Tuesday, February 06, 2018

All Of A Kind: Your One & Only by Adrianne Finlay

She'd never seen a face like this boy's. His eyes were almost colorless, an odd bluish-gray. Althea-310 shook herself, realizing that was not simply what he looked like that was disturbing. She also felt nothing from him. It certainly seemed like he felt nervous in front of the class. Emotions like that should have been radiating off him like a fever, infecting the whole class. Everyone was rustling and shifting in their chairs. They felt the bone-chilling detachment from the boy as well.

"What's wrong with its face?" Carson-315 asked.

"Nothing. He's simply different from the nine models," Samuel-299 said. He nodded to the painting on the wall. "He's human, like they were."

"So he's not Homo factus," a Carson said, grimacing. "Where are his brothers?"

"No. Like I said, he's human--Homo sapiens. He's alone." said Samuel-299

Three hundred years before, when the human race was in danger of eradication from the Slow Plague, a group of nine scientists had fled to a remote part of the Americas to create a new form of humanity, nine sets of clones, identical to each of themselves, but with DNA altered to eliminate susceptibility to disease and all defects. New clones were cultured every ten years, each group carrying one altered genome and name of one of the Original Nine and its generation number, and each group are identical with each other, capable of communing silently with their clones, and assigned to a task group that fits their nature.

But their scientists have realized that they and the others clones are deteriorating slowly with each re-copied generation, causing eventual "fracturing" and the need for their termination. Faced with another "slow plague," this one from within the core of their own cells, two leaders, Inga-296 and Samuel-299, determine that they must revive a living model of Homo sapiens to procure fresh DNA. Inga-296 mothers the rebuilt child, Jack, to age 15, when he is introduced to the clone colony of Vispera and learns the reason for his existence.

"Why?" Jack asked.

"Because we're dying. Inga-296 wasn't wrong. We've manipulated the code so much... the problems we face now will only get worse. The only answer is new variations from freshly cloned humans. Like the variations we can get from you."

Most of the clones are repulsed by the differences they sense in Jack, his attacks of asthma, an actual defect in his DNA, and his urge to make disturbing sounds from something he calls a guitar. The more aggressive Carson clones bully Jack relentlessly and when someone sabotages the tank where the next generation is being gestated, the Carsons lead the rest in blaming Jack for everything.

But somehow, Althea-310 feels a connection to Jack, even coming to hear the beauty in the music he makes, and despite her ties to her eight sister Altheas, she chooses to help him escape from the colony. And then Jack and Althea discover that Jack is not the only human, that he has a brother, Jonah, who is trying to destroy the colony and The Ark, the secret chamber in the Tunnels where not only human artifacts, but multiple specimens of DNA are frozen. Jack and Althea agree that they must stop him before the hope of human life on earth is ended forever.

Among the plethora (some would say glut) of dystopian novels these days, there is that recurring question, as old as the story of Eden--can humans obtain a perfect society before they destroy themselves? Adrianne Finlay's Your One & Only (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018) suggests that humanity's destiny depends on something hidden deep inside itself that is necessary for the species to survive and thrive. If the quest for a biological perfection which promises perfect empathy is not the answer to survival, if it attenuates that necessary individual spark within, then what is to be the answer? Is the urge and ability to create something new what makes us human?

It is the human dilemma, to blend and be safe, or to strike out to find a new way to be in a place we cannot completely control, with selves that we cannot completely control, especially in a post-apocalyptic world. Young adult readers who have already encountered Mary Shelley's Frankenstein: or The Modern Prometheus (Oxford World's Classics), Aldous Huxley's Brave New World or any of a number of current dystopian novels, may well wish our new Adam and Eve, Jack and Althea, better luck the next time around. These star-crossed lovers, from what indeed are two different worlds, make for a compelling love story, and author Finlay closes this book with Jack and Althea still to be tested in their own brave new world.

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