I've mentioned Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go in a previous article, and considering the movie adaption just came out, now seems like a good time to discuss it at length. I care a lot about this book. Not only because it's excellent, but because I wrote a paper on it that won an award and earned me a great deal of respect from my professors at John Jay. When I heard there was an adaptation coming, I cringed, and I'll post my thoughts about the film soon, but for now we're focusing on the original material.
The great concern of contemporary science fiction has been the idea of genetic engineering--the creation of the Tomorrow Man, the Ubermensch, Brock Samson, whatever you want to call him. Hitler was obsessed with the idea, writers have been obsessed with it from Gene Roddenberry to Chris Carter to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster to Alan Moore. Attached to this idea/fear, in more recent years, is the advent (theory really) of cloning. The debate from both sides of the cloning "controversy" can be read in Clones and Clones: Facts and Fantasies About Human Cloning. Never Let Me Go not only contains fears about cloning, but also details what these clones can be used for: harvesting organs.
The world Never Lets Me Go exists in is a dystopian one, but whereas other dystopias in fiction like 1984 or The Handmaid's Tale or even the sci-fi dystopias like Blade Runner or Gattaca, where the creators are trying to draw a parallel, create a metaphor or make a statement about the world we live in, the dystopia in Never Let Me Go is the most banal one you can find. Ishiguro might have married the concepts in Clones and Clones with Black Markets: The Supply and Demand of Body Parts but it only is a backdrop, an incidental that is sometimes distracting within the greater theme and ambition of the story, which is learning to cope with mistakes and the realization that you've wasted your time. The characters of Kathy and Tommy are Proustian in their desires to want to gain much of what was lost, to have enough time to plumb the depths of feelings and experiences they didn't have in the past, only to see that they have always been too late. It's an unrequited love story. With clones.
The world of Never Let Me Go finds the world after WW2 making many scientific advancements--notably in cloning. They use the clones to replace organs for sick people. Normal people have an average life span of well over one hundred years by the time we come to the present of the story. An average clone will die at thirty (Logan's Run?). For a time there was a form of civil rights movement that scientists ran to try to give these clones more humane treatment (but not to stop the process of donations--a reality they learned to live with) and it was popular for a while until Dr. Morningdale tried to raise an army of genetically engineered clones led by Ricardo Montalbán. But, as I said, that's not the real point of the story, it's about three clones: Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth.
Never Let Me Go: 4 out of 5.