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Literature / The Clone

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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.
  • Adaptation Name Change: In the short story, the clone's first victims are Frank and Maude Wendal. In the novel, they're Frank and Maude Wendell. Also, the police sergeant is named Alton in the short story and Eddie Dwyer in the full novel.
  • Agent Mulder: Chicago's Health Commissioner, Dr. Ian Sorenson. He pretty much believes everything Mark tells him from the get-go and actively aids him in attempting to convince Mayor Slattery and the authorities about the clone's existence.
  • Agent Scully: Pathology lab supervisor Dr. Rudolph Agnew. For all of two pages until Mark actually shows him a captured sample of clone tissue convert a mouse. Then he comes over to the Mulder side of things. Unfortunately, his zeal in wanting to experiment with the clone almost costs him his life, and certainly costs him his arm.
  • 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.
    • Subverted in a cruelly ironic way later in the novel. Chuck Danton gets absorbed headfirst. His companions pull him free, and his head comes off, halting the absorption at the neck and leaving the rest of his body intact, but for obvious reasons he still dies.
  • Antagonist Title: It's called "The Clone" and, for better or for worse, this is the name the authors give to the creature. In the actual story, it's simply referred to as "the monster" or "the animal" by the characters.
  • 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: See Chicago threatened by a giant amorphous blob of green slime born from discarded meat scraps! No, seriously, the flesh part of the "clone's" genetic makeup comes from hamburger meat dumped into the sewer.
  • 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: The clone, although it's composed of a kind of amorphous fleshy green substance as opposed to the usual gelatinous glop.
  • Body Horror: The clone turning people's flesh into its own tissue. Although the process is painless, the victims are alive and aware of what is happening to them the entire time, up until the absorption reaches a major organ such as the heart or the brain, causing them understandable fear and distress.
  • Bus Full of Innocents: The clone converts a whole subway train's worth of commuters.
  • The Cassandra: Mark Kenniston, when attempting to convince the cops that an absorbing amorphous blob is behind the disappearances. He is eventually believed.
  • Child Hater: Ms. Shea. She hates kids so much one wonders if she became a teacher just to make them suffer.
  • Curiosity Killed the Cast: Quite a few of the clone's victims get ensnared because they experimentally poke at it with their finger.
  • Da Chief: The extremely acerbic Captain Prescott, who's got no time for Mark and Harry's stories about killer blob monsters absorbing diners full of people. He eventually ends up leading evacuation efforts, proving to be a Jerk with a Heart of Gold.
  • Deadline News: Reporter Peter Vashli gets killed along with everyone else in Illinois Central Station when the clone oozes its way into the building while Vashli is covering evacuation efforts.
  • Death by Materialism: Charles Hallingford. He dies desperately attempting to save a suit he likes.
  • Death of a Child: Many of the clone's victims are children.
  • Decomposite Character: The Chief Pathologist and Sergeant Alton from the original short story each become two different characters:
    • The Chief Pathologist is split between Mark Kenniston and Rudolph Agnew. Also counts as Named by the Adaptation.
    • Alton becomes Sergeant Eddie Dwyer and his superior Captain Prescott.
  • 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 with no one listening about not dumping chemicals into the sewers.
  • 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.
  • From a Single Cell: The clone begins its life in a sewer catch basin as one microscopic cell, and grows bigger from there.
  • Gas Leak Cover-Up: 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.
  • Grey Goo: The clone has some elements of this.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • It Came from the Sink: The eponymous quasi-living organism resides in Chicago's drainage systems and initially attacks bathers through various sinks (before it grows large enough to just start killing people in the streets).
  • 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.
  • Kill It with Fire: Attempted by Dory Bernheim using his blowtorch. It doesn't work. It does, however, cause the clone pain, and using it gives everyone except himself and one little boy enough time to escape the school.
  • 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.
  • The Main Characters Do Everything: Mark rubs elbows with city officials, directs rescue efforts and even personally leads a team of divers into the flooded subway to fight the clone - all long after his particular profession has ceased to matter to the plot. Basically, whatever needs doing, he and pal Harry are usually the ones doing it.
  • Mayor Pain: Slattery is the incompetent variety.
  • 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.
  • One-Steve Limit: Averted due to the novel's large cast. There are three Henrys (janitor Henry Pollini, schoolboy Henry, and Henry the married man Ellie Hagen is having an affair with), four Charlies or Charleses (lab technician Charlie, shopper Charles Hallingford, electrician Charlie and rescue diver Charlie Kline) and three Franks (Maude Wendell's husband Frank Wendell, lab technician Frank and stockyard worker Frank Crewson).
  • 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.
    • Sergeant Alton in the original short story. After the diner massacre, he immediately phones up the Chief Pathologist, instead of sticking his head in the sand like his counterpart(s) Dwyer and Prescott in the novel.
  • Sadist Teacher: Ms. Shea, who enjoys publicly humiliating her students when they misbehave and has nothing but contempt for her fellow educators.
  • Security Blanket: Harry's meat cleaver. He never puts it down after the diner massacre.
  • Scenery Porn: Thomas and Wilhelm get really detailed with the various settings the story takes place in.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Staircase Tumble: Down an escalator, no less! A shopper at Steinway's falls down an escalator and hits his head, knocking himself unconscious. The clone rejects water from the bodies of the victims it absorbs, and it consumes so many people in the store that enough water pours down the escalator to drown the unconscious man.
  • 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."
  • Vomiting Cop: Well, vomiting health commissioner, anyway. Sorenson barfs into a sink after the double whammy of the clone absorbing an intern from the inside out and then witnessing a demonstration with one of the lab mice.