Solving Your Own Murder: A Review of Six Wakes

Six Wakes (2017)
Written by: Mur Lafferty
Genre: Science Fiction
Pages: 400 (Trade paperback)
Publisher: Orbit

Why I Chose It: So one of my favorite genre mash-ups is SF/Mystery, and Six Wakes definitely falls into that sweet spot. It’s a science fiction locked-room mystery that also made me think of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, just… in space. What’s not to like about that? Plus, this book’s cover art caught my eye for a really weird reason; it reminded me of a book I adored as a kid. The Forgotten Door by Alexander Key (of Escape to Witch Mountain fame).

The Premise:

On a space ship far from earth, someone is murdering the crew. And the crew’s newly awakened clones will have to find their killer–before he strikes again!

Maria Arena awakens in a cloning vat streaked with drying blood. She has no memory of how she died. This is new; before, when she had awakened as a new clone, her first memory was of how she died.

Maria’s vat is one of seven, each one holding the clone of a crew member of the starship Dormire, each clone waiting for its previous incarnation to die so it can awaken. And Maria isn’t the only one to die recently…

A Few Tiny Spoilers Below…


Discussion: While I was excited about the premise, I didn’t buy Six Wakes when it first came out. There are certain tropes that always get on my nerves and make me put the book down or turn the television off. Characters locked up and descending into increasing paranoia is definitely one of those tropes. I don’t like overwrought, “but who can we trust? stories. I find them exhausting.

Thankfully, Lafferty doesn’t make that the whole point.

There is a murder here — many murders as a matter of fact — and the survivors do spend a significant time trying to figure out which of their fellow crew members wants them all dead. There is the inevitable arguing and pointing of fingers as they work their way through the “who done it.” But really the core of the story is a look at how the ability to clone yourself at will has changed human society as a whole, and that part is awesome.

The book has two modes: the present murder mystery — the new clones working to figure out what/who killed the previous clones and why the killer did it and how they can prevent the killer from killing them again — and each clones’ back story in which ramifications of a society built on cloning gets explored in really interesting details.

The blurb makes it seem like Maria is the primary character, and without going into spoiler territory, I will agree that she is definitely one of the most plot-pivotal characters. That said, Lafferty gives us points of view from all the clones, slowly showing how their backstories brought them to this moment — lost in space on a partially crippled ship with no memories and their own murders to solve — and how their histories relate to each other.

One of the best parts about cloning is that it allows her characters to have functional immortality (as long as they can start the vats, as long as they get their memory back-ups scanned before their bodily death), and that, in turn, allows the characters to recall so much important societal change without feeling forced. More than one of the clones was there for the beginning of the clone laws, so the history that we need for the murder mystery is not only fresh for them, but personal.

I really loved the way Lafferty explored cloning, mixing the good, the bad, and the frankly horrific abuses, throughout the book. There is a lot of low-key horror here; questions about free-will when your memory can be completely scanned and uploaded elsewhere, or your genes tweaked before your next clone wakes up, or your personality rewritten. But there is also the temptation — I read this book, saw all the misdeeds that could be done with this tech, and still thought, wow, this would be such wonderful technology to have. These characters have life after life and move career after career as their fancy takes them. And why not? You’ll never run out of time.

The characters are mostly interesting people, fleshed out well. With multiple POV books, I usually find at least one POV that bores me rigid. Here, not so much. While I didn’t always like the characters — really some of these people make quite inhumane and selfish decisions — I always understood them.

Lafferty does her best to keep the killer’s identity secret and a viable plot thread all the way through. I don’t know that she completely succeeds in that; I had my suspicions from the start, which proved to be correct, but the identity of the killer was less interesting than the motives and the worldbuilding around the crimes. So guessing correctly didn’t spoil the story for me at all. And like most classic mysteries, all the threads come together to tie a satisfying bow at the end.

There were a few things (there are always a few things) that bugged me. That bow up above? Maybe a little too tight. There’s satisfying and then there’s a little contrived. The solution seemed to require a villain to predict each of these crew members’ behaviors with a degree of accuracy that seemed impossible. Then again, mind mapping, body replacements, gene tweaking… maybe it would allow for that impossible accuracy. There’s a revelation late in the book that’s both wonderfully horrifying and kind of perplexing. I loved seeing how the mind-mapping/scanning technology was used to create an absolutely new form of atrocity, but I could never figure out why it was used that way. There’s kill, overkill, and then there’s… this.  Plus the victim seemed so random. Just someone who crossed the villain’s path at exactly the wrong moment. So, even while I reveled in the expanding way this technology could be twisted, I also kind of side-eyed the use in this particular situation.

In Conclusion: I borrowed this from the library (love my library!), but it’s now on my list of books to add to my personal library. I think if you like locked room mysteries and who done it, and you want to imagine a society where cloning is common place and take a look at how that changes the value of a human life… you should definitely pick this book up. It’s tailor-made for you. If any of that sounds good — Murder mystery in space! Cloning technology! Conspiracy and mayhem! — you might give it a try. Honestly, I expect this book to show up on some award’s list somewhere next year.

3 Comments

  • Shara White August 24, 2017 at 1:02 pm

    Okay, I definitely need to read this to fill the Orphan Black-sized hole in my heart.

    But one complaint: if this book is about a woman, why the hell is there a dude on the cover?

    Reply
  • Lane Robins August 24, 2017 at 1:15 pm

    THat’s a very good question, and I have zero answers. The crew is split 50-50 gender-wise but it’s still an odd choice. Of course I’m not sure how to read the title either. Is it Six wakes, as in six funeral memories for the dead clones, which I could see since they all talk about their histories. Or it could be more numerical–the sixth clone to wake. I don’t know.

    Reply
  • Nancy O'Toole Meservier August 24, 2017 at 4:34 pm

    I need to reeeeead this one. I’ve had the book on my kindle for ages it seems, but I haven’t had a chance to get to it.

    Reply

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