I stayed up entirely too late finishing this. It was really very hard for me to put down, and that alone earns it the privilege of being bumped up to four stars. I did have some quibbles with it, but in the end they were minor, and I was compelled by the book to finish (always a good sign).
Six Wakes, to boil it down, is about six clones on a generation ship who wake up to find that they have all been murdered, and they have lost twenty-five years of memory. The murderer is unknown, and is almost certainly one (or more) of them. It’s a locked room murder mystery . . . IN SPACE! Except here the murderer is not just hiding from the others, they’re also hiding from themselves, because memory loss, and it’s not some objective third party tasked with solving the case. They have to solve their own murders, and prevent it from happening again.
It’s a really neat concept for a book, and while not perfect, I think it delivers.
I think where the book really delivers is that the cloning is not just an excuse to have people solving their own murders, it’s central to the whole novel. Theirs is a world shaped by the invention of cloning and mindmapping technology (which allows a clone to keep the memories of previous selves rather than becoming a new being with new memories). The backstories of the characters are doled out piece by piece, and we learn not just about their motivations, but key contextual information about the world they live in, how it works, etc. I think Lafferty does a nice job giving depth to a society that has cloning at their fingertips, thinking through the implications, and finding ways to use those implications to motivate her characters and her plot.
Now for the quibbles. First, the prose is not bad at all, but it’s very utilitarian, doing what it needs to and backing away. I prefer a little bit more personality if I’m going to love a book, though. Luckily, her characters and their dialogue did have personality, so that kept things more interesting. I also thought a certain part of the ending (which comes in a chapter cutely titled “Bebe ex Machina”) was a little bit too hand wavey for me. I don’t necessarily need complete scientific verisimilitude in my sci-fi books, but something about what ends up happening was just a little too incredible for me. And lastly, because I am the worst at figuring out mysteries, I’m dinging it a little because I was able to figure out the gist of what was actually going on, and I’m not entirely sure whether Lafferty meant for it to be that obvious or not.
Overall, though, highly enjoyable.
[3.5 stars, rounded up]