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Bewildering Stories

Challenge 520 Response

How Old Is Young?

with Martin Kerharo and Don Webb

The Challenge appears in issue 520.

a. Are the Dohani implants surgically installed or have they become natural?

[Martin K.] They’re “naturally” grown... This is shown by the fact that Dohani babies, in their eggs, can “talk” with their family already. The Dohani do not perform a surgical intervention on the fetus to install the implant, its electronic circuitry is encoded in the Dohani DNA and it develops at the same time as its host.

[Don W.] And Jane explains the procedure to Dexter in due time, namely in chapter 16 “Adaptation,” part 3.

[Martin] Oddly, I saw a movie recently, In Time, where everyone as a kind of wristwatch in their left forearm, which is also grown during pregnancy rather than implanted surgically.

[Don] Bon sang ! (‘Good grief’), as Dexter might say. What were those people thinking?! You’d expect people to have better things to do with their time, such as curing genetic illnesses, than putting watchmakers out of business. And what if you don’t like the style of “wristwatch” you’re born with? First things first already!

b. Dexter is slow on the uptake in understanding Jane’s explanation of her age. But he is not normally dim-witted. What narrative purpose is served by his slow comprehension and Jane’s exasperation at it?

[Martin] What I wanted to show is Dexter’s inability to accept Jane’s real age.

From his point of view, at 16, Jane is already too young to play with, especially considering the bunch of military cameras watching them all the time; and then, later, the bunch of Dohani potentially doing the same. Dexter has no desire of being caught fooling around, when Jane’s parents are 2.5 meters (8 feet) tall ;-)!

[Don] The drama has to achieve a delicate balance. The readers already know about the Dohanis’ formidable appearance. However, some readers may not have been paying attention or may have forgotten about it.

And yet the Dohanis’ size doesn’t really matter. Dexter can’t interrupt his own train of thought to reflect, “Oh yes, Jane’s entire family is in the next room, and they know what’s going on.” Never mind that they’re big and strong. For one thing, such a thought would stifle the dramatic tension. For another, Dexter will learn a lot more about Dohani communication in chapter 16.

[Martin] Then she tells she was born from a growth tank. He figures out she’s younger than she appears to be and supposes she’s ten years old, which is unbelievably young. He just can’t grasp that, it doesn’t make much sense. He starts to think maybe she’s like a gifted child, who’s able to comprehend complex things at such a young age. Yeah, maybe...

But then, as he’s trying to adjust to this situation, she destroys everything by telling him she’s five years old.

I thought it was funny to show Dexter reaction at this. Additionally, this helps the reader go through the same process and assimilate this new fact. Jane’s life has been much different from anyone else’s.

I made a huge mistake when writing this. I thought the growth of a human being stopped at 18, but in fact, for girls, it stops at 16 (the very “virtual” age of Jane!) and, for boys, it can continue until 21. Of course I found this out after finishing the book. Oh well.

[Don] The ages of 16 and 18 are averages, not hard and fast rules. Besides, Dexter cites the age of 18 as an arbitrary legalism. He can polish the rule book all he wants, but we know he’ll have to adapt when he realizes he’s dealing with an entirely new reality!

Dexter’s big mistake is in doggedly persisting in the assumption that Jane is human and has undergone the same maturation process as a human being. Dexter has every reason to remember that Jane is of Dohani origin: her eyes, strength, and implant, for starters, and now the fact she was “born” in a growth tank.

But Jane’s human appearance can be overwhelming, and Dexter has been learning too much, too fast, to be able to absorb it all at once. It’s understandable that he falls back on his customary ways of thinking, especially if he hasn’t had time to read much science fiction...

c. Since humans do not form a “hive society,” the Dohani solutions to the “human problem” are currently reduced to military domination or genocide. What narrative purpose is served by Dexter’s not trying to imagine other solutions?

[Martin] It helps to build a suspense situation, a “sword of Damocles” as Dexter will say later. It’s a standard “the hero must has to save the world” situation :-)

[Don] As a rule, “suspense” in literature is highly overrated; readers almost always know in advance how the story is going to play out. But The Dohani War has propelled the readers from one mystery and problem to another right from the start, and a completely unforeseeable conclusion treats them to a rare case of real suspense.

The best-case scenario is that the Dohani and humans make peace. But it’s far from clear how that can be achieved. Jane’s gloomy predictions are much more plausible, because it’s very hard to imagine how human nature could be changed to make it less aggressive and “dangerous,” as the Dohani put it.

No wonder Dexter is stumped: where to begin to solve the ultimate problem? And the readers are in the same predicament!

Copyright © 2013 by Martin Kerharo
and Don Webb

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