Where does DNA end and the soul begin?
It’s a question that Evelyn Caldwell, the brilliant genetic researcher at the center of Sarah Gailey’s The Echo Wife, never asks as she develops her award-winning technique for human cloning, which takes DNA from “sample to sentience” in 100 days.
In The Echo Wife, clones are tools, created for specific time-limited purposes—to serve as a body double to draw fire from potential assassins, for example, or to provide donor organs. The question of a soul never enters into it. “Clones aren’t people. …They’re specimens,” Evelyn explains. “They’re temporary, and when they stop being useful, they become biomedical waste. They are disposable.”
Evelyn’s attitudes evolve when her ex-husband, Nathan, secretly uses the Caldwell Method to create Martine—a new wife scaffolded from Evelyn’s DNA but modified to be more docile and easy going. Because of Martine’s compliant nature (and complete reliance on Nathan for her knowledge of the world), Martine is eager to provide Nathan with the child Evelyn never wanted.
Evelyn is horrified by Martine’s existence—not only because Nathan stole her DNA to build a twin who lacks what Nathan calls Evelyn’s “needless venom,” but because Martine’s pregnancy should be impossible (clones are usually sterile) and threatens the future of the Caldwell Method.
Clones’ “inability to produce children is something that Evelyn uses to help maintain a sense of them being inhuman,” Gailey says. “So Martine’s pregnancy … poses a huge threat to all of Evelyn’s work.”
The pregnancy also poses a threat to Evelyn’s sense of self as she and Martine join forces to deal with multiple crises—murder and betrayal foremost among them—in addition to the pregnancy and Evelyn’s unexamined childhood traumas that contributed to her becoming a brilliant and fierce maverick.
Gailey’s debut novella, River of Teeth, was a Hugo and Nebula award finalist. In 2018, they won the Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer. They are the author of seven novels.