Trinity by Nancy Kress


It’s worth noting that this is the very first story I’ve read for this series that was written by a woman. In the previous volumes I read, there were no stories by women at all, perhaps unsurprisingly. Equally unsurprisingly, women are better represented in this volume providing seven of the 36 stories.

It’s a topic that needs addressing. There’s no doubt that the history of science fiction is dominated by white, heterosexual men and fandom is currently wrestling with issues of of inclusiveness. However, it seems somehow counterproductive to use the first appearance by a woman writer to deploy a shallow analysis of genre gender politics intended to establish my own right-on credentials. Instead, let’s extend this story the same courtesy as we have all the others so far, and focus on the text.

Superficially, Trinity reminded me a little of William F Temple’s 4-Sided Triangle. That also dealt with the tangled matter of love and sex when natural methods of reproduction are superseded by technology. Where do we draw the lines of kinship with a clone? Is it incest to sleep with a clone of your sibling, or even a clone of yourself?

“Seena?” Keith said. He covered my hand, laid upon his thigh, with his own hand, and turned his head to look at me questioningly. I leaned forward and touched my lips to his, barely in contact, for a long moment. He drew back, and his head tried to lift min. I tightened my fingers.

“Seena, no…”

“Why not?” I put my mouth back on his, very lightly. He had to draw back to answer, and I could feel that he did not want to draw back. Under my lips he frowned slightly; still, despite his drunkenness – so much more than mine – he groped for the word.


“No. We two have never shared a womb.”

He frowned again under my mouth.

So he should! I think most of us would baulk at a highly technical definition of incest like that one. Keith is the clone of Seena’s sister, Devrie and their tangled relationship forms the back drop for a very dramatic story of love and sex, and intimate family betrayals between two sisters and their clone brother. It makes for a compelling story with some weighty ideas under the spot light.

However, there’s another big theme sitting along side all this, and it’s another old favourite of the golden age: the place of God in a technological universe. Attentive readers will recall how I think that this is one of the big themes of classic science ficiton. It’s alive and well here.

“What good is living and breathing, existing, if there’s no purpose to it? Don’t you realise how many centuries in how many ways, people have looked for that light-filled presence and never been able to be sure? And now we’re almost there, Seena, I’ve seen it myself – almost there. With verifiable, scientifically controlled means. Not subjective faith this time – scientific data.”

Finding God in the story involves the other key speculative element, aside from human cloning. The details somewhat eluded me, but it seems that when scanning the human mind, experiments have detected the presence of another entity somewhere in the background. This signal is boosted when two minds are brought into a kind unity through drugs and sex, and it works best with people who are closely related. Thus, clone incest.

The climax of the story lead to a not entirely unexpected revelation. It hints a little bit at cosmic horror: the God that’s found is apparently unaware of humanity’s existence:

The third presence – or some part of it – swirled around us, racing along our own unprepared synapses and neurons, and what swirled and raced was astonishment. A golden, majestic astonishment. We had finally attracted Its attention, finally knocked with enough neural force to be just barely heard – and it was astonished that we could, or did, exist.

On top of these ideas, the story makes a few gestures at futurity of a rather 80s sort. We get the ‘mailnet’, the kind of limited-functionality internet that was approaching rapidly by 1984 when this was published, and some passing mentions of the kind broken cyberpunk society – ecological catastrophe, pandemic, violent crime out of control – that was considered inevitable in the 80s. I think these elements ultimately overburden an already rather over-full story and would have been better avoided.

They felt a bit like a last straw that led me to question how well the twin themes (if you’ll pardon the expression) actually work together. There’s passing mention of the contrast between the child who seeks God, and the scientist father who sought to become God through creating cloned life but the connection feels like a weak one. As a result, the set up feels a little contrived – without either of the clone or God themes, the story would feel incomplete, but the two circumstances don’t grow organically out of each other. This is a gripping story of families at war with themselves, but it asked me to believe just a little too much in one mouthful.

Themes: clones, love and sex, God, the 80s

Posted in reading log, science fiction is dead, SF, short stories, The Best of the Best

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