I’m thrilled to welcome to the blog Australian YA author Jack Heath to talk to us about his new book Replica. The book is out this month and it’s a fast-paced thriller thriller involving robots, government conspiracy and a lesbian love story.
Jack Heath is the author of REPLICA and many other sci-fi thrillers for young adults. He started writing THE LAB when he was 13 and had a publishing contract for it at 18. The book has since been adapted into a screenplay.
He has been shortlisted for a Kids Own Australian Literature Award (KOALA), a Young Australians Best Book Award (YABBA), two Aurealis Awards, the Nottinghamshire Brilliant Book Award, the National Year of Reading “Our Story” Collection and the Young Australian of the Year Award.
In the course of his research, Jack has gone scuba diving with sharks, traveled through Texas, Russia, and Cambodia, trained with firearms, toured prisons and interviewed guards, examined body parts at the morgue, read only books by women for a year, been a stunt driver, played bass in a rock band and performed street magic for an afternoon. He is also on the board of the ACT Writers Centre.
Jack lives in Canberra, Australia with his wife and their son.
‘Whose body is that on the table?’ I ask.
She stares at me, as though the answer is obvious. ‘It’s yours,’ she says.
Before I have time to scream, she types a command on the keyboard. My consciousness whirls away like storm water down a drain.
Chloe wakes up to find all her memories have been wiped. And the only person who knows what happened is a teenage girl who looks and sounds exactly like her.
Who is she? And what does she want?
Chloe is running out of time to discover the truth. But she’s in even more danger than she realizes, and nothing is as it seems . . .
Hi Jack, welcome to Queer YA!
Tell us a bit more about Replica and what inspired you to write this book?
Replica is a thriller about identity – the main character believes herself to be a teenage girl named Chloe Zimetski, but soon discovers that she is in fact a mechanical duplicate of the real Chloe, complete with false memories and synthetic emotions. When human Chloe is murdered, machine Chloe must take over her life, fooling her family, her teachers, her friends – and find the killer, before she suffers the same fate. Morbid as it sounds, I wrote the book after several deaths in my own family. They left me wondering: if a loved one dies, is it better not to know?
It was great to read a sci-fi story with a lesbian love story at its heart – is diversity in YA books something you feel strongly about?
Queer characters tend to be sidelined in or absent from popular fiction, particularly YA. I’ve received complaints from parents who believe homosexuality is something children should learn about “when they’re old enough”. But there are two kids out there – one is gay, bisexual or transgender and she’s floundering because she has no role models. The other is straight and he’s dehumanising queer people, either inwardly or outwardly, because he’s never been taught to empathise with them. I saw a chance to help those two kids and I took it.
I was really impressed by the technical aspect of the book, how much research did you have to do to make it ring true?
The research side was easier than I expected it to be. The world is full of engineers and philosophers who are fascinated by the idea of replicating the human body and mind. I read about scientists who are 3D-printing body parts, developers who are coding artificial intelligences, robots which are designed to simulate pain – and people’s reactions to them. I also read heaps of sci-fi to make sure I wasn’t reinventing the wheel. The hardest part was making sure that the thriller bits weren’t muffled by the tech stuff.
One of the biggest debates about Artificial Intelligence is the question of rights – and specifically what rights does a robot have compared to humans – and I thought you dealt with this really well in the story. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
There are a few schools of thought. One is that humans are somehow special and no matter how intelligent any other entity is (a robot, an animal, an alien) our needs are more important. That’s a convenient view, but I don’t put much stock in it. Another is that cruelty to robots is immoral not because the robots have rights but because witnessing or participating in the act is psychologically damaging to humans – you shouldn’t be allowed to kick a mechanical dog in front of a child. Yet another is that no matter what a robot does, its owner or manufacturer is responsible. (A self-driving car can’t be blamed for a crash, for example.) I don’t know exactly where I stand on most of these issues. That’s why I like writing about them.
What are some of your favourite books? And do you have any Australian LGBT YA books to recommend to our readers?
Always Mackenzie by Kate Constable, Pink by Lili Wilkinson and Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood are perfect for any reader looking for some Australian LGBT-inclusive YA. I’m also a big fan of LIAR by Justine Larbalestier, John Dies At The End by David Wong, We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver and Misery by Stephen King.
Thank you so much to Jack for talking to us! I’ll be checking out these Australian LGBT-inclusive books to add to our Pinterest page!
Replica is unputdownable and I read the book in one sitting. If you love thrillers, robots, government conspiracies and love stories – this book is for you!
Thanks to Oxford University Press for the review copy.