Identity Crisis

Replica by Jenna Black

Written by Jenna Black

In the world of Replica, it is possible for the very rich and very privileged to make what amounts to backup copies of themselves. Periodically, they have scans made of their bodies, and if they should ever die of preventable causes, a Replica can be made based on those scans. That Replica will have all the original person’s thoughts and memories up until the time that the backup was made, and is in all other ways identical to the original.

One of the things that intrigues me most about this premise is the question of identity. One of the protagonists of the series, Nate Hayes, is murdered in the opening , and it is left to his Replica to try to solve the mystery of who killed him. So who, exactly, is Nate’s Replica? If he is identical to the original Nate in every way except for a few missing memories, does that mean he actually is Nate? According to the legal system in my story, yes, he is the real Nate Hayes; but is that how people would see him? Is that how he would see himself? After all, he feels identical to the original, even though he knows he’s a Replica.

I expect the answers to these questions will be very different for different individuals, but I tried to imagine how I would feel if, after one of my loved ones had died, a person appeared who looked and acted exactly like them and had their memories. My conclusion was that for me, at least, it would be very hard not to be completely taken in by the illusion. If, for example, I were faced with a Replica of my father, I suspect that although the relationship would be weird and awkward at first, eventually I would begin treating him and thinking about him as if he really were my father. Which then made me wonder: would I still grieve for the death of my real father?

There is something very appealing and tempting about the idea of being able to make backup copies, about not having the specter of loss always hovering over us. But it’s a disturbing idea, too. Just because I wouldn’t suffer the loss of my father wouldn’t mean that my father hadn’t died. Would the man who died not deserve to be mourned? How would I feel about the prospect of my loved ones having an identical copy of me available if I died? Obviously, I’d want my loved ones to be happy and to spare them any hurt I could, but there’s also something uncomfortably dehumanizing about the idea. Who am I, as an individual, if I can be copied and replaced so easily?

I won’t pretend I came up with any answers for these questions during the writing of Replica. I thought about them a lot, and came up with hypothetical answers from the points of view of my various characters, but most of them still struggle with some amount of confusion and mixed feelings.

Asking “what if” questions of this sort is one of my favorite things about writing science fiction and fantasy. And for me, it isn’t the actual answering of the questions that is fun, it’s the posing of them and the thinking about them in the first place.


From the Tor/Forge July 22nd newsletter. Sign up to receive our newsletter via email.


More from the July 22nd Tor/Forge newsletter: