Thursday, March 05, 2009

Things Humankind Shouldn't Meddle With?

During the big East Coast snowstorm Sunday night and Monday, I thought about weather control. Cold and wet weather of any kind depress me, except that snow is okay if the electricity stays on and I can sit at home watching the white stuff through a window (but at the very time of year snow is most likely, I usually can’t). I’d happily welcome the ability to give everyplace a “Mediterranean” climate, like southern California in the summer. Fantasy fiction, however, often warns against too much tampering with weather. Magic that conjures rain to relieve drought in one location might disrupt the weather somewhere else. If our future science invents a reliable climate-changing technology, the same caution might apply. Couldn’t we arrange a Camelot-type climate, though? Long, mild springs, summers, and fall; short winters; rain only after sundown?

I own a copy of a provocative anthology from the early 1960s, HUMAN AND OTHER BEINGS, edited by Groff Conklin, on the theme of prejudice and what it means to be human. One story, called “All the Colors of the Rainbow” (I think), deals with alien visitors helping Earth learn how to use weather control technology. Two technicians, a young couple of an outwardly human species but with green skin, are traveling in the deep South. A thunderstorm is building; the husband reminds his wife that the natives won’t believe in the effectiveness of climate control if the alien experts show fear of the local weather. After driving through a hostile small town, whose inhabitants hate the idea of funny-looking foreigners from other planets barging in and telling them what to do, the couple is waylaid by a gang of men who beat them up and rape the wife. The husband takes revenge by diverting storm clouds to flood the valley.

The book contains lots of other good stories, for instance, one about “zombie” soldiers created from the tissues of dead troops. In another story a man learns his wife is an android the day after their wedding and sues for annulment. Though he still loves her, he feels bitterly betrayed because she concealed the fact that, as an android, she (supposedly) can’t conceive children. Androids in the universe of Robert Heinlein’s FRIDAY, a novel that raises the question of what constitutes “human” status, are definitely sterile. Friday unwittingly becomes pregnant when her body is used to smuggle a royal embryo between planets. In the end, she abandons her career as a special agent and settles down as a farm wife on a frontier world. Becoming part of a family puts to rest her doubts about her humanity.

If you can find a copy of HUMAN AND OTHER BEINGS, I recommend you pick it up; it’s a truly memorable anthology on a theme of perennial importance. Whether altering our climate or our own species, with the technological powers of the near future will come new responsibilities and ethical quandaries.

Margaret L. Carter (

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