In Australian YA author Jack Heath’s latest thriller, lesbian teen Chloe wakes up to discover that she’s not human — she’s a replica.
By Jack Heath
I am someone who learns by replication.
At about age 14, I taught myself to play the piano by listening to Charlie No. 3 by The Whitlams on a loop. Once I knew exactly how it was supposed to sound, I started prodding the keys one by one until I heard the note which matched the noise in my head. (If this sounds dull, note that Facebook didn’t exist at the time.) When I found it, I started looking for the rest of the chord. After that, I could move on to the next bar.
Once I had a few tunes down pat, I knew how they worked. I was able to mix and match — this melody with that chord, this chord with that bass line. Pretty soon I was composing songs of my own, but I should confess that they were not good. One particularly sanctimonious number rhymed Buy and sell the latest drug with Let her have the grave she’s dug.
I learned to write fiction in the same way. My first few stories were duplications of Escape From Jupiter episodes. Later I started borrowing characters and settings and plots from various sources to create something more original. Or perhaps “original” is the wrong word; my first published book was little more than the protagonist from Final Fantasy VIII dropped into the world of Alien and forced to follow the plot of Metal Gear Solid. Yet at the time it was often described as just a rip-off of Maximum Ride.
Perhaps this is how everyone learns. Tara Moss’ childhood writings were mostly Stephen King rip-offs. A great number of popular novels — The Dark Griffin, 50 Shades Of Grey — started out as fan fiction. I assume this is not unique to writers. If one attends a sculpture class, the first assignment is probably to duplicate the Venus de Milo. (Or perhaps a shoebox, or a beach ball. Either way, the students would be copying something.)
Nor does it apply only to artistic endeavors. My brother-in-law is seeking to better understand robots by building one. The Raspberry Pi foundation provides low-cost processors so children can assemble their own computers and grow up with an appreciation of how they work. And when my wife and I were deciding whether or not to have a child, I had the selfish thought that perhaps the best way to understand human beings would be to create one.
If replication brings understanding, many human endeavors could be interpreted as attempts to understand ourselves. Computer scientists are obsessed with the race to write a program which can be mistaken for human in conversation, and as such pass what’s called the Turing test. As soon as Dolly the sheep was born, human cloning was all anyone wanted to discuss.
In my new book, Replica, a teenager builds a mechanical duplicate of herself out of parts ordered over the internet. When she is murdered, the duplicate is forced to assume her identity in order to avoid ending up in a police evidence locker.
The hard part, I thought, would be to convince the reader that someone would actually go down to the basement and try to make a copy of themselves. But I was wrong. The more I wrote, the more plausible it seemed. The drive to recreate oneself — not so much for immortality, but for understanding — is almost universal.
And this helped me realise why I fell in love with writing in the first place. With every character I create, I learn something about myself — both from the similarities and the differences.
It may seem absurdly meta that I replicated Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? by writing a novel called Replica in which a girl replicates herself, and that writing it taught me that writing was a process of self-replication. But it was much more fun than poking a piano key, listening, dismissing, and poking again.
Jack Heath started writing his first novel in high school. It was published when he was 19. Since then, he has written several award-nominated books for teenagers, which are published all over the world. Jack is a regular guest on various Australian television programmes and his YouTube channel has had more than 30,000 views. He lives in Canberra with his wife.