The announcement of the birth of Dolly – the first cloned mammal – in 1997 gave rise to extensive bio-ethical debate. At the same time, it stimulated longstanding cultural and mythological preoccupations with regard to the potential for human cloning.
The concept of cloning, particularly human cloning, has featured in so many science fictions. Bokanovsky’s Process which featured in Aldous Huxley’s 1931 dystopian novel Brave New World was an early fictional depiction of cloning. The Process is applied to fertilized human eggs in vitro. It causes them to split in identical genetic copies of the original.
Following the interest in cloning in 1950s, Poul Anderson explored the subject further by describing a technology called ‘exogenesis’ in the story UN-Man in 1953, and Gordon Rattray Taylor’s book The Biological Time Bomb made the term ‘cloning’ popular in 1963.
The representation of the process of cloning is done in different ways in fiction. Many fictional works illustrated the artificial creation of humans by a method of growing cells from a tissue or DNA sample. The replication may be immediate, or take place through slow growth of human fetus in artificial wombs.
Here are 5 science fiction books about human cloning which bring up riveting issues of identity and nature versus nurture: whether environment or genetics play larger roles in people’s lives. They also raise questions about technological arrogance and conceits and how far is too far in terms of progress. “What makes us human” is often a fundamental question in sci-fi books about human cloning.
NEVER LET ME GO BY KAZUO ISHIGURO
The author Kazuo Ishiguro has prioritized the characters’ relationships and reactions over suspense in this novel. The students at Hailsham, a boarding school in the countryside, grow up isolated. Story takes turns when they realise their true purpose later in life. This novel raises questions about utilitarianism, class and ethics and remind us to cherish time with loved ones.
BRAVE NEW WORLD BY ALDOUS HUXLEY
It’s dystopian satire about a place where sexual reproduction is a taboo. Here people are created through cloning and sorted into genetically predetermined social classes. The lower classes are created by Bokanovsky’s Process. The novel is among the first to innovate the idea of cloning; it was first published in 1932, more than 60 years before human cloned first mammal. This work of Huxley was way ahead of its time in terms of scientific progress.
THE SECRET BY EVA HOFFMAN
The protagonist Iris Surrey lives in isolation with her wealthy mother in a near future where human cloning is legal. Iris has an identity crisis like many teenagers and she seek to differentiate herself from her parent. The fact that she is her mother’s clone intensifies her quest to find herself. The author also imagined the cult-like groups that might arise when people believe clones to be superior or inferior to other people.
THE HOUSE OF THE SCORPION BY NANCY FARMER
This young adult science fiction novel was first published in the year 2002. The protagonist, Matt Alacran, is a clone of the 140 years old drug lord with the same name. This book is equally suspenseful and disturbing, which deals with everything from ableism toward cognitively disabled people, genetic engineering and immigration between the U.S. and Aztlan (formerly Mexico).
THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL BY IRA LEVIN
Ira Levin, the author of Rosemary’s Baby, wrote this compelling thriller about cloning of Hitler. The Nazis create 94 clones of Hitler. They try to replicate his life by killing each boy’s father when the son is fourteen years old. By engineering the death of each boy’s father, they want to recreate the social conditions of post-WWI Germany, but they couldn’t. This book bases a horrifying argument about whether evil is born or made.