LitStack Review: Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty

by Sharon Browning

Six Wakes
Mur Lafferty
Orbit Books
Release Date:  January 31, 2017
ISBN 978-0-316-38968-6

Mur Lafferty’s Six Wakes is a science fiction novel about clones and a space mission gone awry.  But it’s also a murder mystery, with many moving parts. Both aspects of the book feed off the other, and both are equally riveting.

Crewman Maria Arena knows the moment she wakes up in a vat of synth-amneo fluid that her previous incarnation is dead – the Clone Codicils of 2282 dictate that only one clone can be viable at any given time; cloning is for longevity of life, not multiplication. What she isn’t ready for is discovering the violence of her previous clone’s death, or that the entire crew of the generational ship Dormire has also come to similarly brutal ends.

Maria is one of six crew members (not counting IAN, the ship’s artificial intelligence) who have been hired to shepherd the Dormire and its cargo of 2,500 sleeper pods, which contain both human and clone colonists bound for the planet Artemis. This skeleton crew is all clones, with the understanding that they would be able to continuously rebirth themselves throughout the 400 year journey to their new home. But 25 years into the expedition Maria finds herself in a new body, facing a grisly crime scene, with the ship’s AI offline, the ship off course, and no memory of anything that happened since her last backup, which was performed just prior to launch. The same is true of the other five crew members except that they find the captain’s previous clone body comatose, on full life support, in the ship’s med bay.

Who committed the murders, since everyone was at least as good as dead? Was it a conspiracy? Sabotage, psychotic, biochemical, of passion? Why were their memories erased? What happened to IAN? Why is the ship off course? And a growing paranoia: what is in each crew member’s secret past that might, if exposed, shed light not only on the murders, but the reason each one of them was so desperate to leave Earth behind?

Oh, boy. Talk about plenty to explore!

I will admit, I tend to steer clear of science fiction books that center on clones and cloning – the relationships and political ramifications tend to confuse me and make the reading more an endurance test than a pleasurable pastime. But I was delighted to find this was not the case with Six Wakes. Although the effects and consequences of cloning, both as it applies in “the present” to those on the ship, and in their pasts, were so skillfully laid out that not only was I able to follow along, I did not have to remove myself from the story in order to do so. Oh, there was a little confusion at the very beginning, but that’s true of very many books when it comes to establishing the story, science fiction or not.

And since the POV moved from character to character, exploring each of their backgrounds and histories (we only start with Maria), we get a well fleshed out model of not only current social mindsets on clones and cloning from the clones themselves, but also how the laws governing them came about, and what conflicts arose before society got to the point we are at. And it makes sense. Having this historical background delivered not as exposition but as an integral part of the storyline, part of the unfolding mystery, was an extremely masterful move on Ms. Lafferty’s part.

And wowsa, did the mystery part of the storyline take me for a ride! Suspicion, paranoia, deception, the putting up and taking down of defenses, the twists, the turns, each character’s fear of what was unknown both of the others and even of themselves… wave after wave of possibility just kept coming. The added factor of cloning – and the extra layers of potential manipulation that cloning opened up – allows for the mystery to transcend the typical whodunit. I honestly did not know where to point a finger, or even who to suspect until virtually the final pages – not due to last minute evidence coming unexpectedly to the fore (one of the oldest and cheapest cop-outs there is, in my opinion), but because of the way Ms. Lafferty pulls all the flailing threads that have been there but untethered into a “oh, my gosh!” conclusion that I realized had been building since the first chapters.

Very, very enjoyable.  A good book for sci-fi enthusiasts and mystery buffs alike, and if you enjoy both – make sure to put Six Wakes on your To Be Read list.  In fact, put it at the top.

~ Sharon Browning

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