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The Time of Chimeras : When humanity is pushed to accept difference

The Time of Chimeras : When humanity is pushed to accept difference

Published Mar 4, 2024 Updated Mar 4, 2024 Culture
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The Time of Chimeras : When humanity is pushed to accept difference

 

Once again, Bernard Werber’s most recent book, published in October 2023, is not to everyone’s taste. Le temps des chimères is a 450-page brick, published by Editions Albin Michel, the author’s recurring publisher, which I read in 3 days, so engrossed was I in the story.

The Werberverse

The main character of this book is inspired by a controversial biologist named Paul Kammerer. The fictional daughter of Kammerer, Alice, is the main character of the book. Alice is a biologist and geneticist who works on controversial projects, much like her father Paul Kammerer. To know more about Paul Kammerer’s history, read this.

In Bernard’s stories, everything is connected!

Another person involved in Alice’s adventures is the grandson of Edmond Wells, Benjamin Wells. Edmond is a fictional author in the Werberverse, known for writing the Encyclopedia of Relative and Absolute Knowledge. This book is a collection of historical and scientific facts that have captured the author’s interest. He mentions and presents extracts from it in several of his other books.

Alice’s project

Only people close to her support her, most seeing her as a modern-day Frankenstein. Alice Kammerer has the project to create hybrid humans; mole-men called Diggers (D), dolphin-men called Nautics (N), and batmen called Aerials (A) — forming, with the initials of each species’ DNA.

However, this idea has a clear purpose; to create a new humanity that would better survive future earthly conditions. The story takes place in our time when global warming is creating more and more natural disasters. Her idea is that in case of a natural calamity, such as a tsunami or flood, the Nautics could survive in a new aquatic environment, while the Aerials could take shelter in the sky. Similarly, in the event of a nuclear disaster, the Diggers could seek refuge and live underground. As these hybrids retain human intelligence (logical, and other types; interpersonal, emotional, etc.), but are endowed with superhuman physical skills due to their genetic mix, they could be better adapted to survival in a hostile environment.

Project implementation rushed

Her project was still in its infancy, and she had to put it into action sooner than expected. Given the controversy surrounding her project, her good friend Benjamin Wells, in a high government position, was able to send her to the International Space Station to work on her project in peace and without being sabotaged. While she was in orbit, World War 3 broke out as humans are prone to do.

In space, she began the creation of the first being of each of the new species of her creation, and it was on her return to Earth that new populations of hybrids were able to come to life.

Hybrid beings on earth

How would humans (sapiens) react to a different, half-animal humanity (let’s not forget that humans themselves are animals)? In the same way that humans have always reacted to differences, whether with people of other skin colors or with other customs.

First and foremost, fear.

Even in a post-apocalyptic survival context, when the union would be beneficial for everyone’s chances of survival, Sapiens will try. Still, it will be difficult for them to accept these beings deemed inferior, because so animal.

At times, we believe in this multi-species humanity where Sapiens, Diggers, Nautics, and Aerials could know how to live together and use each other’s strengths for the common good, but… the animal side of hybrids and humans always comes back.

Will Sapiens ever be able to live in peace with the world around them?

Hybrids often don’t even have the time to utter a word when, due to their different and, let’s face it, slightly frightening appearance, they are immediately seen as enemies and attacked by humans.

Faced with a peaceful lion approaching him, a human wouldn’t think twice. Conquered by fear, he’d attack straight away, thinking he was fighting for his survival, whereas the lion approached only to smell the bag of meat behind the human.

Fear is often what motivates an attack. And how to stop being afraid?

Time

The book covers the whole of Alice’s life as she tries to manage her project over the years, despite its magnitude. We follow her life, her thoughts, and the progress of hybrid societies.

The story begins with a mention. On the very first page, before we even start reading, Bernard Werber informs us that this story takes place 5 years after the opening of the book. I doubt that the author has any real power to predict the future, but why wouldn’t this story be possible? Current advances in genetics and biology don’t seem to demonstrate that we’d have the scientific skills to carry out such a project, but who knows if there isn’t a hidden scientist somewhere working on it?

The moral limits of science

Today’s humanity would surely not be prepared to morally accept the execution of such a project. As so often in Werber’s work, he questions the morality of science. I must admit, Alice’s project to create hybrids has reason to be questionable. Questionable, so to be debated and discussed, and not just thrown out straight away. In the story, people categorically reject her idea without even really wanting to hear the project’s objective. That’s why she has to isolate herself in space to do so.

I can understand that some scientific research may seem immoral to us, but before just hearing a summary of the idea and rejecting it on purely moral grounds, shouldn’t we listen to it fully, reflect on it, and discuss it, before purely judging on simplified ideas? Whether in science or any other field, it seems to me that humans are often a little too hasty in their judgments.

For my part, I’m open-minded. If a mole-man comes to see me tomorrow, I won’t be afraid or judgmental. I’ll let him talk and… give him a big welcome-to-humanity hug!

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