Friday, February 25, 2022

Eight books about what it means to be human

Edward Ashton is the author of the novels Mickey7, Three Days in April, and The End of Ordinary. His short fiction has appeared in venues ranging from the newsletter of an Italian sausage company to Escape Pod, Analog, and Fireside Fiction. He lives in upstate New York in a cabin in the woods (not that Cabin in the Woods) with his wife, a variable number of daughters, and an adorably mopey dog named Max, where he writes—mostly fiction, occasionally fact—under the watchful eyes of a giant woodpecker and a rotating cast of barred owls. In his free time, he enjoys cancer research, teaching quantum physics to sullen graduate students, and whittling.

At CrimeReads Ashton tagged eight books about what it means to be human, including:
Six Wakes, by Mur Lafferty

It’s probably a lucky thing that I didn’t read this book until after I’d finished writing Mickey7, because Six Wakes begins in a very similar place—clones, mind-mapping, immortality, an interstellar colonization mission—but then takes off in a wildly different direction. The first thing that became apparent to me when I started into this book was that, unlike me, Mur Lafferty seemingly has no interest whatsoever in the ol’ teletransport paradox. In this book’s world, it’s taken as a given that your clone is a straightforward continuation of you. People who employ cloning for life extension have no fear of death, to the point that one prominent character allows herself to be assassinated just to seal a business deal. The thought that the clone who comes out of the tank the next day might actually be an entirely separate person has apparently never occurred to any of them.

What Lafferty is interested in is an amazingly baroque murder mystery. The book opens on a scene of carnage. The crew of a colony ship wakes from their cloning vats to find their most recent incarnations gruesomely slaughtered. Complicating things, their memories are twenty-five years out of date, so that even the actual killer has no real idea who did it, or why. What follows is a slow, head-hopping reveal of the crew’s sketchy pasts and legitimately murderous motivations, and the seemingly coincidental ways the six crew-members’ histories have intertwined over the courses of their many lives. Six Wakes is the sort of book I never could have written—just the thought of trying to diagram out all the plot twists in this one makes my head hurt—but it’s one I’m very glad to have had the chance to read.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue