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Another Way to Say ëNoí to Mystery and Death

BY Sandra Miesel

March 23-29, 1997 Issue | Posted 3/23/97 at 1:00 PM

 

CLONING IS headline news these days. But science fiction produced today's headlines yesterday. SF has been grappling with cloning- though not always by that name-for more than fifty years. As the literature of extrapolation, SF has long provided a mental laboratory to explore the implications of cloning and other altered modes of human generation.

Science fictional experiments with reproductive technologies can be traced to the speculations of British biologist J.B.S Haldane. His book Possible Worlds (1927) envisions duplicating “superior” individuals by culturing single cells from their bodies. Haldane inspired Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1932) where embryonic modification creates biological castes. Haldane also drew criticism from C.S. Lewis for envisioning a false utopia of “scientism” stripped of pity, happiness, and freedom.

At first, genre SF writers picked up Haldane's suggestion without calling it cloning or trying to explain it. Duplicate bodies merely add more mystery to the super-heroics in A.E. Van Vogt's World of Null-A (1945). But the title character of The UN-Man by Poul Anderson (1953) is a whole brood of cloned, exogenetic brothers who provide the government with interchangeable secret agents. More comically, Anderson's Virgin Planet (1959) is occupied by a society of parthenogenetically reproducing women who fail to recognize a male visitor as human.

Most early stories about cloning assume that copies can be imprinted with the personality and memories of the prototype so perfectly that the copy becomes the original. Surrogate selves provide serial lives for the elite in Jack Vance's To Live Forever (1956). Occupying duplicates of another man's body serves as a metaphysical lever for the messianic hero of Necromancer by Gordon Dickson (1962).

After the cloning of plants became a reality in the late 1960s, fictional focus shifted to clone psychology. A unique psychic bond exists within the clone in Nine Lives by Ursula LeGuin (1969) and Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm (1976). Complex sexual relationships unfold with clone members in Pamela Sargent's Cloned Lives (1976). A prototype seeks self-knowledge from his copy in The Fifth Head of Cerebus by Gene Wolfe (1972).

Life is likely to imitate art. If humans can be cloned, they will be, perhaps as an industry.

Clones may be feared or even enslaved, as in C.J. Cherryh's Cyteen (1988). But cloning is more often a route to power. John F. Kennedy is secretly cloned in Joshua, Son of None by Nancy Freeman (1973) and Hitler dreams of seeding the universe with copies of himself in The Iron Dream by Norman Spinrad (1972). On the other hand, Ira Levin's Boys from Brazil (1976) argues that genes alone will not suffice to duplicate Hitler.

When You Care, When You Love by Theodore Sturgeon (1962) reproduces a lost loved one. But motives for duplication may be uglier. Lap dogs are cloned to please their mistress and a dead husband cloned to dominate a son in Juanita Coulson's Children of the Stars series (1981–89). Cosmic boredom drives the protagonist of Robert Heinlein's Time Enough for Love(1973) to clone “daughters” and sire children on them.

Except for a few examples where it is the only reproductive method available, most fictional cloning is driven by egotism. Perpetuation of self or of a self-chosen instrument promises god-like control and-if repeated-the semblance of immortality. SF's clones are “products” to a degree that children cannot be, whether conceived in vivo or in vitro, singly or otherwise.

Life is likely to imitate art. If humans can be cloned, they will be, perhaps as an industry in countries greedy enough to permit it. Then radical feminists can realize their male-free dreams. The child-hungry rich will no longer need to seek out incubators or inseminators. The ailing can have needed organs produced to order. There will be so many possibilities for saying “no” to the mysteries of life and death.

And who did Goethe say is “the spirit that always negates?”

Sandra Miesel is based in Indianapolis, Ind.