Six Wakes — Not your typical murder mystery novel

Lafferty brings together a combination of ethics, humour, and characterization in a murder mystery sci-fi novel that will leave you on the edge of your seat.

Set in the 25th century where our homeworld, Earth, has been agonized by the uprising of clones, DNA modifications, climate change and government corruption, Maria, who has just woken up in her new clone body, finds herself in the bloodbath of her and her crew’s former bodies in a ship light years away from home with no escape. Amongst the crew is a murderer. None of them know what happened due to the fact that they are reborn clones and have not yet recollected their memories. Because of this, not even the murderer is aware that they themselves caused the carnage on the ship. Worst of all, the artificial intelligence, IAN, who is running the ship is offline. All mind maps and records have been destroyed, the ship is currently off course, and the food printer is printing out poisonous substances. The crew has no way of communicating with Earth, and holds responsibility for the few thousand passengers who are currently in stasis. What else could possibly go wrong?

Lafferty offers a thrilling murder mystery novel with a crew of diverse backgrounds, bringing together ethics, religion, science, political and philosophical themes. Something that I appreciated about the novel is the fact that each character ascends from diverse backgrounds. Maria, the main protagonist and chef of the ship comes from a Puerto Rican background but is also later discovered to be a genius programmer. The pilot Akihiro Sato comes from a Japanese background and is quite intelligent. Captain Katrina de la Cruz is of Spanish descent and is a skilled fighter.

Most of the story is viewed through Maria’s point of view, but Lafferty makes each character shine by revealing their previous lives as clones and how they came to become passengers on the Domire. As the story progresses, we discover that each of the crew has a criminal background, heightening the peril and tension of the atmosphere. Serving on the Domire would allow them to reduce their prison sentences and wipe out their previous criminal records. They would be able to start anew when they arrived to their destination to the new and pristine planet, called Artemis. I was very fond of the fact that each characters’ backstories was explained in depth, and intertwined with one another. During the development of the story, the crew progressively discovers that they have had some sort of connection in the past further raising the stress and anxiety on who can be trusted and who cannot.

In this setting, the cloning technology is used to extend life, rather than to duplicate a person. There are a few laws clones must follow due to controversy over relations between humans and clones — such as there may only be one clone of a person at a time. Each mind map must belong to oneself and not be modified in any way.

I believe that Lafferty has done a wonderful job at tackling issues and controversy over the idea of cloning and DNA modification. In this story, many people believe that clones are unnatural in God’s eyes. Many others believe that they should have the right to do whatever they want with their own bodies. For example, some look down on transgendered people because they believe that should stick with the gender that they were born with, but many say that it is their decision to do what they desire. Some other examples include people wanting to change the features that their kids are born with, such as changing eye colour, or modifying face structures. In recent years, Chinese researchers performed experiments on human embryos, replacing the disease-causing region in the gene. This raised many concerns such as using human embryos for scientific experiments and forming ideal babies. Many countries have already banned cloning and DNA modification, or have strict regulations. In my opinion, DNA modification and cloning does have its benefits such as a cure for genetic problems and illnesses but there are many complications that come along with it. How are we supposed to perform experiments without using embryos? What social and cultural effects could it cause? Who would have access to these advanced technologies? What would happen if people were using it to their advantage by completely changing one’s personality and beliefs? Examples of this appears in the story:

“Some clone extremists had hired a hacker to reprogram the priest in order to get him to speak out in favor of clones’ rights, but it had all gone very wrong. Apparently a clone showing up and suddenly discounting everything it had said in a previous life was bit of a red flag.”

The idea of changing one’s personality and beliefs is evident in these quotes. In the first quote, a group of clones are shown to program the priest into supporting clones’ rights. In the next quote, Sallie goes against her lover’s wishes of cloning him and hires a professional hacker to reprogram him to her ideals.

“Make him love me more. Make him never cheat on me again. Make him not be angry that I cloned him,” Sallie said bitterly.”

One of the themes Lafferty has introduced in Six Wakes is revenge. Many incidents appear where a character experiences a traumatic event or has gone through the wrongdoings of another such as kidnappings, torturous experiences, or the loss of a loved one. As a result they wish to seek vengeance but in the end, these events end up tying together. Eventually this causes the situation on the ship to worsen, which causes the crew to lose trust and faith in one another. I think the message the author was trying to convey to the readers is even if revenge does seem like the ideal way for closure, it will always end up doing some sort of damage not only to the other person, but to yourself.

Overall, I very much enjoyed reading Six Wakes. The book continuously keeps the reader engaged by revealing bits and pieces as to whom the murderer might be.  I love the unexpected links between the characters in the past, which result in unpredictable plot twists. It is an enjoyable thriller mystery that brings together important themes and modern ideas.

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