Cloning, Part 2

The Villain raises their arms high. “Bow before me and my army of clones! Together, we shall rule the world-“

“Sorry, quick question?”

“And all shall kneel- wait, are you raising your hand? Uh…sure. You in the front. What’s your question?”

“Why clones?”

“What do you mean? Why wouldn’t I want to clone perfection, meaning me?”

“Well, wouldn’t it just be easier to recruit people into your army? You know, send out fliers and such? And isn’t cloning crazy expensive per clone? Who is funding this?”

“…I managed to get a killer grant.”

Last time, we looked at what cloning is. Today, let’s dive into why you would consider using cloning in your SciFi story. We’ll examine this question through the lens of a brainstorming/critiqing session.

So, Why Do You Want To Clone?

Let’s look at a series of reasons that range from “probably needs some more work” to “I love it, write it” :

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1) “I want to create a cool SciFi world, and nothing screams SciFi more than cloning!”

Okay, if this is the main reason, I would HIGHLY encourage you to not write yet. This reason is a good driving force to start you on your path of research and brainstorming. Hold off on diving into your cloning story until you do a bit more reading and determine if cloning is really the right tool in your writing/plotting arsenal. Otherwise, you’re probably going to write yourself into a hole.

2) “The plot twist is that the main villain wants to make more of her/him/themself! They would have their own personal army!”

This is a common one in TV, and there are multiple issues raised here. Firstly, why would someone produce so much of themselves when they could just have a bunch of babies through, you know, sex? Not only will you save on (a TON of) money, but you also don’t have to deal with any genetic issues or mistakes that would come up during the SCNT process. You can also potentially improve on the original (effectively doing selective breeding, choosing to have children that are a mix of the character, and someone the character deems a superior partner). OR, just do normal in vitro fertilization. And if the character has no access to any surrogate mothers, they can theoretically perform in victor in hundreds of test tubes (yes; you can do this for male and females alike).

Secondly, why would you waste such valuable resources for (as stated before) an EXTREMELY expensive process? You’d have to have an entire facility, so many scientists manually transferring DNA from the somatic cells to the oocytes, surrogate mothers who would have to be taken care of, and then a facility to raise the few clones that survived the initial fertilization procedure. And that’s just on a basic level: if you instead choose to have the clones grown in tube-like structures (as they tend to be in comics and TV), you have to have an entire second facility for that.

Thirdly, why aren’t they just making robots? That would probably be cheaper than the cost per clone. Plus, you’d get an army of robots. Think about it: robots.

3) “I want my MC to have multiple chances: clones would allow them to fatally fail while also being able to keep coming back.”

This is also a common trope, and while it is cool in theory, I would like to remind everyone that your genes do not encode your memory: it’s impossible for your clone to automatically inherit your memories. Sure, you could have a system that rewires the neuronal circuits in the clone’s brain to give the clone the same ‘memories,” but even with my limited neurobiology knowledge, I can tell you that that might be stretching it juuuuuust a bit. And by a bit, I mean a quite a bit. Can you do it? Sure, but that might be diving into the “soft science’ storytelling.

A more appropriate option would be to have the characters die in a virtual space like they’re playing a game, letting them take a stab at the obstacle over and over again. Or they have to have their consciousness transfered from one robot to the next. I’m just saying, there are better SciFi tools to use if you want to explore this concept other than cloning.

4) “There’s a rare gene that someone has, and the scientists in my world want to have more of the gene in the population, so they choose to clone the person in order to propagate the desired clone.”

I like it, although I would also point out that you can have said person mate with others to propagate the gene. Theoretically, the children of said character would have a 50% chance of getting that gene if you only have one of that gene.

4.5) “Same as above, but said person is asexual/sterile/a child.”

…Touché. Go write your clone story.

5) “I want to explore a world where clones are not considered people by my society, and thus can be experimented on.”

Like it. This brings in a reason for having clones, and the proposed concept is open enough to explore many aspects of cloning: the costs, the ethical implications, and the economical uses of clones. Can you imagine a cast system based on whether or not you were a clone? Or you can tell who a clone is based on whether or not they have amputated limbs or spots on their skin where someone tested skin treatments on them?

But the question still remains: who pays to make the clones? The government? Are there groups of scientists that vehemently argue against using clones in research?

6) “I want to have the clones be harvested for the originals”

Woah. That’s dark. Really dark… Tell me more! Are the richer folk the only ones who can afford this? Is society aware of the clones? Is there a black market for clone… parts?

But the counterargument here is: why are they not using stem cell research for organ harvesting? It’s way more ethical.

7) “I want to use gene drive as a plot point, and manipulating a clone’s DNA may theoretically be easier than creating an entire human genome from.”

Ooooooo! We’ll talk about this one in a later post, but this actually is a little hidden gem that my brother helped me come up with while I was brainstorming for this post.

8) “All humans are sterile in my SciFi setting (in that they cannot form viable gametes), and in order to reproduce, they have to resort to cloning until they can figure out how to start making viable eggs and sperm again. It’s expensive, but it’s worth it to save humanity.”

Now this one has the potential to be fascinating, especially if you put it against the backdrop of “everyone’s a clone and they know it.” You could have someone casually ask a stranger, “So, who was your original?” and have them reply, “An olympic athlete, believe it or not. Won the bronze medal for the long jump in 2020 Olympics.” Because the process is so expensive and intensive, there may be fewer humans in your world. You could then have current day scientists trying to figure out how to create variation in the population, you could have certain diseases poping up due to people being concieved through SCNT. Is humanity trying to figure out a cure to this sterility? Maybe, maybe not. It would be a fascinating setting if that was the norm and everyone was cool with it.

This was done in a movie that I watched a long time ago, but that movie fell into the plot hole of having the clones not know they were clones, and that they had their “original memories” to deal with. Also, the people who saved humanity with cloning were still somehow the bad guys. Seriously, why are the scientists always the villains? (Ok, saving that for another post…)

The Moral of the Story Is…

You’ve probably noticed that most of the reasons that I favor look more at the implications of cloning rather than using cloning as a plot twist. Not that you can’t still use it that way, but to bring back a point from the first cloning post, the twist is less twisty than you think. However, it can still be a gut-puncher when done well, so I can’t necessarily say “NEVER USE THIS!” But, you know, I’m trying to encourage you to think outside the box when it comes to writing cloning.

There was one rabbit hole I had to refrain from going down in this post, and that was on research ethics. This will be a future blog post, as it is a topic few writers like to consider when using human experimentation in their stories. For some reason, scientists in fiction have no moral qualms about human experimentation (which we see too often in cloning stories). Food for thought.

Next: we’ll discuss how to effectively use cloning in your SciFi stories. We’ll pick a few examples and look at how they hit or missed the mark. In the meantime, I would highly recommend The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer. There are some books that I am willing to spoil mainly due to their prominence in mainstream media, but this is one that I am keeping my lips shut. This novel won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, and is a Newbery Honor book and Printz Honor book, so it is well worth your time.