We hope you had a good time discussing Six Wakes with your book club—or had a good time reading it on your own and thinking about it!
Below the cut is the transcript for our own Six Wakes discussion. Maybe you’ll agree with our opinions, or maybe you’ll think we got it all wrong. Either way, we’d love to hear from you in the comments if you found our discussion interesting!
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?
Colleen: So… yeah, I think it’s definitely somewhere more in the middle ground than sci-fi books I’ve read. I’ve read ones that are much more ideas and I’ve read ones that are stronger with characters. I think it pushes closer to character for me than ideas?
Ariana: Okay, why would you say that? I’m interested.
C: Why would I say that… it’s just… they’re really honing in… or are they just using the characters to explore different ideas without fleshing people out, I guess, is the question there.
A: Yeah, pretty much.
C: Well… no, maybe that is more… I’m trying to think how far… well, okay, because I feel like she’s trying to look at different facets of identity and what makes a person a person, and she came up with her—was it the codicils, is that what they called them?
C: And I feel like she used her characters to sort of explore, like, six different ways in which you could push one of those rules to the limit of its usefulness and relevance. Okay, so, maybe I have just talked myself out of what I said, now that I have applied some critical thought.
A: Yeah, I kind of—I started the book—also because I think the synopsis is kind of misleading because it focuses entirely on Maria? This is also what confused me the first time that the point of view changed— [laughter]
Note: My ebook copy often neglected to put an extra line of space dividing the POV changes. This was not very helpful to my reading experience.
C: Ohhhhhh, and you’re like, wait what?? The synopsis was off on—it also has, like, “normally her first memory on waking up is of how she died” and like, okay—
A: No, it’s not!
C: —impossible! Because she couldn’t have backed her shit up right after she died. So, I don’t know who wrote that summary, but they did a bad job.
A: Yes. But anyway, so, I came into the novel expecting it to be pretty character-focused, just based on the basic idea and my experience with the set up with this kind of story formula, which we’ll talk about in a later question. But, I feel like it is, you know, who are these people? Should you trust them, should you not trust them, based on who they are, and so I came in expecting a really good strong character focus in the book. But as it went on, I was like, … I don’t really know these characters super well, like, there’s not a lot I can really grasp onto as being, like, if I had to describe them without using their name and their profession and what they look like, what—what would I say?
C: Yeah, okay, I—I think that’s fair.
A: Yeah, which, like, that’s not a problem, it’s just that—
C: Right, it’s just a different style.
A: I prefer more character-driven novels, and so that was something that personally disappointed me. But I don’t think it was necessarily a problem with the book, just—
C: Yeah, because, it wasn’t a problem for me.
A: Right, exactly. [laughter]
C: We all know what I sit around reading in my free time.
C: Yeah, I still maintain that it was somewhere a little more—
A: I agree, yes.
C: —I think you want more character, and—I also feel like, because all of them had their secrets that were being revealed, it was hard to build a consistent picture of any one of them.
A: Yes, that is very true, because, that was one of the things that prevented me from feeling like I knew anybody? Because—
C: You’d sort of feel like you did, and then you’d get to their backstory, and you’re like—
A: And I’d be like, where, where did this come from? And I reread the first thirty or forty pages last night as I was trying to write questions, just to get a refresher, and there were moments where I was like, oh, I see why Hiro phrased something this way on Page 10, now that I’ve read the whole thing, but—it’s kind of the thing where it’s like, okay, I go back, and now that I know I’m looking for it, I see it, but at the time I didn’t even register it as something odd?
C: Was it just the way he was describing a situation? Do you remember?
A: There was one when he and Maria find his body, and she says something that makes him kind of blanch or just kind of get really nervous—
C: Oh, yeah, I vaguely remember that now—
A: Which, at the time, I was like, what the—why, I don’t—okay, whatever, and then continued on, and then, like, a hundred pages later the yadokari thing shows up, and I didn’t—I didn’t tie that back to this earlier moment, because— And I’m a fan of subtlety, and that’s fine, but like—
A: But those moments would have been more effective if they had had more weight, instead of my mind just being like, …. meh. Okay.
C: Yeah, like, everyone’s stressed, so…
A: Right. So, I feel like I missed a lot of those moments that could have built up to me being like, okay, well I noticed this thing was wrong, and this was also weird, so maybe—
C: And then you were looking for an explanation.
A: Yeah, rather than me just being like, eh, okay.
A: So, maybe if she’d hit those a little harder, I think I would have felt more satisfied that I was slowly putting together pieces of a character, rather than the author kind of revealing pieces of the character to me as I went along.
A: I dunno. So, I just think I would have liked to have felt more engaged in exploring the character, rather than I think just sitting back and seeing it happen?
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?
Note: To avoid spoilers for those who are not familiar with And Then There Were None, the first section of our discussion for this question is in white text. Please highlight the text in order to read it if you are not concerned about spoilers.
C: And Then There Were None was—so, that honed in so purely on the mystery, I think that’s one of the differences? Because this, I mean, Six Wakes, obviously the mystery was a major part of it, but there’s a lot of other things going on at the same time?
C: So… And Then Were None… is just so great—
A: I know.
C: What makes it so memorable and effective, I… I mean, I don’t know what the state of detective fiction was at the moment, but I feel like that was probably unusual, if not unique, in the way it was set up. I mean, there was no detective—
A: Yes, this is true. [laughter]
C: It was just this thing where, you know, everyone was guilty, and you’re trying to find someone to trust, and the answer is “no one.”
C: And like, alright, the judge technically is not guilty, but also he’s killing all these people now—
C: Because he was like, why not???
A: WHY NOT.
C: So I can’t say trust is a great word to give to what he’s…
C: I mean he’s—I don’t know, there’s a lot of things you can say there.
C: And the more we went on, the less I felt like I could trust anyone who we were meeting.
