Okay, time to talk about yet another short story from the Forward collection. Once again, I dove into it with no idea what to expect, and mainly because it was on my list of Things To Complete within the end of the year. So without any further ado, let’s talk about…
Title: You Have Arrived At Your Destination
Author: Amor Towles
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services
Publication Date: 17 September 2019
Genre: Science Fiction
Standalone or Series: Standalone (included in Forward, a collection of entirely independent stories by different authors).
Synopsis: When Sam visits the Vitek fertility lab, he only expects to be offered some mild genetic improvement, to give his future kid an optimal start in life. However, he soon discovers that their services are way more advanced – and way more unsettling: as the life paths of each prospective child are paraded for his appraisal, he’s induced to question his own path and the choices that had led him there.
Analysis: The story, written in third person, follow Sam in his journey – both physical and psychological as it turns out. The storytelling seems quite straightforward at first, but as it proceeds it gets more meandering and aimless, reflecting the main character’s own confusion.
At the very beginning we see Sam heading to the fertility clinic in his self-driving car; some attention is devoted to the vehicle and its features, so much that at first I thought it was going to be the main theme of the story. It turns out, it was just a way to quickly establish we are at some point of our near future, and perhaps as a metaphor for the more or less conditioned directions our lives can take.
Soon enough, an extensive section set at the clinic makes us aware of the real focus of the novel, that is to say that of advanced genetic selection; Sam is not just told what advantages each choice could offer, but he’s shown the archetypal lives his potential children are bound to live; while very different from each other, each is bulit according to an established, movie-like pattern, with a promising first part, followed by more challenging times, that however lead to further development.
Up to this point, I was fairly intrigued by the story, and curious of how the author was going to explore the many implications of his chosen theme. However, it quickly turned out he’d just opted to ignore most of them. In fact, unsettled by his experience at the clinic, Sam finds nothing better to do than to visit the closest bar and get drunk with some stranger, ending up in some conversation about life experiences, choices, and unpredictable twists of fate. Which is somehow relevant to the main theme, I am not saying it’s not. But it’s also severly navel-gazy.
Because we’re not really just discussing life choices here. We’re dealing with a futuristic technology that supposedly allows people to customise their offspring down to their temperament and career inclinations; it’s a concept that comes with a lot to unpack, in terms of how much of our lives are already decided at a merely genetic level, as well as for the social consequences such a technology could have: if people could make choices for their kids to that extent, how would the new generations be like? What would it mean for personal agency, for the very human fact of carving your identity as separate from your parents’ wishes? It’s explicitly said that such a sophisticated service is only available to the rich: would it be the grave stone on the very dream of social mobility? Would it lead to even more cutthroat competition at the top, between offspring engineered to succeed and uphold their parents’ standards?
I am just spouting questions off the top of my head, but there could be many others worth addressing. Instead, after introducing a topic as heavy as eugenics, the author does not seriously engage with it, and instead goes off on a tangent, with semi-dream sequences and his character acting random in a way that I guess is supposed to look deep, man. One could argue that the story is centred on Sam’s experience, and that this rich guy who wants to get a perfect son (because of course he’s a baby boy) with a perfect life is likely not concerned with broader questions about eugenics. It doesn’t change the fact it’s a poor angle to address a potentially more interesting topic.
Conclusions & Recommendations: Honestly? It looks as if the author were suddenly ashamed of being writing sci-fi, so he swerved abrutly to turn his story into one of those works that must be very clever and literary just because they can’t commit to a theme or a plot. In the end it was such a letdown, I don’t know if I’d recommend it to anyone, unless perhaps if you really want to go check for yourself.
Content Warning: Eugenics