Mystery! Sci fi! Thriller! And what does it mean to be human? All this and more, tonight in my review of Six Wakes, by Mur Lafferty.
I feel like I'm coming very late to this party, so you can't possibly have missed this one. I mean, aside from the fact that I read this a month ago, everyone else reviewed it when it first came out--wait, was that earlier this year? Whoa, it feels like twice that long.
Excuse me, I've lost track of the scale of time. Gonna go stare into space and regain my perspective.
Which is an interesting segue into the fascinating conceit of this novel, which is that the main characters are all clones. Some people, you see, choose to clone themselves--you grow a new body to adulthood, make a mindmap, and when you die--of old age or an accident--your most recent mindmap is uploaded into the new body and you just keep going from there.
The laws governing clones are very specific: no cloning the living. If that happens, the newest clone is the "real" person and the previous one has no legal right to existence. No altering mindmaps or genetic structure of the person. Despite these rules, cloning is controversial, largely on religious grounds.
The six particular clones in this story are the crew of a generation ship--cryogenically frozen people and saved mindmaps and genetic information for clones are stored on a ship that is being sent on a 200 year journey to a habitable planet. These six crew members are going to monitor the ship for 200 years, cloning themselves as necessary to get through it. They also all happen to have criminal records, which will be expunged at their new home.
But--the book is a locked-room murder mystery. Their clones all wake up with no memory of the last 30 years; the last thing they remember was the day they departed. Their bodies are in various states of murderedness (including one at Not Quite) and the computer AI has been sabotaged.
This is our story. These six people suspect each other, and as they try to solve the mystery of their own murders, their various histories (with various levels of nefariousness) come to the fore. They can't trust each other, and all of them are some flavor of messed up (some with violent pasts), and the AI (also not entirely trustworthy) is starting to come back online and look over their shoulders.
So yeah, it's pretty great. There are a lot of unlikeable characters, but also a lot of likeable ones, and you can't be sure who to trust from either group. A lot of the story revolves around the last few centuries of cloning history (which of course all of these people have experienced), and the question of how to protect the rights of a new class of citizen with many physical advantages over other people and much social prejudice--well, that's one of the most interesting parts of the book.
As I said, I read it a month ago, which is a million years for me, so I'm not feeling it as viscerally now as I did then. But it was a compelling read, and I really appreciated that some of the characters had personal opinions that were very angry and unappealing to me, but were painted as fully human. Everyone here was the hero of their own story, which I think is one of the main truths in life. The recognition of that always makes a book stronger; it definitely did here.