Tuesday, October 27, 2020

The Mirror Man

  The Mirror Man
Author:  Jane Gilmartin
Publication Information:  MIRA. 2020. 352 pages.
ISBN:  0778309649 / 978-0778309642

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and a publisher's blog tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The first time he saw his own replica, laid out on a bed, its eyes closed as though it might be dreaming, Jeremiah choked on his own breath."

Favorite Quote:  "If there's one thing I've learned from all of this ... it's that no one, none of us, is ever really who we think we are. We tell ourselves lies to feel better, but they're just lies. The truth is a lot harder to look at. But the trick is, you can't let it crush you. You either accept who you are, or you change it."

***** BLOG TOUR *****


What if you could walk away from your life for a year with no repercussions (or so you think), get paid $10 million, and then return to your life as if you had never been gone? That is the deal Jeremiah Adams makes with his employer, ViMed Pharmaceuticals. The objective is a year long experiment to test ViMed's cloning capability through the use of a drug called Meld.

Is the name Meld a note to Star Trek? I don't know, but that is what immediately comes to mind. In Star-Trek, a mind-meld was a technique that allowed a Vulcan to tune into someone else's mind through the use of a fingertip touch. Typically, it was used with a human subject. Mr. Spock, being Mr. Spock, could also mind-meld with non-human life forms.

Anyways, I digress. Meld, in this book, is a drug that allows transference of consciousness and memories. The person controlling the administration has the ability to pick and choose what to transfer and also to plant new ideas. What could possibly go wrong? Right?

Day 1, Jeremiah realizes that this might not be quite the dream he envisioned. As a starting point, he is to be essentially hermetically sealed in an apartment, with all the luxuries he can want, with visits from those involved with the project, but with no other outside contact. Part of Jeremiah's job is to watch the clone live his life for a certain number of hours a day and determine if the clone's actions do entirely replicate his own or if there is any minute difference. Jeremiah realizes that he does not always like what he sees. This theme repeats through the book:
  • "Maybe it's better to never know how the world sees you. Maybe no one should see themselves like that. It surprises you. You don't recognize yourself, or maybe you do, and that's worse."
  • "Meld showed me a monster. How can we look at ourselves through someone else's eyes and not be fundamentally changed? I cannot defend what I've seen. I cannot live with the monster. I cannot escape him. We are not meant to sweet this. We're not equipped. It isn't right."
Jeremiah also learns to truly see - himself, his employers who decidedly have objectives he did not realize, and his family who he has previously perhaps taken for granted. This becomes also a journey of self-actualization for Jeremiah.

The adventure truly begins once Jeremiah realizes the ultimate goals of his employer and as his family is threatened. The book is a page-turner both in the look at its ethical issues and in the specifics of Jeremiah's story. Some of the events are shocking until you realize that the "bad guys" will truly stop at nothing to achieve their purposes. Some of the decisions of the "good guys" are unexpected, but the friendship depicted is a joy to see.

Without a spoiler, I will say that I love the ending! At that point, I wish the book kept going to see what happens next to all the characters. A sequel perhaps? I would read it.

About the Book

The offer is too tempting: be part of a scientific breakthrough, step out of his life for a year, and be paid hugely for it. When ViGen Pharmaceuticals asks Jeremiah to be part of an illegal cloning experiment, he sees it as a break from an existence he feels disconnected from. No one will know he’s been replaced—not the son who ignores him, not his increasingly distant wife—since a revolutionary drug called Meld can transfer his consciousness and memories to his copy.

From a luxurious apartment, he watches the clone navigate his day-to-day life. But soon Jeremiah discovers that examining himself from an outsider’s perspective isn’t what he thought it would be, and he watches in horror as “his” life spirals out of control. ViGen needs the experiment to succeed—they won’t call it off, and are prepared to remove any obstacle. With his family in danger, Jeremiah needs to finally find the courage to face himself head-on.

