Tuesday, 3 April 2012

A to Z: C is for Clone

A clone is an exact copy of something. In the Television Industry, where I work, a dub copy of a master video tape is called a clone. In biology, a clone contains exactly the same DNA sequence as the original life form.

Eloi from The Time machineIn classic Science Fiction the Clone, the Clone army, and the Clone civilisation were relatively common tropes – usually vaguely unsettling and synonymous with the loss of “self’ and individuality, such as “The Stepford Wives” (where it is the “Wives” clone-like behaviour that is unsettling), the “too-perfect” Eloi from “The Time Machine”, the purple-wigged Moonbase Operatives from Gerry Anderson’s UFO, or the Clone soldiers from “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace”.Moonbase Operatives in Gerry Anderson's UFO

The nature of clones and cloning raise interesting ethical and philosophical questions as they force us to examine such things as where are the borders of self, and should the clone and the original be treated as equals under the law? We also must consider what it would be like for the clone – would they instinctively feel a bond with their progenitor; would they have an individual personality or would that, too, be a copy of the original; would they, in effect exist as their own person, irrespective of the fact that they look exactly like their progenitor?

Clone Troopers from Star WarsSince the Star Wars Prequels, and the Clone Wars animated series, Clones appear to have dropped out of favour as science fiction story fodder – at least in an en mass approach to storytelling.

The Dreaming Void by Peter HamiltonPeter Hamilton has come up with a novel use for clones and cloning technology which neatly skirts some of the questions raised above, but which throws up more issues for society to wrestle with. In his Deaming Void series, many people chose to “back-up” their personalities to a memory cache. If something fatal happens to their physical body, a clone body can be grown from stored DNA records and their “back-up” personality downloaded into the new body as it matures. Technically, humans have the option of immortality, downloading their personalities into new bodies as their old ones fail – the ultimate video game where you can hit the Reset button if you really mess up and pick up your life from where you last Saved the game. Hamilton writes himself out of the population explosion corner he was busy writing himself into by indicating that a portion of the Human Race eventually tires of the bodily reincarnation cycle and upload their personalities to his civilization’s equivalent of the Internet, where they pursue their new Transhuman lives until they eventually subsume into the Datasphere.

Cyteen by CJ CherryhAnother interesting treatment of clones is in CJ Cherryh’s Alliance/Union series – in particular in Cyteen and 40,000 in Gehenna, and their appearance to outsiders in the closing chapters of Downbelow Station.

The role-playing game Traveller has never had rules for Clones as, being essentially people, the nature of their “Cloneness” is more about the story telling, rather than any specific game mechanic. In that case, the Games Master is free to explore any of the ethical and moral questions already mentioned, just as the players can respond to the situation as they feel proper.

Grey Aliens by Josh Crockett, Hishan look similarI hadn’t really considered Clones for my own Traveller campaign until I came across the Hishan – an alien race, similar in appearance to the Greys of UFO mythology, in the 5150: A New Beginning skirmish game world from Two Hour Wargames. Short, creepy, cowardly and vicious, the Hishan sound like excellent bad guys – especially when you throw in their semi-Hive Mind, which is a product of their “Cloneness”.

To Clone or not to Clone, now that is a question. Apart from creating a horde of minions relatively quickly (say, 15 years for the bodies to mature if pumped full of steroids – in that case it would be quicker to hire minions), or providing body-doubles, or body spares, why would you clone a population? Solar flare activity renders a species sterile, so they clone to continue their existence? Sub-light speed colonists need to generate a workforce to build a civilisation on a new world? The few survivors of an internecine war need to rebuild their planet? The President for Live would prefer to be surrounded by people who looked like him? Actually, there are quite a number of reasons for clones, and all of them make interesting stories for the players to investigate.