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Indie Speculative Fiction Review - Death Switch by JJ Green

G D Penman By G D Penman Published on November 5, 2015

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This article was updated on December 3, 2015

Death Switch by J J Green is a scifi novella with an incredibly tight focus. There are three central characters and every moment follows the important moments of their life. The premise is very simple, a wish fulfilment fantasy that has been repeated many times in science fiction, Yi Ling doesn't want to deal with parts of her life so she grows a clone to deal with them for her. This is illegal of course, creating much of the story's tension and leaving everyone involved with very limited options.

Limited options are a major theme in this book. Every character is held in a web of societal laws and interpersonal relationships that they seem desperate to escape with the exception of Ching Mei who is instead restrained from her freedom and happiness by an illness. Mei is an interesting character within that context because she is at the end of any number of branching choices, even biologically. She is a genetic chimera, the result of two twins merging together in the womb. Two possible lives that instead converge into one. All the choices and freedom in the world converging on her cancer. Yi Li is constrained by domineering parents, a limited income and expectations. Almost as soon as the clone begins developing a personality of its own you can feel the story closing in around her, all of the story's potential outcomes narrowing down until we are left with the inevitable conclusion of every doppelgänger story.

There were some great subtle elements in the early parts of this story relating to Ling's abusive family and the way that she was reflecting that behaviour onto her clone but in the final section all subtlety was abandoned and the cycle of abuse myth is on full display including the inevitable “becoming what you hate” cliché in full force. Using the clone to question social mores and indoctrinated beliefs was a nice touch that brought an insightful angle to the story.

For all that Death Switch has a well tread story concept and elements of predictability when examined; the writing is extremely clean and concise, the near future world is realised through subtle elements and the characters have enough depth to carry the plot. The story follows a formula but it follows it so well and carries you along at such a rapid pace that you barely notice. In places the web of story elements overlaps and it becomes very clever indeed. It is a simple story told well. Which I will take over a complex story told badly any day.

G.D. Penman writes about queer monsters for a living. He is the author of Call Your Steel, The Year of the Knife, Heart of Winter, Apocrypha and many other books. He is also a full-time freelance ... Show More

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