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Literature / Six Wakes

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Six Wakes is a Science Fiction / Mystery novel. It was the debut of author Mur Lafferty, who should be writing.

Maria Arena wakes up in a cloning tank. She is the most junior crew member on the Dormire, a Generation Ship carrying thousands of Human Popsicles and a crew of six clones who will respawn over and over again over the course of the four-hundred-year journey, retaining their memories by virtue of Brain Uploading. The problem is that Maria does not have any new memories past the launch of the ship 25 years ago. Neither do any of the other five crew members, all of whom are also freshly reborn. The presence of a former Maria — stabbed to death but still warm — suggest that things have gone horribly wrong. And, of course, the entire crew, Maria included, are convicted criminals, who took on the job to commute their sentences.

What follows is a Locked Room Mystery with a hefty side helping of Cloning Blues, set against a backdrop of a 24th century Earth racked by wars, ecological disaster, and the ethics and ramifications of cloning and brain uploading... And, of course, the hacking thereof.


This work provides examples of:

  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: The ship is run by an AI called IAN — "Integrated Adaptive Network". IAN actually has functional control of the mission, as his authority supersedes that of the captain. Despite this, he doesn't do much except be a Deadpan Snarker... Until the Plot Twist, at least.
  • Almighty Janitor: Maria has the most menial job of the six, limited to cooking and housecleaning. As her Hidden Depths come into play, it becomes clear that she's one of the most gifted hackers in history, a skill that proves incredibly important as time passes.
  • And the Adventure Continues: The story ends when the murder mystery is resolved, which doesn't take the remaining 375 years of the voyage. (As a matter of fact, it only takes 5 days.)
  • Batman Gambit: Sallie Mignon designed the Dormire's mission to fail, counting on the six crew members to turn on each other and doom of the Human Popsicles, all of whom were her political enemies on Earth, to certain death in space.
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  • Become a Real Boy: What IAN ultimately wants. Also slightly subverted, in that he was one to begin with.
  • Been There, Shaped History: Hiro, and multiple clones created of him with yadokari and worse, is the reason for the restrictive laws forbidding any sort of mindmap hacking, even beneficial ones. Wolfgang is Fr. Orman, tortured for compliance and then hacked when he wouldn't break. Maria was responsible for both hacks, tortured for compliance. These events are part of what spurred Joanna, then a senator, to have the Codicils passed.
  • Body Surf: Averted. One of the codicils outlaws it, and there was mention made of research revealing that putting a mind into a body that wasn't made for it will almost always drive somebody insane.
  • Brain in a Jar: IAN is revealed to actually be the mindmap of a genius named Minoru Takahashi who has been artificially transplanted into a computer network.
  • Brain Uploading: One of the Necessary Weasels of the novel.
  • Cloning Blues: One of the novel's main themes.
  • Command Roster:
  • Cool Ship: The Dormire is a large ship that uses centrifugal gravity, holds thousands of humans on ice as well as the mindmaps of hundreds of clones, millions of gallons of the Lyfe protein, and has nearly everything for a crew's comfort, including a theater, a gym, and a large indoor park with a lake (which also doubles as their life support and water reserve).
  • Death Is Cheap:
    • Discussed. Most clones think this to be the case, since they usually have enough money to get killed at night and be resurrected by morning. After Katrina left the military, she became one of a caste of Latin America's assassins that specialize in corporate hits and never target regular humans; they were basically social props who livened up parties with a reversible murder. Her next hit came to Katrina's house before the party she was supposed to be killed at, and simply mentioned the whole thing was little more than schoolyard humiliation and didn't accomplish anything substantive, and offering Katrina a position on the Dormire would be her chance at actually doing something that mattered again. The next morning (after her victim was polite enough to die dramatically and was resurrected that morning), Katrina contacted her to accept the offer.
    • Subverted in the present of the story. Without the crews mindmaps and genomes on hand, and none of the tools necessary to remake them, if they died, it would be the end. Something a bit harrowing, since not a single one of them knew who to trust.
  • Encyclopedia Exposita: The very first page of the book lists the Codicils, seven laws that dictate the ethical and legal rights of clones.
  • Fantastic Racism: The prejudice against clones is thoroughly explored.
  • Final Death: One of the crew's first discoveries upon being reborn is that someone wiped the computer that controls the cloning vats. Unless they can reprogram it, and restore (or rebuild) the crew's DNA matrices, the mission has failed on grounds of "Crew died of natural causes (and were not respawned) less than a quarter of the way there."
  • Five-Token Band: Katrina and Maria both have Hispanic surnames. Hiro is of Japanese origin. Joanna Glass has a congenital defect that causes her to be born without legs, requiring either wheelchairs or prostheses. Wolfgang, the security officer and XO, is native of Luna and has problems with Earth-standard gravity, making him an outsider regardless of race/ethnicity. Engineer Paul is mentioned that he's an American, but his behavior makes him clearly neuroatypical, likely suffering from a form of clinical depression.
  • Flash Back: The detailed history of each clone is unveiled as time passes, including some Third-Person Omniscient escapades that characters shouldn't remember due to being hit with Laser-Guided Amnesia.
  • Four-Star Badass: Part of Katrina's Back Story is that she was the first clone ever to make the rank of General.
  • Gender-Equal Ensemble: The crew.
