I Had a Farm
by The Sapient Sabre
Partridge Publishing Singapore

"The icebergs have melted, the temperature is rising, extreme weather is more frequent than ever. Food production alone, is close to impossible."

Dr. Caesar MacDonald is the central figure of this novella about the ethics of bioengineering. Set in 2040, the plot centers on MacDonald’s quest to create a nutritious food source that does not rely on the few expensive plants that humanity can grow in Earth’s hostile environment. By genetically modifying and enhancing pigs, MacDonald creates what he calls “butterballs,” creatures that are edible right down to their bones. But his experiments rarely survive on the chemical calorie pellets he can afford to feed them. Inspired by observing humans thrive on artificial meat replacements, MacDonald tries adding human DNA to the butterball experiments. In the process, he stumbles into an ethical quandary that he never imagined possible.

An author’s note at the end of the novella describes the author’s inspiration for the plot and discusses his desire to explore the ethics of biotechnology. This is a prominent theme throughout the story. MacDonald seems driven to make the best, most profitable meat source by any means necessary, but he finds his limits when he sees his experiments grow and change. His lab assistant, Grace, acts as a voice of reason, while his business assistant puts profit and feeding hungry people over worrying about animal sentience. MacDonald himself confusedly remains in the middle.

The author’s worldbuilding is excellent. However, there is so much to consider in this story that there is little space left for some of the more interesting plot points, such as how MacDonald’s native heritage and childhood memories of Ute bear dances influence his desire to feed people with meat. Additionally, his status as a widower and his inheritance of his wife’s estate get only passing mentions. Still, the debate over bioethics is fascinating and is a timely and important topic that should keep readers engaged.

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