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Dwight Okita’s novel posits a near future in which scientists give an embryo the chance to get an early look at life. Drafted into a high-tech experiment, the Pre-born Project, a lucky multicellular diploid eukaryote named Prospect gets fitted out with a young man’s body, implanted with a chip that brings him up to speed on stuff like human speech, and introduced to a series of “Referrals,” each of whom is supposed to help him decide whether he wants to be born or take a pass on life and return to the “gene pool.” What a great premise! You could build a new Candide around Prospect, letting this purest of innocents loose to experience the Inquisitions and El Dorados of our times. You could write the ultimate stream-of-consciousness riff, imagining the imaginings of a primordial child. At the very least, you could take a good, hard, satirical look at the debate over when life begins.
Okita makes a few wan gestures toward the satire option, framing embryos as the final frontier in identity politics since they don't get a say in deciding to be human. He also stirs in a profit-hungry pharmaceutical company called Big Farm and a treacherous Republican with a raging libido. At times he hints at turning the whole thing into a tech-espionage thriller. But he doesn’t take any of that very far. Okita mainly treats the material as fodder for a vague romance. Prospect is just a sweet kid who has some mildly trying adventures and falls in love with another boy. The embryo conceit turns out to be all but superfluous.
If that makes The Prospect of My Arrival sound slipshod, you don’t know the half of it. Granted, I read a proof edition, but there are errors here that go well beyond the stray typo. Glaring issues of continuity, time, and voice. An editor is credited in the acknowledgments section of this self-published book, but I can’t imagine why. I got the impression at times that I was reading a collection of contradictory drafts that no one had made an attempt to unify. A dinner that’s anticipated in one chapter doesn’t materialize, as it should, in the next. The number of Referrals seems to fluctuate from page to page. A seemingly major character is foreshadowed and shows up for a conversation with Prospect, only to disappear along with her significance. What's more, Okita's style can be trying: he adopts a precious voice and has a bad habit of closing chapters by stating the obvious. The book is very nearly unreadable, all in all. What a waste of a cool idea.