Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Do Two Wrongs Make a Right?

The more I delve into the history of the Soviet cloning program in the Lanakhidzist Revolution universe, the more my stomach turns. I'd known that they were using the geneset of disgraced secret police chief Nikolai Yezhov as their primary test bed for biomods, and that it often involved making clones and testing them to destruction, sometimes as embryos or fetuses, but also as born babies.

But now I discover that the lab in Stalingrad was also cranking out enormous numbers of baby Yezhov clones for Soviet chemical and biowarfare programs, once they had artificial uterine environments. They'd ship the "little hedgehogs" (yozhika, a play on "Yezhov,") in huge crates like day-old baby chicks -- except human babies don't have a yolk to sustain them for that day of travel, so the labs in Siberia would often find a quarter to a half of the airlifted shipment dead or dying. But they were just Yezhovs, so they were disposable.

I'm no apologist for Stalin's terror -- Nikolai Yezhov crossed a moral event horizon when he accepted Stalin's commission to be NKVD chief and ran the Terror meatgrinder at frantic speed. But I can't buy into the Asiatic principle that the crimes, however terrible, of one member of a family could stain everybody else -- not even clones, who share 100% of their Senior's genetic material. The Enlightenment principle that we are each individually responsible for our good and evil deeds, that there should be no corruption of blood (as the Founding Fathers thankfully wrote into the US Constitution) is too strongly written in my mind and heart, and I can't see all these clones of Yezhov as anything but innocent children being murdered.

Is it any wonder Kolya Voronsky is not quite completely sane -- growing up there in the Stalingrad lab, knowing full well that thousands of his clone-brothers are being made every year and shipped off to their deaths, that he is spared that fate only because Vladilen Voronsky's adoption of him severed the legal link with Yezhov?

All I can say is thank heaven that in our timeline cloning is not going to be developed as a gigantic out-of-control black project with Cold War fears or their War on Terror equivalent. We've had good, solid public discussions about the ethical issues and why we shouldn't be doing human cloning, even of great leaders, generals, inventors or whatever. It's possible that some rogue nation or sub-national actors might do human cloning once the technology for doing it with animals becomes sufficiently cheap and generally available, but hopefully we'll be able to catch them soon enough and will have the wisdom and compassion to deal humanely with their victims, just as we would a child conceived naturally through rape or any other sexual crime.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Legacy Code

In computer technology, legacy code is stuff left over from earlier generations -- sometimes from the earliest days of computer programming in the case of mainframes. However, even microcomputer operating systems such as Windows often have substantial amounts of legacy code. Usually it results from attempts to make sure that new versions of software remain backward-compatible with earlier hardware and software -- for instance, so that older versions of a program will still run on the new operating system. Other times it is simply the result of programmers carrying over old code unexamined, either out of laziness or more frequently the result of deadline pressure.

Because I've been working on the story of the Lanakhidzist Revolution since I was in Jr. High, I've got almost thirty years worth of layers upon layers of ideas. The earliest versions were quite crude and simplistic, with no real understanding or appreciation of the societies of which I was writing (for instance, I really didn't appreciate the difference between Georgians and Russians, and the scenes set in Gori had the characters having Russian names and eating typical Russian foods), and even in the late 80's when I was studying Russian at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and had help from one of the professors, who read a lot of my manuscripts from that period, I still really didn't know how to use sources, or to weave details into the fabric of a story to bring it to life, so the writing was pretty bad.

Not to mention that a lot of the basic ideas still reflected a very youthful view of the world, one that hadn't been tempered with experience in the workplace. So now, as I'm working on Children's Crusade, my current version of the story of the Lanakhidzist Revolution, I'm constantly having to reconsider elements that I assumed would always be integral parts of the story. Should they remain, or is the legacy code a drag on the story that needs to go by the wayside?

For instance, I've corrected a lot of the mis-formed names that go back to the earliest layers of the story, figuring out what the proper forms of them should be (although in several places I've put visibly fake names in the place of the names of actual historical persons who are still living in our world and would obviously have a major role in that universe's fall of the Soviet Union too, such as Mikhail Sergeevich Gorbachev). But some of the relationships and the technologies that go back at least to the UIUC period now seem a little hard to support, at least not without some major changes in how they're presented.