Humans, now extinct, used their DNA to create Vispera’s nine clone models, and subsequent generations eliminated human diseases and defects; the choice to create Jack, 17, genetically human, gray-eyed, with asthma, is a troubling and intriguing mystery to Althea-310.
Gestated in tanks and born 10 years apart, each 10-member generation of the nine models appears identical. (After centuries of genetic manipulation, racial characteristics vary among models, but all have brown eyes.) Rarely, minor differences affect individual appearance, like the tiny scar on her wrist that Althea-310 covers. She wonders how Jack, barred from their games and ceremonies, can bear life without the constant presence and comfort of nine identical siblings. She intervenes when the Carsons bully him, and she provokes widespread ire when she breaks with her sisters to choose a Hassan instead of a Carson at the Pairing Ceremony. Though Jack’s poetry and music disturb her, she resists her sisters’ attempts to comfort her with their touch. When he’s blamed for acts of vandalism that threaten Vispera, she risks everything to defend him. Uncovering secrets of Vispera’s past, they discover Jack may be the key to its future. Complex issues play out in fast-paced action without oversimplification. Conformity’s benefits are real. But even if giving rein to unfettered individuality can cause harm, singularity just might be a precondition to empathy.
Like the works of Ursula K. LeGuin, inside this lyrically written, suspenseful tale is a deeply humane thematic core. (Science fiction. 14-18)