Seventy-Two Letters (Chiang)

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Seventy-Two Letters
Summary of the Short Story
Microsummary: A high-ranking society member proposes regulating human reproduction to prevent societal imbalance, causing apprehension amongst his co-workers. However, one man devises a plan that allows an organism to contain a lexical representation of itself.

Robert Stratton, a boy fascinated by mechanical dolls, eventually became a nomenclator at Coade Manufactory, one of the leading makers of automata in England.

Robert Stratton — pioneering researcher; thoughtful, ambitious, empathetic.

Throughout his studies and work, apocalyptic research came to light, indicating that the human species was limited to a finite number of generations. To save humanity, Lord Fieldhurst and Dr. Ashbourne recruited Stratton, asking him to help create a name that could induce a form indistinguishable from a human foetus in an egg–allowing a child to be born without a biological father.

Edward Maitland, Lord Fieldhurst — influential zoologist and comparative anatomist; strategic, with questionable ethics.

Our group's goal has been to duplicate for humans a procedure that was intended only for animals.

The research pace was frantic. However, amidst the pressure and ethical quandaries, Stratton realized that the key to perpetuating humanity laid not in nature’s complex methods but parallel to his own childhood fascination: in automata and self-replication. By impressing the egg with an autonym, a self-designating name, a child could perpetually bear its own name, allowing the species to reproduce itself without medical intervention. The idea stayed true to Stratton’s goal of restoring autonomy to individuals and opened up unforeseen possibilities for the future.