A: Yeah. Well, I feel like what always gets me about And Then There Were None is, I mean, you meet all the characters up front, at the start of the story, and because Agatha Christie is so good at conveying character in very few lines—
A: —you immediately are like, oh, I know this person! I understand this person! And then something weird, aka the record playing happens, and you’re like, … what the— But then you find out, oh no, like, he did— Because, the guy who ran over the kids with his car is immediately just like, ugh, hmff, well, it wasn’t that important. So then you’re just like, wait, so, if that’s right… then—
C: Then—yeah, just sort of a sneaking suspicion that not all is right.
A: Yeah. And so then you feel like you know the characters pretty well already, but then you realize, like, oh no, maybe I don’t, I don’t know these people at all—so you start to understand them better over the course of the book as we figure out what they did and all that, and then also the way that they react to the dilemma, because— So, to refer to the miniseries, because it’s been a long time since I read the book—
A: So, ah, Mister… Shirtless…… that guy, from The Hobbit??
C: …. Aidan Turner?
A: Aidan Turner, thank you. So, he’s super calm and collected the entire time, and so you’re like, Okay! That tells me a lot about him. And the people who start losing it, you’re like, … Okay! Know a lot about you now!
A: And so the unfurling of the mystery and the increased tension keeps evolving their character to a point where you really do understand them, I think, entirely. And by the time that they get knocked off, you’re like, …….. yeah, okay, maybe you deserved it. [laughter] So I feel like, even though she keeps killing her characters, it’s a very character-driven mystery novel for that reason. And they’re always interesting, I don’t think it’s like a—like you know in some mysteries, you just turn the pages, and it’s a fun read at the time, but if you’re going to pick it up again, you’re like, well, I—I already know everything, this is boring now.
C: Or you just, three years later, you’re like, I remember that I read this and it was a fine read and I don’t remember what happened or who did it.
A: Yes, exactly. So as far as how Lafferty changed it…
C: So, yeah. Either intentionally or just because characters aren’t her thing, I would agree that, especially before we sort of get more of the history, we don’t have a great picture of any of them. We’ve got a few broad strokes. We know that Wolfgang’s a hardass, we know that Paul’s a weenie, we know that the captain is also tough but not in the way that people are off put by her as they are with Wolfgang. And then I don’t think—yeah, we get very little about Maria especially.
A: Yup. Because I feel like for much of a book, I was like, okay, I guess she’s here… And then we got her backstory and I was like, oh! Now this is quite interesting! But—
C: The backstory was so—Maria’s backstory really caught me by surprise, just because it was so different. It felt very different to who she was—
C: And maybe that was intentional, maybe she was trying to step away from that.
A: I guess? I just—I wished I could have had more hints? Like what I was talking about earlier, but more hints that she is more than just a janitor-slash-food-manufacturer.
A: Like, if she could obviously have had more insight into—
C: Yeah, if she could have dropped a comment, and people would have been like, oh yeah, that would work—wait, I thought, I thought that was going to be Paul’s contribution, and why did you…
A: Yeah, because during my thirty-page reread, there was a moment where Maria’s just standing there in the room where they’re fixing the servers, and the captain’s like, do you have anything to contribute to this?, and Maria pauses for a second, then says no. And then the captain’s like, okay, go get back to cooking, or something like that—
C: Does it say that she pauses?
A: Yeah, she doesn’t say anything for a couple of seconds, and then she says no. And on my reread, I’m like, oh… okay?
C: But again, yeah, that didn’t tweak anything for me.
A: Yeah, so.
C: All of that said, this is kind of turning into the same discussion we had for the first question.
A: I know, I’m sorry!
C: So anything other than the fact that this is not as character based… So, I think again, it’s—Lafferty didn’t just want to write a mystery, she wanted to use a mystery, and I think what she really wanted to do with the heart of the story is explore a lot of questions that she was using cloning to—like ethics, and personhood, and stuff like that. So, in a sense, this isn’t a locked room mystery, this is someone using the locked room mystery format to do their own thing. So in that sense, I don’t—I mean, even if it was on the level of And Then There Were None, I don’t think it would be a fair comparison.
A: Yeah, that’s reasonable. I mean, the point of the question is kind of that, yeah, Lafferty chose to ignore certain things about the formula, and that’s totally fine, because she wanted to do… something different! And I think it’s also different because, from the outset, you know something is wrong? Whereas, in And Then There Were None, it’s like, oh, everyone’s going to this weird dinner party—
C: They have a weird letter inviting them, but like, I guess they’re just going to a dinner party.
A: Right, it’s like, totally chill, except for everybody hating each other for the first chunk of the book—
C: I mean, we’ve all been to that party!
A: We’ve all been to that party.
A: So then it’s not until the record plays that you’re like—
C: You’re like, oh shit… yeah, there’s no dinner party!
A: And so I think there’s this really slow, steady escalation from, like, oh, whatever, to like, OH GOD. Whereas Six Wakes starts out with OH GOD and then it kind of like—I don’t know, it just has that hanging around in the background for a lot of things? And the more interesting stuff is when you get to hear the characters’ backstories, or like, consider this weird cloning possibility—
A: That stuff. And the mystery is like, … I’m over here! And we’re like, we’ll get to you.
C: Yeah, the mystery is not the central reason for the season.
A: Yeah, I was actually kind of surprised that she explained the mystery at the end? Like, I got to it and I was like, … okay, I guess you did explain it. Like, because it seemed—
C: You thought she was not going to answer it?
A: Yeah, well, also because it just—I still am not super confident about that version of the story in some ways? Just because, like, they don’t have any memories of what happened, and it’s a plausible scenario of what happened, but I didn’t feel 100%.
C: Okay, did they—I legitimately don’t remember, how did they determine what happened?
A: Maria comes up with a theory, basically, and it explains most of the things—
C: She’s like, Paul wanted to kill some people, so probably he did it.
