Book Club Questions: 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…

As I mentioned in the Book Club Prep post for this novel, the synopsis above isn’t super accurate as to the actual plot, worldbuilding, and primary concerns of this novel, but at least it probably piqued your interest.

After reading and discussing Sadie and The Fact of a Body back to back, we were hoping to find something a little lighter to read, and Six Wakes definitely fit the bill. Although the novel asks a lot of questions of us as far as what makes a person this person and not some other person, it’s a light and fast-paced read that’s easy to fly through. Don’t expect a tightly plotted mystery, though—Lafferty’s book is best enjoyed if you focus your little grey cells on the philosophical questions she’s presenting, rather than looking out for clues the way you would with a Hercule Poirot novel.

Both Colleen and I enjoyed this read, although I was a little disappointed by the lack of a strong mystery storyline. We had a good time reading and had plenty to talk about during our discussion, but we also wished Lafferty had pushed some of her ideas even farther when it came to the societal repercussions of the world she’d created. Even so, I would still recommend Six Wakes, especially for people who want the sci-fi lit experience of contemplating interesting concepts and philosophical questions, but are also looking for a fun page-turner.

Discussion questions below the cut!

Given the novel’s focus on selfhood, Six Wakes is arguably reliant on each character’s sense of self in order to explore different questions of cloning ethics and what makes a person a person. Some sci-fi novels, however, often focus more on the questions raised by a character’s predicament than on the character themselves. Do you think Six Wakes is a “character” novel or an “ideas” novel? Explain your answer. Do you personally wish Six Wakes had pushed harder towards either direction in its storytelling method?

Six Wakes is one of many books adapting some variation of the “and then there were none” storytelling model. Consider the Agatha Christie classic; what makes And Then There Were None such a memorable and effective story? How did Mur Lafferty change this formula in writing Six Wakes in order to tell the story she wanted to tell? Do you think those changes were effective in accomplishing her storytelling goals?

When considering having to face her own dead body for the first time, Maria thinks, “Once you were gone, the body meant nothing, had no sentimental value. The future body was all that mattered. The past shouldn’t be there, staring you in the face with dead eyes” (13). Imagine if you were in Maria’s situation. What would your body mean to you? Anything? Nothing? Justify your answer.

In her responses to interview questions at the end of the paperback copy, Lafferty mentions the philosophical question of Theseus’ ship–“If you take one board from the boat and replace it, is it still Theseus’ ship? What about two? What if you replace every single piece of the boat with something else?” (370). So, what would your reply be to this philosophical question? Is there ever a precise point when Theseus’ boat is no longer Theseus’ boat?

Even though all of the clones are missing a quarter of a century of memories, everyone is eager to figure out who is responsible for the murders, in part so that they can hold that clone accountable for their previous incarnation’s actions. Do you think anyone should ever be held accountable for crimes which they do not remember committing? Consider contemporary parallels in your answer, such as insanity defences at murder trials.

When Hiro begins a somewhat comical attempt to assign blame for their murders near the end of the book, he says, “Well, Paul started it all by killing everyone. No, wait, Katrina started it by reminding Paul that the person he wanted to murder was on the ship. No, wait, Maria started it by hacking everybody and their dog. No, wait, Sallie Mignon started it all by putting us all together. No, wait—” (342). Where would you assign blame for the murders? Justify your answer.

When Hiro realizes the full meaning of the damaged cloning technology onboard the Dormire, he thinks, “Humans weren’t afraid of the specter of death that sat sixty years off; for a clone, it was terrifying” (42). Do you think death gains importance or loses importance in the face of cloning technology like that depicted in Six Wakes? Explain your answer, considering humans and clones alike in your reasoning.

If given the option, do you think you would choose to become a clone? Why or why not? Would you be against other people becoming clones if the codicils described in the book were in place? How about if the codicils described in the books were not in place?

Were you satisfied by the ending of the novel? Why or why not?

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