What a genuinely great, fun book. Six Wakes was one of my most anticipated books for spring, and with good reason! In this future, humans have perfected cloning: with regular backups (called mindmaps) and a fresh computer, a clone can die as many times as it likes and wake up again in a brand new body. If you haven’t backed up your mind lately with a new mindmap, and you die, your clone will be missing some time.
Space janitor and chef Maria Elena wakes up in a new clone body to find that her last body is dead. The five other crew members aboard the generation ship Dormire are in the same situation. Their older bodies have clearly been in space for more than two decades, but they now can’t remember anything later than boarding the ship. Unable to trust anyone — even themselves — they have to get the ship’s AI back online and figure out how they got to this state, or the ship (and its thousands of sleeping colonists) is doomed.
Despite (because of?) the high concept of Six Wakes, I was all in the way in from the jump. A manor house murder mystery is my favorite type of murder mystery, and Six Wakes is a manor house murder mystery in space. To make things even more fun, we soon learn that each of the six crew members is a criminal, undertaking this difficult journey with the promise that their records will be wiped clean at the other end. They are to be kept under control by the AI, who has ultimate command of the ship — but the AI is, at the time of their waking, offline and malfunctioning. Interstitial flashback chapters tell each of their stories, both how they came to commit their crimes and how they came to board this ship. Secrets abound, and it’s an absolute treat to watch the many pieces of the puzzle slowly come together.
The further you get into the book, the more Lafferty reveals about the history and mechanics of cloning, details that become more and more important as we gain more clues into what happened. I don’t want to spoil too much about the book — it’s fun learning as you go along! — but suffice it to say that the world has had a difficult time of it reaching the current legal and social detente between humans and clones.
If you’re a mystery person considering dipping a toe into SF, or an SF person considering dipping a toe into mystery, or an omnivore looking for something fun and meaty (a la, let’s say, a Lexicon or a The Rook), Six Wakes is your guy.