Short Story Review: “The Last Bringback” by John Barnes

2 of 5 stars.

Increased longevity has been a goal for mankind and science for decades, if not centuries. Unfortunately, with longevity comes the perils of old age–dementia and strokes affect a larger portion of the population along with the inevitable breakdown of the body.

This tale takes a page out of the GMO book and imagines that genetically manufactured humans, aka nubrids, are set to survive for 5-7 centuries. Individuals in their eighties and nineties look like young adults. With the neoteny–the retention of juvenile characteristics well into adulthood, or delayed maturation–comes a monotony of personalities as this nubrid generation has time to work through quirks and social issues. They also experience a blandness of emotions–no rage, nor true joy.

The first generation of nubrids closing in on the century mark overlaps with the last of the naturals showcasing the last cases of Alzheimer’s and other old-age calamities. At first, as with GMOs, there were backlashes and naturalism movements, but eventually naturalism was outlawed and the last of the hold outs were captured and sterilized . . .

Dr. Layla Palemba is one of the last one surviving naturals. Like most, she struggles with Alzheimer’s which will never infirm the predominant nubrids–she is also one of the world experts on dementia. Palemba’s parents had been vocally pro-naturalism, rallying for true emotion and less human intervention. Ironically, Dr. Palemba loathed them for it, considering the sentence of old-age to be unacceptable. At 31 and in a rage, she famously murdered them with a cleaver. And from this rage and grisly murder sprang her greatest elation, a pure joy that she still savors . . .

This elaborate and ironic set-up is fascinating and worth exploring. Working less well is the focus of the tale on Dr. Palemba’s “Bringback” procedure in which she coaxes buried and presumed lost memories from the plaques of Alzheimer’s. How and why this works remains muddled and yet commandeers the narrative.

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2016 edited by Rich Horton, which I received directly from Prime Books.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

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