A: Yeah. She’s like, well, because Paul has this brain injury from Wolfgang from a year in when he presumably got violent or something? So then, because of his brain injury, he forgot why he was on the ship, which was to kill everybody. But then 24 years later, the captain was becoming paranoid—not sure why—and then probably she was interrogating Paul to see what he knew and his background, and then that jostled his memory, so suddenly he remembered why he was on the ship, so then he attacked the captain. That’s why she was in the med bay. And then he poisoned the food, and then Maria realized she’d been poisoned so she went to the clone bay and, like, had her backups to, like, load everybody’s brain in for the clones, but then Paul was stabbing everybody, and Joanna tried to stop him by hitting him with the ketamine…….. and I was like, okay. I mean, it explains a lot of things, but—
C: But there was no verification.
A: Yeah, but there was no real verification for any of it, so I was like, …. okay?
C: And we never got IAN to confirm anything or something…
C: He wasn’t able to recover his memory banks. Okay, so that’s—yeah…
A: I feel like I almost would have been more satisfied if she’d just been like, … I dunno! That’s an interesting question but we’ll never know the answer. I think that would have—
C: That’s not a tolerable situation, though, since then you’re going to be spending the rest of your life with people you can’t trust.
A: Yeah, but, the thing is that—
C: I agree that—well, we’re stepping on the last question.
A: Yeah. Mm. I just didn’t feel 100% satisfied by it, whereas I know… I totally understand what you’re saying, like, you have to be able to trust the people you’re flying with, but I was like, well, you still don’t have any proof that that’s what happened? So.
C: No, you just decide—
A: You’re like, this is my best guess, and that’s fair, but—
C: You just have to…
A: Everybody just seemed to immediately be like, oh, you’re right, Maria! And I was like, …….. okay. I dunno. Maybe someone should still have been arguing.
C: How did Paul get brain damage from when he got slammed up against the wall by Wolfgang, and Joanna never noticed, or did anything about it?
A: I don’t know. Maria has some mention in her logs? Or maybe IAN had some info… oh, he shows evidence of long ago brain damage in his autopsy by Joanna. Like, his dead clone. And then Maria had something in her logs about…
C: Yeah, I remember them learning about that kind of thing. I’m just like, back in the lost time, how… Presumably if someone is whacked into a wall hard enough to give them brain damage, there’s gonna be some other damage, and maybe if there’s a doctor on board, she would check you out?
A: [laughing] I was gonna save my logic gripes until the end of the discussion—
C: Let’s do that. Yeah, the mystery was incidental, to the point where she sacrificed some of the mystery, because that wasn’t the point of the book.
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.
C: I know of myself that I’m not a hugely sentimental person.
C: So, I wonder if I might… So there’s a Maria situation in this moment, and there’s the normal situation we’re in where your past body has no meaning, and it’s not even there for you to consider. And I feel like I would be fine with that, because what is the body? It’s just the mechanism by which you get around, and you have set that one aside. It’s served it purpose, and you know, Marie Kondo—it did great, but, now we let it go and we move on. And I don’t see that being a problem for me? Because, if that’s your whole mindset… is this not a problem just because they’re used to it? Because it seems like, when you’re actually faced with the evidence, then this is breaking down. So that’s interesting.
A: Well, I think that, particularly in this context, it pushes it even more because she’s lost 25 years of time that that dead clone has. So, in this case it really is like looking at a different version of you, basically. Somebody who has more knowledge, more time that you have now lost. So I think that, unlike many times when they wake up with a new body, they’ve actually lost something, as opposed to— Because she’s had times where she’s lost a week or two, but I don’t think it was as significant a gap.
C: Also, she barely knew that it had happened.
C: I mean, that seems like a very different… I don’t think that’s equivalent at all, though, to the—we’re like, oh yeah, the past is gone, the old body means nothing, the new one’s all that matters. That’s a different issue than “I’ve lost a quarter of a century.”
A: Well, I feel like, if there was any situation in which I would be “sentimental” about my previous clone, it would be this one, where they were somebody—where I didn’t know myself, essentially. Like, I’m looking at myself, but I don’t know that person, because I don’t have my memories from the past 25 years that have probably shaped that person. I know they’re dead now, but—
A: I feel like that is a loss in a way that the rest of the time it isn’t.
C: But that’s nothing to do with the person. Because that’s not—even if the memory transfer had been done correctly and you weren’t missing 25 years, like, that’s not you anymore. The issue of the missing time for me is divorced from the body. I don’t see a strong connection there.
A: I mean, I see it as… a symbolic connection? Obviously, you can’t take that time from that person anymore, they’re dead, that’s closed out. I’m just trying to say, pretty much any other time, like, yes—that’s my dead body, I don’t give a crap, I’m me, that was the thing I was using and I threw it away. I think that, with that missing time, it’s not just a direct transfer of “you to you.” It’s more like, this person kept traveling, and now you’re back at this point earlier in their time, shooting off in this other direction. So it is a different person symbolically. You can’t—
C: But why would you be nostalgic about that? I can’t make that connection. There’s something wrong, and it would be upsetting, but it’s not about nostalgia for me. It’s not about me, like, my identity.
A: I mean, nostalgia is the wrong word for what I’m trying to say. Um…
C: It’s a weird situation to try to describe.
A: Yeah. To me, it’s more of a parallel between—you know, we have the older Captain Katrina and then we have new Captain Katrina. And old Captain Katrina is supposed to be neutralized, she’s supposed to be destroyed, but Joanna’s hoping that, if she has knowledge that Joanna can recover, she could provide it to them, helping to explain what happened. So, unfortunately Maria’s clone is dead and has no real value, but I kind of mean more in that sense of “this person had knowledge you didn’t.” I’m not saying that you need to be like “aww, it’s my body,” but it is kind of a different situation than I think— Like, I think it would give me pause and make me feel—
C: You think what would give you pause, destroying the body?
A: No, just seeing it, because… the notion of the doppelgänger and mirror image is, you know, to see yourself outside yourself, which is inherently a weird thing. Which, as Maria says, she usually doesn’t have to put up with, because the techs destroy your body, you wake up, you’re fine. So, I think that, even in a world where cloning is normal, to be faced with yourself—even a slightly different self, because of time or whatever—is still disorienting, because it’s like, who is you. And of course they’ve created codicils to deal with that question, essentially.
