The Clones by P.T. Olemy
Flagship Books, 1968
Price I paid: $4 + shipping and handling
This is science fiction… or will it become science fact? With heart transplants a reality, THE CLONES will come more alive for the reader than ever before possible. This book has everything for the science-fiction fan, especially with the added excitement brought about by these latest medical miracles. The Clones created in a laboratory on earth, join with beings from another universe. The planet Earth is forced to make a decision that makes one shudder to think of the implications.[sic][sic][sic][sic]
I have been struggling all day with starting this review because I do not know where to even start. There is SO MUCH to say.
This book was suggested to me in the comments to my woefully out-of-date Books List by Ranking page by reader Alan Hopewell, way back in March of 2020. I finally got off my ass and ordered a copy like I said I would. I had no idea what I was in for.
The back jacket might have been a hint. It barely even approaches the plot and is itself shoddily written. I had to make double certain that I transcribed it correctly and left its problems intact. I think this may actually be a case of the jacket copy being written by the author.
And there’s the fact that our author chose to make his pen name a play on words that’s not even worthy of the fake books in the jokes section of Boy’s Life (a fondly-remembered favorite is How to Be a Spy by S.P. Onage). The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction tells us that his real name was George Baker and that he wrote three books, of which this was the only science fiction novel. Their summation of this novel is not accurate, but that’s understandable for reasons that I think you’ll see soon, if I do my job right.
The ISFDB lists two books by this imprint, Flagship, which was published by Caravelle Books. This just means that they likely put out only two books relevant to that website, however, and a deeper search reveals some spy thrillers in the Bond vein and some standard-issue nonfiction about self-hypnosis and psychic phenomena.
It was with the first two lines that I knew I was getting into something very special with this novel.
“A gene is the smaller unit of recombination,” stated Professor Ledyard with authority.
“I differ!” exclaimed Adloph Kroger.pg 5
There’s a lot to unpack here, but the main thing is that this book, upon introducing us to the main character for this first time, misspells his name.
We first meet Adolph Kroger as an undergraduate genetics student who is much, much smarter than this professor. We know this because we’re told so. They argue a bit about genetics and it is largely nonsense. But it’s not the worst nonsense we get in this book, oh no.
I am dismayed, not so much at this book, but at my own abilities to describe it to you. I am also giddy, because holy beans I haven’t read one like this in a while. Books like this are why I’m here.
We meet Adolph and he subsequently makes friends with a classmate named Mildred—who is beautiful and Adolph wonders why she is in the class at all—and another classmate named Jeff, who is the wealthy scion of some millionaire. Jeff’s dad, recognizing genius when he sees it, takes Adolph under his wing and promises to fund his great project, which is CLONES. Jeff’s dad also convinces Mildred to marry Adolph because that will help keep his mind on the project somehow.
On page 26 we learn a little bit about Adolph’s research and the phrase “female sperm” is used, so, y’know.
The book then makes a dark twist. I’m not even sure how much I want to describe this section of the book because it was genuinely shocking and at the very least deserves a giant
for things I’m not even sure how to describe properly. It’s not exactly rape, but it is a violation, and there’s also a lot of stuff about abortion and miscarriage. There is also verbal abuse. If you want to skip this part, I’ll mark the ending with another large header like the one above.
(If there’s a better or preferred way to hide stuff like this, I’d like to know about it.)
Okay so Adolph wants to have a kid, but Mildred wants to keep having a good time as a twenty-something. So one day, he sedates her and then injects a batch of never-referenced-afterward clone juice into her womb, which causes her to become pregnant. Mildred first seeks an abortion, but Adolph tells her that if she does, he will kill her. So she then makes multiple attempts to miscarry, one of which finally succeeds. Out of her comes a monster, and seeing it drives Mildred insane. She spends the rest of the book in a mental institution in a way that is not handled well.
CONTENT WARNING OVER
At this point in the book, I didn’t actually know if we’re still supposed to be on Adolph’s side. I mean, I wasn’t, clearly, but the question for me was whether our author intended for us to think that Adolph is so smart that whatever he does is inherently good, or something like that. It was a question of what kind of bad book I was reading.
A lot of stuff in this book comes through the viewpoint of Jeff, who maintains his loyalty to Adolph throughout the book, even as things start to go sour. Or, well, sometimes it seems like he does, and other times he seems to be acting against him for his own purposes. This book is…inconsistent.
Inconsistent might not be the right word. I think I already said nonsensical and we can stick with that. Here’s a good example: At one point Adolph decides he needs a telescope. A big, expensive one. So he gets Jeff to order it.
“Alright, Adolph. How long do you estimate it will take to ship over here?”
