On February 22, 1997, scientists unveiled Dolly the sheep, the first successfully cloned adult mammal. In the 17 years since, we’ve seen several other animal species cloned, with the hope of eventually resurrecting extinct species. However, cloning humans is still a far way off; whether it will actually be possible remains to be seen. The bigger question, of course, is, do we want that to be seen?
Lucky for us, sci-fi and fantasy authors have already given us a preview: They’ve toying with duplicates, doppelgangers, and copies for decades. Let us run you through the major types of clones, from the creepy-but-alluring prospect of an opposite-sex version of yourself, to the pragmatically expendable models, to the archetypal evil twins we all must confront.
1. Kiln People
One of the major setbacks of cloning has been the copies’ shortened lifespan. In David Brin‘s Kiln People, humans make “dittos” of themselves out of clay—that’s right, golems. Unfortunately, the dittos degrade after a day… which you kind of have to expect when you’re trying to construct a human from shoddy materials. The last time that worked was the Bible.
It’s become such a trope for clones to discover that they were created simply for harvesting organs for their hosts, that it’s not really a surprise anymore. However, how they respond to their destinies continues to intrigue us. Some, like the stars of the action movie The Island, go rogue. But part of what makes Kazuo Ishiguro‘s classic novel Never Let Me Go so somber is how Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth don’t try to escape their fates.
One of the trippiest moments in the Star Wars Expanded Universe—well, before The New Jedi Order, at least—was when Jedi master Jorus C’baoth cloned Luke Skywalker using DNA from Luke’s severed hand from The Empire Strikes Back. “Luuke,” as he was called, wasn’t very sentient on his own but gave his namesake quite a lightsaber battle, until Mara Jade stepped in and disposed of him. (It helped that killing Luuke cured her compulsion to kill Luke. Everyone wins!) Along the way, we found out an even more twisted truth: The man who created Luuke was actually Joruus C’baoth, himself an evil clone!
The “clone” in this case is more of a copy: After discovering that he can walk between alternate realities, high schooler Joey returns to his own dimension, only to find himself replaced with the female Josephine. Very creepy.
On the more twisted end of the spectrum, you have Tad Williams‘ Otherland series, in which one man tries to make himself immortal through cloning. Except, his thought process is to impregnate a female clone of himself with his DNA. Now that’s getting way too close for comfort.
Only in certain circumstances do we find ourselves rooting for the clone, but in this case, our allegiance is clear: Soldier Dennison studies his war hero brother Varion’s battle strategies, thinking this will help him become closer to his estranged brother. But when the two finally meet, an unsurprised Varion says, “They did clone me. Well, the High Emperor will find that I am even capable of defeating myself.” And just like that, we’re dropped into a battle of wits even more compelling than most.
It was heartbreaking when journalist Georgia gets infected in Feed and her brother has to kill her before she amplifies. But, just when I thought Mira Grant couldn’t tug at my heartstrings any more, Georgia comes back—sort of. This Georgia, resurrected by the nefarious Centers for Disease Control, discovers that she’s a clone, with 97 percent of the original Georgia’s mind mapped to hers. Even though that imbues her with her predecessor’s knowledge and instincts, that shadowy three percent stops her from ever feeling fully confident that she’s Georgia Mason. Still, it’s as close as sci-fi can get to resurrection. See also: Y: The Last Man, which uses this to basically bring back the human race.