Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Matthew FitzSimmons has broken through on the literary scene with the Gibson Vaughn series not long ago, and has recently begun a new one, with the first entry simply titled Constance. It follows the story of a woman’s clone who tries to unravel the mystery behind her lost memories while also investigating the murder of her original self. In her search for the truth though, she becomes marked for death all over again.
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Matthew FitzSimmons Gives Purpose to a Lost Soul
Human cloning is a topic which was dear to many in the early 2000s when stories about Dolly the sheep were running in practically every newspaper on Earth. However, for one reason or another, it has slowly made its way outside the collective field of vision, despite us moving closer and closer to it with every year. Matthew FitzSimmons is evidently one of the few who remained fascinated by the subject, making it central to his novel Constance.
The science-fiction novel opens by taking us to the near future of 2038, a somewhat dystopian time where human cloning is not only possible, but commercialized as a way of achieving immortality. Naturally, a resistance movement is rising up against the practice, with “anticloning” militants using increasingly extreme methods to get their point across.
We are introduced to the eponymous character of Constance, leading a solitary existence as a remote worker after suffering a tragic accident which killed many members of her formerly-popular band. One day, her loneliness is intruded upon by her aunt Abigail. A scientist of the highest order in her field, she was responsible for the development of a cloning facility, and decided to make a gift to each of her family members.
The procedure requires routine monthly mind-uploads for the new clone, and during one such procedure she discovers her aunt apparently committed suicide and cannot be cloned due to a rare medical condition. Something goes wrong during the process, and Constance wakes up eighteen months later to learn something quite disturbing: her original self has been murdered.
With nothing but a few memories to guide her along the way, Constance begins to reconstruct the trail walked by her former self, attempting to piece together the mystery of her own murder. Her search for the truth leads her to increasingly disturbing revelations and ensures she becomes marked for death once again, a repetition of fate she’s quite keen on avoiding.
A Treatise on Cloning in Constance
I remember how approximately fifteen to twenty years ago the topic of human cloning became so prominent it even infiltrated popular culture, prompting the release of numerous movies and novels revolving around it. I’m extremely glad there are still people like Matthew FitzSimmons who are still as interested in the idea as I am, something he happily demonstrates on more than one occasion.
Rather than stopping himself at the obvious surface-level repercussions of having clones, the author dives about as deep as he can, exploring the societal, ethical, legal and the psychological repercussions of having access to this sort of technology. He has obviously taken a lot of time to think about the topic, and it’s apparent in his overall approach to delivering his thoughts to us.
Is it an affront to nature and religion?
Is it a violation of basic human rights to create a living copy without consent?
How does one define immortality, and does cloning truly help to achieve it?
How will its existence and commercialization split societies?
Many of the questions in Constance run deep, and FitzSimmons does his best to give us his own nuanced answers.
He never seeks to beat us over the head with any of his convictions, but rather tries to explore it all from as neutral a perspective as possible, doing his best to find both the pros and the cons to the science of cloning. In other words, he actively pushes us to think for ourselves and come up with our own conclusions, regardless of whether or not they agree with his.
I’d be dishonest if I said the author’s meditations have no impact on the pacing of the story, because on numerous occasions they do slow down its overall progress. Personally-speaking, I don’t mind it at all since the matters discussed by the author do warrant careful deliberation, but I can see how the people who are only interested in the plot would see it as a drawback. With this being said, FitzSimmons also often finds ways to integrate these moments into the story, so they don’t always act as roadblocks.
Investigating One’s Own Murder
If there’s another boon to centering one’s novel around cloning, it’s how it opens the possibility of having characters investigating their own deaths, without involving ghosts or any other paranormal elements. While the author does spend a good amount of time discussing the various aspects of copying humans, he never loses focus of the plot and the need to keep on advancing it.
If you’re used to reading thrillers and police procedurals, you’ll probably note the investigation in this novel to be moving somewhat slower than you’re used to, but in my opinion it is no less engaging than what you’ll find in those genres.
Taking the actual mystery aside for a moment, Matthew FitzSimmons shows himself quite able to build suspense where necessary, introducing elements of danger which legitimately keep us guessing, and sometimes even worried about the characters’ fates. While I wouldn’t say the novel is filled with such moments, their strategic placement does maximize their impact.
Looking at the investigation itself, the trail of clues followed by Constance is expertly laid to keep us speculating about the next twist as well as the identity of the culprit(s). Watching her unravel the long and complex thread with nothing but a few clues and the power of logical thinking at her disposal is riveting in its own right, even if it does happen at a more deliberate pace sometimes.
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As a main character, Constance is much more interesting than your average protagonist, with the very nature of her existence being difficult to define. She looks inwards on more than one occasion, clutching and grasping for the meaning of her life and her right to walk the Earth like everyone else. She grows and develops over the course of the whole affair, and ultimately her characterization made me care about her during the more dangerous and exciting moments of the investigation.
The Final Verdict
Constance by Matthew FitzSimmons might move a tad slowly at times, but in my opinion it’s one of the more original and absorbing stories I’ve had the pleasure of reading recently, mixing profound thoughts on a complex topic with a tantalizing and unique murder mystery.
If you’re in search of a thought-provoking dystopian science-fiction thriller and are interested in the idea of human cloning, then I believe this novel is an obvious choice for your next read.
Matthew FitzSimmons is an American author who grew up in London during the 1970s and earned a B.A. in Psychology from Swarthmore College. Now living back in the United States, he has published various acclaimed novels, including The Short Drop and The Poison Feather from the Gibson Vaughn series, as well as Constance and Chance from the Constance series.