Bibliophile | Donna Mazza looks to an unknown future in ‘Fauna’

by Donna Mazza
Allen & Unwin

In 2013, de-extinction became a new branch of science and Beth Shapiro published an interesting book about it called How to Clone a Mammoth. She wrote that Jurassic Park scenarios are actually not possible as the problem with the new science is that when a species has been extinct for a long period of time, it can’t be cloned. The extinct species has to be genetically engineered into a living species.

Award-winning West Australian author and Senior Lecturer in literature and writing at Edith Cowan University Donna Mazza was fascinated by the idea of using DNA technology to reverse the extinction of animals like the mammoth and the Tasmania Tiger. She wondered what would happen if the scientists decided to go even further and meddle with human DNA … and was further inspired by reading about the lives of Neanderthals.

Her book is an engrossing read. Perth couple Stacey and Isak already have two children but after a miscarriage, they agree to be part of a research trial that promises to “bring benefits to human health and resilience”. The slick marketing by the company called LifeBLOOD also promises that the people will be making history and doing something extraordinary.

The experiment also offers huge financial incentives and Stacy and Isak agree that their IVF embryo can be edited with additional cells. Obviously they have no idea what they or the rest of their family are in for and a foreboding hangs in the air as the embryo progresses to a child and is nurtured by a family who pretend that everything is normal.

The shadow hanging over them is that “Somewhere in prehistory she has another set of parents. She is the child deposited in a tooth found under layers of sediment in a deep cave. Only accessible via a narrow tunnel, amid a ring of stalagmites, an ancient campfire.”

As Mazza plumbs into all the emotions that define us as human beings, Stacy in particular tries to deal with forces that are beyond her control. The fear of an unknown future becomes overwhelming as she reaches out to the nature surrounding her for comfort and protection against the inevitable.

Lezly Herbert