Tagged: Theme

A clone is a group of individuals comprising the asexually produced offspring of a single individual. A pair of identical twins is a clone because the twin cells are produced by the asexual fission of the fertilized ovum. Asexual reproduction is very common among protozoa and some groups of invertebrates, but is much rarer in vertebrates. The possibility of cloning humans by transplanting the nucleus of a somatic cell from a donor into an ovum which can then be replaced in a host womb has attracted much attention: though no such operation is thought to have been performed in the real world, there have been many experiments with animals – most famously the sheep Dolly (1996-2003) cloned by the Roslin Institute in Scotland. Perhaps the most popular animal clones in sf are Dinosaurs (which see). David Rorvik's account of a 1973 human cloning in In His Image: The Cloning of a Man (1978) is almost certainly a hoax.

Clones of various kinds have long been common in sf, though not always recognized or labelled as such. The replication of individuals by matter-duplicator (see Matter Duplication) to create Doppelgangers, as in William F Temple's Four-Sided Triangle (November 1939 Amazing as "The 4-Sided Triangle"; exp 1949), Fletcher Pratt's Double Jeopardy (1952) and Primo Levi's "Some Applications of the Mimer" (1966; trans 1990), is a kind of cloning, as is replication via Time Paradox, as in Robert A Heinlein's "By His Bootstraps" (October 1941 Astounding) as by Anson MacDonald and David Gerrold's The Man Who Folded Himself (1973). The mechanism by which Gilbert Gosseyn was given so many genetically identical bodies in A E van Vogt's The World of Ā (August-October 1945 Astounding; rev 1948; vt The World of Null-A 1953 dos; rev with intro 1970) is unclear, but a series of clone members is the result. All-female societies whose members reproduce by parthenogenesis, as in Poul Anderson's Virgin Planet (1959) and Charles Eric Maine's World without Men (1958; rev vt Alph 1972), also consist of clones. Ironically, the first sf story prominently to display the term – The Clone (1965) by Theodore L Thomas and Kate Wilhelm – is irrelevant to the theme, the eponymous monster being an all-consuming cell-mass produced by pollution-induced mutation.

Long before the word "clone" became popular, sf writers had considered the possibility of duplicating people for Eugenic purposes. Poul Anderson's "Un-Man" (January 1953 Astounding) refers to its cloning process as "exogenesis". Here and in John Russell Fearn's The Multi-Man (1954 as by Vargo Statten) the idea is used as a gimmick, and the possible consequences of such technological development are left unexplored. A more ambitious application of the notion is found in "When You Care, When You Love" (September 1962 F&SF) by Theodore Sturgeon, in which a rich woman attempts to reproduce her dead lover by growing him anew from one of the cancer cells which have destroyed him. Among the nonfiction books that popularized the term was Gordon Rattray Taylor's The Biological Time-Bomb (1968), which commented on the implications of experiments carried out by F C Steward in the early 1960s on the cloning of plants: "It is not mere sensationalism to ask whether the members of human clones may feel particularly united, and be able to cooperate better, even if they are not in actual supersensory communication with one another." This possibility has been widely explored in such stories as Ursula K Le Guin's "Nine Lives" (November 1969 Playboy), Pamela Sargent's Cloned Lives (1976), Kate Wilhelm's Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang (1976) and Fay Weldon's The Cloning of Joanna May (1989) – televised as The Cloning of Joanna May (1991) – in which intimate human relations are examined in depth and with some sensitivity. Stories of this kind often exaggerate the probable psychological effects of growing up as one of a clone (after all, identical twins have been doing it for many centuries). Even though clones are genetically identical, each member inhabits from the moment of implantation an environment subtly different from its fellows; it is a very naive kind of genetic determinism that leads writers occasionally to argue that an adult donor and his or her environmentally differentiated clone-offspring may be reckoned "identical". One of the few early sf clone novels fully to recognize this is Ira Levin's The Boys from Brazil (1976), in which neo-Nazis raise a batch of clones derived from Hitler but can make only absurdly inadequate attempts to reproduce the kind of environment that made Hitler what he was; this was filmed as The Boys from Brazil (1978).

