Orbit US | 2017 | 352p | Review copy | Buy the book
The starship Dormire is bound for the planet Artemis, a paradise virgin planet that will be colonised by the ship’s sleeping cargo of thousands of humans. Watched over by the AI, named IAN, the ship is crewed by three men and three women. Not quite human, the six are clones whose bodies can be rebooted at lifelong intervals during this long voyage through the stars. But something terrible has happened. All six awake at the same time, reborn in the cloning tanks, and around them in the zero gravity float the slaughtered, murdered corpses of their clone predecessors – themselves.
The six soon realise that years have passed and none of them has the memories of what has happened. But the ship is off course, the AI is disabled and the food printer produces only hemlock. There can be no doubt – one of the six is a murderer. But which? It could be any of them for not only are all six clones, they are all criminals and each has secrets to hide.
Six Wakes is a fantastic, brilliantly imagined and executed novel, combining science fiction with crime mystery and doing such a good job of both. We have a small group of suspects, confined together in a completely isolated environment, and every one of them has a motive. But it’s much more complicated than that because of the added clone dimension. Some of these people have lived for hundreds of years, witness to the struggle of clones to achieve legal status and all too aware of the ways in which clones have been abused and manipulated. Each of them has a story to tell and we hear them, interspersed throughout the novel, and this mix of past and present adds such depth and curiosity to the murder mystery at its heart.
The characters are great! Each has a distinct voice and they are so fascinating. We know that each is a criminal but this is much more subtle than that. There are reasons for what they’ve done. And this means that our sympathies are torn. Good and evil aren’t quite as simple in this world and in this extraordinary place.
The cloning aspect of the novel is compelling and clever. It mixes politics and ethics with something much more human and also much more devious. I love the way in which the stories from the past throw light on the present and it’s such a rounded world, even though we see most of it from within the claustrophobic confines of the Dormire, only escaping in the flashbacks to the past.
The mystery element is just as successful as the science fiction and we are caught throughout in twisty traps and surprises. I don’t think I guessed any of it. The atmosphere is sustained throughout and I loved its mood. There are characters here I won’t forget in a hurry. Six Wakes isn’t currently published in the UK but you can buy the import paperback (linked to at the head of the post). I really recommend it as this well-written novel is one of the most enjoyable science fiction and mystery tales I’ve read in quite a while.