C: Yeah. So, that makes sense. I just don’t see for me that that experience would be disorienting. I would be frustrated, I would be pissed off, I would be scared, maybe? But to me it’s still like, that’s not me. That’s something that, like—I dunno, yeah, I want those memories and I’m concerned that I don’t have them, but it’s nothing to do with this former body.
C: Yeah, possibly that’s just the two of us having different feelings.
A: Well, also, doppelgängers are Gothic tropes, so of course I’m into it.
C: I mean, I’m not NOT into it, I just—it’s not me! It’s nothing! It’s literally just a body and it needs to be taken care of.
A: Yeah, I wouldn’t—I guess I would feel more like, maybe give it a little more of a funerary treatment, rather than just like “throw it out the airlock” like they do, they treat clone bodies as garbage, pretty much. I’d be like, well, this person was actually a separate person from me, in a sense—
C: Oh, you’re not a clone of them.
A: And maybe we can say some nice words or something.
C: Is it because you’re not a clone of them, you’re a clone of their past self?
A: Their past self, yeah.
A: So yeah, if I saw a dead version of me, I wouldn’t be torn up about me being me, but I would see them as separate from myself, as opposed to a past incarnation of myself. Because the clone line is supposed to be continually moving forward, and suddenly, while this other clone was moving forward, you’ve branched off, so it’s like two separate arms of what is supposed to a linear procession.
C: Yeah. I think would still be more concerned about the “so what does it mean that this has happened” than the remnants of what was left, because that means something is very, very wrong in the state of Denmark.
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?
C: So, I don’t think anyone is going to argue that if you take out one board and put a new one in, it’s not his ship anymore. But, at the same time, I don’t know! So is it a question of, if you replace every single board in the ship at once, is that different than if you do them one at a time over a long time? Because it feels like it might be. Because if the whole boat gets eaten by a hydra or whatever, I don’t know what Theseus was fighting—
A: Yeah, sure.
C: And you rebuild it exactly as it was, it’s not the same boat.
C: But if you’ve been sailing this boat for ten years, and one day you sit down and you’re like, wow, I think I’ve replaced every single piece of wood on this ship… I guess it’s still not—it’s like, was there ever a single point at which the ship was not there?
A: Yeah, I think I kind of agree with where you’re going? Like, if the entire ship ceases to be, and then is rebuilt from scratch, we see it as a new boat. But if, let’s say, half of it gets wrecked, but then you rebuild it, it’s the same boat.
A: This actually comes up in The Fifth Elephant by Terry Pratchett.
C: Oh, it’s been a long time.
A: Yeah, I think the king of the dwarves is talking about, he’s like, “This is my father’s axe. Over time, it’s had a new handle, had a new blade, we redid the decorations to make it more modern—but it’s still my father’s axe.” As a metaphor for, of course, the Scone of Stone. So.
C: Because, you know, none of the bits and pieces making up us—I mean, I have none of the same molecules that I did, didn’t they determine, like, every 7 or 10 or 14 years or something, your entire body is essentially—all of the molecules are new!!
A: Oh my god! [laughter] Yeah, I think really what makes the difference is because humans are the ones who decide whether it’s Theseus’ boat or not. The universe does not give a crap whether it’s Theseus’ boat or not.
A: So I think it’s more of a, like, “how do humans think of it” dilemma, than an actual, physical dilemma you could measure. And so I think that the human brain is wired to understand replacing pieces of a whole as still—
C: It’s still the same whole.
A: But if you destroy something utterly, and then make it anew, it’s a different whole.
C: So ARE CLONES THE SAME PERSON???
A: [dramatic gasp]
A: I’d say yes, as long as they still retain their memories—basically, retain a whole mindmap, rather than one that has been damaged or rewritten. I guess. Well, I don’t know.
C: Yeah, it gets a little tricky in there. Because, okay, so if we’re continuing the analogy, then something has to be present at all times.
C: And the rest can be built around it. So the mind, essentially, has to be…
A: Yeah, I think the mindmap needs to be intact, because that is the continuing “whole”—that’s the part of the whole that has to carry on through the different incarnations of the clones. So then… if you’ve been hacked, like Wolfgang was, and really had significant parts of your personality changed… because Hiro is kind of an odd thing, because he still retains his original personality, he just has extra ones, I guess?
C: Maybe? Was it his original personality? There’s a lot going on here!
A: [laughter] But Wolfgang, I think, is a little more straightforward for this question.
C: Sure. So is he still the same person? I think he would say no.
A: He definitely says no. I reread that chapter last night!
A: And I feel like I kind of agreed with him. Joanna is like, I understand, you’re now cloned, I understand how it feels, I know how cloning works, why are you saying all this stuff. And Wolfgang is like, well have you ever been hacked?, and Joanna says, no. And like, yeah, you don’t know what that’s like. You know, hacking—
C: To wake up and know how you feel now, but to also know that’s not how you felt before.
A: Or to not even know it. I mean, I think you’d still not be the same person as before.
C: No, you just wouldn’t be aware of it.
A: So, yeah, I think you need an intact mind, that’s what makes you a person.
C: And so you’re a person, and you’ve got your mindmap that you updated just last week, and so… these are both simultaneously you? Because we’re saying that if you all of a sudden bite it, and your mindmap is what’s passed on, that’s sufficient for personhood to still be present.
A: I guess? I mean, that does seem to be the way it works in Six Wakes.
C: That does seem to be the way it works! It’s also interesting to me that they make the point that there’s two groups—there’s clones and there’s humans.
C: So clones aren’t human, which is a very interesting distinction to me, because, well, yeah, they’re human, they just have a radically different life and way of doing most things. Yeah, I feel like if I were a clone, I would be really fighting to get that wording changed, because words are powerful and having people be like “I’m human and you’re not” seems super dangerous to me, if you want clones to have anything even remotely approaching equal rights.
A: Yeah, I kind of wish that Lafferty had dug into that more.
