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Interview: Michael Blumlein on “Twenty-Two and You”

- Tell us a bit about “Twenty-Two and You.”

 

It’s a tale about genetic engineering and a young couple head over heels in love and faced with a Mephistophelean decision.  Their genetic future (and ours) is full of promise, but not only promise.  As another character tells them, “progress is a god.  A great god.  God of the impossible, but not, alas, a god of mercy.”

The title is a riff on one of our wonderful new biotech companies, whose name, to my ears, is even more apt and beautiful than the one in the story.

 

- What was the inspiration for this story, or what prompted you to write it?

 

In the near term, my inspiration grew out of two events.  The first was a dinner I attended with friends and new acquaintances, one of whom was a young woman with a PhD in molecular biology who’d recently been hired by a prominent startup in the now mushrooming and highly competitive business of marketing personal genetic information.  You know, getting your genome sequenced for a song.  We had a lively conversation.  The technology is truly amazing and growing by leaps and bounds.  The future couldn’t be more exciting, but as a doctor, and more specifically, a clinician, I feel that it needs to be approached with discretion and care.

The second event was actually seeing my first patient who’d had his genome sequenced, and dealing with the real-life issues and consequences of that.  As it turned out, for him it was no big deal.  He was healthy, and all was well.   But that won’t be the case for everyone.   There are some thorny issues and questions.  For example, how do we interpret all the information we get?  What does it mean?  What, if anything, do we do with it?  What CAN we do with it?  It’s an area of intense discussion and debate.   Like atomic energy in the early days.  (Come to think of it, like atomic energy now.)  We can make it, we can provide it, now what?   Genetic diagnosis and engineering is another instance where our technological know-how is running way ahead of our ethical, moral and practical brains.

Another answer to the question of inspiration:  I’ve been interested in genetics my whole life.  I worked in one of the earliest genetics labs in the sixties, and I’ve been writing and speculating about the field for nearly forty years.

 

- What kind of research did you do for this story?

 

I thought deeply about marriage and what it meant to be in love.  And to love, which is slightly different.  I read Science, Nature, and various trusty on-line resources.   Talked to a few colleagues.  This, I should add, is something I do regularly.

 

- Most authors say their stories are personal.  If that’s true for you, in what way was “Twenty-Two and You” personal?

 

I’m a scientist.  I’m a doctor.  I’ve been a patient.  I’ve been in and out of love.  I like sex.  I find the human body both astounding and wonderful.  I think about the outcomes of my actions.  I love kids.

 

- Is there anything you might want a reader to take away from your story?

 

 As a doctor I’d probably say yes.  As a writer, no.  That is, as a writer I have no agenda, which is not the same as having no opinions.  I have many of those.

 

- What are you working on now?

 

I recently finished a novel called THE DOMINO MASTER, and I’m re-working an older one called THE CURE.  But what has me, arguably, most excited is my second story collection.  It’s titled WHAT THE DOCTOR ORDERED:  Tales of the Bizarre and the Magnificent.  It’s the follow-up to my award-winning first collection, THE BRAINS OF RATS, and is scheduled for release this fall.  Keep an eye out for it!

 

- Anything else you’d like to add?

Thanks for having me.

“Twenty-Two and You” appears in the March/April 2012 issue.

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