Like Narcissus for the digital age.
Image: Dollsweet/Wikimedia Commons
This is a companion piece to today's Terraform, "Moved."
The appearance of a doppelgänger, an exact replica of a person with an otherworldly origin, is rarely a comforting omen in fiction and folklore.
Irish legends warn of apparitions called "fetches," identical to living people, who show up to foreshadow their deaths. In Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, the prince falls for the imposter Odile over the heroine Odette, resulting in the suicide of both lovers. The T-1000 model of the Terminator franchise, the X-Men's Mystique, and the Faceless Men of Game of Thrones are modern science fiction and fantasy riffs on this same basic fear of decoys taking over authentic lives.
In "Moved," a new Terraform story by Chloe Cole, this tradition of sinister doppelgängers is turned on its head with the "Clara Doll," a custom-designed robotic sex double that is identical to the narrator, Clara. She orders this artificial copy to service her boyfriend, Parker, after she moves out of their shared home. The pains of a long-distance relationship will be assuaged by a compliant sex clone, so the couple's thinking goes.
After meticulously detailing her measurements to the doll company, which touts its product as the "Easiest Girlfriend Ever," the other girl arrives boxed up and ready to roll. But something unexpected happens as the original unboxes the replica. "I had thought I would want her hidden," Clara narrates. "I had thought I would put her in the entrance closet, where I'd imagined Parker would store her during my visits. But I was wrong. I couldn't let her out of my sight."
Fictional doppelgängers are often endowed with agency, some nefarious reason for being unleashed to terrorize or supplant those they impersonate. The Clara Doll has no such motivation. She is a blank slate. But Cole's story suggests that even as an inert object of narcissistic desire, this custom-bred doppelgänger wields power over her double, by inspiring such monumental obsession.
Indeed, what follows is like an erotic and robotic twist on the Greek myth of Narcissus. Transfixed by her own incarnate reflection, Clara falls in love, or lust, with her clone. Like Narcissus, she becomes oblivious to the world outside herself and her other self, and unsure about where the lines between them are drawn. Perhaps, in following the logic of the myth, this self-love will ultimately consume her.
As humanoid robots climb out of the uncanny valley and into our beds, there are bound to be psychological repercussions beyond the satisfaction of an easy lay. "Moved" presents a speculative view of this scenario, in which the duplicate intended to sexually replace a girlfriend ends up emotionally replacing a boyfriend.
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- Science Fiction