About the Author

Jane Gilmartin has been a news reporter and editor for several small-town weekly papers and enjoyed a brief but exciting stint as a rock music journalist. A bucket list review just before she turned 50 set her on the path to fiction writing. Also checked off that list: an accidental singing career, attending a Star Trek convention, and getting a hug from David Bowie. She lives in her hometown of Hingham, Massachusetts.

Author Q&A

What made you write this novel?
I love characters that are almost but not quite human. My favorite Star Trek characters are always ones like Spock, Data, and the Doctor from Voyager. Clones, to me, are about as almost human as you can get. Some of my favorite science fiction stories deal with clones. But there are so many good ones already out there I didn’t feel like I had anything to add, and I never really set out to try.

But I was reading something a few years ago that posed a straightforward and fascinating question: What would it be like to meet your own clone? The article I was reading left it at that, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

I knew it might be interesting to write a clone story that focused not on the clone, but on the human, who had been cloned. I thought that presented a whole new set of ideas and issues within the topic. It sort of turns the whole thing around when you look at it from that human perspective. What would it feel like to see yourself replaced in your own life? There is something so creepy and sad about that idea. Also, though, I saw something hopeful. I think it brings up the possibility of making a change in your life or seeing the opportunity for a second chance, which is always a good thing to explore. Those are some ideas I tried to keep in mind as I was writing The Mirror Man.

Medical thrillers are all the rage. Why, do you think?
I think there is something intrinsically threatening about so-called Big Pharma – especially right now. In the midst of a global pandemic, the world is waiting for a viable vaccine to fix it, but there’s this nagging doubt that maybe it’s being rushed. We have government agencies relaxing rules on testing protocol, funding research with budgets the size of planetary systems, and all these drug companies racing to be the one that comes charging in on the white stallion to save the world. But poll after poll in the news says the public won’t feel safe getting vaccinated right off the bat, even if it means getting back to normal. And there are more people in the world today that don’t trust mandated vaccines to begin with – not even for the tried and tested ones for polio or mumps.

People don’t trust that these huge companies truly have the public’s best interest at heart. I think that really became more evident when pharmaceutical companies began advertising drugs on television and pushing people to “ask your doctor or pharmacist if (insert drug here) is right for you.” I don’t know about anyone else, but I don’t want to suggest a drug to my doctor as though it were a brand of cookie that looked good on TV. I’d much rather my doctor had a more educated idea on what medicine I ought to be taking.

So, I think medical thrillers are big right now because people are pretty easily convinced that an industry that seems motivated more by profit and less by altruistic science just might have the capacity for evil. For a lot of people, that distrust is already there.

What are your thoughts about cloning?
I find the concept of cloning to be fascinating. The thought of having a clone – someone who could say, clean the bathrooms for me, make dinner, go to a meeting in my place – is sort of tempting. But there are all these sinister elements about cloning, and a whole lot of ethical questions, too, that are a lot more serious. What if we created clones for harvesting body parts in the event that we got sick or injured? What if we used them to fight our wars or for bomb disposal and other dangerous endeavors in our place? Would the auto industry begin using clones instead of test dummies for crash test data? Presumably, a clone would feel every bit as real and human as the host it sprang from, but would it be? Would clones have the same rights and privileges of personhood if they were mere copies? Would they be entitled to such rights and privileges? And if they didn’t get them – what then? Would they organize and rise up against us?

There is a lot to consider about human cloning and I only touched briefly on these questions in The Mirror Man, but I think we – as a society and as a species – ought to start thinking about it.

How did you research this novel?
Because the main focus of The Mirror Man is more the psychological changes of the protagonist as he watches his clone, it isn’t a book that’s especially science laden. That being said, the science (even though most is invented) had to be believable and plausible and so, is based on real science.

For the cloning aspect in the story I researched the way cloning is currently done in mammals – via cell transfer and embryotic implantation. But I also needed to identify ways in which scientists might grow a human clone quickly, so it would reach a full, adult maturation rate in about 48 hours. I read a lot about Human Growth Hormone (HGH) in the pituitary gland of our brains and its effect on how our bodies grow. The research was intriguing and sent me down so many rabbit holes dealing with the role this hormone plays in cell repair, muscle mass, weight gain, and even life expectancy. The articles I saved and the notes I took might well come in handy for a future novel.

