Part of an anthropologist's education includes a thorough grounding in the science of genetics. Control of our genetics lies at our fingertips. Within the next forty years we will be able to completely manipulate our genetic inheritance as well as that of other species. Most people have no idea how fundamentally this will change their lives.
In DARK INHERITANCE we wanted to take a look just beyond tomorrow's horizon. DARK INHERITANCE deals with physical anthropology, genetics, and primatology. Through the story we can teach people not only about our closest primate relatives - we share 98.8% of our genes with chimpanzees and bonobos - but about just how closely we are related. For the last forty years the perceived gap between humans and apes has been shrinking. The more we learn about them, the more we find that we are alike. In the end, the only difference between a chimpanzee and a human is matter of degree. They do everything that we do, but with less sophistication. They make tools, but don't build space shuttles. They fight genocidal wars with their neighbors, but don't build gas chambers. They use language, but haven't written WAR AND PEACE. You might say that they are human without the extremes.
We wanted to deal with some of the moral dilemmas using higher primates for medical research. Chimpanzees are remarkably sensitive and intelligent creatures. They are almost us. We do not believe they are disposable as "property." Captive apes aren't the only ones at risk. There may be less than twenty thousand bonobos left in the wild. Chimpanzees, especially in West Africa, are being hunted to extinction for the illegal pet trade and for "bush meat." Hopefully readers of DARK INHERITANCE will come away with a better understanding not only of apes, but of ourselves as human beings.
Pharmaceutical companies have been inserting sections of human DNA into chimpanzees. This is done because we are so closely related, to test drug protocols, to see how disease can be cured, and to monitor side effects. If an ape goes into anaphylactic shock, a human will, too. So we put more segments of human DNA into chimpanzee to make us even closer. Chimpanzees are cheaper than taking chances experimenting on humans. The question is begged: If we are already 98.8% the same, how many human genes can be inserted into these animals before they cross that thin dividing line between our species?
Umber, the protagonist in DARK INHERITANCE answers that question. We create new life forms in laboratories all the time. We insert human genes into mice, frogs, sheep, and cattle. "Chimeras" are built when goat genes and sheep genes are spliced to create a "geep." When we create a strain of ape with Umber's sentience and intelligence, how will we treat it? Will a sentient being be a "Person" or simply property?
DARK INHERITANCE deals with the thorny issues of genetic engineering, but we didn't want to write a "Frankenstein" story. Michael Crichton did that in JURASSIC PARK. Instead we wanted to take a humanist's perspective that dealt with the science as a given. The question is not should we, or will we, but instead we ask, when we do, how will we treat that new species?
DARK INHERITANCE is first and foremost the story of two sisters, one human, the other not. Or is she? It is one family's struggle to stay together. Jim and Brett are desperate to save Umber, a daughter and sister they deeply love. The action spans the United States, England, and Equatorial Africa. If someone like Umber doesn't already exist, she will soon. Perhaps DARK INHERITANCE will provide a baseline for the way that creature will be received.