Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Let’s Stop With The Cloning Around

STOP: SPOILER ALERTS for the following
Never Let Me Go
The Island
I, Robot

“Four legs real, fake legs baaaad.” image:

What is this fascination with the humanity aspect of clones or artificial intelligence? Why do we want to inject a soul into something man has created? Or a more defined question is: why do we explore whether man-made creations have a soul?

Is it guilt? Afterall, creation is best handled by the Creator, the One who has the Master Plan. That statement could incite a whole firestorm of commentary in itself, which is fine, but I’m really after the literary and even film aspect of cloning/artificial intelligence.
For instance, having just finished Never Let Me Go by Ishiguro, I began thinking about other cloning works: The Island,Moon, Oblivion, and while there are other aspects attached to these films, the main takeaway: “cheated.” The clones are cheated because even though they look human, act human, they are not, which becomes a matter of concern because there is an investment of empathy for these characters, yet part of me says “Wait! They aren’t real.” I feel cheated because I am tricked (seemingly) into believing and caring about something I inherently don’t subscribe to: cloning.
Have you ever tasted imitation crab? Once–thank you very much. Looks like (mostly), tastes like it (kind of), smells like (a bit), same texture (not really). After being duped into eating it I came away with the same feeling: cheated.
Duplicating sheep, crab, humans–it’s not the same, and can never be. I believe in science; I do not subscribe to Luddite philosophies, but there are moral boundaries and these boundaries keep reappearing in novels and films as guilt and even revulsion. Why?
I think we try to justify the curiosity to recreate human life through the compassion for the Creature, as in the case of Frankenstein. The Wretch had initial goodness until it met up with repeated rejection. However, Shelley pointed out the disastrous results of man attempting to recreate man.
We root for Tom Cruise (Oblivion) and Sam Rockwell (Moon) as clones, only because we thought they were human. Upon realization they were clones I immediately reneged my emotional investment–I had been cheated, someone had switched in that imitation crab.
I have no problem with robots though. The A.I. component works for me. I liked R2D2, who didn’t? And Sonny, from I, Robot? A charmer. They were machines with heart; they did not have a soul. Machines are machines. On the other hand, that fuzzy line is not so warm and fuzzy when it comes to cloning: Humans with no soul? Are these simply sophisticated machines with feelings?
Which brings me to my latest Ishiguro read, Never Let Me Go. Having heard raves about it, and having read two other of his novels, I looked forward to this particular one. Ishiguro’s style of unreliable first person narrative and undercurrent, deceptively complex plot is very much evident. It wasn’t until about halfway through I realized I’d been cheated. Here I thought Ruth, Kathy, and Tommy were victims of a cruel government experiment, only to discover (oh so subtly) they are clones. Dissapointment. I finished the novel, although I felt a detached flatness. No joy in that one. I did feel a resonance with Robocop, but then has man trapped in a machine. And even though he was mostly machine I rooted for him because people I can relate to–fake crab, not.
Anyone else have thoughts on cloning in literature in regards to character empathy?

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15 thoughts on “Let’s Stop With The Cloning Around

  1. Hmmm, Pam, I can’t say I’ve really read any books with cloning and maybe a movie or two that I can think of off the top of my head. There are at least a couple of reasons for the fascination, though, I would think:

    – Man’s need to control the uncontrollable (health, death, ruling the world, etc.) and pretend they are God.

    – it’s a writer’s tool using the “science fiction” approach (as opposed to real humans with limitations) for a character that has a built-in empathy factor: the heartache that comes from the inability to realize the inevitable longing and connection that comes when you feel emotion. Think “Edward Scissorhands.”

    1000% with you on this one, woman! :D…

    “Afterall, creation is best handled by the Creator, the One who has the Master Plan.”

    • Your reasoning is logical–creating empathy with a flawed character is appealing. And Edward Scissorhands did come to mind when writing this post. Johnny Depp as Frankenstein’s monster ala contemporary trendism.

  2. You make some good points. Though I have to admit I do stay away from the subject of cloning in books and movies. Did no one watch Jurassic Park? 😀 There’s a reason there are so many books warning us of what could happen if we try it!

  3. I have to agree with you about the cloning. I KNOW if it was an actual clone, right in front of my face, that I’d treat them like a human being. It’s different when you can reach out and touch them….but in a story or a movie or whatever, I do lose connection with that character if they’re a clone.

  4. Clones bring out our existential musings as it is easier to look into ourselves from outside ourselves…that and our fascination at horror at becoming God, which is in our grasp…the morals are always fascinating. Moon is definitely an underrated film.

  5. Well, I’m happy it’s illegal to clone people. As far as movies go, I try to stay away from those themes as they bore me out (like ‘never let me go’). I always have in the back of my head saying that’s it’s too unrealistic for me to believe their behavior and plot, as I too believe that they wouldn’t contain souls which is what makes is human.

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