Martine is a genetically cloned replica made from Evelyn Caldwell’s award-winning research. She’s patient and gentle and obedient. She’s everything Evelyn swore she’d never be. And she’s having an affair with Evelyn’s husband.
Now, the cheating bastard is dead, and the Caldwell wives have a mess to clean up. Good thing Evelyn Caldwell is used to getting her hands dirty.
Cloning is an oft-approach sci-fi concept, each version complete with it authors’ own flavor. It is also a concept that has evolved over the years as technology and society have changed. In The Echo Wife, Sarah Gailey’s unique take on cloning has combined with their pointed writing style to create a story that is both thought-provoking and cautionary.
The Echo Wife is an extremely character-driven story (which I am not sure I have ever said about a story with so few characters). It is told from Evelyn’s perspective as scientist and spurned ex-wife. I point out those two sides of her personality, because that is one of the most compelling parts of the narrative: watching Evelyn vacillate between the award-winning and analytic scientist and bitter jilted lover, with lots of room for gray as the two sides tend to overlap when the lines start to blur. The co-star of the book is Martine, Evelyn’s clone created by her ex-husband, Nathan, to be the adoring, obedient, physically flawless version of a wife he always dreamed of. Martine, too, has a bit of conflict in her mind as she spends much of the book trying to keep up the perfect wife facade she was made to be, while at the same time finding herself. This, of course, comes with all the baggage one might predict. The situation escalates when Nathan is found dead, and now both women are forced into highly disastrous circumstances. They are left trying to figure how to handle the situation and deal with the forthcoming drama. I am not going to get into the plot any further because there are many surprises along the way, and I do not wish to ruin it for you. Just know it is incredibly entertaining.
I also found The Echo Wife to be quite thematic, as books of this nature tend to be. There is the usual not-so-subtle warning about the too fast progression of unchecked technology and the consequences we may reap because of it. The most pronounced theme in the book, though, is agency – whether or not created beings should have the right to make their own choices. This is a topic I have seen broached in many sci-fi stories as it relates to sentient AI, but clones are different. Clones are not created of metal and wire; they are grown from biological cells that mimic our own. They grow, need sustenance to survive and have feelings. Should we be able to create humans and condition them to obey? And what happens when they don’t? There are a ton of moral and ethical issues at play, and, personally, I enjoy books that make me think about these subjects.
The Echo Wife is a sharply-written, thought-provoking science fiction novel with a narrative that is striking and ominous at times. There are plenty of surprises in the book, as well, that keep the intrigue going all the way through. I recommend it for fans of sci-fi (non-space variety).