- Echo Round His Bones
"Echo Round His Bones" is a
science fiction novelwritten by Thomas M. Disch. It was originally serialized in "New Worlds" magazine in December 1966 and January 1967. [cite web
title = New Worlds Science Fiction: Fiction Index
publisher = Cyberspace Spinners
url = http://www.hycyber.com/SF/NW_index.html#D
accessdate = 2008-07-06] It was subsequently published in book form in 1967.
The story revolves around Captain Nathan Hansard, an officer of the
United States Armyin the near future. In this future a machine has been developed to transmit matter instantly. The United Stateshas created a Marsbase, Camp Jackson Mars, to which supplies and personnel are transmitted regularly. Captain Hansard, stationed at Camp Jackson Earth, is going to be stationed there and thus is transmitted.
At that moment Hansard discovers an unknown side effect of the process. He finds himself not on Mars but remaining on Earth, except in a phantom state, unable to be perceived by anyone in the original world and able to walk through buildings and swim through solid ground with minimal effort. The only items he can fully interact with are other copies of people or items sent through the matter transmitter. Air and water are available, in the vicinity of another transmitter that sends these to Mars, but he has no food and finds himself pursued by a group of soldiers in the same situation who have turned to
cannibalism, waiting near the transmitter to kill other newly-created duplicates.
Hansard is saved when he finds a friendly group comprising two duplicates of the transmitter's elderly and wheelchair-bound inventor, Panofsky, and three of Panofsky's wife Bridgetta (who has adopted various distinguishing roles as Jet, Bridget and Bridie). They explain that each time anyone is transmitted, a copy (or "echo") of that person is made. The group is being provisioned by the original Panofsky, who believes on theoretical grounds that this copying process is taking place and is sending the group food and drink by repeatedly transmitting it on the pretext of testing the effect of transmission on foodstuffs.
Together they are able to avoid the soldiers looking for them. Eventually, however, they are found and a showdown takes place where Hansard kills the leader of this group, at the expense of the death of one Panofsky duplicate and of one of the Bridgettas, whom Hansard was about to marry (it having been explained to him that the original Panofsky/Bridgettta marriage is purely one of convenience).
Meanwhile the original world is faced with nuclear disaster. A order has been sent to Mars with the original Hansard (Hansard 1) to launch nuclear weapons on to Earth at certain date. Hansard's copy (Hansard 2) and Panofsky 2 decide that this must be stopped at all costs, but they need to be able to communicate with someone in the original world. They determine that this might be done by a copy occuping the same space as the original and subtly affecting the original's mind during sleep. Hansard 2 transmits to Mars (creating a Hansard 3 echo who dies) and links up with Hansard 1 to communicate a plan to avoid the destruction of the Earth.
Hansard 1 is able to build some transmitters himself and place them in specific spots on the Earth, transmits it to the other side of the sun to avoid the nuclear weapons. To atone for his guilt about killing a child during the Vietnam War, Hansard 1 chooses not to be transmitted and dies, left behind in space. The Earth's echo, Earth 2, becomes solid for Hansard 2.
The novel ends with Earth 1 and Earth 2 safe, with Panofsky 2 making plans to retrieve the Moon, left behind when Earth 1 was transmitted and which is no longer orbiting the insubstantial Earth 2. Multiple weddings take place between the three Hansard and Bridgetta duplicates on Earth 2. They are transmitted to different destinations for their respective honeymoons, creating further, tertiary, duplicates. Panofsky wishes the latter, via a note, "Happy Honyemoon".
* [http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/d/thomas-m-disch/echo-round-his-bones.htm Echo Round His Bones at Fantastic Fiction]
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