Five Clones, by Ed Bonilla [Review]

Five Clones will have a following. If you are a fan of character-based sci fi and dystopian depictions of the future of the United States, you may love this. If you enjoy a complex plot with multiple stories that keeps you guessing about how they will connect, and if you enjoy getting a deep backstory on the characters, you will appreciate this. Others may not enjoy it as much — or not at all. It’s the kind of book that will get mixed reaction, but if it’s your cup of tea, you should definitely check it out.

The author carves up the narrative into three segments: the main segment is the real-time story of Dan and his five clones. The story is set in a future time without any specific date or temporal context. California and Texas have succeeded from the union. Fires, floods, and earthquakes seem common. The remaining “United Federation” of states isn’t exactly at war with Texas and California, but the borders are closed, the internet is cut off, accurate news is sparce, and getting across the border, even for someone born in California like Dan, is an uncertain prospect. When Dan picks up a beautiful and mysterious hitchhiker in the Nevada desert, you know things will get interesting. 

The second group of chapters is composed of intercepted letters and emails, sometimes redacted, giving Intel and directions to operatives for the United Federation government, which is trying to track down and capture a rogue scientist who may have taken the key to a spectacular invention. It’s a puzzle to be pieces together. The communications show how the government has clamped down and is in full military-rule mode. The United Federation will assassinate citizens who are deemed threats. The scientist is the key to everything, and everyone wants to find him.

The third group of chapters is the journal of Jocelyn, who is writing her personal history for her infant daughter. These chapters are entirely backstory, and it’s not clear how they connect to Dan until the second half of the book. They paint a picture of the society struggling to survive in a world with supply shortages, violence, and a seeming lack of political leadership. The stories are interesting and detailed, but make the reader guess about why they matter to the larger story.

In the final third of the book, the author finally connects the three streams, as the scientist heads for California and Dan and his hitchhiker companion move in the same direction. How Dan’s clones figure in also becomes clear (which the reader has been wondering since the first chapter).

Some readers may find all the backstory and all the puzzle-piece information in the redacted emails and intercepted letters to be both too much information that’s not necessary to this story and a manipulative withholding of information that makes it needlessly difficult to follow what’s happening. (I was particularly nonplussed by two long chapters that are parables without any connection to the actual story.) Other readers will find the narrative to be a fascinating and intriguing puzzle to be solved. If you’re drawn into the puzzle-solving aspect of the story, then you’ll enjoy the ride up to the exciting climax. Figuring out how Dan came to be in his truck heading for California with his five clones is half the book. The other half is figuring out who Mary is, what she’s doing in the Nevada desert, and how she connects with the scientist. Then, how will Dan factor into the inevitable collision.

The book is generally well-written, although there are just enough typos and copy errors to be noticeable. There’s one pretty big plot hole in Dan’s backstory, but it doesn’t really matter to the plot. Despite the issues – including what I view as way too much unnecessary backstory information and not enough attention to the main plot – the story is unique and mesmerizing. I’m sure there will be more installments of this saga, and we’ll learn more about the state of the world inside this fictional universe. I’ll be watching, and Mr. Bonilla will certainly draw a loyal fan base who will love this world. But, be advised about what you’re getting into before you start.

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