A locked room mystery, a generation ship off-course, a snarky AI with secrets, and more clones than you can shake a food replicator at – Six Wakes has it all. The ‘clones’ are more like 3D printed people that come fully grown and complete with memories – a clever conceit that works rather like re-spawning in a video game. In effect, Lafferty’s clones have a potential infinite life-span, so long as they can afford to be re-cloned and keep their personalities backed up.
So who better to pilot a ‘generation ship’ on a long journey to another planet, than a crew of clones who can replicate themselves? Ah, well not this crew! The novel starts with the crew waking in crisis from cloning tanks and finding the murdered bodies of their last iteration floating in zero gravity in a spaceship out of control.
Murder, secrets and lies: the small crew have their fair share of each and an apparently incapacitated AI unable to explain what has occurred.
Mixing a day-by-day account of the crew’s investigation into themselves with flashbacks that flesh out the social history and legalities of clones on future Earth, the story rushes headlong into a science fiction murder mystery thriller.
Original in scope but using familiar ideas, Six Wakes feels like an updated variant on classic Philip K Dick territory. Paranoia and core questions of the nature of personal identity take centre stage, pushing the more violent mystery into the background. Motive and the fragility of memory are incrementally examined as we learn more about each crew member’s backstory.
Hard to say more without spoilers. I thoroughly enjoyed this story but I’ve some doubts about the ending (again hard to elaborate). I thought the pacing was impeccable – mind you the last book I read was like watching a glacier melt so my perspective may be distorted!
Suffice to say my Hugo ballot for best novel hasn’t got easier. Did it blow my socks off? No, but I think it is a worthy contender.
[Thank you to the friend of this blog who donated a copy for review purposes. I have vowed to buy my own when it becomes available. Orbit doesn’t have a good record with Hugo packets but in this case surely letting voters outside of the US read the book is only fair! ]