Six Wakes is the latest novel by Mur Lafferty, author of the Shambling Guides series. In this book, however, she takes a left turn from urban fantasy to a sci-fi mystery story. From the central story of a perfect locked-room mystery, Lafferty weaves a sprawling tale of politics, conspiracy, and what it means to be human in one very unique vision of the future. And she does a pretty good job of it.
My rating: 4.5 out of 5.
So here’s the story: in the Year 2493, cloning technology has become commonplace, and better yet, it’s possible to copy a person’s memories into their clone. People can clone themselves into new bodies over and over again when they die, extending their lifespan indefinitely. Some clones are over 250 years old, adding up their various lives.
But there’s one catch. In addition to being condemned by many religious groups, clones are kept as second-class citizens to keep them from becoming too powerful with their centuries of life experience and amassed wealth. Multiple clones of the same person aren’t allowed to exist at the same time. Clones aren’t allowed to have children. And most controversially, it’s illegal to modify the DNA of a clone, even to fix a genetic illness.
Of course, these laws are often broken by illegal cloners, with serious consequences even for unwilling cloning victims. Various crimes have led six clones to become the crew of the Dormire, a sleeper ship traveling to colonize the Tau Ceti system. The clones will run the ship through the multi-generation flight in exchange for having their criminal records wiped clean.
But then, halfway through the mission, the whole crew wake up in cloned bodies to find their previous selves have been murdered, and worse, their memories haven’t been copied over. The last thing they remember is coming aboard the ship. It’s the perfect crime: six victims, six suspects, all of them with criminal records, and none of them remembering what happened, not even the killer themselves. And now they have to solve the mystery before it happens again.
Lafferty expertly spools out this mystery piece by piece, and along the way, she reveals the backstory of each of the crew, what they did to get themselves on the Dormire, and why they might have a motive to kill everyone. It’s not perfectly done. Some of the crew are obviously bigger suspects than others, but the truth doesn’t fully come out until the end, with a couple of major twists along the way. And in the meantime, the themes of what cloning means for every aspect of society and the very nature of humanity, which run throughout the story in a very entertaining and thought-provoking way, more than make up for these shortcomings. Six Wakes is just as much about exploring this uncanny future and its implications as it is about the mystery, and that, in my opinion, is what makes it a real quality read.