Richie Partington's Reviews > Starters

Starters by Lissa Price
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Feb 28, 12

it was amazing

Richie's Picks: STARTERS by Lissa Price, Delacorte, March 2012, 352p., ISBN: 978-0-307-97523-2

“I’m looking through you, where did you go?
I thought I knew you, what did I know?
You don’t look different but you have changed
I’m looking through you, you’re not the same”

“…This scientific breakthrough established standards and changed the outlook for those who were unable to have children due to infertility or were at a high risk for passing on genetic disorders. Donor oocytes and embryo transfer has given women a mechanism to become pregnant and give birth to a child that will be their biological child but not their genetic child (assuming that the recipient woman carries the baby). In many cases, a gestational surrogate is used, and the embryos are implanted into her, per an agreement with the recipients. Oocyte and embryo donation as practiced today now accounts for approximately 5% of in vitro fertilization recorded births.
“Another beneficiary of this technology is the gay parent community. Surrogacy has enabled gay men to have biological children.”
--from the Wikipedia article “Egg Donation”

Being an egg donor brings with it potential health risks, including an increased risk for developing ovarian cancer and fertility problems. But many young women today consider becoming egg donors. For a young person struggling financially or just tired of working hard at a low-paying job, perhaps longing to pay off debts or buy a good-looking car, it can be difficult to ignore what could potentially be a $10,000 payday in exchange for undergoing hormone therapy and an egg-harvesting operation. (I’ve heard about this because my daughter shared what she’d, in turn, heard from a friend about this being a golden opportunity.)

“It was scary when you didn’t know what your body had been doing without you.”

And if you can understand why a young woman today might be financially motivated to become an egg donor, then, when you catch a first glimpse of the treacherous, post-apocalyptic world in which she and her brother live, it is a thousand times easier to see why the homeless and orphaned Callie Woodland -- the main character in STARTERS -- is considering the possibility of renting out her body to rich, old women for a few weeks.

"He tapped a corner of the airscreen to clear it, and then a second time to bring up holo-mations. The first one showed a senior reclining on a lounge chair, the back of her head being fitted with a small cap. Colored wires protruding from the cap led to a computer.
"'The renter is connected to a BCI--Body Computer Interface--in a room staffed with experienced nurses,' he said. 'Then she's put into a twilight sleep.'
"'Like at the dentist?'
"'Yes. All her vital signs are monitored throughout the entire journey. ‘On the other side of the screen, a teen girl reclined in a long padded chair. ‘You’ll be put under, with a kind of anesthesia. Completely painless and harmless. You wake up a week later, a little groggy but a whole lot richer.’ He flashed those teeth again. ”I forced myself not to wince. ‘What happens during the week?’
“’She gets to be you. He spread his palms and rotated them. ‘Do you know about computer assists that help amputees move fake hands? They just think about it and it moves? It’s very much like that.
“’So she visualizes that she’s me and if she wants something, she just thinks it and my hand grabs it?’
“’Just like she was in your body. She uses her mind to walk your body out of here and gets to be young again. He cradled one elbow in his other hand. ‘For a little while.’
“’But how…?’
“He nodded at the other side of the screen. ‘Over here, in another room, the donor—that would be you—is connected to the computer via a wireless BCI.’
“’We insert a tiny neurochip into the back of your head. You won’t feel a thing. Totally painless. Allows us to connect you to the computer at all times. We then connect your brain waves to the computer. And the computer connects the two of you.’
“’Connects.’ My brow furrowed as I tried to imagine two minds connected that way. BCI. Neurochip. Inserted. This was getting creepier by the minute. That urge to run was coming back hard. But at the same time, I wanted to know more.”

In an America where the only survivors of the Spore Wars are the Enders (very old) and the Starters (children and adolescents), sixteen year-old Callie’s only family now consists of her little brother Tyler and the young man who used to be the boy down the street.

“’If you sign today, there’s a bonus.’ He pulled a form out of his drawer and scribbled on it, then slid it across the desk. ‘That’s for three rentals.’ He capped his pen.
“I picked up the contract. That money could buy us a house and food for a year. I sat back down and took a deep breath.”

Signing up with Prime Destinations, Callie is given a no-holds-barred makeover and put into a dream state as her body is rented out for two initial short stints. It is during the month-long third rental that something goes terribly wrong and she begins experiencing periods of time in which she regains consciousness in her body in the midst of the rental period. One of these times when she regains consciousness, she has a gun in her hand.

STARTERS is a middle school page-turner about the exploitation of young people and what happens to and because of Callie.

One component of engaging science fiction is our ability to imagine science being able, in the future, to bridge the gaps between what is possible today and what might become possible tomorrow.

“Shake it up is all that we know,
Using the bodies up as we go”
--Hall & Oates

Just as it would have been science fiction at the time of my own conception to talk about growing implanted babies inside of hired donors, it is science fiction in 2012 to read about experiencing a week-long adventure through the body of a young person to whom your mind is connected electronically.

And what makes STARTERS so potent, of course, is that we know that this scenario sounds all too plausible…[involuntary shudder] …Way too plausible.

Richie Partington, MLIS
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