Six Wakes, by Mur Lafferty (Orbit, 978-0-316-38968-6, $15.99, tpb, 364 pages) January 2017
a review by Rich Horton
a review by Rich Horton
|(Cover design by Kirk Benshoff)|
But – well – you saw that coming, right? There had to be a but. The thing is, there are lots of enjoyable novels published any year, and I’m glad when I encounter those. But I can enjoy a novel and not think it worthy of an award. And, really, that’s the case with Six Wakes. It’s fun, it’s pretty darn pure hard SF (with the understanding that “hard SF” absolutely does NOT mean “SF that gets all the science right”), it’s exciting. But, it also has some annoying logic holes, and it doesn’t really engage with the central (and very worthwhile) moral issues it raises as rigorously as I wish it had, and the prose is just OK.
The book opens with Maria Arena waking in a cloning tank on board the starship Dormire. She has no memories beyond just moving into the ship. Something must have happened, to require a clone to be created … She quickly learns at all her crewmates are in the same boat – they’ve all been cloned. And their journey is 25 years on … And, it soon becomes clear, all the crew members’ originals have been viciously killed.
The remainder of the crew are the Captain, Katrina de la Cruz, her First Officer, Wolfgang, pilot/navigator Akihiro Sato, engineer Paul Seurat, and Doctor Joanna Glass. There is no good evidence as to who killed everyone else (and then, presumably, themself). And nobody knows what has happened over the last 25 years. There is one major complication, however – the Captain’s original is actually still alive, in a coma. Which according to the law (though I wondered, why in the heck would the Earth law matter in a case like this?) means she (the original) is supposed to be killed immediately. But she might be the only witness to the crimes that led to the rest of them dying.
A few things are revealed – first, all the crew are criminals. They have been offered a chance to start over, on a new world, with their crimes forgotten, in exchange for crewing the starship en route to a supposedly habitable planet orbiting Tau Ceti. There are a great many other colonists in sleep tanks on the ship. And there’s a seventh individual – the AI controlling the ship’s functions.
Complications multiply – the AI seems to be malfunctioning. So is the food synthesizer. And as the crew members’ back stories are revealed, we learn that they are (in many cases) worse criminals than we imagined, with reasons to hate and fear the other members of the crew. And that’s not the end … Indeed, the story is very busy with action and motivations and ideas, mostly in a good way. And the ultimate resolution is, well, understandable and sensible enough, if perhaps not quite fully satisfying.
Bottom line – this is a good and enjoyable novel, but not a great one. I think you’ll enjoy it if you read it, and I recommend you do. But it wouldn’t have been on my Hugo nomination ballot – which, let’s be honest, is a minor point. It might be, say, the 10th or 15th best SF novel of the year, but in a pretty deep year, that still means it’s a nice book.