May 092018
 

Six Wakes, by Mur Lafferty

Synopsis: When the six-person crew of a generation ship wakes up from cloning tanks to find their previous selves’s murdered bodies floating before them and their memories wiped, they have to discover who among them is a killer before they’re Killed For Good.

Book Review: This has one of the most attention-grabbing first chapters of any book I’ve read in a long time. There’s nothing like being dumped right in the middle of a life-or-death crisis without any bearings to really get things started with a bang. And the premise is fantastic!

Unfortunately, the excellent premise falls apart due to very poor execution. The book reads sloppy, like someone was just dashing words together without really thinking through anything. Right in the first chapter there warning signs: the ship spun to create artificial gravity, but had somehow managed to stop spinning after just a few hours without power. Just how much internal friction does this thing have? And the captains FIRST order is “No one goes anywhere alone until we find the killer. Everyone in pairs from now on.” The order is then immediately forgotten by everyone, and within two pages all the crew have split up to do their separate things. WTF?

It’s also technically and scientifically illiterate. The plot relies on a piece of tech called a “Mind Map,” which at first seems like a personality matrix + memory storage, but later turns out to also contain DNA, and can run AI programs within it, and ultimately do anything that is necessary for the plot to proceed. It’s a piece of magic that literally does everything and solves every problem. And the term “Hacker” would be better replaced with “Magic Space Wizard,” because apparently a Hacker can do literally everything. Bioengineering, gene-editing, every level and type of programming, AI design, psychological surgery, memory editing, etc. In one scene the hacker has to find a single faulty line within the source code of the ship’s AI. It takes her many minutes! “Hacking” is a universal skill that covers everything a computer might do, and since computers do everything… Space Wizard!

The scientific illiteracy is just another version of the same sloppiness that is so apparent in the author’s disregard for the narrative. Lafferty seems to just not care if things make sense. Nothing follows any rules or has any consistency. It ends up feeling like you’re just listening to an imaginative but scatter-brained friend making things up as she goes along. That’s fine for bullshitting around a campfire, but in terms of writing a novel for publication, it’s just plain lazy. Is it so much to ask that an author put a modicum of forethought and effort into their writing?

There are some very cool flash-back scenes, reminiscent of the Lost TV series, which were very enjoyable. Lafferty is good at writing small, self-encapsulated individual actions. It’s only when they try to make a longer narrative hold together that everything falls apart. Not Recommended.

Book Club Review: I couldn’t stand this book, because the sloppiness physically hurt me. It felt like an insult. But not everyone cares that much. On a page-by-page basis, there’s almost always something interesting happening (with the exception of a long boring trudge of a few chapters near the 1/3rd mark). The characters are distinctive and the POV characters are fun to be with. So while everyone in the book club agreed the book was nonsensical both narratively and scientifically, several of our readers didn’t care! Apparently there are those readers who don’t need a story to make sense, as long as each page has some entertainment value, and they enjoyed this book a fair bit. Interestingly, though, we still mostly talked about the dumb, nonsensical things, since those were the most fun things to talk about. The other readers just viewed them as fun in a campy, B-movie sort of way, rather than an infuriating disregard by the author for their time/intelligence.

I don’t know man. I doubt anyone will remember this book a few months from now. And I’ve been getting frustrated with the run of disappointing books lately. There’s tons of “just writing what comes to mind without thinking through it much” stories out there, and if you want some light entertainment reading I think any of those are just as good as this one. They’d all spark roughly the same sort of “I had fun during these moments, but lol that’s bad” conversation, IMHO. So, Not Recommended.

The Hugo Nominees were released a couple weeks back, so we’re diving into those next. Those are usually mostly good, so I’m looking forward to getting some good reading in! :)

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