C: So that’s, I think, one of the reasons why I wasn’t initially being like, oh yeah this is purely ideas, because I’m used to, you know, sci-fi where they really do rip apart every single implication, and she really—I mean, to be fair, that would be a hell of a longer book, and more complicated. But I am left with a lot of questions that I do want to go, alright, so what does this mean for this world she’s created?
A: Right. And I think, in my mind, I’m just like… do clones get to vote? Is that a thing??? And Joanna was talking about how, when they were deciding the codicils, they didn’t know she was a clone, she would never have been allowed to weigh in if people knew she was a clone.
C: Oh, did she say that?
A: Yeah, they don’t know. So to me, that’s bizarre!
C: How did they not know she was a clone? She had working legs.
A: I have no idea.
A: Yeah, so I was like, that seems highly dangerous to clones, like, very not good—
C: They can’t weigh in on their own—yeah, it’s almost as if, like, today, a bunch of male politicians made a whole bunch of decisions about women’s bodies and wouldn’t listen to what women had to say, think about how awful that would be.
A: Yeah, yeah, think about that.
A: So, that was actually something where, even as somebody who is not an “ideas book” person—I guess I kind of feel like, go hard or go home, basically? Either give me this super rich, character-driven story, or like, here are your ideas, let’s really go for it! Because I felt like there were opportunities she could have taken to go farther with that.
C: Yeah, her world was interesting, and definitely had a good deal of thought put into it. I still have questions about how certain things interplay.
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.
C: So the question… I think this sort of comes into something that I think we discussed during The Fact of a Body? If you’re a jury essentially deciding where to assign guilt, are you really trying to find the truth—the absolute truth of what happened—or are you trying to protect your society from future repercussions? Because my gut instinct is to say, okay, if you really can’t remember committing it, how could you be responsible now? Like maybe you did it, and maybe you need to accept that, but that’s not quite the same kind of responsibility, if that makes any sense?
A: Yeah, sure.
C: That said, if the conditions that led to you committing this crime still exist… So if it was some sort of freak accident where, you know, this is really not likely to happen again, you know, practically nil chance, that to me is a different scenario than “I don’t remember doing this, but I am set to this sort of baseline resentment where I hate everyone and I do want to kill them, and I’m just working up to it again.”
C: So, you do have to dig into intentions and reasons, which you can’t really do, like, that’s not possible. So… now what?
A: Yeah, see this was a question that kind of plagued me the entire time I was reading. I was like, what are you—how are you—because it kept being like, “we need to find out who’s responsible so we can hold them accountable!” Like. You don’t remember doing it!
C: Well, it didn’t plague me though, because we’re calling it holding them accountable—to me that’s short hand for “we want to find out who’s responsible so they don’t do it again.”
A: Well, because I understood that half of it. I think it was just, like, the way people kept talking about Wolfgang, or Wolfgang would talk himself about “we have to punish them, per the codicils,” that kind of stuff. I’m just like… okay, I totally understand the desire to figure out what happened—
A: But there were various points during the book when it seemed like it was a little bit too much of a desire to be able to precisely blame someone and then punish them for it.
C: Yeah, in my mind, the focus shouldn’t be on punishment, it should be on the continued safety of the ship and the crew.
A: Yeah, and that’s an angle—like, I got that, that’s why I used “in part” in my phrasing of the question.
A: And I like what you were saying about intent and do these circumstances still exist, because that’s something—like, remember the—I think you listened to this episode of My Favorite Murder—the guy on the bus who, like—
C: Oh my god.
A: Yeah, that guy. So he’s having, you know, a mental breakdown and had no idea what reality was. And it’s like, okay, well now they have him on medication.
C: And now they’ve released him.
A: So it’s like, okay, because when he’s on his medication, he’s not… that person.
C: Right. But, how do we know that he’s going to stay on his medication.
C: Because someone—I’m not sure if this is something that was in the episode or if this is something from when I was horrified and googling it later and that came up—but I think it was the mother of the victim who was saying, “Yes, I agree that when he’s on the medication, he’s not a threat. But we know that what he becomes without his medication is such an extreme threat that I don’t think we can safely take this chance.” And I would certainly have to dig in and do a whole bunch of thinking and soul searching before I gave my own hard and fast opinion on that, but I do think she has a point.
A: Yeah, that’s fair. And because also, I think also in the same [My Favorite Murder] episode—it’s quite an episode—is the guy who thought he was a vampire?
Note: I was wrong. We’re referring to Richard Chase, who was featured in Episode 10 of My Favorite Murder—skip to 41:10. Content warnings for mental illness, drug and alcohol use, animal cruelty, assault, murder, necrophilia, and cannibalism.
C: I did hear that one, so quite possibly, yeah.
A: Well, because it was the cannibal-themed episode, that’s the reason!
A: But anyway, so, with him, he actually was tormented into killing himself in jail by other inmates, even though he was on his medication while in jail. Like, the other inmates, and I’m sure other people outside of prison, held him accountable for his actions, even though he was pretty bonkers at the time, and his mom took him off of his medications because she was—
A: —super great.
C: TERRIBLE. His mom also should be facing some consequences.
A: Yes, I think she should! I think she is more culpable, in some ways.
C: But he needs to be in a controlled environment.
A: Yes. Anyway, back to the question, do you think anyone should ever be held accountable for crimes they do not remember committing? So, I agree with you in that I think we need to acknowledge that they committed the crimes. And I think their punishment should more of “we need to keep you in a controlled area,” not “I’m going to throw you in solitary confinement for 40 years for a crime that you committed while you had no idea of right and wrong.”
C: Yeah, I think there’s a difference between someone who was like, no, I decided I would kill all of these people because I thought I could, because it would be fun—you know, any of those fucked up answers, versus someone who was like, no, I didn’t know what I was doing and I thought that literally I had to eat these people to live, or some fucked up—I mean, I’m also like, you’ve got a problem, but that’s a different kind of problem, and we need to address them differently.
C: And wouldn’t it be nice if we as a society could be better at mental illness.
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.
C: Well, gosh. Yeah, this is the question where I most wish I had read the book a little more recently.
