This book goes down very smooth and easy - like a fine liquor, I would say, if I were a fancy person. But it's really more like a diet soda: tastes sweet like candy, wakes up all the sluggish neurons, but has no nutritious qualities at all. Still, there really isn't enough fresh, light, and good science fiction like this.
The six-person crew of the generation ship Dormire awaken suddenly in cloning pods with no memory of how or why they are there. This is not an entirely unexpected development - in a future where cloning is a common way of extending life, most of the crew have already been duplicated several times as their previous bodies have died. However, they usually awaken with a relatively recent version of their mind downloaded from a backup. This time, the past 25 years are completely missing from their memories. The AI that runs the ship is also missing vast chunks of data and - oh yeah - their own dead bodies are still floating around the clone bay in a grisly murder scene that seems to defy explanation.
As the crew begins to pry into their own pasts, ever more strange secrets and connections are revealed which hint at their potential murderous motives and the deceitful origins of the Dormire mission itself. It's a rollicking ride.
I love the detail Lafferty confides in the post-novel interview, that this story basically started out as FTL fanfiction - FTL, the little strategy game about navigating a spaceship through various crises. In that game, when your starship crew dies they can be reawakened as clones - and thus, the idea for Six Wakes was born. Like the game, there's not a lot of depth here, but that doesn't mean it's not an enjoyable way to spend a few hours.
If it had wanted to be, this book could have been a really interesting meditation on identity and culpability, and how those concepts would warp with the introduction of cloning technology. Is a clone really a continuation of one's self, or just a convincing copy? Are life and death cheapened when everyone can just be brought back indefinitely? If a previous version of you committed a terrible act, is the new version of you to blame? What if you don't remember doing it?
For the most part, though, the book just kind of bounces off these questions. And I'm okay with that - sometimes it's fine to just say, "yeah, this is a mystery, and it involves clones, but let's not get too deep into the philosophical weeds here". The main focus is on the intrigue and the deceit and the stabbings.
I wish there had been a little more character development - for all of the shadowy backstories, they all still felt pretty one-note. The dialogue was somewhat clunky, and some of the plot developments were easy to see coming. But really, none of those complaints take away from how much fun I had reading this book. Highly recommended for anyone looking for a good sci-fi thriller beach read.