Today I’m reviewing a book not on this year’s book list, but instead one that was recommend to me by reader *Jake*. Jake suggested I read this book as although I love watching Science Fiction TV shows I’ve never been a big fan of reading about them. (For some odd reason it always felt silly and unrealistic reading about humans in the future rather than seeing it). However I am a huge fan of murder mysteries. So when Jake came across this short 258 page murder mystery set in space he thought it would be a good reintroduction for me back into the genre of sci fi.
And he was right!
I highly enjoyed this books clever use of the classic murder mystery set up, then twisting it up by setting it in the future on a astoid that is being mined for minerals by human clones.
From the beginning we are plainly told of the connection to the murder mystery genre with the queen of murder, Agatha Christie being brought early into the book; as Leila ( our protagonist) explains her love of the writer. Then when her sister is murdered she decides to become a detective and models herself on Miss Marple.
Two aspects of the book I deeply enjoyed in their spin on the usual murder mystery is, firstly the use of location. In alot of murder mysteries, (Then there were none, Orient Express, etc) we are limited in the number of suspects. But instead of being stuck on a small island or in a snow trapped train we are on a astoid in space which only 18 people live on.
Secondly in many murder mysteries we are often presented with the usual set of characters…the pompous general, the tart with a heart, the vicar with a secret. Here we are given these characters again but with the twist most of them being identical clones of each other. For instance the Bees are the tarts who although are great manipulators are also very much a victim. While the Jays are the cunning intelligent revolutionists-who may go power mad. The Ayes are the stupid muscle and the Ells are the curious stubborn worker bees. However just because they are clones does not mean they share all the same opinions or act the same way, which makes it more interesting. (For me it felt like the personification of when a person believes different things at the same time and has that inner argument with these opinions).
My problem with the book though is it was often very obvious what many of the twists would be.
For instance the fact that the clones are never going to leave the astoid was obvious. It was too much of a carrot being dangled in front of the donkeys face. Also what would they do on earth? Would they all live together in a camp? Would they join society? How understanding or hostile would people on earth be of them? It was just too complicated a process and the overseers never give them any straight answers.
Also the fact that the overseers were prisoners sent into space to be managers was obvious. As it was such a horrible, dangerous job that no human would do it unless they had no other choice.
My other problem with the book was some of it was just too unbelievable to be swallowed.
For instance the fact Leila can read and the Jays are great chess players but no one has learnt to write. This sets up the reason why Leila’s sister doesn’t write down what’s she’s found in her own investigation, meaning Leila has to find it out herself. Also the overseers need the clones to keep forgetting what is happening to them, and if they write it down it will tell them every thing that has happened.
Also how messed up must earth be at this time that:-
A) They send muderers and rapists into space to act as overseers to these clones. Surely they must know that when left to there own devices they will only rape and murder!
B) The vast majority of humans are fine with sending cloned humans to space forever, as eternal slaves, who don’t have a full grasp on their reality! It’s just too sickening. Leila thinks it must be because the demand for minerals is so strong that they turn a blind eye – but still this is a horrid view of humanity.
However the faults of this book are made up by the great ending. Not only did I only partly guess who the murderer was (any Agatha Christie fan will tell you it’s often the character you least suspect and hope it isn’t). But this took second fiddle to the fate of Leila and the clones.
Once Leila has found her murderer and the Jays are just starting their revolution Alex Thomson then decides to set his last chapter about 20 years in the future (shown by the lines on Leila’s face and her pain and slow movements). We are given a few details, such as some of the other clones are dead and she is now living with a Jay and still mining coal. But wonderfully Alex decides to leave a lot of questions unanswered and instead let’s the reader decide the clones fate. We have some facts to go off, for instance we know the clones memories only last 6 months and the collection ship comes every 7 years to take overseers away and replace clones. So what has happened in the last 20 years?
My theory is the Jays explained everything to the Bees and Ayes who flipped out and started a war in which some of the clones died and Leila gets her scar. The Jays who have either secretly learnt how to write so write down everything that has happened, or they read and keep all the overseers paperwork and keep this knowledge for themselves. They decide to wait for everyone’s memories to forget what has happened to them (they are known for being patient) then feed everyone a new story. They tell them all the overseers and clones died naturally or of accidents but that they must continue to work so they can reach there goal and go home. They do this to keep everyone calm and from figuring out the truth (the reason they also let Leila take the pain relief pills as this dulls her memories and the Ells are the ones who keep finding out the truth).
When the space ship first arrives they either:-
a) Explain what has happened but they will keep mining ore if earth will let them be in charge and keep the peace on their astroid. In return the spaceship must bring supplies every 7 years and must not replace them with any clones or overseers untill they all die naturally (creepy thought of what it will be like for the last clone to survive alone on the astoid).
B) when the spaceship showed up the clones tried to take it over but failed and more clones and humans died in the process. The spaceship either flew away and thought it too dangerous to return, so has left them there to rot. Or the clones got the spaceship and the Jays are screatly learning how to fly it and take everyone home.
C) the Jays took over the astoid and made a deal with the spaceship they could return to earth and there clones be used to replaced the overseers (meaning no more prisoners) but none of the others could be replaced or told. They do this to save/reward themselves and use the same kindness and thought process as Mr Lee.
D) The clone program on earth failed or stopped on earth and no spaceship ever came or will come leaving them all to starve and work to death.
Looking at these possible endings I am left with thinking about how Alex was using the set up of this novel to be a question on the meaning of life. Alex wrote this book on the train to and from work each day. Therefore the idea of how we fill the time of our life with work and hobbies is an interesting one. For instance when Leila is thinking about what her life on earth will be like she wonders what she will do all day if she doesn’t work? Also the fact the clones all return to work even when the overseers are dead shows they feel lost and angry without the purpose and the possibility of some reward (even if it never comes). With the return to beautiful earth becoming a metaphor for heaven.
Taking these ideas into account Alex might be seen to be trying to make the point that for some people (Ayes) life without the belief of a pleasurable afterlife is depressing and fruitless and leaves us in choas.
However he could also be seen in his use of Leila’s character (Of not wanting to leave the astroid as she sees the beauty of her home and would feel useless all day without work) to be showing that although the clones are working all there lives with never any rewards, there work is the ultimate reward as they are filling there time in peace, love, kindness and hard work that will ultimately help others on earth.
Lastly his use of the Jays make me think of the saying “Innocence is Bliss”. The Jays probably know everything that is going on and in the end allowing the other clones to carry on working they show it is more peaceful for society as a whole not to know the truth of life.
As well as there possible futures Alex Thompson also cleverly drops hints throughout the book as to the clones dark past. For instance we know Leila has been there for 40 years, so what has happened in those 40 years? Who killed her sisters? Was it the horrible overseers, who we are told where real bastards? Did they rape and kill the Ells? Had the Ells figured it out all before and just kept being killed for it? Did and Ell kill the first overseer because she figured it out. Or was he a good overseers who the other overseers killed because he was starting a revolution with the Jays. How much did the Jays already know at the start of the book? Had they kept there memories of the previous Ells and Oversears because they wrote or read it? How true is the Jays attraction to the Ells or do the just use them to find out more information. When Leila nearly dies at the hands of an Oversears is that what happened to all the other Ells? At the end of the book Leila misses Mr Lee and doesn’t remember she murdered him. Does this mean she killed others and doesn’t remember it? Did she kill the overseer? The Ayes? Her sisters?
Overall a fascinating book and a great read.
Let me what you think of the book and any of your theories to the above questions.
Also do you have a book you would like to recommend?