I recently read Kazuo Ishiguro's novel Never Let Me Go. Ishiguro is a literary darling best known for the wonderful novel Remains of the Day, made into a movie starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. Never Let Me Go is an SF novel by a non-SF writer, and as such is highly instructive.
The book is about cloning people to become organ-donation sources for other people. When SF authors write on either organ donation or cloning (Niven and Varley come to mind), there is much action: black markets, attempts to escape, violence, deceit, outrage. Ishiguro's novel is nothing like that. For the entire first two-thirds of the book, the cloned children are growing up at a secluded boarding school in rural England. They know they are clones and eventual sources of organ donation, and -- like children everywhere -- accept what they are told. Two hundred pages are thus taken up with what genuinely interests kids: who is friends with whom; who has the coolest music CD; how to torment Tommy, the class scapegoat; which girls betray each other's "secrets;" which teachers favor which students.
Even when the kids leave school and become either "donors" or "carers" (nurses for the donors for a few years, before becoming donors themselves), there is no attempt to flee the country, acquire false IDs and blend in with the general populace, kill their "captors." There are no "captors." Excluding one desperate and pathetic attempt to persuade authority that young couples "in love" should get to postpone donation for a few years, the clones accept their fate. As Ruth says:
"I think I was a pretty decent carer. But five years felt about enough for me. I was like you, Tommy. I was pretty much ready when I became a donor. It felt right. After all, it's what we're supposed to be doing, isn't it?"
This passivity in the face of their fate makes the novel chilling. By the end, however, it also made it seem a bit false to me. After all, this system has been going on for thirty years now. Hundreds of donors have "completed" (died). Yet NONE of the rest ever really protest, organize, escape the country, or even fight back in small ways. These donors know that they are human, that they are basically like other people. Their access to literature and libraries is in no way restricted, nor is their freedom to move around the country (the adults have cars). The time is the "late 1990's," yet there are no computers ever mentioned, which also felt false to me. In any inhumane system, there are always some rebels, and eventually they organize. Spartacus managed it in a much-longer-entrenched system of slavery, and he didn't even have the Internet. Where in this book are the equivalent of partisan guerrillas, Abolitionists, or even the SPCA? Would England really go that quietly into this high-tech barbarism? Ultimately, despite Ishiguro's wonderful characterizations, I just didn't believe it.
On the other hand, the high drama that accompanies cloning and organ donation in most SF also feels unrealistic to me. Even among the most brutally exploited, there would be some Ruths and Tommys, because history shows us that there always are. So I end up dissatisfied with both extremes, wondering where the realistic center lies and what it would look like. I don't know. But I wish I knew of a cloning-for-organ-donation novel that hit that realistic center.