Monday, April 22, 2019

Review: Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty

Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty
Published: Orbit (2017)
Awards Nominated: Hugo, Nebula and Philip K. Dick Awards

The Book:

“The starship Dormire is headed to colonize an alien planet, and it is crewed by criminals.  In a future where cloning and mind-downloading are commonplace and carefully regulated by law, it is possible for a small crew of six to manage the day-to-day details of the ship’s journey, life after life.  It’s not a terribly attractive job, but it is one certain criminals are willing to accept in exchange for the promise of a clean slate at their destination. To help start their new lives, their past crimes are to remain a secret.  

Years after departure, these six clones wake up in the middle of a brutal murder scene, where they are also the victims.  They have no memory of what has happened on the journey, and no idea who would have killed them all and why. Any one of them could be the killer, and not even know it. The clones must figure out what has happened before they are killed again--this time for good.” ~Allie

My Thoughts:

The future society of Six Wakes is shaped by cloning and mind-uploading technology. I personally tend to like books that focus on these sorts of ideas, and in this case I enjoyed how it was carried through to consider legal and social ramifications.  Also, I like stories that play with concepts of self and memory, so I found the premise--a mystery where any of the victims might unknowingly be the killer--deeply compelling. I say all this to point out that I was predisposed to like this book (and I did like it!) but I also felt the prose was a little weak. Occasionally, I would be distracted from the story by repetition or awkward phrasing, and there was a kind of sameness to the dialogue of different characters.  The story and the world was a lot of fun, and for me, that was enough.

The story was split between present and past, the situation on the Dormire and the circumstances that brought each of the characters there.  In the present, the stakes are raised through the loss of the ship’s cloning capability. If the characters are killed again, they will not be able to take another try at solving the mystery.  This made the story pretty tense and paranoid, and in some cases information is withheld from the reader. The past stories are more of an exploration of the various ways things can go wrong in a world where minds are programmable and bodies are replaceable.  It was in these backstories that I got to know each of the characters and their motivations, and this was also where I saw the most of the future society they inhabited.

While the situation on the Dormire was certainly interesting, I was more drawn in by the backstories.  Part of this might just be because I like world-building, and there’s more of it to see on a world than in a spaceship.  I think another part that it is hard to simultaneously establish six compelling characters in an amnesia situation, where they are all also hiding everything about themselves beyond their basic personalities.  In any case, it made it difficult for me to build emotional connections with the characters. It was the backstories that fleshed them out, showing us who they were and what they were capable of. As I saw more of the past, it became easier to understand and connect to what was happening in the present.  Also, there were some interesting twists near the end, and I was pretty satisfied with how things concluded.

My Rating: 3.5/5

Mur Lafferty’s Six Wakes includes a lot of ideas I am drawn to in science fiction literature--cloning, mind-uploading, and related issues of self when personalities can be described in code.  I enjoyed seeing ideas of how the introduction of these technologies might change human society. The story was really fun, but there was some weakness in the writing that was a little distracting.  Rather than the spaceship murder mystery, I was more interested in reading about each character’s background and the cloning-related problems they’d had in their lives. Overall, it was an entertaining book, and one that I am happy to have read.

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