Book Review: Constance by Matthew FitzSimmons
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Book 1 of Constance
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer (September 1, 2021)
Length: 352 pages
Strap in and brace yourself for some cloning fun and shenanigans in Constance by Matthew FitzSimmons, a sci-fi thriller that is guaranteed to warp your mind. Set in the near future, this story follows protagonist Constance D’Arcy, or simply Con to her friends, a musician who was involved a tragic accident that claimed the lives of her fellow bandmates and left her lover in a coma. Having suffered grievous injuries herself, the whole ordeal has left Con depressed and withdrawn.
Death has also been on her mind a lot lately, and not only because of what happened to her band. For you see, Con’s aunt is Abigail Stickling, the late genius behind Palingenesis, the world’s first and largest manufacturer of clones. The company offers a service to clients that, should they die, would allow for the downloading and transfer of their consciousness along with all memories into a engineered clone—a backup system, essentially, for just in case. Naturally, the cost for such a service is so high that only the world’s richest and most elite could afford it, but Con’s clone was a gift from her aunt before her suicide. Abigail might have been a pioneering scientist and a brilliant mind, but she also struggled for years with depression and ironically couldn’t have a clone of her own due to a genetic disease.
After some initial reluctance, Con had decided to keep her clone, though the process would require her to make regular trips to Palingenesis to have her memories uploaded to the system. If she dies, the company will automatically activate her clone and transfer the latest backup, so it’s a good idea to keep it as fresh as possible. So imagine our protagonist’s surprise when, after a routine memory upload, she wakes up at Palingenesis not in her original body but in that of her clone—which she can surmise because it is free of her tattoos or any of the physical scars sustained from her accident. Not only is she hit with the horrible realization that this means that the real Con, her old self, must have died, but she is shocked to find out that her last memory upload was actually a whopping year and a half ago, far longer than the recommended maximum of three months. Such a long lag would cause all kinds of problems including mental instability, and Palingenesis, already mired in scandal and bad publicity, would be ruined if this damning evidence of their lapse in protocol is ever discovered. As the company moves to eliminate her, Con finds herself alone in a desperate fight for survival while also trying to piece together her life from the past 18 months.
High-concept and cerebral, Constance is a heady combination of dystopian sci-fi, mystery suspense, and action thriller, perfect for those who enjoy the frenetic energy and driving pace of movies like The Island or books by Blake Crouch. That said, similar to a lot of these types of stories, what’s happening on the page is definitely more important than the whys and hows behind the scenes. In other words, you go in knowing full well the plot is going to be crazily over-the-top and a little ridiculous, so don’t ask too many questions or expect satisfactory explanations for any of the technology or sci-fi aspects of the novel and you should be just fine. On the flip side, I also believe these same characteristics can make a book more accessible to a wider audience. The story simply strikes me as having a lot of that mass appeal and can be enjoyed by both seasoned sci-fi fans as well as readers who might only have limited experience with the genre.
And to be fair, it isn’t all just popcorny fluff. While it’s true that the world-building and character development is pretty standard as far as mystery thrillers go, I do give Constance mega bonus points for tackling a number of ethical and philosophical issues in an engaging, thought-provoking way. Navigating a world that is still generally hostile towards clones, Con’s journey explores what it means to be human as well as the implications of cloning technology on both personal and societal levels, not to mention the number it would do on our legal system. The plot also touches upon the vast disparities between socio-economic classes, as most dystopian stories often do, as well as speculation around the politics and morality of cloning and treating human consciousness and memories like data.
All in all, I had a great time with this book. A high-octane thriller it might be, but Constance also features a complex plot that requires a fair bit of focus as things can get somewhat convoluted, especially towards the end. Blink and you might miss something important! Because of that, you might need to be in a certain mood or right frame of mind to appreciate the mystery and all its twists and turns, but if you’re willing to take that leap, the full experience is well worth it.