‘Six Wakes’ reminded me strongly of the early Asimov books. In the same way that Asimov set out the three laws of robotics and then presents mysteries that show their unintended consequences, Mur Lafferty sets out the Cloning Codicils governing the use of cloning technology and the rights of clones and then wraps a series of mysteries around them. Mur Lafferty’s book is more ambitions than the early Asimov in complexity, scope and storytelling style.
‘Six Wakes’ wraps a well-thought-through view of the personal and social impacts of cloning in a fiendishly intricate puzzle, enhanced by clever reveals from multiple points of view and enlivened by frequent violent death. The mysteries are complex and inter-related in surprising ways, weaving in and out of one another over centuries of activity. The storytelling uses multiple points of view to trace the backstories of individual characters while carrying the current action forward. The result is something original and fresh that feels like the genius offspring of ‘I, Robot’, ‘Lost’ and ‘Revenge’.
I don’t want to give the plot away as uncovering and solving the puzzle is the heart of the book, so let me describe it using a metaphor. Think of ‘Six Wakes’ as starting out as a broken analogue wristwatch. The watch case holds all the complex pieces that will make the watch work but theyre not in the right place so no one can tell the time. The challenge of the book is for the pieces to become aware that they’re part of the watch and find a way to configure themselves to work together.
The watch case is a starship, staffed by six clones and an AI. The clones are all criminals, on the ship to earn a clean slate on a new world. The plan is that the clones will renew on death so that the ship can be staffed across generations. The broken nature of the watch becomes apparent right at the start when all the clones wake up at the same time and discover they’ve all be murdered and that neither they nor the AI has any memory of how it happened. Each of the characters is a piece of the watch. Each piece is more complicated than it at first appears and each piece has something to hide. With the starship, its crew and its mission under threat the characters need to find a way past their mutual distrust so that they can share their stories and understand what’s happening.
And yes, that’s the simple version.
The central puzzle – who killed the clones and why – works. The flashbacks add depth to the characters, deliver lots of surprises along the way and flesh out the context for cloning.
The only thing missing for me was any real sense of tension. Even when the risks were at their greatest, I didn’t feel much sense of threat of foreboding. In some ways, this was good as it allowed me to focus on the plot. It also echoes the clones’ it-doesn’t-matter-if-they-kill-me-cos-I’ll-be-back experience of life. Still, a little bit more tension would have turned this into a page-turned rather than a jigsaw puzzle.
If you like puzzles and admire a well-constructed plot and detailed, credible world-building, set against a background of violence and threat, you’ll have fun with this book.