Reviews: Asimov's Science Fiction

Shorts: Rules of Biology

Rules of Biology features succinct impactful writing, showcasing a man in denial about his abandoned suburban life who is forced to come to terms with his absence as a father. This alternate reality provides the ultimate punishment to men who cast their children aside in the form of a genetic mutation that triggers when a stable father figure reappears. It’s an eye-opening conversation on the effects of divorce or abandonment on a child and their desire to have stable parents.

RULES OF BIOLOGY

Dale Bailey
Asimov’s Science Fiction
July/August 2018

STORY

Rules of Biology is a fascinating story, one that shows the effects of absent fathers on their children in a very real way. In this version of the world, when children’s fathers leave and are replaced by step-fathers, their genetic features alter significantly until they genetically become a child of their new fathers. Once they start to change, there’s no going back. We follow a father who randomly decided to leave his wife and daughter for something else. He doesn’t prioritize seeing his daughter and forgets her for weeks at a time.

The story begins when he notices a dark hair on her head and he’s aware of what can happen because it happened to him. Unsurprisingly given his disregard for the life he had, he doesn’t try to improve his relationship with his daughter and, in fact, sees her less. When he realizes what’s happening, he’s despondent and throws out a last ditch effort to renew his bond with his daughter. It’s truly too little, too late, and he’s no longer her father.

There’s so much to this story about family structure and the mindset of someone who leaves their family for a different life. Gone are the tethers between children and their absent fathers, the child no longer wondering why things changed and wanting to rebuild that lost relationship when they get older. Instead, the original father legally doesn’t exist. It holds people accountable for their actions, with very real ramifications for abandoning their children.


CHARACTERS

The central male character is a man who has left his family for a different life in the city, one with money, a new apartment and a new partner. He tells himself his daughter is important to him, but he doesn’t really try to see her and instead focuses on his new life. He only seems to care about her when he realizes she is changing into the daughter of his ex-wife’s new partner, and even then, he doesn’t try to be a real father to her. It’s impossible to feel sorry for this man.

The remaining characters are all unsurprised at the series of events and all highlight how naive this man was in thinking that he could remain connected to his daughter when he chose himself instead of her most times. This wasn’t a surprise occurrence, it was a well known fact – they even discussed it in biology class in a throwback high school memory. It’s the age-old ‘this could never happen to me’ scenario deftly played out by the author.


SETTING

Rules of Biology takes place in a nondescript setting, an Anywhere, USA large city. The main character does make a distinction between his previous life in the suburbs and his current life within the city, but that’s about as far as he goes. There’s a foray into an impoverished area and a few moments at a restaurant or a mall. In essence, it’s in our current time with nothing different besides this one genetic concept.


CONCEPTS

Alternate Reality, Genetic Mutation

Interested in more stories like Rules of Biology? Read our short story reviews here.

Photo by Blake Wheeler on Unsplash

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