I'm looking for a SF short story about a beautiful woman named Eden(?) who clones herself to transplant her brain into as she gets older. The young clone discovers the plan and burns her face on a hot lamp.

It was probably part of an anthology. I don't remember what the cover was, I was reading a lot of SF collections at that time. This was probably in the 70s or early 1980s. I think(?) John Varley was doing a lot of work based on the clone/body transplant theme.

As I remember it, an amazingly beautiful actress (?) was being interviewed by a reporter at her home. During the course of the interview, a beautiful young girl appeared in the space, she had shorter, less-flattering hair but the reporter recognized that she was stunning in her own right.

An interesting element of the story was the presence of psychotropic(?) plants. The plants were attracted to the young girl but repelled by the older famous actress. Somehow in the process of the story, the young girl realizes that she is a clone of the beautiful actress and that the older vain woman is planning on transplanting her brain into the younger clone as the ageing actress loses her perfect looks.

The young clone burns her perfect face on one of the hot lamps that serves the psychotropic plants. In the act, she destroys her own perfection, saves her life and destroys the dark intent of the old beautiful ageing actress. It's one of those stories that has always stuck with me due to the mood and atmosphere but I can't remember the title or author.

  • I am also interested to know..
    – user931
    Commented Oct 20, 2018 at 4:37
  • 3
    This could use a bit more info. When did you read that? Was it in an anthology, if so what did the cover look like? Was it in a magazine, if so what did you use to read back then? Was it written in English, was it a translation? Stuff like that, to increase the chances of a successful identification.
    – Jenayah
    Commented Oct 20, 2018 at 7:36

1 Answer 1


"Tropic of Eden" by Lee Killough. ISFDB says it was first published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (August 1977). I first read it in The Best Science Fiction of the Year #7, edited by Terry Carr and released in 1978.

Your memory is pretty accurate. The beautiful woman in question is named Eden Lyle. At one point, the narrator says:

She was not merely an actress, not merely one of the most beautiful women alive; she was a legend. Eve and Lillith, Penelope and Circe. She had been the guest of every world leader in the past decade and slept, so gossip claimed, with half of them.

The first-person narrator is Drummond Caspar, commonly called "Cas." He is a sort of sculptor; specializing in shaping "tropic sculptures" which are made from mutated plant material and visibly react to people and sounds in the nearby environment. In other words, a tropic sculpture is a living, moving variety of sculpture, instead of being stuck in just one shape. So the title "Tropic of Eden" seems to refer to a piece of Cas's work which he creates for Eden Lyle in the course of the story. The creation process involves her presence so that the living sculpture will be partially shaped by her own personality.

The younger girl who lives with Eden Lyle is called Hebe. As you say, her hair is cut much shorter, and she doesn't wear makeup or show the same poise that Eden has, but underneath those details they are extremely similar in appearance. At first, there's a rumor circulating that Hebe is some sort of cousin whom Eden has taken in. Cas later learns differently:

I felt I could not just leave, though, and so I said, “It’s uncanny how much you look like your cousin in this light. If you wore some make-up and let your hair grow, the two of you would look like twins.”

Hebe’s eyes lifted to mine, dark, unreadable pools. “We are.”

I did not immediately understand. “Are what?”

“Twins. Not cousins.”

I laughed. “There’s just a few too many months’ difference in your ages for you to be twins,” I pointed out.

“I’m a clone,” Hebe said.

I realized several moments later that my jaw was hanging and snapped it back into place. I tried to talk. I did not succeed very well. “A — I thought — cousins, I was told — why would Eden — ”

“I asked once,” Hebe said. She sighed. “She wouldn’t tell me why she had me made.”

At one point, Hebe moves near the tropic sculpture which Cas has made for Eden, and it reacts as if it's reaching toward her, wanting to grasp her. Cas has never seen that exact reaction before, and it gives him food for thought. He does some investigating, and finally figures out the answer to Hebe's question about why Eden wanted a clone of herself.

He has traced the history of Dr. Hugo Ascher, a man who has recently insisted that Hebe needs to make a trip to a certain spa in Switzerland. Cas learns that Dr. Ascher is a surgeon who was sued for malpractice after a brain transplant failed. The implication is that Eden intends to go to Switzerland and have her brain inserted into Hebe's skull so that Eden can enjoy being young all over again. (And, presumably, could repeat the process again a few decades later?) Cas is angrily telling Eden what he's deduced when they suddenly hear a scream from Hebe, whom they hadn't realized was eavesdropping on their conversation.

Hebe runs away. By the time Cas catches up with her, she has already pressed her cheek against the hot metal of a spotlight.

She let it go, smiling. The entire side of her face was purple and shriveled. “Too late,” she said triumphantly. “No surgery can make me perfect again.” She swayed. “No use to her now.”

  • 1
    David, if this is the correct answer, you can accept it by clicking the checkmark on the left. Please do; it's a way to show everyone the mystery was solved, and it rewards both you and Lorendiac :) especially since this answer is well detailed!
    – Jenayah
    Commented Oct 21, 2018 at 22:48

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