Saturday, May 8, 2021

Book Review: 5 Clones by Edward Bonilla

Questioning the Nature of Humanity in an Eerily Familiar Dystopian Future

Although this book is not listed as dystopian fiction, it should be. The future world depicted in 5 Clones is bleak and yet, it’s eerily familiar. Take all of the tensions of recent life in America—the pandemic, racial unrest, isolationism, climate change—and let them linger (the pandemic) or worsen dramatically (all the rest). Drought and fires rage out of control in parts of the United States; other areas are devastated by floods. The United States government trusts no one, as the rest of the world (and many ethnicities) become “outsiders” to be avoided at best, destroyed at worst. Then, have California and Texas succeed from the union in response, drawing the ire of the remaining “New Federal Union”. Embargoes by the NFU produce shortages in food, gas, and information in these new nations, further pushing America as we know it toward self-destruction. At the same time, science advances, producing (as is often the case), a breakthrough with great possibilities for good and an equal or even greater potential for evil. It’s the stuff that causes civil wars … and produces great stories.

Amid this social and political upheaval, we have Dan, a Mexican-American farmer who has cloned himself to provide a source of cheap labor. (No, this isn’t the technology at the crux of the NFU/California rift, although it could be). Dan just wants to sell his clones and make a new start. Things, however, are never as simple as they seem and soon, he’s helping a mysterious woman he comes across in the desert and whatever goals she has for a world turned upside down.

Author Bonilla slowly answers the questions you’ll be asking yourself as a reader—who is this woman Dan has befriended, why are people trying to kill them, where is Dan’s family, how cognizant are the clones, or even, who is Dan? As a literary technique, a slow reveal has both advantages and disadvantages. When complete, I felt satisfaction (relief?) in understanding all the pieces. And some of these are deeper issues, e.g., the nature of humanity and awareness. But the journey to that point sometimes felt meandering. More than halfway through the book, I was wondering if it was just a collection of interesting, although largely unrelated anecdotes from a possible future? And it didn’t help that many of the stories are flashbacks but without any indication that the events occurred in the past. However, to the author’s credit, all the threads are neatly tied up by the book’s end.

Overall, 5 Clones paints a bleak but largely familiar picture of the future. Themes are developed slowly but stick with it; the end is worth the suspense.

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