When I’m asked what supernatural power I would choose for myself, the ability to clone myself has always seemed very tempting. Let my clones do all those things I don’t enjoy . . . working out, public speaking, washing the car, etc. Whatever my intent, speculation about the benefits of this power always diverts very quickly into some very questionable moral ground.
Imitation by Heather Hildebrand, takes this selfish impulse and explores the implications of using clones in the larger society. When created by a super-secretive corporation, at the whims of megalomaniacal sociopaths, there are going to be serious moral issues.
Created for use by the super wealthy and powerful, Imitations are exact replicas of their Authentics and are sent out on “Assignments” which can include acting as a body double, being a source of organ replacement, and so on, infinity. They are referred to frequently as “products” and “equipment.” As the story progresses, we start to see all of the unscrupulous ways these products are being used (with a fair amount of mirroring of the themes found in Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse or with the human versions of Cylons in Battlestar Galactica).
Ven, our main character, believes she is a soulless being. “I’m not a person,” she states, “I was manufactured.” She accepts that she lives an existence that can be altered by others at any moment. I was very taken in by her struggle to accept herself as human, with her first experiences with basic enjoyments and her discovery of the world around her. Every facet of her personal journey is a paradox. Human versus product, unique versus replaceable, captive versus free, she finds her way to self-acceptance by taking responsibility for those around her first.
I immediately liked Linc Crawford, the love interest in the story. Strong, capable, and handsome, Linc embodies all that is good in society. He is immediately accepting of the revelation that Ven is an Imitation, rejecting her non-human status. He selflessly attaches himself to her quest for freedom. For all of these admiral qualities, however, it felt like their relationship was achieved too rapidly and with only the slightest amount of initial tension.
Titus Rogen, Ven’s creator and “father,” fulfills all of the evil, creepy requirements of the main bad guy. Literally with his hand on the button that could end her life, Titus exhibits no regard for anything but his own personal ambition. There is no doubt that he will take extreme measures when crossed.
(On a side note, where is Ven’s Authentic, Raven? She is discussed constantly, but we never get to actually meet her. She seems such a forceful character, I was eager for an encounter between her and Ven. Hopefully, Ms. Hildebrand intends this for a sequel.)
I was struck by the change in tone from the beginning scenes in Twig City, where the Imitations are created and housed, to the larger world as Ven goes out on her assignment. The Twig City setting was eerily claustrophobic and ominous. A maze-like, sterilized, uniformly institutional environment, it had an otherworldly, futuristic feel that was lost once we moved out into society at large.
Additionally, there were a number of plot issues that I couldn’t resolve. Expected to be able to fill in seamlessly for her Authentic, Ven launches into her assignment lacking many of the necessary skills. Ven’s Authentic is a socialite party girl in the vein of Paris Hilton, but Ven has had no experience in conversing with males (much less what to do when one wants to kiss her), has never consumed alcohol, and seems incapable of treating her subordinates with the aloofness required of her.
Of her first experience riding in an elevator, Ven concludes, “Watching someone ride an elevator isn’t the same as experiencing it.” I couldn’t agree more. The bulk of Ven’s “training” seems to have accomplished through watching videos of her Authentic with little real-life exposure to basic functions. She has not even seen the sun before being swept out into the real world for a do-or-die assignment. On the flip side, she is at one point able to steal a motorcycle and maneuver it around busy city streets after watching someone drive it a couple of times. An exciting scene, but I just wasn’t able to buy into it.
Imitation ends quickly without any substantive climax or resolution to the immediate story. I was looking for a few more chapters of conflict or some shocking cliffhanger that never came. The likeability of the heroine will likely pull me into the sequel, but I’m hoping for tighter plot construction and a more climactic story arc when I get there.