Here’s the basics of the lore on these things, as a kind of FAQ, gathered up from the recent, recurring discussions.
I am sure I miss something, so please add factoids and references! Please keep clear though what is canon-confirmed and what is your favorite hypothesis.
So! The very, very basic is that when you fly in space, you are inside a pod, a capsule, which is a gel filled thingy where you control the spaceship via neural implants. When you die, the capsule kills you, takes a snapshot from your consciousness, transfers over the FTL to where a fresh clone of you waits, and you wake up in a new body. Simple.
In the capsule, however, things are different. All the equipment needs to do is detect a breach in the pod, because – as every cadet has hammered into his head from the moment he starts training – pod breach, without exception, spells doom for the person inside. Therefore, the instant the egg begins to crack, two things happen: the wire-cap on the pilot’s head injects an instantly lethal nanotoxin into his bloodstream and the scanner sends its piercing light into his skull. Scarce seconds later, he begins the muddy climb towards consciousness in a new body, light years away.
The process is really safe these days, but it can fail (CCP Falcon in this Reddit thread):
If you die outside of the pod, your chances to get a scan in and an immediate revival are slim (from The Capsule and the Clone)
The crucial element in the process relies on a brain-scan snapshot being taken at the precise time of death and transmitted to the waiting clone, and so the transneural burning scanner required to do so needs to be mounted somewhere close to the person at all times. Since the snapshot itself causes massive physical damage to the gray matter, there can be no margin of error; it needs to be done at the exact time of death. In planetary vehicles, the cloning companies have experimented with mounting the transneural scanner in a variety of locations, but the almost limitless potentiality of planet-bound environments has proved time and again that it just isn’t safe – snapshots either go off due to false stimuli, leaving healthy clients in a vegetative state, or fail to go off due to circumstances unforeseen by the safeguard mechanism, leaving clients dead with no chance of retransplantation.
But don’t worry, because there are soft-clones. They are in multiple places in the lore, but here’s a concise description of it by a dev:
Some of these are explained by cultural values. There are many Minmatar who believe that only (one copy of) one body and one mind may exist at any one time.
[—] philosophy of those who believe that only one living body and one living spirit, or mind, may exist at any one time. Within this tradition there exists a school of thought that believes it is acceptable to assist a spirit in crossing from a dying body to a new living body
Amarrians have a ‘sacred flesh’ tradition that makes many frown on cloning, even though a recent exhortations by Empress Catiz and the Theology Council indeed confirm capsuleers are considered fully human.
The Amarr have a mixed view on cloning, with the doctrine of Sacred Flesh prohibiting it for royalty. Many members of the clergy and nobility also adhere to the ideals of Sacred Flesh, though violation of it among these segments of society is not considered a religious crime as it is among royals. However, cloning has gained more and more acceptance among the Amarr in recent decades, especially with the rise of capsuleers. Some theologians contend that the soul transmigrates into a new body upon cloning, while others claim that clones are nothing more than soulless shells. (From Death)
As the faithful will know, this Exhortation by the Theology Council contained the judgment that cloned humans should be accepted as embodying souls in communion with the Imperial Rite. (See links above)
Backups of non-capsuleers have frequent and comprehensive use, though. For example national navy crews have backups:
Despite this availability on national navy vessels, capsuleer crews are not routinely backed up everywhere, as evidenced by this description of SoE work:
Provisions for crew safety on capsuleer vessels include numerous safety features, such as small boats, escape pods and long-term survival suits. The SCC also makes available life insurance and financing of static backup clones for space crews on highly favorable terms. Despite these measures the SOE believes not enough is being done to prevent crews losses aboard capsuleer ships.
The reason you cannot have multiple copies of yourself is not technical; it’s legal. There’s a chronicle about that, but here’s ISD Thalack with the TL;DR (From the OOC EVE Roleplayers’ Discord, which you btw totally should join!):
Jump clones are not backups, but they actually kill you for them, so no time loss when you JC (from Death):
So-called “jump cloning” works in much the same manner. Once a jump contract has been agreed upon, the customer can enter any cloning facility at any station, whereupon they will be brain-scanned, their originating bodies effectively flatlined, and their consciousness transferred to a waiting jump clone at their requested destination. Any implants in the originating body are carefully picked out by machines and just as carefully inserted into a fresh clone waiting at the original jumping-off point. Once the owner finally jumps back, from their point of view, they are returning to the same body, with the same implants and all, when in actuality it is a new clone.
Oh, and while you usually don’t, if you want to risk losing time, and have correct equipment, you can leave your pod on a ship.
And they make you die and clone once in the end of capsuleer training (from EVE Source).
Once a candidate makes it through the entire five years of mental and physical hardship and exertion, he is ready to face the final test: in order to gain his certification and become a full-fledged capsuleer, he must submit to voluntary euthanasia, give up the body he was born in, and clone into a new version of himself, for the first time coming squarely face to face with death. Despite the prodigious investment of time and energy the preceding years have demanded, it’s surprising to note how many candidates cannot make this final step, forgoing all they’ve learned because they can’t bear to cross the Rubicon into posthumanity.
There are a couple of bits here that cause serious headaches to players. Here are some common, as far as I know not confirmed by canon, solutions to those:
- It is generally assumed that the requirement for killing yourself once in the end of training was put in around the time EVE Source came out, because before that many player characters were talking about ‘still being in their original body’. This way, some of them still are.
- People who want to play with the tragedy of crew death tend to assume that while national navies can somehow finance it, cost for backing up all crew would be prohibitive for capsuleers.
- Alternatively, they just ignore the national navy crews have regular backups bit completely - it’s only in Frigates of EVE and it’s not a well-known bit of lore on which a lot of other stuff is dependent on.
- People who do not want to play with crew death sometimes assume backups for all their crew, because if a national navy can why can’t we. Assuming good escape pods and evacuation measures seem (to me) to be a more common way around it, in accordance to the bit about SoE and crew deaths.
- The fact that heads of state die left and right and backups are never mentioned, is usually just handled by training Suspension of Disbelief to V and taking the Ignorance is Bliss 2 drugs.