The Cloning of Joanna May by Franklin Birkinshaw

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(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Weldon creates a world fraught with unusual elements that illustrate the conflicts between men and women. Weldon has written more than a dozen novels, and her focus and skill are well honed. Like her earlier novels Puffball (1980) and The Life and Loves of a She-Devil (1984), The Cloning of Joanna May makes use of unearthly and unlikely devices to advance the plot. Her narrative is stylized rather than realistic.

Although Weldon employs scientific elements of cloning and nuclear power in the story, the novel is perhaps more fantasy than science fiction. The “real world,” however mundane, is affected by supernatural forces that form a backdrop for Joanna’s discovery. The ill wind that appears in the opening chapter creates a spirit of unrest that foreshadows later events.

In addition, hints of Egyptian curses and tarot cards become part of the plot. Joanna’s unfortunate affair with an Egyptologist brings disaster: Carl discovers the truth, divorces Joanna, and murders the lover. Before he dies, the Egyptologist tells Joanna’s fortune in tarot cards, cryptically identifying her clones. Joanna’s card is the Empress, and the surrounding queens dealt from the deck—the four suits of Wands, Pentacles, Swords, and Cups—are designations for Jane, Julie, Gina, and Alice.

The evils of science and technology are portrayed through Carl May’s character and through his assistant, Dr. Holly. Their use of cloning and nuclear power seem driven by dangerous, selfish motives rather than by a desire to improve the lot of humankind. Ironically, Carl’s own technology turns against him.

Weldon’s story is a modern account of a woman’s search for identity that explores the question of nature versus nurture. Each of...

(The entire section is 426 words.)