Mur Lafferty, Six Wakes, Orbit, 2017.
Six Wakes takes the old familiar trope of a "closed room" murder mystery, but renews it by having it set on a space ship, and all of the six possible suspects are amnesiac clones.
Ensues an engrossing and gripping story you'll have trouble to put down.
Maria, Katrina, Hiro, Wolfgang, Paul and Joanna wake up to a scene of gore and chaos: their bodies are all around them, attacked by by a knife. As they are clones, this isn't their first experience of coming back to life again. But usually, they don't see their own dead previous bodies. And, worse, the mind maps that hold their memories are twenty five years old. As they are on a ship bound to a planet located 400 years from Earth, alone, they have no idea which one of them committed the murders or why.
I used to read a lot of crime fiction until I grew tired of it as, once you know the ropes, you can easily guess who's the murderer. I'm not averse to coming back to it for a few exceptional stories, or stories that have more to offer than just the actual mystery.
Six Wakes certainly falls in the latter category. The murder mystery, let's say I was pretty sure I knew who was the murderer by half book (and I could happily say 'I knew it!'). But nonetheless, the story remained gripping for three reasons.
First of all, it's very competently written. Even if it's not an extraordinary prose, Mur Lafferty knows how to write an engrossing tale. I'm a bit tired of the cliffhangers at the end of chapters and multiple point of views and flashbacks in the way of Lost to reveal the past of the characters. But it all worked very well.
Secondly, I truly enjoyed the characters. They are a terrible bunch: all six clones were selected for this mission because they were all criminals who would be pardoned at the end of the trip. But they are all unique and interesting. I also appreciated the diversity of the crew, with one member who is disabled, two who are Latinx and one who is Asian.
Sure the story is a murder mystery, but like any good murder mystery, it's steeped in the human psyche, in the reasons that led to the violent event, rather than the event itself. And Lafferty's characters provide this human angle wonderfully. The flashbacks reveal them to us, or sometimes even to themselves, and lead to the final and dramatic revelations.
Finally, despite being a character heavy murder mystery, Six Wakes also raise interesting ethical questions. None of those will be new to any scifi old hand but they are well put and well supported by the great characters. Ethics of cloning, slavery, free will, religious fanaticism, revenge, all provide a good depth to a story that would otherwise be a bit superficial.
I could nuance by saying the story can be a bit naive at some points, particularly when it comes to the ending. But I didn't really mind because I got so caught up in the story itself that I was happy to overlook it.
If you like a murder mystery, if you like scifi, if you like character driven stories, then this book is the perfect fit for you and I'm pretty sure you'll end up being as engrossed in it as I was.
The writer's website.
Update, April 2018: Six Wakes is a 2018 Hugo Award finalist.
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