Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Adam's Stepsons, by M. Thomas Apple - 3 and a bit Stars

This is a fairly short novella on the subject of cloning, which explores the issue of what it is to have legal status as a human versus status as an exactly matching cloned human. Despite it being limited in scope and having a kind of brutal architecture in which lives are lived, the story explores interesting concept debates such as whether inherited memory from a donor is possible in a biological copy over-printed with identical neural patterns and what we should do if it was, i.e. bestow human rights? Could memory transfer as well, if pictures in your memory are formed from the configuration of cells and that configuration has been exactly re-created?

The story is set in the R&D facility of a losing side in a future inter-human conflict who have invested in cloning pilot warriors as a last resort. The drawback of building thinking creatures is that they do think and may opt out of the programme, especially if it transparently involves sacrificing themselves for someone else’s cause. In the immortal words of The Bride of Dracula, sod that.

If a clone is an exact copy of a human, down to each strand of DNA and the position of every cell, is it alive? Yes, obviously, but the spark of life has been carried across biologically from the host (not created chemically), so that’s pretty hard to have rights over. It’s like patenting a leg just because you’ve received a live replacement.

What is a clone? It is the same as the donor but not occupying the same position in space and time. Okay, stage 2, so what if the donor dies? That person is legally dead and it cannot be both alive and dead at the same time, so can this argument in law be used to deny the clone legal status and human rights? Although, when an amoeba buds off, aren’t these separate animals with the same status? Denial of human status and rights is certainly useful if you want to use it as an expendable plastic soldier but not granting this parity is surely manipulating the rules to make sure everything serves us. How cosy. If so, what would happen if the clones had free will and outnumbered the humans, so felt it was time to change the balance of the system? Would we be left disenfranchised instead and deserve to be? It might be better to agree they are the same as us and then we will have common goals that advantage all sapient bipeds.

If a clone made by human ingenuity matches us materially, it’s a fake. If it also has thoughts, feelings, memories, empathy and tells jokes, our ability to ignore its rights and use it like a tool takes on a certain ethical fragility and we could be accused of slavery. Is there any moral value in pursuing this? When a copy becomes too much like the original, it becomes indivisible by any test except its birth certificate, so the law has to change to accommodate it… them… us.


The book doesn’t really speculate on the solutions to these questions and kind of drifts off at the end with the usual explanation of identities and shoot-up scene (the answer to everything), so it was alright in its conflicting moralities and worth reading but fell short of a fully satisfying exploration of this sci-fi concept and that’s probably because it finished too soon for the reader to care about the fate of the characters and their tarnished souls seeking for reason.

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