Clones in Fiction

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Clones in Fiction

Is a human clone any less of a human?

My taste in science fiction, I like to think, boasts a degree of range. Stories that take place in the near-future, the future-future, in space, on a different planet - I have favorites that fall in all of those categories.

But across sub-genres, science fiction stories featuring clones always draw me in. I’m not exactly sure why. All of my favorite books about clones seem to pose the question what it really means to be “human" - maybe that's what it is.

I've read enough fiction books about clones to have comprised a list of favorites over the years. From "good" to "best," they are:

 Falls the Shadow by Stefanie Gaither
This newer YA novel is recommended if you like your sci fi action-packed, light on the science, and heavy on the social implications. In world still reeling from a catastrophic world war, parents can have clones of their children made at their birth - “just in case."

Two hours after 16-year-old Cate’s family buries her sister, Violet, they’re picking up her replacement at Huxley Laboratory.

Violet’s clone looks and sounds like Violet -- she even has her memories. But something about her has never seemed right to Cate.

Then Violet’s best friend turns up dead in the middle of the woods. And Violet is nowhere to be found.

This is a page-turner with plenty of twists and turns. It’s a little light on the world-building -- honestly, I would have liked a bit more fleshing out in this area rather than anything of the forced-feeling romantic storyline -- but I’d have to say my favorite part is Cate and Violet’s relationship. All the normal "sister" stuff between them is further complicated (and in some ways, amplified) by the first Violet's death and her clone replacement. In the midst of this unfamiliar, post-apocalyptic landscape, the inter-family dynamics both ground this story and make it memorable.

The Lost Girl by Sangu Mandanna
Say you like the premise of Falls the Shadow, but you’re more interested in the clone’s perspective. Then I recommend The Lost Girl.
Eva has spent her whole life learning to be someone else: a girl named Amarra, from a well-off family in India. She is Amarra’s clone, her echo, created for the sole purpose of taking Amarra's place should something happen to her. She learns what Amarra learns in school, eats what she eats, and studies every last detail of her life. Trouble is, no matter how hard she studies, outside of their appearances Eva and Amarra aren’t that much alike. To make matters more complicated, she learns Amarra has a boyfriend she must learn to love as much as she does - when her own heart secretly belongs to someone else.

When Amarra is killed in a car crash just after their 16th birthday, Eva is summoned to pick up her life where she left it off. Her life depends on convincing Amarra’s loved ones that she is Amarra. Can she manage it?

A very moving story, with a complex and likeable teen protagonist and a stance on cloning that takes its cues from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm
Years into the future, mankind has cornered itself into near-distinction with war and pollution. One large, wealthy family -- with a number of ace scientists in the mix -- creates an isolated community for themselves sustained by (you guessed it!) clones. They clone their crops and their livestock. Unfortunately, this is only a short-term solution to keeping their family alive, because surviving members have been rendered sterile by radiation.

You might be able to guess what they do next.

Decades later, the clones the family have made of themselves have inherited the land. They have decided that cloning is superior to natural birth, as natural birth begets diversity, and diversity means unpredictable traits and a sense of individuality they believe was the likely culprit for man’s demise. So they choose to continue to repopulate via cloning, using sexual reproduction only as “back-up."

Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang is characteristic of quality science fiction of the 60's/70's in that it has political flair, but not at the expense of the storytelling. Well-paced and tonally haunting, this novel uses cloning as a way to examine the power and worth of the individual. (It might also possibly teach you a thing or two about genetics!).

(DC Public Library owns the audiobook version of this book on Overdrive. Please see this handy “how-to” guide on how to check it out to your listening device.)

The House of Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
Not just one of my favorite books about clones, but one of my favorite books, period. In another future gone wrong, between the border of the United States and what was once Mexico (now know as Aztlán) lies Opium, a land rife with poppy fields and ruled by drug lords. El Patrón is the most powerful drug lord in Opium; he is a man almost 200 years old and yet still capable of striking fear in the hearts of all who hear his name.

Matt is El Patrón’s clone. El Patrón has been using clones like Matt to keep himself alive. But before he is needed, the drug lord fawns over him like a prized pet. El Patrón’s family reviles him, thinking him inhuman and a possible threat to their inheritance. The older he gets, the more Matt feels trapped at every turn. Is there any way Matt can be free to make his own life?

Outside of an intense and engaging storyline, The House of Scorpion’s dystopian setting addresses moral issues of de-humanization in society -- and not just in regards to clones.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
It’s hard to pinpoint it, exactly, but this book might be what first ignited my clone-fixation. Short but poignant, Ishiguro’s novel is science fiction for those who those who might be hesitant about science fiction.

As opposed to every other book mentioned on this list, no overt dystopia is afoot. In fact, the story is set against the bucolic backdrop of a co-ed boarding school in the English countryside. The story follows Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth as they grow up together at Hailsham School. The children learn, play, and later, fall in love just like ordinary children do, except they are not like other children. Once they come of age, they will be sent to hospitals to serve as “donors” until they reach “completion.” This is the purpose of their existence.

But a rumor has it that if two clones can prove that they are in love, truly in love, they can be bought time until “starting donations.”

I don’t recommend approaching this book without a box of tissues. Never Let Me Go is a painfully gentle masterpiece, a quiet study in love, morality, and mortality. I cannot recommend it highly enough.