Adolph made a sound of disgust, “What do you mean ‘ship?’ After they check your credit, they can teleport it, and it should be here the next day!”
Jeff was puzzled. “Teleport?”
“Of course, stupid! They can disintegrate the telescope at the factory into atom components, and then teleport it by means of cable direct to my laboratory!”
“Of course, Adolph, of course. I never thought of doing it that way!”pg 43
Never at any other point were we or Jeff introduced to the idea that teleportation is a thing in this book. It just happens. Moreover, it happens for absolutely no damn reason! Nothing was gained narratively by having that telescope show up a few days earlier, via teleportation that didn’t need to happen. Maybe, maybe, we get a glimpse of how much of a hurry Adolph is in, and how monomaniacal he is, but c’mon, we don’t need help there.
But now we can talk about why he needed the telescope in the first place! What does it have to do with cloning? Well, hold on to your socks.
In fact, keep your hands on those socks for the rest of the review.
Adolph explains that he needs to examine the stars, and more importantly, the constellations, as part of his cloning experiment. Jeff asks if this is astrology. Adolph says it is not, and calls Jeff an idiot. Astrology is superstition. No, what Adolph is doing is
oh god I’m so happy to tell you about this
Adolph is studying the “magnetic pull of the constellations,” and he is doing it because he wants to use that knowledge to shape the personalities of his first batch of clones.
But that’s not astrology! And because this isn’t astrology, he’s naming his first batch of clones after…the signs of the zodiac. And basing their personalities off of those signs in shallow ways. “Taurus will be bullheaded” kind of stuff. Most of the clones don’t even get an explanation of what they’ll be like. We do learn that Virgo will be the only woman.
So Adolph makes twenty-four clones.
For some reason that is not explained, nor is it consistent (some of them just disappear) he makes two batches for his first go around?
I am having trouble keeping track of all the stupid things in this novel. I start typing one thing and about three come roaring into my head. Twelve of the first batch, we learn, don’t have blood. Instead, they have Americium flowing through their veins. This gives them electrical skin and heat vision.
It’s getting more and more clear at this point that Adolph is your garden variety mad scientist, bent on taking over the world. But author thought he was being too subtle:
Jeff now didn’t dare even to look at Adolph. He felt that Adolph was beginning to act and sound like that other Adolph of forty some odd years ago—Adolph Hitler—the one who was responsible for World War II.pg 61
OH, YOU MEANT THE ADOLPH HITLER THAT WAS RESPONSIBLE FOR WWII
I THOUGHT YOU MEANT THE OTHER ONE, MY BAD, NOW THE BOOK MAKES SENSE
This book never makes any sense.
One of the clones, Scorpio, begins to take on a life of his own. Adolph is supposed to have all of them under control with some kind of brain box he invented, but it turns out that at least one of the clones is not. Scorpio makes friends with Jeff and expositions him a bit in ways that don’t make a lick of sense until much later in the book when we get a re-explanation that also doesn’t make sense but is at least a bit more coherent, perhaps due to repetition.
Scorpio isn’t a clone at all. He was sent by an alien species and disguised as one of Adolph’s clones so that he could study humanity.
At times it seems that all of the clones are that way, but they are not. Also, Scorpio insists on referring to himself and his people as Clones, which is confusing. Also, he is from the actual constellation Scorpio, which doesn’t make any sense for a lot of reasons that make me think that our author didn’t know what the word meant. I think he thought that constellations were actual physical objects, like nebulas or galaxies, except those things are also referred to. Interchangeably.
Scorpio takes Jeff with him to Scorpio’s homeworld. We are explicitly told that the other world is in another galaxy, and we are also explicitly told that Scorpio’s ship travels at a speed of 100,000 miles per hour. They make the trip TO ANOTHER GALAXY in A FEW HOURS.
Okay, I’m being very, very, VERY slightly unfair here. No, none of this makes any sense, but later in the book we see this ship again and it’s going at 150,000 miles per second, which makes me think that the first reference was yet another of the many hundreds of mistakes in the text. It still doesn’t make any sense but at least that’s an appreciable fraction of light speed and not a speed that would require several hours to get to the Moon. Still, even if they were heading for the nearest galaxy, Andromeda, that’s a one-way trip of more than 2.537 million years (to an outside observer).
At times this book is almost dreamlike in its shocking ignorance of basic facts. Speeds and distances through the universe are one thing. But at one point late in the book there’s an explosion. Adolph, threatening to destroy the world if he’s not given control of it (I skipped a bit here, I know), uses a nuclear bomb of some variety (x-rays are mentioned a lot, and so are something called, quite hilariously, “Blue Rays”). He uses this bomb to destroy the Ural Mountains and the text states that the explosion is so large that pieces of the mountains fly up and hit the stars. This is not metaphor. This is not code language.
