The House of the Scorpion

Matt, a child clone of an artificially ancient rich drug baron, has to come to terms with the way the world sees him as he grows up and discovers the truth behind his way of life. In that world, clones are grown to provide spare organs for the very rich to live a very long life; menial workers are chemically treated to make them "eejits", capable only of following simple orders with no thought of their own; and the drug barons rule the world.

No great surprises in the vocabulary, construction or characterisation. A few of the characters have more depth than you initially give them credit for, but most are playing out their expected role. The single biggest issue in a book which rings warning bells about the possibilities of the near future. In Matt's world, rich people have clones birthed in cows, given an injection at birth which leaves them mindless and fit only for their intended purpose: to be a spare parts factory for their rich originals who want to live artifically long. Because of the enormous influence of his drug lord original, Matt is not injected, but is kept in secret. Since clones who survive are treated by civil and religious authorities as non-humans, Matt faces a hard time when he is discovered.

In the meantime, the whole of Central America has been turned into a vast drug manufacturing plant, supplying the rest of the Americas, which are in a state of urban decay. In an unspecified way, the religious authorities have classed clones as non-human, paving the way for the civil authorities to treat them as animals, usually using them for spare parts of experimentation. Maria, at a Catholic school, thinks that clones, and Matt in particular, do have a soul, but tied loosely to studies of Saint Francis (of Assisi) who "preached to animals because they had little souls that could grow into big ones. With work, even a sparrow or a cicada could make it into heaven." This a deep subject, and while the book treats it with a certain respect, some care is definitely needed. In addition, there is a priest who approves an eejit choir and eejit bridesmaids, but who frowns upon Matt as a soulless animal. Maria says that she has to do penance at her convent school for talking too much, and for sunbathing naked on the roof, but also that she wants to go into the town to work like St Francis did with the destitute, but that the nuns do not approve.

Overall, there are some ugly pictures in this book, but the effect is one of warning and disapproval.

Tim Golden is a computer programmer in London. He is also the editor of the Good-to-Read website.


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