Evelyn Caldwell is at the height of her scientific career but her personal life has disintegrated. Her husband, Nathan, has left her for his pregnant mistress. Her husband has stolen her research and built himself a bespoke partner named Martine, a clone of Evelyn but softer, easier and quieter. Highly aware of the sexism in science, Evelyn strains to take the high road and call the divorce amicable. She can’t expose Nathan’s betrayal without ruining everything she has worked for and losing her funding. Her lab works under strict limitations to avoid ethical problems. Nathan has perverted her greatest scientific achievement in a way that painfully underscores her failings and deepest fears and threatens a lifetime of work.
One night, Martine calls with an emergency and Evelyn can’t help but go and see. There’s a bloody knife in Martine’s hand, bruises on her throat and Nathan is dead on the kitchen floor. Now Evelyn must work with an alternate version of herself to clean up the mess if she wants to get on with her life.
‘The Echo Wife’ asks us if we really know other people and if we can truly know ourselves. What we would do when confronted with a situation? Such as the murder of your ex-husband by a pregnant clone of yourself who isn’t legally a person. Evelyn’s introspection is the focus of this novel, not only of the current situation in the current situation, but her life and relationships as a whole. Nathan’s betrayal and subsequent murder pushes Evelyn into a severe case of self-reflection and self-analysis, which is very understandable with Martine in front of her as a walking, talking version of what she might have been and why her relationship failed.
There is science in this novel. How accurately it describes the process of making a cloned body with the personality of a specific living individual I could not say, but it felt correct and reasonable to my dim recollections of high school biology. While the science is narratively important, as without clones the story could not happen the way it does, it is nearly a character in its own right. Evelyn has spent decades in pursuit of her scientific goals to the almost total exclusion of everything else. The cast of characters in her life is very small, only Martine, Evelyn’s assistant and the mostly dead Nathan, all of whom exist in relation to her work.
Through Evelyn’s story ‘The Echo Wife’ addresses the ethics of cloning. She goes through hordes of assistants not just because she is a demanding boss but because they must assist in making the clones more like their human originals. Clones come out of the tank perfect and unblemished by accident or environment. Bones must be broken and reset to heal slightly off kilter. Scars must be gouged or burned out of flesh. Does it make a difference if you know the fact you are cutting up? Is it more disturbing? Is it reasonable to duplicate a person in both body and mind and is it even possible to truly duplicate a person completely? Is the duplicate merely a carbon copy or a person in their own right? Is killing a clone murder is the disposal of biological matter?
These ideas are not new. Replicants are ‘retired’ not ‘murdered’ in ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’ by Philip K. Dick and the movie adaptation ‘Bladerunner’, firmly delineating the line between human and human technology. The movie ‘The Island’ hides the clones from the world so no one will be disturbed by harvesting people for parts. Evelyn’s story hinges upon these ethical dilemmas but leaves them for the reader to chew on after the last page is read.
While ‘The Echo Wife’ is a good book, well-written and engaging, it just wasn’t my cup of tea. Rather than being a study on how to get away with murder with clones it was more of a is it even a murder of clones. If you are looking for something to get your ethical brain pondering, this might be for you. Fans of more literary SF authors like Kazuo Ishiguro, particularly his novel, ‘Never Let Me Go’, will also likely approve.
(pub: TOR, 2021. 256 page hardback. Price: $24.99 (US). ISBN: 978-1-25017-466-6)
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