Eugene Fischer's novella The New Mother is one of those stories you keep thinking about long after you finish reading it, because it raises questions that are not easily answered.
Fischer begins with a solid what-if premise: how would society react if suddenly women began reproducing asexually - if instead of producing haploid ova designed to merge their DNA with haploid sperm, they began producing diploid ova, with no need for fertilisation, ready to develop into functional clones of their mothers? And what if men also began producing diploid sperm, making them essentially infertile, since a diploid sperm can not fertilise haploid or diploid ova?
Tess Mendoza is a freelance journalist who has followed the story since rumours first began surfacing of some women reporting that something seemed wrong with their pregnancies. Now that scientists are finally researching the reports and have identified what's going on - a new STD that alters the reproductive process in men and women, so that they no longer produce haploid gametes - Tess has been hired by a major national magazine to write a feature on the history, current knowledge and social implications of Gamete Diploidy Syndrome, or GDS.
Tess is also pregnant herself, and a little worried, because she and her partner Judy used a sperm bank, despite the small but present risk that the donor might be an undiagnosed carrier of the disease.
Tess's process in researching her article is at the same time Fischer's process for telling the story and inviting the readers to consider the implications of such a development in human reproduction. The novella is in fact structured as a series of sections: some containing text from the article, some showing interviews with people involved in some way with GDS - scientists, politicians, policy makers, women with the condition, men who have been affected by women bearing cloned daughters - and some portraying Tess as she relates to her lover, her mother, her editor, and herself as a woman with a potentially problematic pregnancy. What is interesting is that almost everything in the novella is said by, or filtered through the awareness of, women. Information Tess has gathered from men comes out in the article text, interview scenes take place only with women. Men rarely speak for themselves. Instead, they are quoted, and discussed by women; the few men who do have voices are subordinate in some way.
Some of the history and issues discussed will be very familiar to anyone who lived through the early years of the AIDS epidemic - from the changes of name as more facts about the disease became known, to the reluctance of some to touch people who might be infected, to debates over long-term quarantine and isolation, blood banks, allocation of research and healthcare funds, the morality of using birth control (in this case, hormonal suppression of ovulation in women) in dealing with the disease.
Added to the5 mix, however, are questions of whether the cloned infants are "really" people, whether GDS women and their children are essentially a new species, whether men might vanish altogether (since all the children of a GDS mother must be female), and whether that should be allowed, or prevented by any means necessary.
A profoundly thoughtful, elegantly written work.