I have had so many people ask me how I came up with such a wild idea for a story, that I decided I better confess. . .
My story “Animal” which appears in volume 30 of Writers of the Future has undergone several rebirths (pun intended) from its inception back in 1996. The idea came after watching a National Geographic special on the new technique being used at the Center for Reproduction of Endangered Species (CRES), a research branch of the San Diego Zoo that is today defunct, as far as I can determine. The Mongolian wild horse was, at that time, extinct in the wild and captive breeding programs had decreased the variation in the genetic pool. In order to produce more of these rare horses with greater genetic diversity faster, the process of cross-species surrogacy was used. In other words, domestic horses were implanted with Mongolian wild horse embryos that had been fertilized in vitro. Within a few years, their numbers were restored and wild horses were being reintroduced in Mongolia. Success!
The idea struck me like the proverbial lightning bolt. Humans have taxonomically close relatives . . . the great apes.
So, I wrote a screenplay because that’s what I was into back in the ‘90s. My story was set in the San Diego Zoo, 1990’s, and was about a desperate woman who had lost her husband in an auto accident and was so bent on going through with having a child by him that she infiltrated the CRES program which was in the process of saving mountain gorillas by using lowland gorillas as surrogates.
I bet most of you can see the problem with this immediately. Why I didn’t see it then is a mystery, except I had optioned the script to a fairly well-known producer who loved what this story had to say about humanity’s blind drive to populate and overpopulate the earth. I tried to force inorganic solutions on the script that never really worked. The actors and directors who read it usually said, “This is totally unbelievable.” And they were right.
A woman in the 1990’s could have found a human surrogate for her child. Duh. Big story problem that no amount of convoluted setup could solve. But beyond this obvious problem, people said they could not swallow the fiction that a gorilla could carry a human child. Now, that did surprise me. I had done my research, I had interviewed medical doctors both human and veterinary, and I was assured that it could happen today (in the 1990’s) without much, if any, medication, like the immunosuppressant, mentioned.
I quit writing not long after this, shoved all my notes in a drawer, burned my house down (accidentally of course), which meant that most of my writing was gone as well. I was certain I would never write again.
Thirteen years later, I dug this story out with the specific intent to turn it into a short story so I could win the Writers of the Future Contest. After all, Patrick Rothfuss said that was how his career got started. And I actually still had one hard copy of the script.
The story problem was obvious, the fix exciting. Move the story to the future and put the social pressures in place that would cause a woman to do such a thing. In a world where reproduction was controlled, and human population obliterating any chance of survival for all the non-food species, my story and the message I wanted to convey all fell into place. What a feeling! A feeling so good it has spurred me on to get back into writing for real.
But what I still hear from those who’ve read “Animal” is that they assumed this was impossible, a gorilla giving birth to a human. It’s science fiction, after all. Well, yes. But I’d really like everyone to know that this is absolutely possible, even today. I would like people to feel just how tightly connected we are to other species, our genetic cousins. They are not “other.” We have not ascended to a place higher than the other animals by virtue of our brains. We have put ourselves there through egocentric isolationism.
Let’s rethink our place here. And make room for our cousins.