The year is 2038 and human cloning is a reality, but only for the very wealthy. Constance D’Arcy is not rich, and grew up an outsider. “The mixed-race daughter of a fire-breathing white evangelical and a half-Black, half-Vietnamese army corporal,” But Con’s aunt, Abigail Stickling, is a brilliant scientist, the mother of human cloning and the founder of Palingenesis where the work is carried out. Abigail gifted clones to family members, but an accompanying note indicated her distain. “I hope this small token of my affection allows you all to live long, long lives wallowing in your collective mediocrity.” Con was the only family member who accepted the gift, even though she remained estranged from Abigail.
Showing up at Palingenesis in Washington, D.C. for her monthly mind-reset, a regular occurrence for those with clones, Con must push through a crowd chanting “No birth, no soul.” The protestors, members of an organization called Children of Adam (CoA), regard cloning as evil. The group has successfully lobbied for laws, including one in neighboring Virginia, that consider clones not human and regard killing them as legal.
Matthew FitzSimmons (Photo Credit:Douglas Sonders)
Inside the clinic, Con learns that Abigail is dead, an apparent suicide. Abigail suffered from Wilson’s disease, a rare genetic disorder that caused a buildup of copper in the body and brain. Copper interferes with the cloning process, so Abigail wasn’t able to take advantage of the process she invented.
Con’s mind-set should be routine, but when she wakes up, she discovers that 18 months have gone by, her original self is dead, and she is now a clone. How did she die? Was she murdered? And who sabotaged the mind-reset so that she’s been left with a serious memory gap?
As Con sets out to learn the answers, she quickly learns there’s no one she can trust. Law enforcement, particularly in Virginia where the trail leads, do not consider her a human with rights and will arrest her. And if she’s captured by CoA, she will be tortured and killed. With Abigail gone, two officials are fighting for control. Dr. Brooke Fenton hopes to recover Abigail’s research to continue to advance cloning, while Vernon Gaddis, the original investor behind Palingenesis, has been ousted by the board and wants back in. Con believes one is responsible for her condition, but which one? And with no identity papers and no money, she finds she’s unprepared for life on the street.
Con and her boyfriend, Zhi Duan, once played in a popular band, Awaken the Dead, a tribute to David Bowie who died the day Con was born. But Con, Zhi, and other members of the band were in a horrific accident. Con, who was sleeping in the back seat, sustained a serious leg injury, while Zhi is hospitalized in a persistent vegetative state. With the other band members gone, and other musicians angry with Con for something she did in those missing 18 months, she has no one to turn to for help. Reluctantly, she agrees to accept sanctuary with Gaddis. Will she regret that decision?
Matthew Fitzsimmons creates believable characters, but also constructs a plot that is not far fetched. With animal cloning a reality, is human cloning next? He manages to frame the controversial issues around cloning. As a clone, Con grapples with her identity. Is she really Con, or another entity with an uncanny resemblance to the original? To separate her before and after selves, she ditches her nickname and goes by Constance. When she discovers what happened to her during those 18 months, she realizes she’s is a separate person, with different passions and emotions.
While Constance happens in the future, the plot lines echo societal struggles that are familiar. Not too long ago, Blacks were regarded little better than clones, their killers rarely brought to justice. In the novel, a case before the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether cloning will be declared illegal and stopped. The one person hoping that doesn’t happen is the head of CoA, Franklin Butler. When Dr. Fenton points out to Butler that his life’s work has been the abolition of cloning, Butler responds, “But it can’t very well be my life’s work if it’s abolished.” He continues:
“In this country, power doesn’t derive from defeating a threat; true power comes from the fear of that threat. And maintaining power requires a continuing threat. No one worries about causes that are already decided. When was the last time someone wrote a check to defeat prohibition?”
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