This is where I confess both in my science fiction and in other people’s writing I have a problem with “super humans!” tm.
Oh, most of the super-powers in comics and books and movies are just weird, and not really super powers that could develop. But once I settle in to “oh, fantasy,” I can watch most of them. I just quickly get tired and mostly watch them because the guys (husband & sons) are watching, not because it’s something that naturally attracts me. Given several different blurbs for movies, I’d rarely choose “super powers.”
And here, I should probably note that I grew up with what my parents didn’t call “a notion of superpowers” only because it wasn’t in their vocabulary.
You know that thing kids have, where they think they’ll try to do something and do it perfectly first time out? Every kids seems to have this, at around two or three, and when they do try something, be it jumping or dancing or riding a bike and it doesn’t work, it takes a lot of patience from the adults to say “no, you have to practice, till you get it right.”
My parents, and this might have been cultural or maybe an early 20th century thing, had this idea of “genius.” If you were a musical genius, you might never have seen an instrument, but the first time you see a piano, you’re going to play perfectly well. You might never have written a story, but if you’re a writing genius, the first time you try, it will be Shakespeare. You might never have ridden a bike, but if you’re physically gifted, the first time you try– You get the point.
I grew up with them “testing” me against things I’d never seen or thought of doing, and then being disappointed I wasn’t instantly good at them. And it must be part of the culture, because I grew up so immersed in this that I was in my thirties before I realized this was crazy-cakes.
I’m smarter than the average bear. How much smarter I don’t know, and these things are hard to test or quantify, one of the reasons I don’t throw IQ points around like confetti. But when you always rise to the top of your class, even in an environment biased against you (most of my secondary education, because I was a girl. Though there was also “from a backwater village” and later — here — the “she has an accent, can she even understand what we’re saying”) you sort of come to accept you’re above average. But everything I do comes at the cost of a lot of work. At one time I spoke seven languages fluently, but I did an insane amount of work on each, the first three years, memorizing grammar and verb forms, and then reading in the language in the next three years, even when it was very difficult in the beginning. And while I don’t know anyone who can just walk into a place and speak the language, I know there is such a thing as a talent for languages. My brother routinely went somewhere for two weeks, and came back speaking the language like a native. Leading to the joke that we could drop him naked in the middle of the amazonian rain forest and he’d emerge speaking whatever tribal language there was, within two weeks.
But I’m not stupid. I know he could speak the language “like a native” in two weeks, but not actually. He would be able to ask essential questions and get the gist of things said to him. But if he’d stayed there, he’d spend years learning the language to be truly like a native. I still envied him, because I can learn, but it takes me insane amounts of work.
In the same way my parents were kind of pleased because I won writing contests very early and had a chapbook of my poems published at 14 (Yes, I know. I’m Sarah A. Hoyt, and I’m a poet. It’s been fourteen years, five months, two weeks and three days since I last wrote a sonnet, but I’m still a poet, and I have to stay away from it, consciously, every day. Even a couplet would be too much.) So I had some talent. But only some, since I didn’t write a world-famous novel at six.
In reality, I had some facility with language, and a compulsion to make up and tell stories, which probably has its roots in my very lonely childhood, where I had to make up the games AND the play friends. But twenty years after selling my first novel (Nineteen minus a few weeks, but who’s counting) I’m still learning my metier. I probably will be, still, twenty years from now.
Oh, and some novels turn out better than others. And some are more successful than others which yet again has nothing to do with quality, really.
Then I had a son who is at least one and maybe two standard deviations above me. No, we don’t know. It’s hard to know because he’s at that level where they have trouble putting a number to it.
He’s now starting to grow into himself, I think. I mean, nine times out of ten, if you meet him, now, you’ll get that he’s very smart, and you don’t think he’s crazy or borderline mentally slow.
Because that’s what most of his teachers thought, in elementary through middle school, that he was “developmentally disabled” and they couldn’t figure out why we didn’t have accommodations (mostly because he didn’t want them.) And an entire school (middle) once made war on him under the belief he was and I quote: Mentally Retarded. (Which is a weird reason to make war on anyone, but there it is.)
Mostly we knew he was “off” somehow, but we weren’t sure how. And once we figured out he was very, very smart, our problem was figuring out why this often presented like utter stupidity.
You’ve heard of overthinking things, right? Now combine that with the ability to get very bored once you figure things out, an inability to understand other people AREN’T like you, and therefore to consider most people somewhere between stupid and crazy and several quirks/eccentricities, and what you have is a kid whose first presentation wasn’t “He’s so smart.”
