Wednesday, December 23, 2009

All Hail the Almighty Tallest

Maybe one day you'll meet Taryn Tianxia Liang. She's the protagonist of one of the stories I'm currently developing and hopefully more down the road, one of the investigators and defenders of the half-familiar Earth of 2078, and the product of the TwenOneCen's "finest" genetic engineering. It's why she's so tall - 6'3", 190.5 centimeters. Perhaps not quite enough to become a basketball star, but sufficient to intimidate and stand above a crowd. The background, in-story reason was that her parents believed it would give her social advantages.

It seems as if I've managed to wander down the right track. Yesterday, the New York Times reported on a growing interest among South Korean parents to ensure their children grow up to be as tall as possible, since apparently the idea in vogue there right now is that "height is crucial to success." Anything that might grant an extra inch or two is being tried - acupuncture, exercise, growth hormones - and an industry of growth clinics has sprung up to feed the demand, regardless of whether or not the solutions they sell will live up to the hype. It's fortunate no one seems to have resorted to borrowing Procrustes' bigger bed.

Whatever it is, I don't think it's some passing fancy. Height is a primal thing in the human psyche, signifiying strength and authority, and it's something people strive for. I mean, look at elevator shoes. Other than making the fashion statement "I am taller than you and therefore better," what possible reason could there be for these to exist? For a great many people, artificial aids are their only option to stand above the competition. For their children, though, the game is different.

So far, genetic engineering hasn't exactly been the runaway technological success that some people suspected - take seaQuest DSV, which in another instance of having the future come too soon postulated a "Dark Age of Genetics" from 2001 to 2003, or the genetically engineered superman Khan Noonien Singh, who came to rule a quarter of Earth in 1992 in the Star Trek universe background. Nevertheless, progress has been made since the turn of the millennium, most notably with the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003. It's possible now to sequence an individual's genome. Though I personally doubt it'll lead to a situation like that in Repo! The Genetic Opera, I feel genetic technology is going to deeply influence the shape of the twenty-first century.

Probably its height as well.

I can see a way it could conceivably go. Where today we have chains of growth clinics that claim to add inches via conventional medical procedures, in the future we may deal with operations run by hack genehackers who, for enough yuan or euros or rupees, can promise parents that their children, born or otherwise, will grow tall and strapping like a mighty tree. What they may not do, on the other hand, is bother to improve their patients' hearts or lungs or general musculature enough to support the extra inches that will get piled on - after all, that's complicated and expensive. Tried-and-true genetic engineering will be the province of the wealthy and powerful for a long time - but the promise of tweaked genes will undoubtedly be enough for some parents, eager to give their children a leg up by any means necessary, to open their wallets and genomes.

Maybe basketball will become more popular, too.

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