Sunday, November 28, 2010

Idea Garage Sale: Runaway Clones

So there's this woman, a biologist, Cynthia, who is asexual and a little narcissistic but wants children and is really interested in reproductive science. So she clones herself.

This is illegal, but she has the resources to disguise it as a normal birth. She doesn't have a partner, but her company has good day care. When Diana, the kid, is about five she has advanced enough in her research and learned enough from raising her first child that she decides to have a second one, with modifications. Another five or six years on, she gets really ambitious and decides she's figured out how to clone herself but have a son. This time, perhaps because suspicions have been aroused at her company, perhaps because she's gotten overconfident, she is detected.

At this point she vanishes from the story, either going into hiding with her newly-implanted fetus or arrested and forced to abort. Officials arrive to take Diana and Selena into custody - their existence is illegal and they are to be used as evidence against their mother. But Diana realizes in time what's going down and escapes with her little sister.

What does she do now?

The sheer amount of world-building I'd have to do to write this intimidates me. It's one thing to build a fantasy world from scratch - I do that all the time - but a science fiction one has to be grounded in more hard science than I've ever absorbed. Light switches work by magic for all of me. I've read how Carbon 14 and Potassium-argon dating work dozens of time and there's a basic level at which I still don't understand them. Plus, this is the kind of plot it would be easy to take down the blockbuster road and turn into the sort of movie that bores me to tears.

But the characters intrigue me. In what ways are Cynthia, Diana, and Selena similar and in what ways are they different? How does Diana feel about being the "beta version" and how does this affect her relationship with the little sister she has to protect?

Is there, in this world, any such thing as a safe place for them? I think it's most interesting if it's relatively recent future and the girls' legal status is up for grabs; if there's a sizable portion of the population that considers them soulless abominations that can and should be put down. Even if not, if the act that led to your existence is illegal, how can society afford to make a place for you?

But the world-building involved - no, I can't face it. And I'm basically not in sympathy with anybody who wants to come up with new ways and means by which the world can be overpopulated, so I have a problem with Cynthia to begin with.


  1. You might want to read THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX by Mary Pearson, which deals with some of these questions.

    Nancy W.

  2. I have; also one translated from the German which was the diary of one of the first clones done for the commercial market; can't remember what it was called. I expect those were both conceived about the same time I had this idea, way back when Dolly the Sheep happened and cloning was the obvious near future story. There's also an almost obsessive treatment of cloning and other reproductive technologies in Lois McMaster Bujold's science fiction, and Margaret Haddix has a clone book. Not to mention your book about chimerae, which comes from the same basic technology. It's a fruitful technology; the more so since nobody knows how it would work out if it worked.

  3. Oh! This is so intriguing. The story opens with the two girls on the run, doesn't it? Maybe they don't even fully know their own origins.

    Or maybe it starts later when they meet their brother....

    Dumb question: is there really that much world building with cloning? It's been done and built a number of times hasn't it? Or maybe this just shows my own scientific ineptitude.

    What about Scorpion?

    And you certainly don't have to be sympathetic with the mother's scheme for world overpopulation to write this story.

    Bottom line, when you figure out how to engage in world building in sci-fi without being a science nerd, do let me know the trick. I am working a time travel turned sci-fi, of sorts.

  4. What stymied me was that I saw the setting as my neck of the woods - South Central Texas - a couple of generations down the line. That means projecting the next 60 years or so of technological, cultural, and environmental developments based on what I know now. The premise requires a political climate in which human cloning would be illegal and an environmental climate in which South Central Texas is still technologically viable; absolutely everything else would be up for grabs.

    So I'd be making predictions about global warming and our adaptation to it, personal tech (phones, computers, media, clothes, transportation), popular culture, human rights, economics - and imaginary future readers would be looking around them and shaking their heads over what I got wrong.

    It intimidates the story right out of me. I have this thing about settings, you see - I have to be intimate with them. My first drafts, even when set in my own town at the time I'm writing them, always contain a lot of material that exists only to orient me in the landscape. Later drafts remove almost all of it because it only slows the reader down, but I can't write anything till I know the geography and the available resources.

    Case in point: I intended to have Len and Bean jump off their cliff today but it has to be at the end of the chase and the chase proper couldn't start right when they get away, so I'm having to work out exactly how the chase goes and today, probably, I'll get to actually write it. It'd probably take me so long to write a near future story that I'd never finish it - by the time I got to the end, the timeline would have caught up to me and I'd have to revise the whole thing based on unexpected developments.