In The Ones, Daniel Sweren-Becker ’06 creates a vision of a not-so-distant future world in which a random group of babies is chosen each year to be the smartest, best looking, most athletic members of society. “The Ones,” as they are called, short for the chosen ones, enjoy the privilege of membership in this exclusive group during the genetic engineering program’s 20-year history until a society-wide backlash marginalizes their status and threatens to even outlaw their existence. Sweren-Becker’s fast-paced YA novel follows two of The Ones (or are they?): 17-year-old Cody and her boyfriend, James, who are forced to decide whether to stand up for their rights…and how far they’re willing to go to do so.
The Ones (Imprint, 2016) is Sweren-Becker’s literary debut. A television writer and playwright in Los Angeles, he originally conceived the book as a television series. “When I decided to switch gears into a series of books [the second is due in September], it felt natural to pick YA [Young Adult] because the main characters were teenagers,” he says. “I think this genre is read so widely because we’ve reached a point where these books are fun and accessible but also deal with really sophisticated issues that attract a more mature audience.”
While many YA books are set in dystopian worlds, The Ones differentiates itself through the complexity of the moral dilemma contained within: the ethics of genetic engineering. “I think genetic engineering is one of the most significant issues of our time,” says Sweren-Becker. “There are innumerable decisions that the world needs to make about how to move forward with this technology, but the laws and practices are different in every country. I’ll often ask friends about it over dinner, and none of us can give a good answer about how this tool should be used in an ethical, beneficial and realistic way.”
The dilemma is so complex for Sweren-Becker, that he’s still undecided as to where he stands with the characters and arguments raised in the book. “To this day, I don’t fully agree with the heroes or reject the positions of the villains,” says Sweren-Becker. “I wanted to take a debate that we as a society haven’t figured out yet, and shine a light on the dangers of us getting it wrong.”
An English major at Wesleyan—whose senior thesis screenplay helped launch his screenwriting career—Sweren-Becker needed to hit the science books in order to create a realistic dilemma for his futuristic characters and story. “I took geology and astronomy pass/fail and barely passed,” says Sweren-Becker of his time at Wesleyan. “For The Ones, I immersed myself in all the pop-culture, accessible articles and books about this topic I could find. And then I spent several hours talking with two doctors who specialize in genomics.”
Sweren-Becker hopes his readers will be entertained by The Ones, but also that they will come away thinking more deeply about the questions raised in the book. “I hope there is a lesson about how important it is to consider and plan for the amazing advancements in technology that we are all about to live through,” says Sweren-Becker. “And I hope it’s a warning about how easily society can succumb to our darkest impulses.”