The novel “Six Wakes” by Mur Lafferty was published for the first time in 2017.
When Maria Arena wakes up, she remembers the beginning of the journey of the starship Dormire but something went wrong because she discovers her previous clone, who shows visible signs of being much older than when the journey began and was killed. The other crew members turn out to be in the same situation except the captain, whose previous body is in a coma but still alive.
A check-up of the onboard systems shows that the IAN artificial intelligence is not working. The cloning systems have been sabotaged, meaning that records of the crew members’ memories are unavailable and it’s impossible to create new clones. There’s a saboteur on board but everything suggests that he must be a member of the crew, an easy conclusion to reach also because they’re all criminals.
Mur Lafferty throws the protagonists of “Six Wakes” and the reader into a critical situation to begin this novel. The structure is a science fiction version of a locked-room mystery, as the protagonists must solve the mystery of their own murder, which occurred on a starship that is in interstellar space, in the midst of a very long journey. For the crew, the tension is made even greater by the fact that various systems of the Dormire have been sabotaged, leaving the new clones in a very difficult situation.
Actually, Agatha Christie fans may be disappointed by “Six Wakes” because the crew’s murder mystery constitutes only a part, albeit an important one, of the novel. The fact that the human protagonists are clones is used by Mur Lafferty to show the society they lived in before boarding the starship Dormire. The focus is in particular on the laws regarding cloning with its consequences and the crimes related to this practice.
When a new clone is ready, the cloned person’s mindmap is implanted into his or her brain. In essence, the new person is a copy of the old one, who has since died. There are no philosophical discussions regarding whether or not a person is the same clone after clone. Mur Lafferty is interested in other types of cloning issues such as the risk of hacking a mindmap.
A good part of the novel is made up of flashbacks covering important moments in the lives of the various crew members, including their crimes. They have a past that can be some centuries long which arrives at the moment when they were “enlisted” for the Dormire mission. This creates an increasingly strong connection between these flashbacks and the mystery of the multiple murders aboard the Dormire.
Mur Lafferty uses in different ways the narrative structure which alternates flashbacks with moments on board the Dormire with the crew forced to face a very serious crisis without the possibility of receiving help. It shows that future society with the consequences of using human cloning, allows the author to develop characters who initially have many secrets, and offers clues that help understand what happened on the Dormire.
“Six Wakes” doesn’t include much action although there are very intense moments, especially in the ending, so the tension is given by the situation on board the Dormire. It offers food for thought related to the use of technologies that could be developed in the future. I recommend reading it to anyone interested in these themes.