Note: Colleen had to wait quite a while for me to finish reading Six Wakes, since my life was a bit of a disaster at the time.
C: Yeah, so, also sort of getting back to what we talked about earlier where we don’t really even know for sure this is how it played out…
A: It’s very likely that this is how it played out.
C: Yeah, fair enough, alright.
A: If I had to choose, I would pick Sallie Mignon, because—
C: I mean, she set the situation up, she pretty much wanted it to play out exactly as it did.
C: I do think Paul—like, everyone is ultimately responsible for their own actions, barring situations where their brains are lying to them and they literally don’t understand what they’re doing and could not be expected to. Which I don’t think was the case when the old original Paul did the things that he did to the people. No, I think he does need to take a portion of the blame, especially because he was the one who got put on this ship literally because that’s what he wanted to do. Like, yes, Sallie was orchestrating the situation and does need some blame, but also he very much—even if she hadn’t, he still would have done that thing.
A: Yes, this is true. I blame her the most, for sure.
C: Mmhmm, blame him the second most.
C: I don’t blame Katrina a lot, but I think part of that is just because I don’t know what the situation was that prompted the paranoia. And I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt and say that in these 25 years something arose that prompted this, she didn’t just sort of lose it. Because we don’t see unjustifiable paranoia from her in other places, do we?
A: Not really.
C: She seems pretty stable. Like, she’s got some questionable ethics, I think, but, you know, who doesn’t in this book. And yeah, unless she just totally one day was like, I’ve decided to stop trusting!! and goes stirring the pot, I’m willing to assume that there was a reason.
A: Yeah. But… we don’t know…
C: Yeah… Maria shouldn’t have hacked that dog.
A: [laughter] Yeah, Maria is an interesting case, because she doesn’t remember doing it [hacking Hiro, Wolfgang, and IAN]. She kind of has figured out that she did it…
C: What do you mean, she doesn’t remember?
A: Well, because the only reason she knows that she hacked them is because she created the lady in her head telling her that people kept abducting her and making her hack people, because she got killed every time.
C: Ohh, she was the one who hacked everyone—that’s right, I was thinking back to all the other hack jobs that she knows she did for Sallie. Okay, okay, no, that’s right. So, yeah, Maria needs—when you have that kind of ability and power, she’s got a responsibility to be careful with what she can do.
C: You know, someone on Tumblr was yelling the other day about how you are accountable for doing bad things, even if you were following orders. Like, I guess there’s something in the military where, if a superior officer gives you orders that you know are wrong, you have a duty to not follow them. Which, honestly, given what little I know of the military—
A: Shocks me? Wow.
C: But yeah, you can break it down however you want. She went into the employ of Sallie, she was trying to make a living. At every point she had the choice to sort of stop and say, no, I find this unethical, I won’t do this. Yeah, the consequences of that, when she did put her foot down, turned out to be very bad, but she still from the very start— Because her first job for Sallie, it was Sallie’s husband, and she was just fixing a disease, which presumably he wanted…?
A: Well, he was not so sure about the cloning thing. So…
C: Right. I feel bad for him, I wonder what his life is like. Okay, but that one, I do need him to give consent, and assuming he did, I’m down with that. And then Maria is like, alright, we all good?, and Sallie was like, CAN YOU MAKE HIM LOVE ME MORE? Marie could have been like, that’s rough buddy!! But instead she was like, yeah, I can do that, would you like me to?
A: Yeah… like, come on, Maria.
C: She’s like, oh, I’ve got my line I won’t cross. I’m like, your line needs to be adjusted several steps back. So, it feels a little weird to blame her for this, because there were so many pieces between what she did and happy-ship-murder-times—
C: But. She needs to fucking wake up and think before she acts, just a little tiny bit.
A: Yeah, I know you were essentially acting as a hammer hitting a nail, but…
C: You were the one who stepped out and was like, oh, I can hammer that nail. And then you got upset when that’s what you did. Though also she wasn’t upset by a lot of it!
C: Why the fuck would you volunteer to change someone’s—like, that’s so creepy. Imagine someone going into your—this man woke up, and was a fundamentally different person. And he didn’t even know.
A: It’s so creepy.
C: So, let’s write that horror novel.
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.
C: They’re all humans.
A: I know. [laughter]
C: So, we’re talking death as in actual death, not the kind of death where then you wake up the next day, missing a couple memories or a few hours.
A: Yeah, actual death.
C: So, it seems possible to me that you start feeling with cloning that you’ve beaten death. You’re like, alright, that was a problem, we solved it. And so then I think it does become more scary, because it’s not something that you have this awareness of, like, it’s going to happen but it happens to everyone. So, you’re not prepared for it, it catches you off guard, and even the fact that it’s not going to come for another 60 or so years… when you thought you had eternity, I think that makes it very scary.
A: I agree. I think it does increase the significance of it. And I think also for humans, for non-clones, because then you’re making a choice. Because, if the option is available, then it becomes a choice, right? Because right now, we’re just like, well, what can you do??
C: Yeah, that’s a very interesting choice. My question is, why do people choose not be clones, I guess.
A: Because that’s—that’s one of the questions that, again, this is an idea that I really wish she’d dived into.
C: Yeah, because the only thing I really recall getting as to why people wouldn’t want to be clones is religion.
A: Yeah, that’s the only concrete example. I guess Sallie Mignon’s husband who was not so hot on it—it was more because he was like, well, I don’t know if the relationship will feel the same when I look like I’m twenty and you’re still sixty… like, that seemed to be his main issue.
C: He was just like, I don’t think you’ll be hot enough for me.
A: I guess? I don’t even know.
C: She should’ve just been like, shit, I’ll just jump off the roof, then, we can both be twenty, whatever.
A: We just need to make it look like an accident! Yeah, I feel like, for me, the choice to become a clone would have to come with thinking about myself, not necessarily about others. Like, I’m sure other people would come into play, but, who’s definitely going to be around 500 years from now? Myself, if I choose to clone myself. I don’t know about anybody else. So, do I want to live with myself for eternity? Or…
C: Ooh boy.