  • Generation Ship: The Dormire. Unusually for a ship of this type, however, it runs off clones instead of plain old sexual reproduction.
  • Hope Spot: The entire mission is one writ large. The Dormire offers a way out for people tired of living on an Earth racked by ecological crisis and still recovering from the political instability caused by the existence of cloning. What none of the crew or colonists know is that Sallie Mignon handpicked them personally... Because they are her enemies. And Failure Is the Only Option because the six crew members were selected specifically to get at each other's throats.
  • Immortals Fear Death: ZigZagged, since it's Resurrective Immortality, dying wasn't that bad. But Final Death was something they still feared the way a normal human would fear death.
  • Light Worlder: Wolfgang is descended from a family that have lived on the lunar colonies for generations, and has trouble working in 1-g gravity for long periods of time.
  • Locked Room Mystery: Or, in this case, locked spaceship.
  • Manchurian Agent: It is possible to create these by hacking people's mind maps. The results are called yadokari (Japanese for "hermit crab"). At least two crew members have had this inflicted on them in their past.
  • Memory Gambit: Maria is revealed to have done this to herself at one point by hacking her own mind map.
  • Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: A number of other things are uncovered during the Dormire crew's collective investigations into their deaths: the nature of IAN, and the fact that Sallie Mignon was pursuing a vendetta against every single person on the ship.
  • Mysterious Benefactor: Sallie Mignon is the most powerful businessperson in the world. She personally financed the construction of the Dormire, is aboard it in cryo, and hand-picked its six crew members. Unsurprisingly, she shows up frequently in flashbacks.
  • No Transhumanism Allowed: Downplayed, but still present.
    • While society still accepts the effectively immortal clones and the mind uploading technology to make them, there's still a lot of prejudice and the utilization of both is very heavily restricted.
    • Clones are not allowed to fully utilize their ability to copy themselves other than to have a continuous presence. They may have only of themselves active at a time. If a new clone pops up prematurely for any reason, the new one is considered to hold the legal identity, and the old one is to be euthanized as soon as possible. Further simplifying the matter, they're not allowed to have children
    • Mental reprogramming and genetic engineering, while extremely powerful tools, were outlawed and made extremely illegal due to some incredibly unethical uses that involved hacking minds for another's purposes, or changing the DNA of a kid at the behest of the parents and "substituting" the original child. Humanity is stuck with things like mental and genetic disorders because of these practices, and the implications of these technologies remain largely unexplored outside of the criminal world.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Because of the chaos caused by DNA and mindmap hacking, both disciplines have been 100% outlawed. Even the good things they can do — curing people of mental disorders like schizophrenia or genetic disorders like multiple sclerosis — are illegal.
  • Omnidisciplinary Scientist: Justified, given that clones have lifetimes to study anything they want. Even then, only one character has sunk time into more than one field.
  • Phlebotinum: Another Necessary Weasel for life aboard the Dormire. "Lyfe" is a synthetic protein that can be used by biological 3D printers to create anything. It fuels not only the cloning tanks but the food printers which nourish the crew. Afterwards, any leftovers or by-products are broken back down into Lyfe. Convenient!
  • Prisoner's Work: The crew of the Dormire (barring IAN) were all criminals offered a full pardon and their slate wiped clean should they crew the ship to another system. While their criminal records could be expunged, the powers that made these offers were at least honest enough to admit that they could never actually wipe away the reputations of the crew, so long as they still lived in Earth's sphere of influence. Effectively leaving society to start a new one altogether was the only realistic option.
  • Solar Sail: The Dormire uses one.
  • Soulless Shell: Fr. Orman believed that clones are these. Wolfgang believes that people who have had their mindmaps hacked are these. Since Wolfgang is a clone of Fr. Orman who has had his mindmap hacked, he speaks from experience. Interestingly, by the time of the novel, he appears to have genuinely abandoned the first belief.
  • Stepford Snarker: Oh, Hiro. Turns out he uses snark as a way of controlling his evil yadokari.
  • Stock Star Systems: Artemis, the Dormire's destination, is a habitable planet in the Tau Ceti system.
  • There Can Be Only One: A fundamental rule of the Codicils. If multiple copies of the same clone are ever discovered to exist at the same time, the most recently spawned one is the only one that counts as a person. The older ones must be euthanized.
  • The Main Characters Do Everything: This is to be expected on a ship with only six crew members, but has flashbacks unfold it is revealed that all of them were present, and indeed sometimes responsible, for some of the most important events in the story's future chronology.
  • Torture Always Works: On Maria, which makes it tricky for her to avoid unethical work. Especially since, after the torture works, her assailants can just kill her without bothering to update her mindmap, a shortcut to Laser-Guided Amnesia if ever there was one. Her "forgotten" exploits include the yadokari and hatchet jobs on Hiro, the brainwashing of Fr. Orman, and the consigning of Minoru Takahashi to life as an AI.
  • Unwilling Roboticisation: IAN is an example of this, having been hacked and repurposed into an AI to control the Dormire with no memory of ever having been human. At the end of the novel Maria restores him, replacing him with Paul in the computer.
  • We ARE Struggling Together: The inevitable result of six clones waking up with no memories and discovering that one of them murdered the others at the cost of their own life.


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