Book Review: Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty

A space adventure set on a lone ship where the clones of a murdered crew must find their murderer — before they kill again.

It was not common to awaken in a cloning vat streaked with drying blood.

At least, Maria Arena had never experienced it. She had no memory of how she died. That was also new; before, when she had awakened as a new clone, her first memory was of how she died.

Maria’s vat was in the front of six vats, each one holding the clone of a crew member of the starship Dormire, each clone waiting for its previous incarnation to die so it could awaken. And Maria wasn’t the only one to die recently…

Talk about a powerful opening! The first chapter of this exhilarating sci-fi novel introduces us to the world of Six Wakes with a bang, as six clones wake up in their cloning vats… with their previous bodies, all brutally murdered, floating in zero gravity in front of them. None of the crew members has any memory of what happened. In fact, their last memories are of the reception on Luna as the Dormire was about to launch.

But as they look at their murdered bodies, they discover a startling fact: The bodies are all much older then they expected. While they only remember just joining the ship’s crew, it becomes apparent that they’ve been traveling in space for 25 years. All memories are gone. All ship logs have been purged. The ship’s AI is down. There’s a murderer among them, but even the murderer has no memory of what’s happened.

Wow. Now that’s tension!

In Mur Lafferty’s terrific space adventure, clones have existed within human civilization for hundreds of years. There are a set of strict laws governing clone management and clone rights, which are spelled out in the Codicils that appear at the beginning of the book. In the world of Six Wakes, people’s mindmaps are saved, then loaded into their new cloned bodies — produced to approximate age 21 for peak physical condition — when the old body dies. Clones are sterile; they become their own descendants. Clones essentially live for hundreds of years, from one body to the next.

Let me just pause here for a moment and admire the world-building of this novel. We’re thrust immediately into this brave new world, and it’s fascinating, but the author lays it out in such a way that it’s easy to grasp and get totally immersed. There are so many twists and turns and nuances to be revealed, but we get the set-up and big picture from the start. Amazing.

Meanwhile, on the Dormire, the crew have to solve their own murders, but more urgently, get the ship’s systems working again if they have any chance of survival. They’re intended to be on a 400-year journey to settle a new planet, with hundreds of humans saved in cryo, but they’ll all die if they can’t take control of navigation, get the grav drive working, and bring their AI back on line. Oh, and a piece I just loved — there’s a food printer! Think 3-D printing, but able to create any food desired, based on analysis of crew members’ tastes and programmed to synthesize any food stuff requested. It’s just cool.

The matter of identifying the murderer is crucial, of course. The tension and suspicions run high, and as the story progresses, we learn the truth about each crew member’s past. Each has secrets they’d rather keep hidden, but it’s those secrets that will help them piece together the events leading up to the murders… and hopefully enable them to prevent another round. And since the initial sabotage included destruction of the cloning vats, cloning software, and mindmap backups, if they die again, they’ll really and truly be dead.

At times, Six Wakes made me think a bit of Westworld… but my strongest comparison would have to be to Agatha Christie! Kind of a Murder on the Orient Express vibe, but in space! Everyone is a suspect, and everyone may have his or her own motives. They certainly have plenty of secrets to protect.

It’s just so cool.

Clearly, you have to enjoy science fiction to really get into Six Wakes — although I’d think anyone who enjoys a mystery would love this plot, assuming they accept all the cloning/space/technology pieces of the story.

As for me, I loved it. The story is intricate and requires paying attention to the small details, but the payoff is an amazing read that’s fast-paced, entertaining, and ultra fascinating. I loved the set-up, the human/clone history, the individual crew members’ stories, and the characters themselves, all intriguing in their own ways.

I rarely feel the urge to start a book again from the beginning once I finish it, but I definitely did with this one. I’m dying to go back, start over, and see all the clues I missed the first time around.

I strongly recommend checking out Six Wakes! So much fun. So different. So awesome.

Want to know more about this author? Check out my reviews of two other books by Mur Lafferty:
The Shambling Guide to New York City
Ghost Train to New Orleans


The details:

Title: Six Wakes
Author: Mur Lafferty
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: January 31, 2017
Length: 364 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Purchased







Book Review: Ghost Train to New Orleans by Mur Lafferty

Book Review: Ghost Train to New Orleans by Mur Lafferty

The Ghost Train to New Orleans (The Shambling Guides, #2)Ghost Train to New Orleans is the second book in the Shambling Guides series — and if you enjoyed the first book, you’ll want to read this one as well.

The series, which starts with The Shambling Guide to New York (reviewed here), tells the story of Zoe Norris, a nice ordinary travel writer who takes a job working for a publisher that specializes in travel guides for the non-human set. Be warned: The proper term for these folks is “coterie” — definitely do not refer to them as monsters! Among Zoe’s colleagues are vampires, zombies, incubi and succubi, goddesses and dragons… and it seems that every time Zoe turns a corner, she discovers some new type of coterie, much to her amazement.

In Ghost Train to New Orleans, Zoe and her team head off to the Big Easy (via the titular Ghost Train — which is in fact quite literally a ghost train). Their mission is to write their next travel book — but first, they need to survive. Among the big revelations here is the fact that Zoe is no mere human: She’s a rare human coterie known as a citytalker — and again, take that term literally. Zoe has the ability to form a psychic (or spiritual) bond with a city, so that the city can speak to her. The problem is, Zoe has has no training on how to use her gift, and could badly use a mentor before she gets into her usual heaps of trouble.

The tongue-in-cheek narration that provides a lot of the series’ charm is back in book 2:

She liked her coworkers, mostly, but was always acutely aware that many saw her as a meal they weren’t allowed to touch.

Also back is the vast array of scary creatures who might possibly want to help Zoe, but who are just as likely to put her in mortal danger. Added to that, Zoe’s boyfriend is on the verge of zombiehood, her closest ally, a water sprite, is missing, and her previous mentor has formed a seemingly permanent melding with the city of New York, and it’s clear to see that Zoe needs to stay on her toes.

In Ghost Train to New Orleans, the mythology of the series is further developed, with new and different supernatural beings, a lot of historical backstory for citytalkers like Zoe, and some new rules regarding ghosts, possessions, demons, and more. New Orleans itself adds a nice flavor, and it’s quite fun to see city landmarks woven into the fabric of the coterie world. Likewise, the author quite inventively works Hurricane Katrina into the supernatural narrative in a way that feels organic to the story, so that the damage to New Orleans is integral to the ability of the city to communicate with Zoe — and factors into just how the city treats Zoe once they’ve connected.

The narrative zooms along from one action sequence to another, and Zoe’s perspective is as wry and snarky as always. Even when lives are at stake, the tone is zippy and energetic, and never veers too long into serious or weighty territory without a well-placed smart-ass comment or two to steer things back into the quirky groove.

I did notice quite a few instances of awkward phrasings and wording errors (for example, the use of “ascent” in a place where only “descent” actually makes sense), and had to wonder whether it was the writing or the editing that was problematic — was there a rush to publication that resulted in these types of seemingly careless errors? I normally wouldn’t make too much of this sort of thing, but it happens enough in Ghost Train to actually be distracting, and therefore is worth noting.

Putting that aside, Ghost Train to New Orleans is a good follow-up installment, and succeeds at maintaining the through-story while introducing new elements and laying the groundwork for future adventures. Some answers are provided, but even more new dilemmas and mysteries are introduced, and that’s just the right mix for a 2nd book in what appears to be an open-ended, ongoing series. I’m intrigued enough — and having enough fun — that I’ll be back for more. I didn’t see anything on the author’s website confirming a 3rd book, but based on the wrap-up of Ghost Train, it’s clear that there are more travels in store for Zoe and her team… and I’d guess lots more trouble (and scary new coterie) as well.


