfwolf.com/character.htm

        Check that url and then tell me that all those writers are wrong.

        • Rhae, have to agree with Dan, Jodi and others. Whatever your concepts and aims may be, the fact is that the line you are taking has lost general appeal for many through it lack of a human element, the element that makes Shakespeare and Bronte etc retain popularity. Wherever evolution is taking us there is still a very strong interest in how we, as individuals, interact, behave and develop character. The lack of that human element in your story line is having a negative impact on the appeal of your contribution especially in terms of competition, where participation is presumably based around a desire to win!

          • I’d be deceiving myself if I said I had no desire to win. But it’s become apparent that my interest in fiction lies elsewhere than it does with the general reader. I could of course change my writing to satisfy the readers’ wants. But although I am not a priori opposed to the “by any means necessary” philosophy in politics, I have no interest in applying it to Fourth Fiction.

      • You beat me to it Dan!

        What I would like to add is there is a human element to everything in your story Rhae. BioTech doesn’t exist in a bubble. Someone within BioTech is making these horrendous decisions … and those decisions, the kidnappings and murders impact on people.

        I’m afraid that you’ve lost sight that there are people – yes small insignificant people who inhabit this world you are meticulously creating – and that without these people large and small you don’t actually have a world. You need to draw your focus in from the big picture to the smaller one.

        If you don’t show us the human side of your story I can’t see making it through. Without a connection – without eliciting some sort of emotional response in your readers- your writing is nothing more than a list of ideas strung together.

  13. With all due respect Dan and Jodi, but can you guys stop going on about formulas and just enjoy the writing? Art isn’t about formulas, or it would be science. I’m pretty sure some of the best paintings have no people or even recognizable forms in them at all. Hell, some of the best art out there is the opposite of formulaic, or we’d still be staring at pretty pictures of Venuses on shells and plump Mary Magdalenes.

    If we were to go on formulas alone in this competition we’d declare Tess winner – yes yes, go on get angry at me Tess – and her story is by far the weakest.

    • Both you and Rhae seem to be missing the point. We aren’t talking formulas. The point I am trying to make is that even the most experimental fiction has a strong central character.

      Experimental writing is not the same thing as experimental fiction. Fiction, by sheer definition needs a central character the reader can identify and connect with. Ulysses, one of the most challenging and experimental pieces of fiction ever written, is still rammed full of character.

      Take characters out of the equation and what you get, certainly with Rhae’s work here, is speculative non-fiction. Which is exactly what this reads like. Not in itself a bad thing, but this is a fiction writing competition.

  14. I never suggested anywhere that cutting edge fiction forgets character. Nor did I ever give any indication that any of those writers in the URL you offered are wrong. I also never said I was opposed to character in fiction. All I said, and you have made it clear that you disagree, is that writing, and more precisely fiction, need not be about character.

    Youe claim that fiction by definition requires a strong central character does not seem tenable to me. Fiction is a literary work based on imagination. That and nothing else. We may prefer novels with characters but it is not a necessary condition of the novel.

    That said, I appreciate the thought, clarity and rigor with which you responded. It is clear enough by your literary citations that you are well versed in literature. I’m an inexperienced reader and practitioner of fiction. But I still believe that the enthroning of character above all else is a symptom of our navel-gazing times. Fiction without characters may bore us, but fiction without ideas may kill us.

    • My point about experimental fiction was more a response to Annasbones than your good self Rhae. I agree, great fiction also needs great ideas (which all of those examples I listed have).

      One question though? Where are all these novels without character? Because I can’t think of even one.

  15. Dan, you may find a few of those (anti) novels here:

  16. I thought of you today Rhae when I read Mark Gerson’s tweet earlier today: “Art isn’t necessarily about facts. But it must be about truth.”

    Perhaps we should be in discussions about truth in writing rather than characters?

    • Don’t understand that Jodi – I would say that one of the beauties of art is that it does not have to be about truth. It is in fact an expression of the mind and as such is able to be quite independent of truth. The value then becomes the potential it has for inspiring the truth of tomorrow. For me truth is a dimension and exists, with time, in the ‘present’ of evolution – (is that just verbal diarrhoea?) – it makes sense to me anyway!!

    • I agree with the first part of Gerson’s statement, Jodi, but like JDEvolutionist, not with the second part (although I think you lost us all after your first sentence, JDEv). I would be wary any time the words “art” and “must” are used in the same sentence. I side with the Socratic maxim. What I know is that I don’t know what art is. I am skeptical, to put it lightly, of those who seek to impose restrictive conditions on its definition.

  17. Eros

    Rhea, I hope you know that i wasn’t give you any grief about your use of characters. I like the way you have been writing a bit of your character, a little bit of history. I think it works great.

    Jodi, I think you’re right that would be a better discussion.:)

    Love, Eros

    • Eros, I don’t mind the grief. Our discussions would be lifeless and fruitless if we were always in amicable agreement.

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