by Robert A. Burton

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Imagine: You've just found out you have nine brothers. Identical to you in every way. Except for the gene that made one of them a killer—

Artie Singleton's mother was dead. But among her possessions lay a letter. And inside was a secret that would shatter her son's world: In 1963, a shocking experiment at a famous fertility clinic had cloned…  See more details below


Imagine: You've just found out you have nine brothers. Identical to you in every way. Except for the gene that made one of them a killer—

Artie Singleton's mother was dead. But among her possessions lay a letter. And inside was a secret that would shatter her son's world: In 1963, a shocking experiment at a famous fertility clinic had cloned ten identical male children from a single donor embryo. Artie Singleton was one of them.

Artie, a successful San Francisco entrepreneur, is now searching for his nine brothers. He assumes they will look just like him. But Artie finds some things he didn't expect: a sociopath among the clones determined to kill off the others—and a terrifying truth about their gene pool that could spell Artie's doom, or give him the cunning to stay alive.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Close on the heels of the successful sheep experiment, this medical thriller jumps with engaging brio into the highly charged arena of human cloning. Ironically named 28-year-old summa Harvard grad Artie Singleton owns a successful San Francisco comic book and CD-ROM shop, which has accidentally become "a magnet for the outrageous, the scorned, the academics, the trendy." The bustling scene takes his mind off his mother's recent death from a particularly destructive case of Alzheimer'suntil his equanimity is shattered by a mysterious letter from one of his mother's oldest friends. The letter informs Artie that he is one of 10 genetically identical clones. A computer junkie named Welinda Dupre, who's obsessed with a program called Autobiography, which allows "nearly infinite constructions and revisions of a life story," is eager to help Artie track down his "cellmates" and the secret of their origins. The mission to find the brothers is derailed, though, after anonymous e-mails inform Artie that each brother with whom he has shared the secret has been found dead, an apparent suicide. Tension escalates as Artie and two other brothersLes, a psychopathic recluse living in the High Sierras, and Tuna, a compulsive Las Vegas gambler who sees dollar signs in the genetic anomalyrace toward their fellow clones for radically different reasons and with potentially deadly results. Despite occasionally wooden dialogue (and forced, distracting engagements with the ethics of cloning) Burton (Doc-in-a-Box; Final Therapy) enlivens a faddish plot with fast pacing, credible characters and unpredictable plot twists. (Aug.) FYI: Before becoming a writer, Burton was Chief of Neurology at the University of California Mount Zion Medical Center.
Library Journal
When comic book and computer game retailer Artie Singleton discovers the family he never knewnine genetically engineered clones of himselfplans for a preliminary reunion go bust; one by one, each of his "brothers" succumbs to a serial murderer until Artie, along with his surviving identical gambling brother, Tuna, tag-team to catch the killer in a setup that proves as complicated as one of Artie's best-selling hypertext games. Burton's (Final Therapy, Jove, 1994) wireless technothriller is peppered with jargon and plotted with an almost loopy sensibility that will mesmerize some and confuse others. An optional purchase for contemporary fiction collections.Ahmad Wright, "Library Journal"

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Product Details

Dell Publishing
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
4.17(w) x 6.86(h) x 0.91(d)

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Artie Singleton stood at the rear counter of Shazam, his cluttered Columbus Avenue store known for its extensive collection of old comic books and hypertext CD-ROM fiction. By afternoon the shop's three aisles would be jammed with those seeking nostalgia alongside those rooting for the demise of traditional narrative. Artie loved the balance, often provoking agitated exchanges between customers trying to move time in opposite directions.

So far it'd been a slow morning, foggy outside, dreary inside, only a handful of browsers. He missed the idle chatter, a request for a free demo at one of the half-dozen computers filling the central aisle--any opportunity to step away from his own life and move someone else's characters through an infinitude of possibilities.

A young couple, similarly androgynous in black leather and spiked pink hair, entered, headed for the Wonder Woman section. They wanted to be noticed; Artie ignored them.

"You got any copies of the November 1941 War Nurse?" the woman asked.

"Fresh out," Artie said, not wanting her to have the only copy, which was primo and went for fifty, no negotiations. He kept the one-of-a-kinds in a separate bin behind the counter.

"We're down from Petaluma. Your store's supposed to have everything." The man spoke through clenched teeth. He was sucking on a purple toothpick.

"War Nurse is hard to come by. Scarce as house calls."

"Come on, let's go," the woman said to her friend. But the man was thumbing through the January 1982 issue of Scripture Man.

"Dig this," he said, pointing to a panel where Scripture Man was reciting from the Book of Job. Theman stepped onto a footstool at the end of the aisle and began reading aloud.

"'Have you got human eyes; do you see as mankind sees? You, who inquire into my faults and investigate my sins, you know very well that I am innocent.'" He thrust his clenched fist aloft in an exclamation of victory.

"Finish the quote," Artie said.

The man shook his head.

"Give me that." Artie grabbed the book and began reading, his voice booming in the high-ceilinged store. "'No one,'" he paused and looked at the couple. "'And no one can rescue me from your hand.'" Artie gave the comic back to the man.

The man stepped down from the chair. "One man's opinion. Right, hon?" The woman wasn't listening. "So how much?" he asked Artie.

"Twenty dollars."

"Only two when it was new," the man said, pointing at the price on the cover.

"The item's hot. Scripture Man may be advance word of the second coming."

"My friends warned me about you." The man scowled as he unzipped his jacket, pulled out a wad of ones, and handed twenty to Artie.

