Passing on more than genes… - Lucy L. Austin

Passing on more than genes…

Adaptive Consequences is a bit of a ‘slasher’ book, a melting-pot of science-fiction/thriller/domestic noir genres in one story. Though the narrative came first and the classification later, the ‘domestic noir’ element was always a fundamental part of the story arc; Adaptive Consequences (AC) is as much a dissection of family dynamics as it is about neuroscience, the future, and power struggles.

With the prevalence of social media, we live in a world where we frequently define ourselves in relation to other people. Whether we want to cultivate and align with their opinion or lifestyle, or we actively distance ourselves away from them, the tentpoles that help navigate our life are often planted in relation to those around us.

When we look at the formative tentpoles that habitually stick with us throughout life, they are usually derived from our family of origin; multiple studies show that patterns of behaviour are ‘recycled’ across generations[1], and it was an area that I was keen to explore in AC.

It’s something as a society we may superficially recognise, but do we always dissect and act on? It can be easier to acknowledge (some of) our patterns by using cultural colloquialisms or broadly categorising them, but they are seldom specific enough to inspire change:

‘You’re just like your father!’

 ‘I’m turning into my mother.’

 ‘They’re a family of doctors.’

Some of these may have been preceded or followed by door slams or silent sobs, but the conscious and un/subconscious patterns we pick up from our family are often, as in Adaptive Consequences, dysfunctional adaptations that define some of the challenges we face in life.

Slice open any family, and you’d be hard pushed not to find similar themes and patterns being recycled – whether that’s family members mirroring one another’s behaviour or acting in direct opposition – our un/subconscious (and conscious) choices reinforce these patterns and often make the situations more complex and intense.

In AC, there’s as much conscious decision-making in play, as there are un/subconscious ones. Our protagonist Jun is determined her son (Kau) won’t follow in her footsteps, and instead bypass the challenges she faced, such as working for the socio-political United Adaptive, purveyor of ‘globalised lifestyle solutions’:

(On Kau working for the United Adaptive) ‘You don’t have to accept just because they’ve made you an offer. I don’t want you to make the same mistakes I did.’ (Chapter 1)

Kau’s decision-making becomes a mild preoccupation for Jun, seeking to understand who Kau resembles more: Jun or his father? Will he go the way of Fan, her diligent, United Adaptive (UA) bureaucrat husband, or Jun, who also worked for the UA, albeit reluctantly, until she managed to break free.

 (Jun’s resistance to joining the United Adaptive) ‘Jun had not so much eaten her words but had them forced down her throat. For two weeks, her parents had insisted she was making the wrong decision, reminding her what an opportunity it was until she finally relented and accepted the role.’ (Chapter 1)

There is the sense that Jun’s fulfilling a family prophecy by working for the UA, as well as being in a relationship with someone who works for them too.

‘The fact Fan worked for the UA, like her father, pleased them. Not that they ever explicitly said so. Not that they had to, after the fuss they’d made about her cousin Ami marrying a senior administrator at the UA Provincial Global Governance Offices.” (Chapter 5)

Jun thought she’d disrupted that family pattern, but she’s concerned that Kau will recycle it. Her resistance to that reality leads to its own conflict (and the recycling of another family pattern). Because her parents enforced the decision on her, she’s determined to let Kau make his own choices; it’s a theme that she struggles with throughout the story, as well as the sequel.

Kau, our secondary protagonist, demonstrates the unconscious patterns of their family behaviour.

We find out that Kau, like his parents, is dating a fellow UA-er, and that they are intent on keeping it a secret from work colleagues and friends, also just like his parents. I can’t cite any more examples, as I would be giving too much away (!), but as the reader, we continually see parallels between his parents’ decision-making and his own, though Kau’s are mostly unconscious. This theme also continues to play out in the sequel.

It’s only when Jun forensically-looks at and disrupts her own ‘recycled’ decision-making, do we see changes in hers and Kau’s ‘dysfunctional adaptations’, and developments in the narrative.

It was an interesting theme for me to explore, and one which resonates with everyone’s family of origin experiences, though some are ‘easier’ to spot than others, and some continue to recycle, concealing themselves forever unconscious.

I’ve certainly witnessed and taken part in my own family’s dysfunctional adaptations; what adaptations have you ‘recycled’? Have you managed to disrupt them?


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