My cousin, who was raised with me (14 years older) is a teacher specializing in the profoundly gifted. I’d vent at her and she’d laugh and say, “that is completely normal.” Like, his obsession, at four, with trying to create life. The vials of things I found under beds and desks, and stuffed in weird places, with rotting household chemicals and bits of dead flies. (When your four year old heard about the primeval soup but lacks some context and world experience.) Or the two weeks he spent in front of the computer, in his underwear, playing all the computer games he’d got for Christmas, until he mastered them all. Interrupted only by us dragging him out of the room to hose off and feed.
And the way his obsessions often had nothing to do with the real world or real skills for life. I mean, it might be your ambition to learn to glue two pieces of cardboard just so, but really? WHY?
Brings us to the future history and “making Supermen.” Most people who are normal or a little above normal (the sweet spot for being considered “very intelligent” is like the top 25% to the top 10%. Above that people think you’re “crazy” (they’re not wrong in the sense of maladaptive) and anyone top 2% or above is at best considered odd by his/her peers.) and know that other “smarter” people have an easier time with this or that, dream of supermen. People for whom, they think, the difficult tasks they struggle with are “easy.”
But human intelligence doesn’t work like that. It’s not quantitative. It’s qualitative. The intelligence that allows you to solve a math problem at a glance will also seriously complicate your life when you’re trying to choose clothes in the morning, because you’ll run everything through the “and yet on the other hand” and might cause you to emerge from your room in too-tight pants and the luchador shirt you bought at the thrift store while you were in a weird mood, because according to some weird metric that exists in your mind only, they’re the least likely to get you noticed by the neighbor’s dog who hates your guts. Hence “overthinking” and “So sharp he cuts himself.” I swear to you the best way to make my kids flunk a test was to ask them questions the other kids could answer in their sleep. You know “What shape is an egg?” or “What color is the sky.” They’ll end up positing n-dimensional eggs and describing minute seasonal changes in the sky, because well, no one can ask questions that simple, right?
My older son tells me that “smart” people have more connections between brain cells, and are slower to prune them. This means they can correlate knowledge much faster/better, but also… well, all those connections are a great way of describing “going fricking nuts.”
Will we ever create supermen? I don’t know. Supposing we ever know enough of genetics, we might be stupid enough to try it.
Hence in the future, after they’d created laborers, etc, and created superstates too, they get stupid enough to create “supermen,” partly because they think that they need them to administer their superstates (we already hear rumblings that say EU or the US are “too complex to be administered by normal humans” — it never occurs to them to let the places administer themselves — and it gets more so with both intrusiveness of state and complexity of society.
Now they create at least three levels of supermen, alphas and betas and tetas and then just slightly enhanced humans.
They’re supposed to be faster, smarter, stronger. It is a thing of note that the editor for Through Fire couldn’t understand why this woman who was supposed to be all these things (and yes, she repeats them to herself like a mantra) could have ANY difficulties.
She has difficulties because I don’t believe in supermen.
Long ago I came on the concept “Have the virtues of your faults” or “have the faults of your virtues.”
Me? I’m prouder than the devil. This means I have trouble admitting to difficulties, even those caused by health issues. It means I don’t do nearly-enough butt kissing to climb in my profession. In fact the more I like someone who could help me up, the less I show it. (Yeah, my relationship with my publishing house!) and that I DISDAIN pushing my work too much, because it should sell on its own or something. But that means I’ll break myself in two trying to live up to my good opinion of myself, for instance. My younger son is a perfectionist. This means when he delivers something it will be perfect. But it also means he won’t deliver things he can’t be perfect at. Which means, yes, sometimes work doesn’t even get turned in. Also, he has two novellas ready to publish that no one but me might read.
So the smartish people of the future create very smart children to …. be their functionaries, do their bidding: to be their clerks, their planners, their spies, their assassins.
At some point — and I’m not absolutely sure why, but I think it’s the “Writ large” of bugs under the bed, and the fear of exposure of the whole project — these children, named for the scientists who created them, or after national heroes — are collected from all over the Earth and dropped into a “creche” in Germany. Where, because their caretakers are scared of them, they get brutalized and terrorized into learning and behaving and knowing they’re subordinate to the “real humans.”
Instead these potentially very gifted children and young men emerge with the faults of their virtues and also convinced they’re not quite human and they HAVE to control “real humans” to feel safe.
It is a recipe for trouble. And trouble will come.