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Literature: The Clone

clone, n. ... Biol. The aggregate of individual organisms descended by asexual reproduction from a single sexually produced individual; ...
Webster's New International Dictionary, Second Ed.note 

The Clone: A Science Fiction Novel was a 1965 science fiction/horror novel written by Theodore L. Thomas and Kate Wilhelm. It is based on an earlier short story of Thomas' by the same name. The year it was published, it was nominated for a Nebula Award, but lost to Frank Herbert's Dune.

A monstrous entity is accidentally created when four different ingredients - muriatric acid, trisodium phosphate, silica gel and hamburger meat - combine in a Chicago sewer catch basin. It starts as a microscopic organism but swiftly grows into a huge green blob which Thomas and Wilhelm insist on calling a "clone."

The "clone" quickly begins spreading through the sewers and aqueducts beneath Chicago, soon flowing up into people's homes through their drains. It absorbs living and nonliving matter on contact, converting everything into more of its own tissue. At first only a minor threat, it soon grows so huge it threatens the entire city and drastic measures must be taken to stop it from getting into Lake Michigan and spreading further.

The novel is interesting for its borderline omniscient narrative style and lack of a true main character. Instead, the story, when it isn't describing the "clone" attacking and absorbing various people and things in a detached, almost documentary writing style, follows multiple characters and subplots, all with different conclusions (and some with none).


Tropes used in this novel:

