Think And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, only with cloning chambers.
It’s been a bit since I’ve enjoyed a sci-fi mystery–quite possibly not since Leviathan Wakes. Lafferty has written a closed-room murder mystery with an accessible sci-fi twist, hopefully pleasing mystery and sci-fi fans alike, as long as they can survive the cloning and time shifts.
Cloning was invented hundreds of years ago, after people discovered they could ‘mind-map’ personality and memories at a given point in time and subsequently download the map into a grown body. Six clones guilty of various crimes have agreed to pilot and maintain a colony ship en route to a new planet, with the condition that they will be granted full pardon on arrival.
I’m familiar with Lafferty from her other series, The Shambling Guide to… and this makes definite improvements in plotting and characterization. The six crew members are all very different people, and delving into their histories is quite interesting, both in personal terms and in insight into the world-building. Like Hercule Poirot sending telegrams this way and that to gather information on suspects and their histories, we soon learn that the actions of the present are rooted in the past, but the past reminiscences aren’t allowed to overshadow the present. Will the dead bodies provide any clues? Why is the captain’s clone still alive but gravely injured? Who sabotaged the food synthesizing machine? There’s actually two additional vital characters in this story, a neat trick when I realized it at the end. Lafferty also managed some nice little twists.
Perhaps the weakest aspect for me was the narrative structure. It was third person ~generally~ omniscient, which means there would be occasional insights into each character’s thinking, although not with equal attention. However, transitions were frequently awkward, happening within the same chapter. It was also not true omniscient, as each character often avoids thinking of details that would give the reader more hints as to eventual solution/outcome. For instance, we know Maria has a secret stash, but not what all is in it. Paul and Hiro have secrets that deal with core identity. It seemed like a bit of a cheat done that way, as the information the reader gets isn’t actually particularly helpful and largely could have been gained through dialogue or observation. Maybe the attempt was to keep it feeling personal, and not merely descriptive.
Overall, it was a fast, enjoyable read. I actually finished it in a day, once I could give it some attention, but I hung on to it in order to give it a second, more thorough read. I have this tendency–in real life as well–to discount history, and initially cruised through character backstories before realizing how important they were. Seeds of the past fruit in the present, and all that. It holds up well, although some occasional inconsistencies become apparent. Definitely recommend to fans of Leviathan Wakes.