Ezra Claytan Daniels’ amazing piece of philosophical science fiction was first published back in 2018, but has received a loving new edition from Oni Press. It’s more than worthy of such venerable treatment, too – it’s a timeless piece of speculative fiction, asking some of the questions around what might happen if you decided to try and clone yourself.
However, this is no far-flung future. The main protagonists, Hank and Molly, are two regular people. Well, alright, Molly is an award-winning geneticist (retired), and Hank is the heir of a fortune built on the franchising of a fictional character created by his father. However, the couple fall-in with a team of scientists experimenting with cloning, and agree to help fund the moon-shot experiment of recreating humans from humans, as long as Hank and Molly get to be the first test subjects. The idea behind this is that, in their twilight years, they’ll be able to create and meet perfect versions of themselves, who can carry on living their lives when they’ve gone.
At this point, elements of the experiment go right, while other bits go wrong. I don’t want to give too much away because much of the car crash joy of this book is the jaw-dropping horror of exactly what’s happening: how Hank and Molly react to the results of the experiment; and how their alter-egos respond to the peculiar nature of their existence.
It’s not just about this, though, and Daniels drapes layer after layer of depth into the story, whether it’s through a simply extraordinary cast of additional characters, each with their own layers of complexity, or the structure of the story and the questions it raises.
Daniels is also the illustrator of the book and, frankly, has done an amazing job. It’s a character piece, so is really all about the people, who he captures with such perfection it’s extraordinary. There are horrific elements to some of the characters, and we dip around in time as the story unfolds, but throughout the book it’s perfectly clear who is who and when is when. It’s beautiful and scary in equal measure.
You know if you’re the kind of person who’s going to like this. It’s thoughtful, grounded science fiction. It sometimes feels more like a Daniel Clowes story in terms of its characterisation (yes, it’s really that good), but it still has a razor-sharp biting edge of body horror and science speculation to feed your genre-loving appetites. A perfect slice, then, of near-future speculative horror, but also jam-packed with humour, intelligence and charm.