It was at this point that I began to suspect that this book was written by a precocious but completely unlearned child, perhaps of about six to eight years old. I was charmed at this thought but then I remembered all the horrible shit that is also in this book and it made me sad that no, it is unlikely that this book was written by an actual, factual child.
But who the hell was this author? There are enough things that the book actually got right, bits and pieces about how DNA works and what genes are, that I do think that the author was some kind of competent adult.
Scorpio gradually becomes the viewpoint character as he talks to the members of his species that sent him. Some, but not all, of this is relayed back to Jeff. The Scorpios are scared that humanity will eventually pose a threat to them, perhaps in as soon as a few hundred years. Humans are already conquering the Moon and Mars, after all. So the Scorpios sent Scorpio to keep an eye on them, even though it becomes abundantly clear that they have already made up their minds.
Meanwhile, back on Earth, Adolph is creating a clone army. He uses this clone army (hey, the teleporter comes back at this point) to wrest control of all the nukes in the world and demand that the UN appoint him as the leader of the world. They do so, at which point Scorpio shows up again, disables Adolph, and addresses the UN himself. He says that because of people like Adolph, he will have to destroy the Earth. The UN rep from the United States makes an impassioned speech about how humanity is trying to do better, how it will grow, and how there are things to be treasured about us. We’re not all bad, he says. It’s almost a good moment.
And then soldiers run into the room and kill Scorpio. The diplomats all celebrate and cheer that they’ve saved the Earth from this threat, except uh-oh, then the world explodes. Scorpio’s leaders then turn to another threat, “Galaxy/Nebulae Number Seven,” and contemplate how they will remove this threat, too. And that’s the book.
I am exhausted right now.
This is a book that was so incredibly, mind-bogglingly incompetent in every conceivable way that I could not put it down. I spent the entire thing curious about what completely bonkers thing I’d see next, and where it would go or whether it would mean anything or even be the same the next time it was mentioned.
There were so many typos, at least one on every page. Most of them were pretty mundane, but a few were funny. Adolph’s name got spelled wrong twice, and once Jeff was “Jefff.” There’s the whole thing about miles per second vs. miles per hour. There’s
“Spell it out, boy, spell it out!” commanded the elder Compton.
Adolph proceeded to ‘spell it out!: “I think it is possible to propagate people in much the same way we now propagte roses by taking the equivilant of cuttings!”pg 16
I have included a photo of this text, just in case you have trouble believing me. This page is pretty representative.
I’m kind of curious how much of the typos came from the author or were perhaps introduced in the publishing process? There’s probably a reason why I can’t find much information on Flagship Books.
Oh, and exclamation points! This book frikkin’ loves exclamation points! This, more than anything, made me feel like I was reading a comic book from the early 60s! This book might well have been written by Stan Lee! I’m not joking!
God, what else is there to say? Uh, the electricity emanating from Scorpio’s home planet is the cause of the Aurora Borealis? At one point all the clones fight each other over Virgo so Adolph disintegrates her? That Jeff is in love with the unfortunate Mildred and a small part of the plot involves him trying to bring her back to sanity, which he manages to do but of course doesn’t matter at all because humanity is utterly destroyed?
I promised myself that I’d find one positive thing to say about this book—something genuine and not backhanded “it was so bad it made me happy”—stuff. That’s…been difficult. The best I’ve come up with is that the book gets pretty philosophical about how Adolph isn’t really the problem here. He’s a product of his environment. The Scorpios destroy humanity because of its systemic problems that allow for people like Adolph to rise up and come to power. And this is a real thing to think about whenever you think of someone or something “evil.” On the flip side, the only humans represented in this book are in the United States and Russia. It’s pretty dickish of these aliens to base their entire view of humanity on such a small percentage of it. And the book might have saved itself a tiny bit if maybe the Scorpios didn’t use their infinite wisdom and power to blow up potential threats and instead helped shepherd them into being worthy of the galactic community, whatever that means in this context.
I’m grasping at straws. This book had exactly one thing going for it, and it was that it was funny how bad it was. So bad that I couldn’t put it down. So bad that I was excited to read it. In a way, that’s something special.
Why was this book written? More importantly, why was it published? Was it a vanity project? Did the author work for the publisher and just wanted to get some books out there for the money? Or did author genuinely think he had something worth saying and absolutely no ability for self-reflection? Was the publisher so desperate for content that they figured they’d make money on it? Was it some kind of tax thing? What happened here?
I don’t think I’ll ever stop wondering.