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Book Review: Duplicate

I just read Alex Feinman's Duplicate, a science fiction novella with this tagline:

What do you do when your ship is about to hit an asteroid?

Why, you jump in your Corp-provided DupliPod, of course. It's effective. It's foolproof. It's safe. First it records your brain patterns, then kills you. Saves on life support in the deep reaches. The DupliPod will grow you a new body when it's safe; you will awake refreshed and renewed.

Sometimes, it doesn't work quite right.

Duplicate: would you die to save your own life?

That intrigued me, so I picked it up. It was a quick read and it had the feel of an older science fiction thought-experiment, like something by Philip K. Dick or Alfred Bester. There are really two main kinds of science fiction stories, gadget vs. character, and Duplicate is thoroughly a gadget story. I think the best stories are ones that combine the two elements, but there have been some classics that focus on just one or the other. Although I wouldn't go so far as to say that Duplicate is a classic, it's certainly an intriguing read that requires your full attention. As a Usability Specialist, I definitely enjoyed the aspects of the plot that depended on the main character not being able to understand the supposedly-advanced gadget interfaces that he had to deal with. You just know that no matter how advanced we manage to get technologically, there will always be certain constants in the experience of using them. I think a general lack of usability when the system doesn't work exactly as expected will be one of them, and happily, that motivates part of the plot in (at least to me) hilarious ways.

The main character has to jump through a lot of technological / engineering derring-do hoops, so by the end of the novella I felt mentally exhausted and relieved to be done. Feinman definitely makes the character sympathetic in that dimension! Plus, despite the gadget focus, there's not too much technobabble and he described it all well enough that I was able to imagine everything without ever being thrown out of the story. It was clear that the author had done his research; anything that related to the science and engineering of surviving in space rang true, at least to a layperson like myself.

If you're interested in science-fiction gadget what-if scenarios, this story is a good read!