Friday, February 18, 2005

Cloning Australian Sheep: Alfred Slote, Clone Catcher New York (J. P. Lippincote, 1982).

One of the things that distinguishes this novel is that it is structured around a recognised genre plot drawn from adult literature: the treasure hunt/crime novel of the Private Eye. The tone is consequent upon this, a hard boiled detective novel with a sense of humour that comes from te incongruity of a hard boiled detective in a paternalistic industrial community.

In a world in which the rich grow clones to ensure they have a supply of transplants, Alfred Dunn is a clone catcher, for in this world, the only way to end up with healthy organs is to bring the clones up as people, taking as long as people to grow. Most are kept in compounds until their bodies are needed. Some escape.

Alfred Dunn is called into find Lady Kate Montague's clone. Unlike most clones she has been allowed to grow up outside the compound, and until the age of 16 had not known she was a clone without rights. Later, she had gone onto be an actress on the stage, like her progenitor.

When Lady Kate needs the body parts, Mary disappears, the night after she gives her final performance and had agreed to return to be Lady Kate's supply of body parts.

Eventually, Dunn works out that Lady Kate is dead-she died of natural causes on the way home-and that Mary has taken her place. But along the way we have seen a clone revolt in the Montagu compound, and been exposed to the politics of the anti-clone movement.

The novel ends with Dunn marrying the anti-cloning movement nurse Alice and returning to live on one of the Montagu farms. Lord Montagu gives his business over to his clone while his son (who has both helped solve the mystery and help bring it to a politically satisfactory end) can retire to sheep farming and books (one of the things I like best is that this shy, quiet, un-driven man appears in the end as the sharpest cookie in the book).

What I don't like is the assumption that clones, with very different life experiences, will be identical in personality with their progenitors, even to the point of falling in love with the clones of their progenitor's lover.

But this remains one of the best of the books I've read. At the end it opens out and the results of the adventure have an affect on the world, nothing remains unchanged and there is a very strong sense that resolving the initial problem--the slavery and butchery of the Montagu's clones--as wider ramifications. You can compare this to Nancy Farmer's The House of the Scorpion, a stylistically better book, but one in which there are very few consequences beyond the personal.


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