Book Review: Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Orbit (January 31, 2017)
Length: 352 pages
A crew of a compromised ship wake up to confusion and murder, with no memory of what came before. It’s not exactly a new premise, which is why when I first picked up Six Wakes, I thought I knew what I was in for—a mindless space adventure-thriller, with a bit of mystery thrown in perhaps. Turns out, I was wrong. Oh sure, the book had a little bit of this and a little dash of that, but it was also more than the sci-fi popcorn fare I had expected. Far, far, far from it, in fact.
The story begins on the Dormire, a generation starship carrying a cargo hold full of sleeping humans to the unspoiled paradise planet of Artemis. On the four-hundred-year journey it would take to travel to their destination, their lives would be safeguarded by IAN, the onboard AI. Six clones also make up the ship’s crew, all of them reformed criminals who are hoping to scrub their pasts clean and start their lives anew on Artimis: Katrina, the captain; Wolfgang, her second-in-command; Maria, the junior maintenance officer; Hiro, the programmer; Joanna, the medical officer; and Paul, the ship engineer. The opening scene is one of blood and terror when the six of them suddenly find themselves waking up in their cloning vats, with their minds downloaded into their new bodies—something that only happens if a clone’s previous incarnation has died.
Indeed, when they have recovered enough to find their bearings, they discover their old bodies floating around the ship in zero-G, all showing signs of violence. IAN has been knocked offline, explaining the lack of artificial gravity as well as the fact their ship is now off-course. To make matters worse, the cloning bay has been sabotaged so that the clones’ most up-to-date mindmaps cannot be accessed, and the food printer has also been reprogrammed to churn out poison. Since all the passengers in the hold are still in stasis, the implications clear: one of the six crew members had killed the others including themselves. And because their latest memories were retrieved from back-ups made decades ago from around the time they left earth, no one can remember what happened right before their deaths, so the killer can be any of them.
The more I think about it, the more I begin to think there are actually two sides to this novel. First, we have the obvious mystery aspect, which combines the suspense of a sci-fi thriller with the elements from a classic whodunit. Throw in the madness-inducing claustrophobia of knowing you are trapped on a spaceship with a group of criminals, any of whom are capable of murder—one of them has already killed you once, in fact—and the stage is set for a gripping psychological drama. To keep things interesting, the narrative also shifts between our six main characters, exploring not only who they are but also who they were in their past clone lives. Impressively, the tensions of the central mystery plot were kept up despite these frequent interludes and flashbacks.
Which brings me to second aspect of the story. While the publisher’s description might have sold us the idea that Six Wakes is nothing more than a murder mystery in space, the true nature of it is much more complicated and layered than that. Lafferty imagines a future in which humans can choose to clone themselves and transfer their mindmaps from iteration to iteration, effectively achieving a sort of immortality. Not surprisingly, this process is regulated heavily by a body of laws and a number of attached codicils to ensure that it is not abused. In exploring the characters’ pasts, the author not only addresses the ethics surrounding the cloning controversy, she also raises astute questions about our humanity by looking at the political and social ramifications on an individual as well as a societal level.
Personally, I love sci-fi stories like these, the ones that engage both the heart and the mind. I initially picked up Six Wakes expecting a straightforward mystery—some light entertainment, maybe a few twists and turns—but the book ended up being all that and more. Beneath the surface of its central premise, you’ll find a thought-provoking narrative that’s cleverly presented and well-crafted. Ultimately, Mur Lafferty has written novel that is more than it seems, engaging readers with a cast of unforgettable characters and a richly imagined plot. Six Wakes was a fun and rewarding experience all around and I cannot wait to read more by the author.