  • Adaptation Expansion: The novel is essentially an expanded version of an earlier short story of Thomas', also titled The Clone. It has the same structure, but a different ending and many more characters.
  • Amputation Stops Spread: Harry cuts off Agnew's arm when the clone begins absorbing his hand, and this saves him. An intern isn't as lucky, since the clone gets sneaky and goes under the skin of his arm ahead of where Harry cuts.
  • Antagonist Title
  • Anyone Can Die: Half the crowded cast ends up dying.
  • Apocalypse How: Only in the original short story. It ends with Chicago evacuated and the clone still at large, with the authorities uncertain of how to kill it - or prevent it from spreading. It could conceivably take over the entire world.
  • Asshole Victim: Timothy O'Herlihy.
  • Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever
  • Badass Bystander: Several characters, but especially Dory Bernheim, who risks (and eventually gives) his life to rescue a school full of kids.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Reporter Buz Kingsley and his news crew, of all people.
  • Blob Monster
  • Body Horror: The intern's death has some shades of this.
  • Bus Full of Innocents: The clone converts a whole subway train's worth of commuters.
  • Cassandra Truth: Mark Kenniston, when attempting to convince the cops that an absorbing amorphous blob is behind the disappearances.
  • Child Hater: Ms. Shea. She hates kids so much one wonders if she became a teacher just to make them suffer.
  • Da Chief: Captain Prescott.
  • Death by Materialism: Charles Hallingford. He dies desperately attempting to save a suit he likes.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Happens to a few people, particularly those who witness their friends or family get absorbed.
  • Do Not Adjust Your Set: A heroic example. Mark and Ian Sorensen force their way into the television studio at gunpoint to hijack the news and warn people about the clone.
  • Domestic Abuse: Timothy O'Herlihy smacks his girlfriend around for asking a question. Guess what happens to him. He's clone fodder.
  • Driven to Suicide: Twice. One man flings himself into the clone after losing his entire family to it. Ellie Hagen is involved with a married man and feels guilty over it, and allows the clone to consume her because she sees it as an "out."
  • Empty Piles of Clothing: What is left behind after the clone gets through absorbing someone since it only eats some types of fabric.
  • The End... Or Is It?: Although the novel ends with the clone's destruction, we're warned that similar monstrosities may one day be created if we continue pouring noxious chemicals into our sewers. The original short story ended even more ominously, with the same warning but the clone still alive.
  • Everyone Calls Him Barkeep: The fire chief, despite a sizable supporting role, is only ever called "fire chief."
    • Also the unnamed Chief Pathologist in the original short story.
  • Extreme Omnivore: The clone eats nonliving matter as well, such as concrete and different types of fabric (except cotton for some reason) and eventually adapts to eating car tires and parts of buildings.
  • Gas Leak Coverup: Parodied. Mayor Slattery attributes the disappearances and sightings early on to killer snakes from the sewers. Quashed by Mark and Sorensen (see Do Not Adjust Your Set above) and by the clone making itself more public not long after.
  • Girls Behind Bars: Part of the climax involves rescuing some inmates from a women's prison. It's a fairly realistic portrayal, with the prisoners written as if they were actual regular female criminals, no different from male ones, and not caricatures like in most depictions of such institutions.
  • Green Aesop: The authors believe we really ought to be more careful about what we pour down our drains.
  • Gunship Rescue: Albeit with a news chopper, not an actual gunship.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Dory Bernheim, a mechanic who tries to save several schoolchildren from the clone. Especially noble is him trying to comfort a frightened boy as they're being absorbed together.
  • Infant Immortality: Averted. Many of the clone's victims are children.
  • Insistent Terminology: Authors Thomas and Wilhelm's constant use of "clone" to describe the monster, despite this not exactly being the right word for it.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Buz Kingsley.
  • Karma Houdini: The rather cruel Ms. Shea not only doesn't die, but spends the rest of the story in a deranged state publicly declaring that children who are absorbed by the clone are actually "turning back into filth," which must cause no end of grief to the dead kids' parents.
  • The Korean War: Commercial airline pilot Pete Laurenz is a veteran of it.
  • Life or Limb Decision: Happens twice, first to Dr. Agnew, who survives, then to an intern who isn't as lucky and gets absorbed from the inside-out after the clone gets sneaky and goes under the skin of his arm.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters
  • Mean Boss: Mark's supervisor Dr. Agnew berates and insults him.
  • Off with His Head!: Chuck Danton has his head - and only his head - absorbed by the clone while battling it underwater in the flooded subway.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Mayor Slattery.
  • Our Blob Monsters Are Different: The clone does not digest or absorb its victims so much as directly convert them into more of itself on a cellular level. Although, in stark contrast to most Blob Monster stories, the process is completely painless.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Ian Sorensen.
  • Sadist Teacher: Ms. Shea, who enjoys publicly humiliating her students when they misbehave and has nothing but contempt for her fellow educators.
  • Science Marches On: Thomas and Wilhelm's definition of "clone" is a little vague and uses an older if technically correct meaning, quoted above. The creature was sort of "cloned" from dead hamburger meat, and does sort of "clone" itself by turning its victims into more of its own tissue, however this is far and away from the more popular concept wherein a clone is understood to be just an exact duplicate of an individual.
  • Security Blanket: Harry's meat cleaver. He never puts it down after the diner massacre.
  • Scenery Porn
  • Shown Their Work: Thomas and Wilhelm's description of the thing's creation goes a long way towards making it at least seem scientifically plausible. Also their knowledge of the inner workings of Chicago's infrastructure is staggering.
  • Sinister Subway: The clone attacks two subway trains and converts everyone in them. Later, after the subway has flooded, Mark and the fire department's rescue team divers battle the clone down there underwater.
  • Skunk Stripe: Dr. Agnew has one.
  • Slept Through the Apocalypse: Timothy O'Herlihy and his girlfriend Patricia had their radio turned off while they were at her place, missing most of the news broadcasts about the clone. Doubles as Late to the Tragedy.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Many, but Charles Hallingford, a shopper at Steinway's, takes the cake. After going through all the trouble of very, very carefully getting a sample of clone tissue small enough to handle safely with his bare hands, he winds up absorbed by the main mass attempting to save a suit he was thinking about buying.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Ms. Shea becomes a stark raving loony when she sees three of her students get taken by the clone. She already hates kids and considers them disgusting and filthy, and convinces herself they were not getting absorbed but rather transforming "back into the filth from whence they came."
  • The Windy City: Chicago is never actually identified, but several landmarks, street names, etc. and the city's proximity to Lake Michigan give it away.

A Clockwork OrangeLiterature of the 1960sThe Collector
Clocks that Don't TickScience Fiction LiteratureCloud Atlas
DuneNebula AwardFlowers for Algernon
City of DevilsHorror LiteratureColdfire Trilogy

alternative title(s): The Clone
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