Ursula K. Le Guin, “Nine Lives” (1968)


“Nine Lives” is a novelette that was first published in Playboy magazine in 1968. The story takes place on a remote planet named Libra and primarily involves two workers, Alvaro Guillen Martin and Owen Pugh, who are in charge of locating areas for mining. Martin and Pugh send frequent reports back to Earth, which has almost been completely destroyed by wars and famine. Martin and Pugh receive help from ten clones, collectively named John Chow and distinguished through middle initials. The story depicts the clones’ symbiotic relationship as well as the process of developing the clones. When a powerful earthquake occurs, nine of the ten clones die, leaving one remaining clone, “Kaph.” Kaph physically and emotionally experiences all nine of the deaths, and he suffers from severe depression from the separation from his companions. The story ends with a new shipment of twelve more clones.  


In "Nine Lives," Le Guin presents an interesting commentary on clones. While the subject of human duplicates had been a part of science fiction prior to this time period, the 1960's saw an increase in the number of works on clones, including Gordon Rattray Taylor's The Biological Time-Bomb. Some scholars argue that Le Guin's "Nine Lives" was the the first true clone story. Le Guin portrays the clones as human-like, capable of emotions, thoughts, and connections. Throughout “Nine Lives,” there is a theme of the concept of the self, which is shown through the symbiotic relationship among the clones as well as the relationship between Martin and Pugh. Le Guin shows the capability of humans and clones to coexist and even have an understanding for each other. In the end, as the new shipment of clones arrive, one is reminded that the clones are replaceable. 


Ursula Kroeber Le Guin, born on October 21, 1929 in Berkeley, California, is an American novelist and short story writer. Le Guin primarily writes science fiction and fantasy, though she addresses a variety of subjects in these works, including feminist and philosophical issues. At the time of the story's magazine publication, Playboy requested that she publish the work under her initials U. K. Le Guin to prevent male readers from becoming nervous about a female writer. The piece gained national attention after President Lyndon B. Johnson publically praised the work.


Le Guin, Ursula K. "Nine Lives." HarperCollins US. Imprint: Harper Perennial, 1968. Web. 06 Apr. 2017. <https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062470881/nine-lives>.

The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. "Ursula K. Le Guin." Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 18 Nov. 2016. Web. 06 Apr. 2017. <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Ursula-K-Le-Guin>.

Image source: http://www.ursulakleguin.com/UKL_info.html

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