Legal Stuff

Duplicate Effort by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Published by Roc Books

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

In Recovery Man, Miles Flint discovered that his murdered daughter Emmaline had been cloned, and his wife had raised the clone Talia as her own daughter. But in the process of outwitting the Recovery Man (someone who recovers missing objects and is often little better than a thief), Flint's ex-wife Rhonda Shindo was murdered (or maybe committed suicide -- things were a little confused), leaving thirteen-year-old Talia in need of a legal guardian. Rather than let Rhonda's employer, a corrupt megacorporation, assume guardianship under the provisions of a contract Rhonda had signed with them, Flint claimed her as his daughter and formally adopted her so that she would enjoy all the same rights as Emmaline would have.

However, Talia went through some pretty extensive traumas in that episode, and it has done her long-term psychological harm. She keeps running away and getting into mischief, and the authorities of Armstrong Dome are getting annoyed at having to stop her. So Flint sits her down and asks her just what she thinks she's doing.

Turns out, she's looking for her sisters. That's how she thinks of the other five clones of Emmaline that were made by her mother's employer in order to dodge a judgment from the Gyonnese government over a disastrous experiment that destroyed an entire generation of the race's young. The Gyonnese have a reproductive cycle in which the pre-sentient larval form lives in a wetlands environment -- and apparently the entire species has one single mating ground, which meant that a stray wind blew a chemical that was being tested nearby right on it, killing all the larvae. Because Ronda Shindo's name was on some important papers for the project, she was held legally responsible by the Gyonnese government and was condemned as a mass murderer, never mind that she wasn't even present when the experiment took place, having never left the Sol system in her entire life.

And the Gyonnese idea of justice was as alien as their reproductive system -- they took away her parental rights. That meant she was forbidden to ever have children, and any children she might have must be handed over to the Gyonnese government. But her only daughter had been shaken to death by a brutal day care center worker, since arrested and sentenced to life in prison for two other cases. So the Gyonnese were out of luck, and a quirk of their laws meant that a clone of Emmaline had no legal standing in their society and thus could be raised openly by Rhonda.

A lot of human jurisdictions don't view clones a whole lot better. In some, clones aren't even persons under the law and can be killed simply for being inconvenient. Even in the ones where they have the right to life, they can't inherit unless they're adopted and may face other civil disabilities like not being able to vote, own significant property or enter certain professions. And even Flint, who's adopted Talia and given her the full legal status of a daughter, is still uneasy about whether she has a soul and exactly how to regard her relationship with the other clones.

However, he's willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, and doesn't want needless harm brought upon them. So he sits down with Talia and explains to her exactly how her curiosity could have put them in danger. For the Gyonnese, the disaster of the breeding field was a defining moment in their history, one that they can't just let pass by because the woman they blamed for it is dead. They want to see blood, and given that they are known to have been planning to have Emmaline killed as Rhonda's punishment, rather than just making the girl a ward of the Gyonnese state, there's a real possibility that they might demand the death of one or more of the clones.

Worse, there's a possibility that Emmaline herself may not be dead, that the little girl who was shaken to death was in fact a speed-grown clone, produced specifically to be expendable. In that situation, it would be absolutely essential that her existence not be discovered.

Even as Flint is confronting Talia about the risks of indulging her curiosity, a woman is being murdered. Her name is Ki Bowles and she is a reporter. She's been investigating a powerful law firm that liked to present itself as upright, but was in fact betraying the Disappeared and their families to Trackers and to alien governments.

But it doesn't end there, as Flint discovers when he tries to minimize the damage Talia may have done in the searches she's already performed. And the senior partner is willing to kill if necessary to prevent certain questions from being asked, certain information from coming to light.

In reading this series, I've found it interesting how the focus of the story has shifted away from the grotesqueries of alien justice systems to the corruption in human business cultures that has created situations in which humans are being sent to treat with aliens whose cultures they barely have a glancing acquaintance with, all in the name of profits. When I was reading some of the earliest books, I wondered why there wasn't a hue and cry from the grass roots against some of the worst ones, especially the ones that have no downward age limit on legal culpability and will punish a five-year-old child like an adult. I even wondered if we were dealing with a second-order idiot plot, that is, one in which the story works only because an entire society is behaving idiotically for the convenience of the plot.

But now I can see how such popular political pressure could easily be rendered irrelevant, if the official government has been co-opted by the corporations. Maybe its absence isn't the result of it being dangerous to dissent, whether as a result of actual legal sanctions against dissidents or even informal ones such as being rendered unemployable. Instead, perhaps it is simply understood to be futile to protest verdicts perceived to be unjust, such that anybody who tried to drum up grass roots support for a petition against a multicultural court would get smiles of condescending patience from all and sundry.

This novel ends rather ambiguously, in a way that could be signaling that the series is being drawn to a close, or could be opening new directions for the storyline to take. It will be interesting to see what happens.

Review posted September 10, 2010.

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