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Frog Pond - Introduction

"Frog Pond" was first published as a short story in 1972. The writer, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, is an American, and to understand why she wrote the story, we need to look at the political situation at the time.

To frosker med hoved over vannflaten. Foto.

It was only a decade after the Cuban missile crisis when the Soviet Union and the United States of America came closer to war than at any other time. This made many ordinary people very scared. After that confrontation - that moment when the two super-powers might have dropped hydrogen bombs on each other - they continued to fight a war of words - the cold war. They also backed struggles in other countries - in Angola in Africa, for example. And in Vietnam.

Throughout the 1960s the United States had been sending more and more soldiers to Vietnam in order to stop the country becoming unified under a communist government. Led by student protesters, more and more people in America protested against the war in Vietnam. In 1968 especially, there was rioting on many university campuses in the USA More and more people were also afraid that small wars could lead to larger wars in which nuclear weapons would destroy the world's major cities - even destroy whole populations. Even, perhaps, destroy the whole human race. At the time, people called that vision of total destruction the nuclear holocaust.

Frog Pond is one of many examples of "post-holocaust literature" - plays, novels, stories, dealing with life after nuclear bombs have destroyed the world we know. One of the common themes or ideas running through this literature is the question of how people can survive, and create a new life from the ruins of the old one.

As we start reading Frog Pond, or listening to the radio play, the situation seems quite normal. A young girl - Thorny - has been warned not to go and catch frogs in a creek - a stream or small river, and yet she disobeys and goes there. So the story lets us think her parents are simply anxious that she might drown, like parents anywhere. Little by little, though, we notice details that tell us things are far from normal.

At first things just seem a little strange or odd. It seems odd that Thorny catches frogs to eat. But we also get a sense of danger. There are places in the creek where the water is coloured pink. Some of the fish aren't safe to eat. Thorny's father has told her that she may only walk into the creek if she's got waders on - waterproof boots that come up to the tops of the legs. To get to the creek, Thorny must stay away from a property belonging to the Baxter family - maybe sick or diseased people have moved on to their land. And so, slowly, we realise that things are not normal at all.

But the story never quite tells us what has happened. By the end, we know that things have gone wrong, but we don't know whether that's because of nuclear war or some other terrible event.

While Thorny is catching frogs, a young man - Stan - crashes through the bushes, and stops to question her. He is obviously scared - terrified even, but again we never find out why. From the little he says, we can guess that the cities are bad places to be, with riots, crimes, murder. Gangs rule the streets. City society seems to have broken down.

Like us as we read the story, Stan finds Thorny a comforting person to be with. She seems to know exactly what to do. She is confident, selfassured, she knows how to look after herself. And so he relaxes. He thinks that he might stay in the area and maybe teach the children. Thorny, however, knows this is not possible. She, her father, and Mr Thompson, share secret knowledge. When she shows Stan the result of that knowledge, he - and we too - are scared. This apparently normal girl is not normal at all. Her body has been biologically changed to make her more able to live in the new - the post-holocaust - world.

For many years biologists have accepted the Theory of Evolution. All living species adapt to the world they live in. Plants turn the sun's energy into food. Fish have fins to swim in water, birds have wings to fly with. This adaptation has happened over thousands and millions of years. Each member of a species is slightly different, and some of these differences make the plant or animal more able to survive. All its offspring carry the differences in their genes. And this genetic information is passed on from one generation to the next, and with each generation the differences add up. After thousands of generations, a four-legged creature may have developed the ability to catch insects and live on land and in water. It's a frog. Yet another four-legged creature has developed the ability to eat vegetables and flesh, to stand upright, its paws have become hands, and it has a powerful brain. It's a human being!

For many thousands of years human beings have used the process of evolution for their own purposes. Hunters have bred dogs from wolves, and then bred all kinds of different dogs - hunting dogs, tracking dogs, shepherd dogs. They have done it by keeping some puppies which are particularly good, at running maybe. Then, when those puppies have grown up, they're used to breed other puppies. By always choosing good runners, eventually, a type - or breed - of dog is produced which can run quickly over long distances.

In the same way, farmers have bred cows that are good for milking, and cows that are good for meat; sheep that are good for meat and sheep that are good for wool. But bree¬ding animals takes a long time. You have to wait for the chosen animal to be ready to have its own offspring - or children - and this may take several years. So it can take many years, and sometimes centuries, to create these useful breeds.

In the last few years, though, scientists have found a way to speed up this process. The experiments started when scientists found that certain genes control certain properties or characteristics in a plant or animal. Next, scientists learnt to insert genes from one species into another, a process called genetic modification - GM for short. This could be very valuable for farmers. The cotton plant, for example, is attacked by an insect which destroys a high percentage of the cotton. By finding a plant which the insect doesn't like, and using genes from that plant, it is possible to insert them into the cotton plant's genes to make it less attractive to the insect. Of course, all the genetically modifed offspring have the new characteristic.

As we listen to Frog Pond, we learn that Thorny has been genetically changed to make her more likely to survive in the post-holocaust world than ordinary human beings.

Of course, Frog Pond is a story. So far, no-one has done experiments like this on human beings, although there are no scientific reasons why it should not be done. However, many people think that modifiying human beings is morally wrong. So, in many countries there are laws forbidding scientists to carry out genetic modification on human beings. But already many plants and some animals have been genetically modified.

However, the fact that something is scientifically possible doesn't mean we should do it. After the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, many people thought all research and development of nuclears weapons should be stopped. It wasn't and we still live in a world full of weapons that can destroy a huge city in one blast.

Today, many research companies are very interested in genetic modification. There are huge profits to be made by creating insect-resistant crops, or by changing milk-producing animals so that their milk contains a medically useful substance, for example.

At the same time, many people think that genetic modification should be stopped, or at least delayed, until we know more about it. Some religions think it's wrong to try to change God's creation. Many ecologists think genetic modification is dangerous because we do not know - cannot know - all the effects of creating totally new species. Nor do we know what happens when genetically modified plants and animals breed with with wild plants or animals, as they certainly will do.

Human beings have already created many ecological disasters on this planet. The spread of deserts, for example, has increased because of bad farming practices. Parts of the ozone layer have been destroyed by chemicals contained in spray-cans. The immense use of petrol, coal and natural gas is probably causing the world to heat up - global warming -and if the polar ice-caps melt, huge numbers of people - never mind plants and animals -will suffer.

So genetic modification may be a powerful new process. It may also create huge new problems. Maybe human beings have got too powerful for their own good!

Dan Garrett

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