I also did some research for Meld, the invented drug in the story. I wanted to create a drug that – if two people took it together – could offer a literal glimpse into someone else’s mind but one that could also be used to transfer brain patterns and consciousness from the main character into the clone. In the novel, the drug is used in a myriad of ways – not only to copy a mind, but also as a promising medical tool and as an illegal recreational drug with dire consequences. For Meld I researched the areas of the human brain such a drug might act upon – especially our aptly titled mirror neurons which are responsible for making us yawn when we see someone else yawn. (If yours are especially active, you might have yawned at the very thought of that. If so – sorry!)

Do you believe human cloning is possible?
As the lead scientist in The Mirror Man likes to point out, “the science exists.”

Human cloning is absolutely possible. We are already so adept at cloning animals that there are actual companies out there whose entire business model is built on cloning our dogs and cats. And people do that more often than you’d imagine. Did you know Barbara Streisand has had something like five clones of her favorite dog? It’s true. And we all know the story of Dolly, the sheep with the dubious distinction of being the very first mammal to be successfully cloned in 1996. From dogs and cats and sheep it isn’t a giant leap to cloning humans. Essentially, the science is the same. What’s stopping us (thankfully) isn’t the feasibility, but the ethical and moral dilemmas associated with human cloning.

While many countries have passed laws that prohibit human cloning, the US currently has no such legislation (although some states do). Congress has proposed many bills to that effect, but none have been enacted into actual law. The reason for that is partly because things like medical stem cell research overlap the science of cloning. But there are reams of material written on the ethical implications of human cloning from agencies including the World Health Organization, and there are ongoing congressional discussions to agree at least on some level of regulation. But at the moment, in the US, human cloning is both scientifically possible and essentially legal. That’s just a tiny bit terrifying.

Talk about the meaning of identity in your book.
It didn’t take me long to understand that what I was really doing with The Mirror Man was writing a story about self-identity. It’s a topic that finds its way into a lot of what I write and is strangely compelling to me. My favorite line from David Bowie’s song “Changes” is this: I turn myself to face me, but I never caught a glimpse of how the others must see the faker.

I find that idea fascinating. We all have this idea of who we are, and how we come across to other people, but it’s probably not the truth. The way we see ourselves is muddled with all these filters and little lies. We are all, in a sense, just fakers. I wanted to explore that concept, so I came up with a way to put a character in a situation where he literally had to turn and face himself – to see himself exactly as everyone else sees him -- from the outside. Cloning seemed an obvious choice for a science fiction writer.

In the novel, my character, Jeremiah is largely locked in this laboratory/apartment and made to watch his clone on a TV monitor for four hours a day. Even though he’s typically seeing mundane things – the clone interacting with his family and co-workers – the experience is difficult and eye-opening for him. While he has to admit that his double is every bit identical to him, he begins to despise who he’s watching. It makes him question fundamental things about his own identity.

Meanwhile, we have this illegal street use of a drug called Meld that allows people to see themselves through someone else’s eyes and it leads to a rash of suicides. It’s another way of looking at what the main character is going through, but the result is basically the same: It isn’t easy to face the truth of who you are.

There are a lot of figurative and literal mirrors in my novel. Jeremiah is often looking at his own reflection as he grapples with questions about his life. He spends quite a bit of time creating an avatar of himself for a video game. And, obviously, his clone is sort of the ultimate reflection. But he never fully understands what he’s seeing until he’s forced to face himself. And I had to bring him to that point in a very literal way. Hopefully, the novel will leave readers asking some interesting questions about their own identity.
Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.


  1. Thanks so much for your review and thoughtful comments on my novel. I cant tell you how I appreciate it and am so happy you enjoyed it! I truly am thankful for your support!

    1. Thank you for stopping by and acknowledging the review. Even more importantly, thank you for sharing your work with readers like me. I look forward to reading more.