When I asked Amy Sterling Casil for a quote for my blog, she actually had quite a bit to say. I only excerpted the first couple of paragraphs for the original post, but I do want to share all she had to say.
I am known mostly as a short fiction writer in science fiction and fantasy, but I’ve published over 20 nonfiction books on numerous different topics. My first novel Imago, which expands on short stories I published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, is still available, as is my first collection of short fiction and poetry, Without Absolution. I am a working writer and have written for new media publications since 2003.
“Perfect Stranger” was first published in F & SF in 2006, and readers chose it as favorite story of the month at the time. I think it’s a better story than “To Kiss the Star,” which is a story I’d recommend for any new readers coming to my work. You can find the typical comments about that story online as it was nominated for a Nebula Award, but readers should know that I am currently novelizing what happened next to the main character in “To Kiss the Star,” the disabled girl Mel, who gets the chance to pilot a living space ship and explore the stars. I began writing “Perfect Stranger” while I was pregnant with my baby Anthony, who had Down Syndrome and died in 2005. I wasn’t ready to write the story at that time, and my thoughts were not mature on the issue of what it might mean to genetically change your child and “improve him” until about a year after Anthony passed. I have been thinking about doing a collection of my stories about fathers and sons and mothers and daughters. This story deals with something that is a bedrock theme for me as a writer – what does it mean to be a parent, what is a family, and where do we really stand with technology and how it affects our lives?
I also write “non serious” work, including “Mad for the Mints,” which is about how Mad King George lost the colonies after listening to poor advice from his friends, a couple of happy-go-lucky space aliens marooned in the Hampton Court maze who become addicted to “curiously strong peppermints,” thus becoming incredibly unreliable and untrustworthy. A slightly more serious, but equally crazy story is “Mad, Bad Richard Dadd,” which is about real-life crazy British fairy painter Richard Dadd, in the Shadow Conspiracy II anthology published by Book View Cafe. In the last three quarters, I’ve published stories in Panverse 2, the Shadow Conspiracy II, and Blood Lite 2.
I have been talking to people more about why I write and the type of things that speak to me as a writer. I am always interested in themes of family, friendship, and what it means to be human. Any actual science fiction story written by me, or an alternate fantasy/history (???) like Richard Dadd is going to weave reality and fact into the fictional story. The “voice” in Richard Dadd is Richard’s voice, and was inspired by reading his letters home to his artist friends, some of whom later published these letters or wrote about Richard after the tragic events that unfolded following his grand tour around with world with his patron Sir Thomas Phillips. Richard was a popular, seemingly normal and pleasant young artist at the Royal Academy, but lost his mind while on this worldwide trip and murdered his father after returning to England, believing that “The Great God Osiris” had told him to do it. He spent the latter part of his life in Bedlam hospital, and was a particular favorite of the hospital administrator, receiving paints and canvas to create his fairy visions, one of which is a very famous painting called “The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke,” hanging in the Tate in London. Richard would tell people that he was painting actual fairy friends that he personally knew. “The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke” is the subject of a song by Queen and Neil Gaiman also wrote about it, among other well-known writers. One of the little gentlemen in the story is from the painting – it has hidden images and faces as well as supposed actual characters among the fairies, in addition to the fairy King and Queen Oberon and Titania, that everyone would recognize.
So, the story that you have read, “Perfect Stranger” is based on actual genetic treatments. The heart condition that Denny suffered from, hypoplastic left heart syndrome, is one of the conditions that gene therapy is being tested to alleviate using in-utero treatments. The other treatments given to Denny are all being considered, and some are very obviously lucrative and not even very difficult, such as changing eye color, affecting the body’s metabolic rate or set points for weight, or improving athletic or intellectual capacity. The physician’s description of how the gene is delivered, “It’s like catching a cold, only better” is literally how many such therapies are delivered, and many such procedures are being performed – more and more each year.