BOOK REVIEW: Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty

written by David Steffen

Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty is a science fiction mystery, one of the finalists for the Hugo Award for the Best Novel category of 2017.

In the future, cloning is commonplace, but its use is strictly limited by law to ensure that it’s only used for longevity of a person rather than multiplication.  Every clone makes regular mindmaps of their memories and after they die, a new youthful body is cloned from their DNA and the mindmap copied into it.  Many clones have hundreds of years worth of memories they carry with them as though they have lived a single long life.  The practice of cloning is not accepted by everyone, especially religious groups, many of which consider clones to be soulless abominations, and there have been violent conflicts about cloning practices.

And what better use for clones than to crew a starship?  Equip the ship with a cloning bay and mindmapper, and a crew of six can staff a starship that would require a generation ship with much heavier infrastructure with an uncloned human crew.  Not many clones would be interested in such a long dull trip, but criminal clones granted a pardon for their crimes as payment can be convinced, watched over by an AI to make sure things don’t get out of control, and a cargo of humans and clone mindmaps to colonize the planet at the end of the trip.

But, something has gone terribly wrong.  Maria Arena and the other six crew members wake up simultaneously in newly cloned bodies, to their own murder scene.  They have been in transit for twenty-five years but have lost all of the memories of their journey, the gravity is off, the food replicator is only manufacturing poison, the AI is offline, the cloning bay has been sabotaged, and presumably one or more of them was the murderer but even they don’t remember that they did it.  Their previous crimes are strictly off the record as part of the pardon deal, so no one knows if any of the others had a history of murder.

This was an enjoyable SF mystery, an amped-up locked room type of mystery, where this crew of six is set to investigate their own murders, and it could’ve been any of them since they lost the memories of the journey.  As they go they have numerous other obstacles they have to deal with just to keep going, as well as searching for clues to who committed the murders.  Scenes from the present are interspersed with scenes from each person’s pasts so the interplay between the characters makes more and more sense as we understand their histories.  I don’t read a lot in the mystery genre, but I liked how this novel took familiar tropes like the locked room mystery and by changing the setting and technology level gave them interesting new angles to explore.  The book flowed easily from beginning to end and I was satisfied with the resolution.  I don’t know how well it will stand up to avid mystery readers, but I enjoyed it and would recommend it.