The concept of clone-Identity in the stories cited above is best considered as a metaphor, enabling the authors to pose questions about the nature of individuality and the narcissistic aspects of intimate relationships. Other works which employ the notion in such a fashion include Gene Wolfe's The Fifth Head of Cerberus (fixup 1972), Jeremy Leven's Creator (1980) and C J Cherryh's extraordinarily elaborate Cyteen (1988). This kind of theme seems to be particularly attractive to female writers; others to have written significant clone stories include Naomi Mitchison, author of the Dystopian Solution Three (1975), Nancy Freedman, whose Joshua, Son of None (1973) is about the cloning of John F Kennedy, and Anna Wilson, whose Hatching Stones (1991) suggests that human males might lose all interest in ordinary sexual reproduction if they were able to raise clone-duplicates of themselves instead. The clone "brother" of Lois McMaster Bujold's series hero Miles Vorkosigan passes through a divergence of identity and establishes himself as a distinct individual in the course of Mirror Dance (1994).

Male authors have tended to use cloning in more conventional action-adventure stories, exploiting its potential for establishing dramatic confrontations. Richard Cowper's Clone (1972) is a satirical account of events following a child's recovery of his memory of being one of a batch of Superpowered clones. In Norman Spinrad's The Iron Dream (1972) the narcissistic aspect of clonal reproduction is recruited by Hitler in his sf power-fantasy "Lord of the Swastika"; as the Earth dies, ships blast off for the stars to populate the Galaxy with duplicates of the pure-bred Aryan members of the SS. Cloning is used in Arthur C Clarke's Imperial Earth (1975) to perpetuate a dynasty of space pioneers. Ben Bova's The Multiple Man (1976) is a thriller in which the clonal duplicates of the US President keep turning up dead – a murder mystery recalling Maurice Renard's and Albert Jean's Le singe (1925; trans as Blind Circle 1928). John Varley's "The Phantom of Kansas" (February 1976 Galaxy) is another clone-based murder mystery; his The Ophiuchi Hotline (1977) deploys the idea more ingeniously. Michael Weaver's Mercedes Nights (1987) features a conspiracy devoted to the cloning of a famous sex-object; the conspirators in Wolfgang Jeschke's Midas (trans 1990) stick mostly to cloning famous Scientists. Expendable clone characters are used – and used up – to blackly comic effect in Paranoia (1984), the Role Playing Game. Large clone families or clans often appear in future and Far Future settings, as in Pat Murphy's There and Back Again by Max Merriwell (1999), Alastair Reynolds's House of Suns (2008) and Peter F Hamilton's Great North Road (2012)

Cloned humans are exploited as a source of organ and other transplants (see Organlegging) in a number of novels including Spares (1996) by Michael Marshall Smith, The House of the Scorpion (2002) by Nancy Farmer and Never Let Me Go (2005) by Kazuo Ishiguro, the last being filmed as Never Let Me Go (2010). Another film using this theme is The Island (2005), whose many similarities to the earlier Parts: The Clonus Horror (1979; vt Clonus) led to a lawsuit. A still earlier Cinema treatment of medical clone exploitation, apparently the first, is The Resurrection of Zachary Wheeler (1971; vt The Resurrection of Clayton Zachary Wheeler). An older sf tradition treats cloned or clone-equivalent bodies (usually mindless) as a route to serial Immortality via Identity Transfer: A E van Vogt's The World of Ā, Jack Vance's To Live Forever (1956) and Roger Zelazny's Lord of Light (1967) are notable examples. Lois McMaster Bujold's linked novels Brothers in Arms (1989) and Mirror Dance (1994) feature, as well as a cloned imitation of her series hero, the unsavoury practice of rearing clone children as whole-body donors whose brains are to be replaced on maturity by those of their originals.

Further filmic treatments of the clone theme, generally avoiding or skimming over the deeper psychological issues, include The Clones (1973; vt Dead Man Running), The Darker Side of Terror (1979; vt Clone: The Man who Gave Birth to Himself), The Clone Master (1978), Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987), Alien Resurrection (1997), The 6th Day (2000), Replicant (2001), Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002) – where it is revealed that the Star Wars Imperial Stormtroopers, despite their notorious inability to shoot straight, were cloned from a single exceptionally gifted fighter – Æon Flux (2005), {RESIDENT EVIL: EXTINCTION} (2007) and Sky Crawlers (2008 Japan).

The idea of another self – an alter ego or Doppelganger – has always been a profoundly fascinating one, and recurs insistently in occult/supernatural Fantasy and Psychology. Long-established speculation about the cloning of humans has been intensified by more recent developments in animal cloning, making the notion attractive not only to sf writers but to such Mainstream Writers of SF as Kazuo Ishiguro (see above) for detailed and intensive examination. The stories thus inspired are often of considerable psychological interest (see Identity). [BS/DRL]

see also: Biology; Children in SF; Genetic Engineering; Medicine.

Previous versions of this entry

Website design and build: STEEL

Site ©2011 Gollancz, SFE content ©2011 SFE Ltd.