The Echo Wife is a sci-fi domestic thriller about a scientist whose husband has been using her research to betray her. Evelyn thought she had finally arrived in life: a successful body of work after discovering “duplicative cloning”, a husband that she loves, and a lab assistant she trusts.
All of this comes to a halt when she discovers that Nathan, her husband, has stolen her findings to create a “perfect” and more compliant version of herself, and has replaced his wife with her clone, who he has named “Martine”. When Nathan suddenly dies Evelyn and Martine are forced to work together, driving the plot of the book.
What I liked:
The ethical implications of cloning and what it means for human identity is fascinating. What makes us human? What is the difference between a clump of cells and a human being? Is humanity determined by experience, DNA or something else? The Echo Wife certainly starts to ask these questions, though it doesn’t particularly offer up any solid answers, and in some ways leaving this up to the reader makes the book all the stronger.
The concept of the book is fascinating, and the reason I picked up the book in the first place. Science fiction and thrillers have always gone together, but the domestic thriller is a genre that has seen a boom recently and is particularly suited to science fiction. The implications of science are often linked to emotions in real life — it makes perfect sense to mirror that in fiction.
The protagonist is believably flawed. Evelyn is a women with few friends — and it isn’t hard to see why. She is passionate and devoted to her work — admirable qualities that come at the cost of coming off as callous and dismissive. Even though the book is in first person, it isn’t flattering to Evelyn.
The pacing is good. The book is short, and it doesn’t ever seem to drag. I listened to it on a faster speed as it was easy to follow.
What I didn’t like:
As someone who has watched a lot of Doctor Who and read a decent amount of science fiction, I was hoping that The Echo Wife would bring something new to the table by combining the cloning plotline with the relationship thriller, and it disappoints in this regard. While it does offer up those really good questions about what cloning means for human identity, it doesn’t offer up any particularly unique questions. I find The Almost People/The Rebel Flesh episodes of Doctor Who in particular to be good examples of this concept being explored.
I also found it to be very cliché and predictable in terms of phycological thrillers — it’s not a genre that I often read and yet I could predict almost every plot point in this “terrible husband with a flawed wife gets what’s coming to him” story. An intriguing story, but I didn’t find this to be a particularly compelling version of it.
The science part of this science fiction is also a little confusing. It tries to sound like it’s coming from the “hard” side of science fiction, using real scientific concepts. However, the execution of said concepts is very much on the “soft” side of science fiction, with things coming along much easier than they would in a real life scientific setting. For example: Evelyn manages to create multiple complete humans with a very small team fairly early on in her career. Even if this was possible it would require a massive number of people to devote decades of their lives.
Not the worst science fiction writing that I’ve ever read, but there’s nothing groundbreaking or mind blowing here. Worth a look — but only if someone else checked out the Sixth Season of Doctor Who and you can’t get the DVDs.
I listened to this in audiobook form via the Digital Library of Illinois. Xe Sands is the narrator, and she did an excellent job. 4.5 stars for the narration.