Versus Nurture

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Versus Nurture by Jonathan David Morris, Amazon, 2012. ($3.99 ebook, $8.99 paperback)

Fiction can — and has — changed the world.

Think Harriet Beecher Stowe's warmongering Uncle Tom's Cabin or John Steinbeck's novels and their advocacy of socialism. On a far smaller scale, Ayn Rand tried to justify narcissism, boorishness, and immorality by mislabeling them "individualism."

But fiction can also improve the human condition. Versus Nature lies in that elite class. This is no idle story, told simply to entertain — though you will laugh and occasionally blink back a tear as you skim its pages, racing ahead to answer those essential questions all good stories provoke, What happens next, and Why? If you prefer a moral to your riveting reads, you'll love VN.

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But let me hasten to add that VN isn't propaganda. The author's underlying message of peace rather than war and the blessings of freedom never supersede his concern for his characters or the plot. In fact, his message is subtle enough that it's mere background: for example, the heroine's hatred for war after her brother enlists and dies informs her reluctance to become a mother. On her first date with the man she ultimately marries, she explains, "…[A]s long as there are people in this world who still … think war is just a part of human nature, it's just u2018what we do,' I could never have a kid. I could never bring a person into this world when little girls are still losing their brothers for wars not even their brothers understand. … that's a world where kids are just pawns in some big game they never asked to play in. My brother was eighteen. I was nine. And for no good reason, they took him from me."

Were Mr. Morris writing propaganda, his hero would respond with a long diatribe against war. He doesn't. Instead, he reassures her, "I just want to hang out … I don't want to knock you up."

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VN follows this couple from their initial meeting at an anti-war rally (which Mr. Morris deftly and humorously handles; he is not preaching pacifism to the reader but laughing with him at political correctness) to a momentous decision they must make 9 years later, one that will affect the entire human race. Along the way, VN offers something for everyone: time-travel; a denouement with wham-bam fisticuffs, lots of blood, and a fight to the death; an intense love story and the extension of married love to the children it produces; a debate over bearing those children; a wealth of ideas and issues.

Mr. Morris excels at that last, again lightly injecting a moral view of each. For example, neither he nor his characters condemn abortion, but his heroine strongly protests any suggestion that she would murder her own baby; in fact, she physically attacks the woman who tries to persuade her to do so. Meanwhile, her beloved husband has been lying to her since the anti-war rally, given his silence about a very personal but pertinent fact. A sin of omission, which our secular age no longer even recognizes, let alone damns, but which nonetheless finds him out.

One of my few criticisms of VN is its unrealistic ending. There's the time-travel as well as some technology from the future that is never explained — but Mr. Morris pulls both off. Instead, I found some of the logistics unbelievable or inconsistent. For instance, it seems to me one of Mr. Morris's characters from the future should be missing a hand, given his earlier maiming. But I rarely read science fiction and am certainly no expert on time-traveling's paradoxes, so perhaps I'm wrong.

VN hooked me from its dedication ("There are some pretty crazy ideas in this book. But the idea of dedicating Versus Nurture to anyone other than my beautiful, supportive wife, Rachael, would easily be the craziest of all") and continued snaring me with its first chapter. In it, a young husband and wife who obviously and deeply love one another agree that he must kill them both that very night; her only request is that he do so "efficiently." The rest of the novella supplies the back-story to this shocker — one you won't want to miss.

April 11, 2012

Becky Akers [send her mail] writes primarily about the American Revolution.

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