REVIEW: Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful by Arwen Elys Dayton

Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful by Arwen Elys Dayton

Length: 384 pages

Release date: 4 December 2018

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For fans of television shows Black Mirror and Westworld, this compelling, mind-bending novel is a twisted look into the future, exploring how far we will go to remake ourselves into the perfect human specimen and what it means to be human at all.

Set in our world, spanning the near to distant futures, Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful is a novel made up of six interconnected stories that ask how far we will go to remake ourselves into the perfect human specimens, and how hard that will push the definition of “human.”

This extraordinary work explores the amazing possibilities of genetic manipulation and life extension, as well as the ethical quandaries that will arise with these advances. The results range from the heavenly to the monstrous. Deeply thoughtful, poignant, horrifying, and action-packed, Arwen Elys Dayton’s Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful is groundbreaking in both form and substance.


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“You can stab yourself, you can drop from a great height, you can swallow poison–but mostly you will not die. They simply fixed us up. But after this time they gave us faces. They gave the girls breasts. They gave us our fake skin. Not real faces, not real breasts, not real skin. But still, they are important.”

 

Welcome to the future. It’s strange, terrible and achingly close–some days it’s easy to wonder if we’re not already there. Arwen Elys Dayton would have us grateful that we’re not, in fact, quite there yet. Stronger, Faster and More Beautiful feels like a human-bird-fish hybrid carrying genetic material from a hundred species: For all its flaws, its relentlessly fascinating scenarios inspire reflection both of what we could do and how far we should go.

Told in six perspectives across time evenly split between first and third person, male and female, the story lights a window into the incredible potential of gene editing. The operative word being window. As colourful the glimpses we catch of the crazy new world outside, this book’s great crime lies in its refusal to ever open a door. We never truly step into the world remade; the vignettes here are all limited and contained to yield the mere outline of a brilliant painting.

I wanted to see the world. I wanted to see the modifications, the glorious crazy future we made, instead of tiny snapshots involving 2% of society garnished with occasional references to news headlines. I wanted to see more thought-provoking exploration of the implications of genetic modification, instead of stale single-minded messages about bigotry and the dangers of playing God. Come on, we’ve done that!

Genetic modification can be a monster of our own making, but it can also make us stronger, faster, and more beautiful. The most effective exploration would have been done in the in-between space. And Dayton does give some in-between, much more than a good deal of YA. But not enough.

The book builds up to something wonderful with the first five stories…and then the final story slides into dead horse YA territory with collapsing civilisation, oppressive dystopia, forbidden love with a childhood friend, you name it. This could have been so good. Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful started out as This Mortal Coil and ended up Divergent. Ok, maybe not that bad–but Part Six, Curiosities, was a disappointment compared to the rest nonetheless.

Still. Still, this book has its remarkable bits. Ludmilla and California (Parts Two and Five respectively) are beautiful, and Eight Waded is not far behind. California, in particular, is heartbreaking. Its perfect balance of darkness and resilience is unmissable, even if its excellence is just superficially tied to the theme of genetic modification.

At its best, Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful is a cross between This Mortal Coil and Black Mirror. Maybe it fails to deliver on a setup worthy of a five-star read, but that doesn’t negate its many thought-provoking qualities. Having read it, I can only hope that the future we’re entering will be a future where we’re better humans without believing that we’re better than human.

*Thanks to HarperCollins UK and NetGalley for providing a review copy of this book! All opinions represented remain my own.*

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