Felicity Shoulders. Conditional Love. (Asimovs January 2010).

Shoulders’ first story, Burgerdroid, appeared in Asimovs in June 2008, and this second story shows evidence of improvement. As with the first story, she has a female protagonist, Dr. Grace Steller, who works at the Gene-Engineered Pediatric In-Patient Center. There’s a lot of work coming their way, due to the popularity with would-be parents of in-utero genetic modification for their children.

Some children, such as Minerva, have long-standing abnormalities, due to the genmod they underwent. This teen was born limbless, but has spent her entire childhood in an out of hospital having treatment to slowly grow back her limbs. With both arms complete, Minerva is now desperate to finish with the hospital, and is happy to stay without legs, just so that she can start a normal life not revolving around hospital treatment.

Minerva’s desires are contrasted with a young John Doe, a boy who highlights another problem – parents who find that in fact the child of their (designed) dreams is not meeting their expectations, and who have no compunctions in throwing them onto the street. This boy, however, has a further disturbing issue – he instantly imprints on any adult that he meets, but subsequently forgets them once they are out of his sight. Is this an unintended consequence of his genetic tampering? Or is there a darker angle to it, as having a child with no memory of people once they have left his presence could be attractive to some people…

Grace has to come to terms with her work in the hospital, Minerva’s desires, and what life is likely to offer the young boy in her charge. She decides on taking drastic action – if thine eye offends thee….

For a new writer, it’s a well-handled story. The main characters are portrayed well, and perhaps only a slight issue with the dramatic resolution – although in the limited space, perhaps little option for the author. I’ll look forward to more stories from Shoulders.

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