A: So I feel like I would love to have had her dive more into that and think about what does that choice mean? Because I feel like we don’t really get—like, the only person that we see before they get cloned is Wolfgang, and his circumstance is very unusual.
C: Well, we also get a hint of Paul.
A: Yeah. But with them, it’s an extreme, and they don’t want to be cloned. So instead I’m asking, why would you want to be cloned? And why might you decide not to, from a non-religious perspective?
C: Yeah, I’m trying to think how that would have fit, because it’s a super interesting question and I do want it explored. It does feel like the history of the book that she wrote, because it’s a decision that would have been more relevant when cloning was being introduced and perfected. And now, like, there’s some issues, but largely like, yeah, totally, you can be cloned, it’s just a thing you choose.
A: I mean, I feel like still, though, obviously some people don’t want to be cloned, even though it’s reasonably common. So I’m like, why wouldn’t you?
C: Yeah, so that kind of gets into the topic that I’ve seen raised more in fantasy. Like, if you could be immortal, would you want to be?
C: Obviously, it’s something that’s come up in the silly parts of the Lord of the Rings fandom, back in middle school when we all were like, elves!!!
A: Of course. Well, I feel like it’s an apropos time to move on to our next question.
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?
C: So, would I choose to become a clone. It’s not a decision I think I’m going to be able to give an answer to right now, because I think it’s a weighty decision. Do I really want to live forever? Because one of the things that’s been pointed out is, that’s lonely. Like you were saying, you have to make a decision about yourself. And you, your spouse, and your friends could collectively go, okay, we’re going to do this together. But it sounds to me like clones are in the minority here.
A: It does.
C: And so we’re talking, I don’t know, 5% of the population? So you’re watching your family and friends grow older and die, while you just keep on keeping on. And that seems very grim to me.
C: And I wonder if that sort of plays into the introvert-extrovert personality. Because if you’re someone who is really into being defined by your relationships with other people, then I feel like you are less inclined… that’s probably oversimplifying, it’s probably just one piece of it. I dunno… do I like myself enough that I really think I need eternity? Because obviously there’s the opportunity to just sort of keep learning and learn how to do everything. Like Maria went to school so many times, with so many different topics, how cool is that.
A: That’s pretty baller.
C: That would be so fascinating, to really get the chance to try everything and that sounds incredible. I would be super curious to hear what these clones have been… Okay, so Joanna is one of the oldest ones.
A: Yeah, I think so.
C: I would be curious if major serious depression becomes an issue in clones at a certain point, where they sort of run out of things to do. I feel like, if you’re choosing cloning, there has to be a specific—like, surely there’s something you want to do with this. You can’t just live idly forever, you will be so bored. Sort of like retirement, the way people get depressed after that, because they aren’t doing anything. So, if you’re being cloned, it seems like there’s a good chance it’s for a specific reason. You’re like, because I love being a doctor so much, I want to keeping doing it, I want to keep learning. So what happens when you hit the end of that?
A: Right, you… run out of interests? [laughter] Yeah, because they do have, as one of the codicils, that if you commit suicide as a clone, you’re not allowed a new body.
C: So, there is a way out.
A: There is a way out. You can always make that decision.
C: It’s also interesting, though, that at that point, you can’t be like, alright, this is my last life, so I’m going to marry and have kids, though.
A: Yeah, exactly.
C: You could still have a family and a relationship. But you’re not just extending an ordinary life span, you’re off on a different path and you can never go back.
C: So… would you become a clone?
A: I… would lean towards no, just because… I dunno, I feel like it means something, to have a lifespan, to have a certain amount of time given to you. I mean, I could hit by a car tomorrow and die, but to have a general sense of how much time I have to live my life and to make whatever difference I want to try and make… On the flip side of that, I can see—I mean, I kind of wish some people were going to be living for 300 years so we could be like, hey, you want to stop dumping toxic waste into the ocean? You might actually have to deal with this problem someday.
A: So, you know, you can argue that it goes both ways, in that, if you know you’re going to be around in 500 years, you realize the impact of your actions.
C: You have to take responsibility. Yeah, like, in reality, especially for the impact that we have on the world around us, humans live for a really short time. And it’s different than if you were, I dunno, a dog or something—
C: Because the dog is not dumping toxic waste, the dog is not creating these factories just fucking the ozone layer, just absolutely destroying… yeah. So. I feel like there could be some benefit to making people face some of the consequences.
C: So, how do you get to be a clone? Like, this shit’s expensive.
A: Yes, that’s another thing.
C: If only the rich can be cloned… fuck no. Fuck no. No one gets cloning if it’s only going to be the rich.
A: Yeah, but I mean, that’s another question I would have liked to have her to dive into more.
C: All of these people who are being clones… Well, because Wolfgang… how did he get that money?
A: How did he get those dollar bills?
C: Maybe there was some sort of settlement? When they figured out what had been done to him, and he got some sort of reparations in a lawsuit?
A: Well, they say—I mean, Maria’s talking about the Lyfe that they use to create everything, and she’s talking about how the machines creating clones or food or whatever are a big investment, but the Lyfe itself is really cheap. So, if you as a tech company were like, okay, we’ll buy this one clone generator, and that’s a big shell out of money at the start. But then to continue making clones is not really that expensive. So, I do wonder, how expensive is it to become a clone? I wish that had been better established.
C: I don’t know, is this just me being pessimistic about capitalism, but I feel like it has to be pretty pricey.
A: I mean, maybe it’s a competitive market.
C: It doesn’t sound like it…
A: Yeah, I don’t know. Like, I got the sense that it was all rich people, but then I was like, well I don’t know why it would have to be.
C: But if you’re a tech company and you’re going to a cloning thing… well, you can’t just clone yourself. Because the machine’s expensive, and even if you’re rich, you still need people who know how to properly run it. So you’ve got to either learn how to do it right, or you’ve got to go to someone who has done this. If they’ve had to shell out a lot to make it, they have to charge enough that they are going to be able to—I mean, you might be able to drop your prices later, but you have to initially be charging a decent amount to continue existing. I dunno. I can’t see this being a super affordable thing.
