A surgical resident named Thor Bitterbaum happens to be in attendance when the fatally wounded President John Kennedy arrives at Parkland Hospital in Dallas. He immediately remembers the work of a scientist who had performed some successful cloning experiments. In the twinkling of an eye, he locates a liquid nitrogen container and freezes a sample of the President’s tissue. He then locates G. K. Kellogg, a multimillionaire who is willing to foot the bill to clone President Kennedy. Kellogg’s plan is to reproduce the major events of Kennedy’s life so that his "son" has essentially the same experience as JFK and grows up to be elected President of the United States.

Not surprisingly, some things go wrong with the plan, but, in general, the whole bizarre scheme works out as G. K. and "Uncle" Thor intend it to. Joshua Francis Kellogg, the cloned child, eventually learns his origin, rebels against his "father’s" plan, blows his cover by writing a book about his experience, but ultimately becomes a successful politician just as G. K. had envisioned.


This novel is based on the premise that a clone is the same person as the individual he was cloned from. While the story acknowledges a role for environment in shaping the individual, it assumes that if the environment were manipulated appropriately, the clone would become an emotional and behavioral replica, as well as being a physical replica, of the original person. The novel does not address the fact that identical twins are essentially clones (i.e. they have exactly the same genetic code), yet often become very different individuals despite identical or very similar environments.

The tacit assumption is that Joshua Francis Kellogg actually shares JFK’s identity (his "soul," if you will), even though there is no continuity of consciousness or memory. For example, on page 176, Joshua reflects, "I was conceived not out of passion or love, but asexually from the cells of my own dying body." Thus, Joshua evidently believes that he and JFK are the same person. Similarly, on page 211, the omniscient narrator concludes, "Man could live again and again, forever if he wished . . . In this century he had killed death."

While the book is full of cardboard characters and improbable situations, it serves as a good stimulus for discussion precisely because it is so dependent on common cultural fears and misconceptions about cloning. To many people the term "cloning" connotes a whole package of images that go far beyond its technical meaning--zombies, spare parts, clone farms or factories, and power-grabbing conspiracies. Many laypersons confuse the process of cloning (i. e. asexual reproduction) with the development of artificial wombs, or large tanks where human fetuses grow in bubbling yellow fluid. Thus, the specific ethical issues related to cloning tend to get submerged in the larger questions of personhood and human freedom.

For example, at a recent book group discussion of Joshua, some of the participants struggled with questions like "What is to keep us from selling clones into slavery?" and "How can they be considered human, since they won’t have souls?" Thus, this novel provides us an opportunity to discuss these cultural stereotypes about cloning. (For those who think such fears are exaggerated, you can suggest reading Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, annotated in this database.)



Place Published

New York



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