Ancient urges meet science fiction

Sex in the Future by Robin Baker (Pan £6.99)
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The Independent Culture

"Science is still trying to catch up with science fiction," wrote J G Ballard in 1978. The proliferation of popular science books suggests that, since then, science fact has succeeded in capturing readers' imaginations to the same extent as fiction, if not more. But, if we are still to listen to Ballard, it is SF that has a "hot line to the unconscious", which perhaps explains the potency of Robin Baker's canny fusion of science fact and fiction. Sex in the Future, which explores the area where "ancient urges meet future technology" - the likely impact present and future contraceptive and reproductive technologies will have on society - is structured around 15 short fictional stories, set at various times between now and 2075, imagining such emotive scenarios as a father feeling "incestuous" desires for the cloned daughter of his wife, or a young man with his mother in a "reproductive restaurant" choosing prospective egg donors for his daughter, to be gestated by his mother. Though they are merely competently written, there are some nice macabre twists - such as in the story where a previously infertile man stores his sperm in the testes of rats and later inseminates rats with his own sperm - and there is a cunning wit at work in the scene where four women are invited on a chat show to discuss their various ways of making money out of motherhood ("Every woman's right ... or a new form of prostitution?").

Primarily though, these scenes are carefully and successfully designed to provoke instinctive reactions of revulsion - reactions that Dr Baker then dissipates with objective reasoning and a surprising and reassuring faith in science, technology and social evolution. He notes in passing that although contraception, surrogacy, IVF and cloning have all been feared and denounced as "unnatural" by the fertile majority, for the infertile such techniques are straws they will gratefully clutch.

Baker's convincingly imagined future may seem frightening. Monogamy and the nuclear family have vanished, sex and reproduction are entirely divorced, conception is rarely achieved via intercourse, offspring's characteristics can be preordained and money will still guarantee a better life for your children. But, so long as you brush aside, as Baker sometimes has to, issues such as STDs, the impact of environment on development, and the paternalistic and slow-moving nature of most legislature, the future looks bright. A sexual revolution, fertility for all who choose it, 100 per cent effective contraception, equality between the sexes, a slight increase in the variety of the gene pool and a reduction in the world's population. *