In this fascinating novel, Mason Ambrose fluffs his Philosophy PhD, whilst in a bit of a mood, and is immediately offered a huge pay-packet to be a personal tutor to a girl on an idyllic island - Isla de Sangre.
The girl, Londa Sabacthani, is supposed to have lost her memory and all sense of what is right and wrong following an accident, so Mason schools her in ethics. He then discovers that his employer has been lying.
Londa was created by her Biologist ma in a test tube - as a 17 year old. What's more, it transpires that she has 2 sisters (though she doesn't know this) who are also vatlings/beaker freaks.
The book is an excellent vehicle for pondering ethical ideas; especially geworfenheit (thrown-ness) - every person is hurled into a world, culture, set of circumstances not of their choosing.
The authentic life, according to Heidegger, is to comprehend one's state as a self-conscious subject and make a meaningful life from that starting point.
Why wasn't I told that in school, I wonder?
Donya and her sisters have the same experience, but more so.
When Mason and the tutors of the other 2 sisters discover each other (and the existence of 3 vatlings) the sisters mother confesses that she has hatched them, her reason being that she doesn't have long to live and wishes to experience all of motherhood before she dies.
Because of their exceptional parentage and bizarre programming the sisters are very academically gifted, and Londa duly gets 2 university degrees in molecular genetics.
With her considerable inheritance and ability she goes on to found her ideal city state - Themisopolis.
This is a very fine book but, typically, I find I'm more interested in the philosophers' ideas that Londa has to hastily learn due to her 'lack of a super-ego', than the story; partly because I keep feeling something is missing.
The very word 'philosophy' attracts me, much as a very ornate chess set might; but they both lead to the same feeling: there's nothing there but analytical thought. The mystery of being, rather than just thinking about it, seems to have been left out of the recipe.
I guess that's why we need places to debate outside of institutions (bar the very best ones) so the intuition and feeling can co-exist with thinking and facts rather than being split into their conventional/convenient categories.
I read the book several times, continually more fascinated, but left with the feeling of emptiness that the climax of the book - the youngest sister turns out best due to her more complete childhood - fails to satisfy.
The sheer chaos of institutionalised religions (and psychologies) through all time and space suggest there are no easy answers; I just wish the book had given more space to the objective psychological fact profound subjective mystery exists which reductive, materialist biology doesn't explain.