The details:

Title: Ghost Train to New Orleans
Author: Mur Lafferty
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: March 4, 2014
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Urban fantasy
Source: Library


Book Review: The Shambling Guide to New York City by Mur Lafferty

Book Review: The Shambling Guide to New York City by Mur Lafferty

The Shambling Guide to New York CityVisiting a new city can be so hard. How do you know if a hotel is right for you? What are the must-see attractions? Which restaurants serve entrails and hedgehogs?

Fear not, Underground Publishing is here to help! In Mur Lafferty’s delightful The Shambling Guide to New York City, there’s another side to the city — and the about-to-be-published guide book covers it all.

Zoe Norris, travel book writer, has moved home to NYC after leaving her previous job in disgrace after a disastrous affair with her boss — who left out little details like being married when he seduced Zoe. Now unemployed, Zoe stumbles across an ad for a job opening with a new travel publishing company. Sounds perfect — except every time she tries to apply for the position, she’s told that she’s not right for the company. Indignant, Zoe pursues the job with even more determination (Hey, is this discrimination? What about Equal Employment Opportunity laws?), but gets a shocking awakening when she lands the job and learns the truth: Underground Publishing caters to the supernatural world, here known as “coterie” (watch out — the term “monsters” is considered highly offensive), and Zoe will be the only human employee.

Zoe’s coworkers are a veritable menagerie of coterie: Her boss Phil is a scary vampire, the writers are zombies (who are pretty great guys so long as they have a steady supply of brains), and then there’s the water sprite and the death goddess who become Zoe’s strongest allies at the office.

As Zoe navigates her new work life, it’s an eye-opening experience, to say the least. Coterie are all around, but most humans are too oblivious to see what’s right in front of them. And as if “normal” supernatural life wasn’t enough to take in, a new threat has emerged, and the zombies are getting a little… hungry.

Plus, Zoe’s next-door neighbor is awfully cute but seems to be keeping secrets, and unfortunately, has seen Zoe in some rather compromising conditions. (Important to note: The coterie workplace doesn’t have sexual harassment laws, so if your coworker is an incubus who makes you want to rip off your and/or his clothes whenever you’re in the same room, you’re pretty much on your own.)

Meanwhile, Zoe isn’t just the helpless (and potentially tasty) human that her boss and colleagues believe her to be, and with the help of a strangely agile homeless woman, she’s getting a crash course in defensive weaponry and learning to kick coterie butt… just in case.

The Shambling Guide to New York City follows Zoe through her initiation into the hidden world of coterie, with selections from the guidebook interspersed between chapters. The writing is light and tongue-in-cheek, with the ironic, hip attitude that signals a fun romp through urban fantasy.

Early on, I commented that “there is a fine line between funny and dumb, and the book I’m reading is teetering on the brink.” Fortunately, the plot takes off fairly quickly, and it’s easy to become engaged in Zoe’s crash-course in survival among the coterie.

“Um,” she said, cursing her awkwardness. She should have been smoother, but she had never before stood in a sewer, dirty and bloodied, covered in demon gore, and attempted a first kiss. She didn’t know the etiquette.

With breezy humor and plenty of action, The Shambling Guide to New York City is an engaging and entertaining romp. There’s some serious sexytime in the mix (remember that incubus I mentioned?), quippy repartee, and an amusing array of creatures, demons, Public Works employees (you’ll see), and all sorts of undead and the otherwise non-human.

In terms of tone and pacing, I was reminded most of Nicole Peeler’s Jane True series (which I adore). If you’re a fan of urban fantasy, and like the idea of a human rising to the occasion in a non-human world (and really getting her grrrl power on), check out The Shambling Guide.

Meanwhile, I’m all in… and really looking forward to getting my hands on the newly released book 2, The Ghost Train to New Orleans. More Zoe and the gang? Yes, please!


The details:

Title: The Shambling Guide to New York City
Author: Mur Lafferty
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: 2013
Length: 350 pages
Genre: Urban fantasy
Source: Purchased