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David M Rorvik
In His Image
Sphere, London, 1978
(price: 95p; 216 pages)
first published in Great Britain by Hamish Hamilton, 1978

The blurb on the back:

Yesterday it was science fiction, today it's earth-shaking fact - human beings can be duplicated!
It all began in September 1973, the day award-winning science journalist David Rorvik received a telephone call that changed his life - and the future of the human race. For the caller, a childless multi-millionaire, put forward a truly epoch-making proposal: Rorvik was to recruit a medical team to 'manufacture' a son for him by the process of cloning - the exact duplicating of a human being from a single body cell.
This is the story of the most dramatic medical experiment in history. Here is how Rorvik got together the top scientific brains. How they spent millions of dollars perfecting 'genetic engineering' techniques. And how - by a totally non-sexual process - they finally produced a healthy boy-child who is alive and growing today.
Brave New World is no longer fantasy. Humanity will never be the same again.
In His Image is a book that we ignore at our peril.

If you've read the sleeve-notes, then you'll be pretty much aware of what we're dealing with here. Just in case, here's a note from our Publisher:

The account that follows is an astonishing one. The author assures us that it is true. We do not know. We believe simply that he has written a book which will stimulate interest and debate on issues of the utmost significance for our immediate future.

With all that in mind, you won't be surprised to learn that the book was a hoax. Indeed, given the contemptuously limited amount of evidence produced, it's hard to comprehend how Sphere Books could have had any doubts on the subject. The names of neither the multi-millionaire who funded the project, nor the scientist who headed up the team, nor the surrogate mother are given - they are referred to throughout by pseudonyms (Max, Darwin and Sparrow respectively) - while the technical processes of cloning are not exactly examined in detail: you'd learn more from an alchemist's notebook.

Even so, this is not a complete waste of your time. Partly it's an entertaining excursion into fooling lots of people for some of the time. But it's also an intriguing snapshot of an early stage of a medical technology that has become ever more central to humanity's self-image: the fact that sleeve notes refer to 'genetic engineering' in quotes tells you how early it is. And if you read it in this light, you may find it's worth some historical attention.

You see, Rorvik may have been a charlatan, but I'd prefer to see this as a dramatization of technical progress than as a complete fraud. He'd done his reading, and he was aware of the philosophical issues that cloning raised - if he'd presented just this, then it would have been a perfectly decent non-fiction book, but it wouldn't have got much attention. By throwing in the wild card claim that it was already happening (they're here, they're here), he ensured the widest possible audience, and even managed briefly to provoke some kind of public debate on the subject. It didn't last, of course, but there's really very little in the social - as opposed to the scientific - side of this book that doesn't remain valid.

What Rorvik should have done is write a sequel dealing with the coverage that this book provoked. That would have wrapped up the story quite nicely.

non fiction