A: Okay. And so, just generally, would you be against other people becoming clones if the codicils described in the book were in place, or if they were not in place?
C: So the codicils… I wonder how much time it took Lafferty to settle on those. Because, I agree, you probably need some rules about it. So, most of those seem pretty reasonable to me. On the whole, I feel like these are a good set of rules that make cloning a workable practice.
C: Searching the mindmaps is interesting to me. I assume that’s to look for signs of hacking? It just… puts me in mind of the rules in Arizona where they’re like, you have to have your ID on you at all times, and any police officer can stop you at any moment. And like, okay, that’s second-class citizen treatment, which is not nice. But I’m pretty chill with most of these.
A: So, kind of the original question is, regardless of your personal decision of whether to become a clone or not, would you be okay with the concept of other people being cloned, if these codicils were in place? How about if all bets were off?
C: Right. And I think my answer is yes. With these codicils in place, that seems to make cloning an option that works. And regardless of whether or not I want it, I think with these in place that makes it okay. I’m not immediately seeing any problems. I do feel though, that if you’re someone who has chosen not to go through cloning, and there are other people out there wandering around who are, who do have eternity in front of them and have been alive already for 300 years, that has to be weird.
A: Yeah, that’s fair.
C: I don’t know, I feel like there’s some kind of societal problem you’re just inviting in at this stage. And I’m worried about conflict, although that doesn’t necessarily mean that we shouldn’t have clones.
C: Without these rules, I think that way lies anarchy.
A: Yeah, I feel like you need to have rules that try and make sense of—okay, how do we blend two very different lifestyles, lifespans, and make sure everybody can kind of get along?
C: Or even if it was just, everyone was doing the cloning thing, I think you still need these rules. I feel like society is going to crumble without some of these.
C: But, as Lafferty was making the point, especially with Hiro—I mean, I think with most laws, you can’t just be like, this is the law and it is immovable. Context, context, context, you know.
A: I mean, there are always going to be weird situations. And we kind of saw in The Fact of a Body that that’s where a judge or a jury can come into play, as far as interpreting a law.
Were you satisfied by the ending of the novel? Why or why not?
C: Were you satisfied, Ariana? Let me answer this for you—no.
A: [laughter] I mean, I didn’t want to, like, throw something, but—
C: It felt a little… deus ex machina. It felt a little, sort of… pat. I mean, partly it’s because it’s billing itself as a mystery, and it’s not. It is using the framework of a mystery to tell another story. But when you have a mystery, you still need an ending that feels good. That was also one of the things—because I was quite enjoying the book, and then the ending did feel like, okay, this isn’t quite what I was hoping for.
A: Yeah, I think I turned the last page and was like, … REALLY? That was IT? Because the other problem of making it seem like a mystery is that I’m going to be watching details very closely. And you can run into trouble when you don’t watch those super closely in your manuscript. So, I was like, okay. Number one, at the end, they decide to strip Paul’s mindmap and turn him into the AI, which, fifty pages earlier, Wolfgang was like, that’s terrible, this is heinous, I can’t believe you’d do this to somebody! And then at the end, he’s just like, yeah, seems fair, whatever.
C: Well, he is a criminal and he needs to be punished.
A: [laughter] Because it came out, like, after they had figured out what happened to IAN, they’re like, oh, maybe we can find Sallie Mignon’s mindmap on the ship, we can wake her up and ask her what happened! And Wolfgang’s like, you would do that again Maria?? And Maria’s like, well, no, I didn’t say I was gonna do that, it was just IAN suggesting it as an option. And Wolfgang just lost his shit! And then at the end, they’re like, this is EXACTLY what we’re going to do to Paul! And everybody was like, what a great solution.
C: Yeah, that’s a little inconsistent.
A: And then, the hemlock. So, the only thing it will print is, like, a leaf of hemlock. Like, why would you—if you were like, oh, we’re gonna have oatmeal, and then the only thing it prints out is a leaf, I’d be like, okay!!
C: I guess this is the oatmeal…
A: Like, what the—!
C: Really, what should have been happening is that it prints off a food and they tested, it because they’re like, we wanna make sure everything’s chill, and then they find that hemlock is an additive in everything it prints.
A: Yes, exactly. And then, there’s the instructions in the box of the new food printer that has a secret message hidden in them for Hiro? How the fuck did they get in there? Because it’s like, IAN already had his mind wiped by the time that he was loaded onto the ship as their navigating system, so… And the food printer was in a box! So, like—HOW.
C: So someone during this trip went into there, ripped it open, because they were like, oh yeah, we’re going to need this—I don’t know, yeah, there’s still a lot of questions.
A: And because I was pissed off about that one in particular, I was rereading super closely, and Maria’s like, oh I’ll have to get Minoru to tell me how he did it! And then a couple pages later, they’re like, and we all had a meal, and Minoru explained how he did it, and I was like… but HOW? It DOES NOT tell you.
A: Like, come on.
C: Yeah, that’s not ideal.
A: So. There were a few too many of those, for my liking.
C: Yeah. Also, they’re turning that ship around to go back home, and go fuck up Sallie, right?
A: That was left unanswered.
C: Oh really.
A: Because they’re just like, we’ll figure it out, we have plenty of time! I think that’s the end of the book, so.
C: They’ve got literally forever…
C: OKAY, so, the ending wasn’t strong. Lots of people struggle with endings.
A: Yes. Just… don’t bill it as a mystery, when it’s… not a mystery. Yeah. I just wish she’d sat around with some friends and been like, okay, I’m going to explain things to you. Tell me if they don’t make sense.
C: Tell me what questions you still have.
A: Yeah. That… probably would have benefited you. But at the same time, it’s on the editor to realize that—
C: Sure, that’s also the friend who is supposed to sit down…
A: Yeah, you could have had a bit stronger support from your editing team.