While it’s debatable whether there are any new stories left to be told, I think that discovering fresh ideas or interesting twists within familiar stories is part of what makes reading so enjoyable. Aldous Huxley certainly didn’t create the Dystopian genre with Brave New World, nor did Lois Lowry with The Giver, and neither did Kazuo Ishiguro with Never Let Me Go, but each of those authors brings a unique sensibility and message to their novel(s) within the genre. And those works, along with a plethora of others, were an obvious influence on Adrianne Finlay’s debut novel, Your One & Only (2018).
In the year 2407, humans are extinct and have been replaced by Homo factus, a lab-developed “Made Man” species which decants ten new artificial semi-clones of each of the nine scientists who originally founded the settlement of Vispera, located in what used to be Costa Rica. The scientists were trying to fight the Slow Plague killing off their friends and countrymen, and thought that tinkering with human DNA was the answer. But they couldn’t save humanity, and now subsequent generations of their clone-experiments have spent centuries further tinkering with their own genetic codes, smoothing out problems and enhancing certain traits in a never-ending effort toward perfection.
Althea-310 is one of those clones, marked as different from her nine sisters by a scar on her wrist where a new hand had to be attached after decanting. The Altheas are always studious and well-suited for record-keeping, the Carsons are brilliant engineers, the Hassans are great with science, etc. They look identical to their clone-groups, act identically, and even feel one another’s emotions thanks to some neural enhancements at some point in the past. Their Edenic world is interrupted by the introduction of a newcomer, Jack, who isn’t cloned from any of the Original Nine — he’s a human, with asthma and body hair, and a heaping helping of issues brought on by living in near-total isolation for seventeen years.
So star-crossed lovers do what star-crossed lovers always do, and even though Jack is emotionally distant and prone to violent mood swings, he’s only one of two age-appropriate young men who have an opportunity to force themselves physically on Althea and doesn’t, and he’s the new guy, meaning that he’s automatically her love interest. Althea has no personality beyond a mild tendency to ask questions about the pillars supporting Vispera’s status quo, but that’s enough to earn the condemnation of the adults-only Council, and it’s just enough impetus to move Your One & Only’s plot along the rails from Point A to B to the inevitable, unsurprising Point Z.
Vispera feels oddly empty; there are ninety new citizens uncorked every ten years, each of them living to a respectable age unless circumstances intervene, and yet the colony/compound only seems as though it contains a few dozen people at a time because Althea and Jack are so insular, caught up more in their own minds than the world around them. Althea’s obsession with Jack separates her from her sisters, who reject her, so she clings harder to him. Jack doesn’t know how to interact with people, but Althea is kind to him, so he clings even harder to her. It’s an unhealthy cycle of possessiveness and jealousy, especially since Althea is expected to engage in sexual pairings with the male clones in her age group on a regular basis, and Jack is the subject of sexual fascination among some of the other female clone-groups.
Another issue I had was that even though the whole of global society is supposed to have collapsed hundreds of years prior, no one in Vispera wants for anything material. Whether it’s food, elaborate fabrics covered in pearls and gold thread, raw materials for scientific study and experimentation: all are in abundance, often with no obvious source, and Vispera is mostly-enclosed by a dense, dangerous jungle. I understand that cabins would be easy enough to build, and food can be grown and harvested by machines, but what about microscopes and petri dishes, or the engines which drive the machines, or even the basics like copper wire? If you’ve spent any time in a lab, you know that microscope slides are made of very thin glass, and are ridiculously easy to break. I can think of my own explanations for the sources of these items, but Finlay presents this surfeit of riches as though they grow out of the ground or are indestructible and therefore never need to be replaced.
It’s obvious that Your One & Only is supposed to be more about the insurmountable, unstoppable power of love, and the ways in which it can break down social barriers and institutions, than about the machinations of how this clone-centric world operates at the ground level. If Finlay had done something more interesting with her characters, prose, or premise to make her debut stand out from the herd, then I’d have been willing to let some of the gaps in world-building slide in the interest of enjoying other aspects of the novel.
I suppose Your One & Only could be suggested for readers who are too mature for The Giver and too immature for A Brave New World, though there are plenty of other books on the market that would fit that same description and are more rewarding. As is, this novel made very little impression on me, and I won’t be recommending it.