Six Wakes: a locked-room science fiction murder mystery, delightfully confounded by cloning and memory backups
Readers of Boing Boing have joined me in chronicling the variegated science fiction career of Mur Lafferty: novelist, podcast pioneer, editor -- today, she publishes her latest novel, a hard sf murder mystery called Six Wakes, in which the crew of a generation ship awake in a blood-drenched shipboard cloning bay, in fresh bodies to replace their murdered selves floating in the alarming null-gee, memories restored to the backup they made just before launch, a quarter-century before.
So begins one of the cleverest, quippiest, nail-bitingest murder mysteries in the sf canon, a novel in the mind-bending existential tradition of John Varley's "Barbie Murders" and "Overdrawn at the Memory Bank" and my own debut novel Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, in which the murder victim is reanimated and joins in the search for their murderer -- but with an important and clever twist: one of the murder victims is also the murderer, and doesn't know it.
Lafferty cut her teeth writing serialized novels for podcast distribution, and the skills she developed for the form serve her well in mystery writing. Her characters have the zippy, quippy dialog of radio drama, and her structure capitalizes on every opportunity for dramatic tension and cliff-hangers, and these two strengths are a powerful boiler pulling the story's crazy-train.
As the story unfolds, we are exposed to enough of each character's backstory to form an opinion about whether they are the murderer -- and we're simultaneously asked to ponder the social dislocation that cloning-based immortality could give rise to -- but there's never any certainty, with the reader guessing furiously right up to the climax.
In the meantime, Lafferty pulls all kinds of smart mystery-plotting moves, including finding clever ways to create real risks for the characters, even after establishing that they can theoretically be restored to life if worse comes to worst.
This is a great book with so much going for it: clever structure, wonderful characters, and a fiendishly clever puzzle that you'll roll over in your mind for months after you close the covers.
Six Wakes [Mur Lafferty/Orbit]
Veteran reviewer/interviewer Rick Kleffel (previously) has just posted a long podcast interview (MP3) with Neal Stephenson, discussing his latest novel, Fall; or, Dodge in Hell ("a science fiction novel with a fantasy novel stuck inside of it").
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