Sisters by Greg Bear

In the first two short stories in The Collected Stories of Greg Bear, there have been unexpected twists, avoiding predictable story plots. Expect the unexpected.

In the short story Sisters, there are some typical happenings, typical character development, especially when characters are in high school. Girls who were once at odds with one another become friends. It can happen. I’d have to concentrate hard on whether that’s happened to me. Can’t say it happened during my high school years. I had my teammates, but socializing was never my thing. I felt different than most of my peers.

Perhaps this is why I liked Sisters. I could relate with Letitia Blakely. Not that I really cared about my looks, like Letitia, but in her world where normal is no longer normal, she and I walked a similar path..

Beyond a year or two in junior high where some boys used to bully me by calling me “dogthumb” or spitting on the door knobs right before I got to the door, I got off lightly. Mostly I just wasn’t noticed. I was noticed on the field as a goalie. Not so much on the ice in hockey. But in school I was a ghost. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of my high school classsmates, people I went to school with for twelve years, won’t remember my name.

In this story, I would have hung out with Letitia and perhaps John Lockwood, the anti-soc. folks.

I continue to enjoy Greg Bear’s character names. Letitia and her brother have cool names. Maybe Bear was establishing a generational thing by having their parents be Jane or Donald. Maybe Bear doesn’t have a choice in the matter; maybe his characters come to him with their names and their personalities.

How can you not like the name Bernie Thibhault?

I also continue to enjoy Bear’s vocabulary. Frowsy? Lysing? Bullmusk, which is considered a swear in the story. Petulant is just one of those words that I enjoy seeing no matter how often, and haven’t figured out how to add it into my own writing.

Next month my three sisters and I will get together; it has been almost six years. For the new people in my sisters’ lives, they will say over and over how much we look alike as if this is unusual. I can’t imagine not looking like someone in my family, though I no longer remember what my mother looks like. I find myself studying pictures of my mom, hunting for similarities, but it’s not like I spend that much time looking at myself in the mirror to really know if my eyes or my chin are similar to her.

In Sisters, Letitia is so upset that she’s not a  designer baby, that her parents wanted to let the cards fall and see what would happen with the magic of DNA; but they went against the tide; Letitia wanted to be like the other kids.

It’s very eerie when science fiction from twenty years ago hits on a relevant subject matter. We can go in and change DNA before a baby is born and remove diseases and complications. And we can do more. Bear shows us how things can go horribly wrong when good intentions blind us from reality.

I wish that educational technology would catch up to Bear’s story. This would be a great way to learn: “Letitia leaned back in her seat and closed her eyes to concentrate. Her mod activated and projections danced in front of her, then steadied. She had been cramming patient psych for a week and was approaching threshold. The little Computer Graphics nursie in whites and pillcap began discussing ins and outs of terminal patient care, which all seemed very TB to Letitia; who died of disease now, anyway? She made her decision and cut to the same CG nursie discussing the shock of RoR—replacement and recovery. What she really wanted to study was colony medicine, but how could she ever make it Out There?”

There’s no established time in Sisters, but when Letitia’s mother is looking at some pictures, “Jane looked at the soft and flickering pictures hung on the walls, pastel scenes of improbable forests” I get the impression that forests were a thing of the past. Some would say that this is the cost of progress. I think the cost of progress is too much.





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