A tale about the near future, The Song of the Earth poses as the chronologically arranged biography of its protagonist, John Firth Baker, “the first genetically engineered visual artist.” It is presented as a compilation, mostly of diary entries, interviews, and World Wide Web downloads, amassed by Katherine K. Jackson, a scholar of twenty-first century manual arts, and illustrated by Baker’s artwork.
The first part of the novel focuses on Jeanette Baker, a Ph.D. candidate and lesbian who lives in Lincoln, Nebraska, in a domed community called Cather Keep. For those who can afford living in them, such communities are a necessity due to a rise in global temperatures which not only has raised the sea level to such an extent that New York has become a city of canals but also has turned Nebraska into a dust desert. Jeanette hears of the work of John Rust Plowman, a geneticist who has invented a process to implant arsogenes (“genes that govern the development of artistic talents”) into a “humin” egg (the words “human,” “woman” and “women” end in “-in” in this novel). Jeanette realizes that the metamorph produced by this process is exactly the kind of child she wants for herself. She secretly undergoes the illegal procedure in Japan, where Plowman, who provides the sperm to impregnate her egg, directs the Ozaki Metamorphic Institute of Kyoto.
Thus begins the life of John Firth Baker. A primary complication in Baker’s character comes to light when he is twelve years old. He becomes infatuated with a high school student, Theodore (Teddy) Petrakis, with whom he has his first sexual experience. Perhaps because both of his parents are gay, this proclivity dominates his sex life from then on and is connected to his artistic life in one way or another. For example, an early lover, to whom he later returns, is Anselmo Diaz, who serves Baker as an extreme example of the entrepreneurship critical to an artist’s development. Diaz, having been sold to a “dogfight promoter” as a boy-slave, manages to escape and make something of himself both as a hair stylist and as a trombone player in the local of the Hairstylists’ Union.
The most influential object of Baker’s sexual desire, and eventually his lover or “sheila,” is Sri Billy Lee Mookerjee. He is initially an accountant, but he is advised by a guru, Srimaati Brianna Andrews, to worship Gaia, or Mother Earth. This leads him to realize that “every humin, myself included, is a synergistic cell in Gaia’s evolving composite brain and reproductive system.” He joins Andrews’s harem of “bearded, big-titted she-hes,” first quitting his job at the Phoenix branch of the Bank of China and undergoing a genetic procedure that makes him grow breasts. Having presented himself to Andrews and listened to her sing a Gaian song to him, he gains “Gaian Consciousness” and falls to the sidewalk.
When Baker encounters Mookerjee, he has already been taught at least one Gaian principle by his mentor Arturo, a robot, who tells him, “Death is the mother of evolution.” He has also demonstrated an intense need to be loved. He brings this need to a Halloween party hosted by Mookerjee, where he falls in love with the guru. He is fifteen at the time. Fascinated by the mask that Mookerjee, disguised as a tree, is wearing, he gets Emma Torchlight, the lesbian artist who carved it, to help him draw it. Mookerjee takes an interest in him, but destroys the mask in order to illustrate that art is not immortal, only Gaia, and he declines to accept Baker as his sheila.
Emma Torchlight and Jeanette Baker become lovers, while John Baker is encouraged when Mookerjee’s current sheila, Alfred Howe, takes a job on the Moon. However, Mookerjee still will not have John, telling him this time that he should not pursue him, but his art. Baker joins the Young Gynarchist League at his high school. He also sells himself as a sex slave for the summer in order to pay for “a no-frills transgenic mastogenesis,” hoping Mookerjee will take him as his sheila, but Mookerjee still rejects him.
Baker becomes a street artist in Washington, D.C., but failing to make enough money, he advertizes himself online as “a 17-year-old she-he,” including a scratchboard drawing of his blossoming breasts. He is delighted by the response and by his success but yet again sees Mookerjee at a party, and yet again he is spurned. This time Mookerjee urges Baker to pretend he is a child and to draw as if he were. Baker agrees, but it is not until he gives up everything, including art, that Mookerjee announces on his home page, “I’m pleased to have taken John Firth Baker, 17, as my sheila....
(The entire section is 1904 words.)