Artie shrugged as he shoved the money in his pocket. "You want a receipt? If you're clergy, this could be deductible." But the man was through with Artie. He had his arm around his girlfriend, their hands in each other's rear pocket.

"Investigate my sins," he said to her as they left the store. "You game?"

The door closed. Artie did not hear her reply.

He picked up the original February 1940 issue of Captain Marvel. In the first few frames Billy Batson was selling newspapers and sleeping outside the railroad station. A whirl of old papers floated up from the gutter. The squat art deco station, as always, was ominous with loss and premonition. His father must have known he would die young, before he could share the comics with his only son. Why else would he have kept each of them separately wrapped in clear plastic, filed chronologically, thirty boxes labeled THE EXCLUSIVE PROPERTY OF ARTIE SINGLETON.

Artie was sorry that his father hadn't lived to witness the rise in the value of collectible Americana. Five boxes had covered the down payment on Shazam. The rest had been his start-up inventory. The best he'd sorted into two boxes that he kept in a special case: FOR DISPLAY ONLY. NOT FOR SALE.

Holding on to Captain Marvel, he paced the aisles, seeking distraction.

His father died when he was three, his mother a month ago, though he had been expecting it for years. By the time he graduated from high school, she was asking his friends to repeat their names. Artie would cringe with embarrassment. Later, alone with his friends, he would joke that his sour personality stemmed from drinking outdated mother's milk. The accompanying look of disgust was always good for an uncomfortable laugh.

He never meant anything by it.

Mary Singleton had been a psychiatric social worker, Montessori school volunteer, Sierra Club member, weekend watercolorist, devotee of Jung until she discovered his anti-Semitism, three years each a Unitarian, Christian Scientist, Ram Dass follower, then a long final stretch of generalized ecumenical ardor. Above all else, she had been Artie's best friend, pal, and advocate. He was her sublime gift, coming to her when she had abandoned all hope of bearing children.

After his father's death, she'd raised Artie in a small North Beach flat. A sixties UC grad, her heart was hardline Berkeley, complete with a simultaneous emphasis on academics and rebellion. "I want you kicked out of Harvard, not some community college," she offered as guidance and inspiration.

Artie tried. Harvard outfoxed him. When he skipped a month of classes, was found reciting Montaigne late one night to an empty Copley Square, and made a half-dozen clinic visits convinced he was the first case of a new retrovirus, his freshman advisor nodded nonjudgmentally. "These things sometimes happen." During a telephone conference, the student health psychiatrist assured Mrs. Singleton that her boy was decent, not by nature a troublemaker.

Harvard gave him advanced placement and an independent study program. Not required to attend classes, hand in papers, or take tests, his eccentricities tolerated, even encouraged, Artie was stymied. His energy improved; his dry cough mysteriously disappeared--as did his urge to read aloud.

He considered then rejected political involvement. Student unrest was a given; Harvard Yard was pockmarked with clusters of the discontented. Drugs and booze were ubiquitous. Rebellion had lost its teeth, had been reduced to a social event.

Artie graduated summa cum laude in American literature.

"Perhaps you could get expelled from grad school," his mother said at the commencement exercise.

It was the last time they joked together.

Forgetfulness escalated.

"A virulent form of Alzheimer's," the neurologist had said.

"You remind me of someone I once knew," said his mother, before sentences faded into pauses.

Two years of his life were put on hold while she unraveled in a drab nursing home fronted by a cold blue wheelchair ramp and reeking of disinfectant. His only flesh and blood.

It was about time he got functional again. He could start by finishing the final draft of his hypertext disk Clothesline--a courtroom drama shaped by the reader's choice of apparel. Fifty outfits in the opening-chapter jury closet. Pick the jury, said the flashing menu. Each piece of clothing was linked to different judgments and worldviews. There was a wardrobe closet for the judges; he gave different jury instructions depending on whether he wore single versus double-breasted, high boots or cordovan lace-ups. There were other menu closets for the attorneys and the defendant. The trials ranged from two days to three weeks; each morning the reader was required to dress all the participants.

Outfitting the judge with white shoes affected the sentence and terms of probation. Tassels upped the bail. A wide paisley tie increased the odds for community service. Lorgnettes made contempt of court more likely. A judge with a long ponytail was a joker, programmed for random unpredictable sentences.

A simple metaphor: appearance is outcome.

Artie couldn't get back into the groove. He'd been a jerk, insensitivity squared. After the doctor's visit--the doctor's visit--he'd shrugged and said, "Don't worry, Mom, in a couple days you'll forget all about this." He did remember putting his arm around her, stroking her hair while she tried not to cry. He hadn't meant it to sound that way. Honestly.

The words echoed, clung to his mind, tilted his mood.

His IQ had been clocked at over 160, but going in the wrong direction. Smug, self-centered, constantly mocking. Even his sense of humor was a dangerous weapon.

She'd mentioned graduate school. By now he'd have his Ph.D. and his own university cubicle. No, he'd told his advisor. That'd be like being assigned to the lower gallery in the slave ship of letters.

"Comics and hyperfiction--now, that's the ticket."

To his surprise, his store had become a magnet for the outrageous, the scorned, the academics, the trendy. Shazam was hot in the local mags; he got plenty of party invites and shots at the lovelies.

He was rolling, he told himself as he shoved the wad of dollar bills in the register and waited for the fog to lift.

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Meet the Author

Robert A.  Burton, M.D., has served as chief of neurology at the University of California Mount Zion Medical Center.  Cellmates is his third novel.

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