The Original — Book Review
An ideal-dystopian science-fiction novella mystery written by Brandon Sanderson and Mary Robinette Kowal.
Published a few months ago in 2020, I originally read this story due to my interest in the science-fiction genre as well as the fact it was written by Brandon Sanderson and I knew of Mary Robinette Kowal. I ‘read’ this via an audiobook by Mainframe and it was a magnificent adaptation, especially with the soundtrack in the background which alternated depending on the intensity of scene. It was voiced by the talented Julia Whelan and her performance immersed me into the story. This following article discuss the initial story, the world-building and the three central characters before heading off to the critique.
This review does NOT contain significant spoilers.
The story begins with the central character waking up from a medical facility of sorts. She has a memory loss and is wondering where her husband is. She has also learnt that she now possess some superhuman ability (nothing over the top), such as combat skills and instincts. Realisation hits her. She remembers that her new abilities combined with the memory loss is reminiscent of the production of a clone. She puts two and two together and realises she is in fact a copy of her original self. This means something must have happened.
Her doctor wakes up and tells her the truth. Her husband was murdered by her original self for no discernible reason. As far as her memory goes, she loves her husband very much. They had a really good life and so there is no possible reason for her original to kill her long-life partner. In a brutal manner. They share the same memories and so the copy can feel the love of their husband. Her objective is simple: Kill the murderer and take her place in society.
The rest of the story is the clone tracking her murderous original. Due to the sharing of the memories, she has the best chance succeeding in this goal and finally terminating her.
The story takes place in a futuristic society, where all of the demands of mankind are met, at least in this represented country. It is a very white society (in terms of architecture) where robots do all of the domestic and some public duties, such as cleaning the house and clearing the pavement. This could imply they have taken over a good portion of the labour force. This society also has a system where a copied version of the original can be created after the person in question passes away. Some people, like the Southern Baptists, are against this sort of practice as they believed the soul is sacred and therefore they opt out of this practice. For them, death is permanent.
There is also a discussion revolving around privacy. One would expect a total surveillance of a future and a technologically-advanced society, especially with it reflecting the current trend where governmental institutions gain more and more authority to monitor their population without their explicit knowledge. In this book, however, the reach of the authority is limited and privacy is largely respected, at least at first glance. Surveillance is present in the public spaces, but not so much in privately-owned infrastructure.
At the same time, there are persistent undertones of struggle and conflict, much like modern day humanity. No matter how much society advances, some things never change. Some countries, like North Korea, offer a more ‘free’ society in comparison to an ever increasing robot-dependent nations.
There are three main characters to this story. Each of them were compelling in their own way and I always looked forward for their interactions:
- Holly — She is the central character. The copied version wakes up from a medical facility only to discover that her loving husband has been viciously murdered. Her driving force behind the investigation is to track down and kill her original.
- Skyler — He is the doctor who is present during the recovery of the copy. He provides Holly with all of the necessities and explains to her the abilities she now possesses, the story about her husband and provides logistical support throughout the journey. He is also obsessed with pamphlets.
- Jonathan — The husband of Holly of which the story revolves around. He was a neuroscientist and really loved his wife and she really loved him. They regularly travelled together and severely enjoyed each other’s company. The love was real, very real. Yet, the original murdered him. The question is: Why?
- The main character is a clone called Holly.
- Its story revolves around the death of her husband, named Jonathan.
- The cloned Holly is tracked down to kill the original Holly for killing Jonathan.
- Holly wants to know the motivation behind the murder of her loving husband.
- A science-fiction environment forms the backdrop of the story.
- There are also discussions between privacy and governmental intrusions.
This was a really good read. I did not have any significant criticism which I can point out, aside from the outcome of the ending. I love the plot twists behind the story and the journey of Holly, but I really wish that the very-very ending was slightly different.
This book was deep in some levels which felt quite philosophical. There are aspects of the book which keep you thinking and feel compelled to discuss further. At the same time, there was a general detective approach alongside mixtures of action and thriller being adequately sprinkled throughout the road.
I ‘read’ this from an audiobook and I loved the dramatic effects and the voice actress (Julia Whelan) behind the book. It really engaged me into the story and it allowed me to easily drop into the world of Brandon Sanderson and Mary Robinette Kowal to produce a feeling of being chased and invested into discovering what actually happens next. This allowed me to witness the entire the journey of Holly within 2 sittings.
This is a book I would definitely read again at some point. I hope for many more Brandon Sanderson — Mary Robinette Kowal collaborations!
Overall, a great experience. This is definitely one of my favourites out there. I think maybe William Gibson’s Neuromancer might have topped this, but the plot of that book was too convoluted for me to become properly engaged and understand what was happening around me. At least The Original had great science-fiction concepts and was far more easier to understand.
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