Scifi, Cloning, Aliens
St. Martin’s Press; February 15, 2022 (US)
Solaris; February 17, 2022 (UK)
304 pages (ebook)
5 / 5 ✪
I was kindly furnished an advance copy in return for a fair and honest review. Many thanks to St. Martin’s Press, Solaris, and Rebellion for providing me with an ARC! This in no way affects my review. All opinions are my own.
Mickey7 is an Expendable, as was Mickey6 before him. And Mickey5 before them. All the way back to Mickey Barnes, a historian from Midgard with no options, no useful skills, and no other choice but to volunteer for his position on the expedition to colonize the ice world Niflheim. For Expendable was the only position he qualified for, the only one the expedition had trouble filling. For one would have to be insane to to volunteer for it. Insane, or desperate.
While an Expendable is the least desirable gig on a colonyship, it’s also a vital position. They can go where robots cannot—into the active core of a fusion engine. The can work systems meant for human hands—such as outside the radiation shielding on a spaceship. They can scout the deepest tunnels or highest mountains where a machine might otherwise be destroyed by acclimate weather or disaster. Not that an Expendable can’t be destroyed. They certainly can; it’s an integral part of the job. But while machines have advanced quite far by this point, an Expendable holds one key advantage over them: they’re cheaper.
Thus Mickey is scanned and reconstructed every time his predecessor dies—over and over til the expedition runs out of material to clone him or dangerous jobs for him to do. And it’s not likely they’ll ever run out of danger on Niflheim, where if the temperature doesn’t kill you, the insect-like natives probably will. But when Mickey7 falls down a hole into one of the deepest tunnels on Niflheim, he does the one thing his crew had never expected.
And upon returning to base, Mickey7 comes across Mickey8—something no Expendable should ever see. For not even serial killers or child-rapists are loathed as much as duplicates, and if Mickey is discovered, then both of them can kiss their existence goodbye—something neither want, but what Mickey7 has gradually come to fear. For now he’s pretty sure that when his life ends, it won’t restart again when he’s Mickey9. After all, he can’t very well be Mickey8, can he?
But when the native species begins snatching humans from Niflheim, it’s up to the Mickeys to save the day by doing the one thing all Expendables are good for: dying.
He runs both hands back through his hair.
“I don’t know… I don’t know… they didn’t cover this situation in training.”
That’s the truth, anyway. Training was one hundred percent about dying. I don’t remember them dedicating much time at all to staying alive.
When I started Mickey7, I figured it’d be a nice diversion from all the fantasy that came in January, a quick read to start of the hectic month of releases February promises to be. But while I certainly got through it quick, Mickey7 left a lasting impression. In fact, it’s not only the best book I’ve read thus far in 2022, and one of the best science fiction novels I’ve read in some time, it’s also probably the best clone-themed book I’ve read, well, ever.
We follow Mickey’s POV throughout; he’s the one and only lead (told in third person). But which Mickey? That’s the trouble when dealing with clones. Which is the real one? Or are any “real” at all? Well, the book actually addresses this (and more) all while following one (or more!) Mickeys through their adventures within.
When talking about a science fiction thriller that specializes in cloning, the characters are really where you want to start. How are the clones as characters? Do they feel real, do they feel human? Now there’s almost always a sect in any given story that is against the idea of cloning. Usually religious or moral or philosophical. This is no different. The “Natalists” in this view clones as abominations, empty shells pretending to be human, and a mockery of all that God intended. For his part, while Mickey Barnes was never a natalist, by the point he reaches Mickey7, he’s not sure what to believe. And while most of the characters in this are quite strong, it’s Mickey7’s examination of his past and future states that make him so compelling.
Is he real? Well, certainly he can feel and die, so probably. But is HE Mickey Barnes? He can remember Mickey Barnes, along with all of his experiences as Mickeys 2 through 6, but only the parts that he uploaded to the cloning device. Otherwise, watching through his supposed memories from that time might as well be viewing the visions of a madman. An Expendable’s main duty is to die, and by the point that the text starts, Mickey7 has come to fear death. Over the course of the text, Mickey7 will share his current situation with memories of “his” past (via typically alternating chapters). While some of these did feel a bit like info dumps, the only time I was really bothered by this was toward the end, where I felt them sapping from the pace of the story. Otherwise they’re short or relevant enough that I didn’t think they detracted from the plot. In fact most often they added to it, and I actually came to look forward to them—be it either discovering what had happened as Mickey4 or 5 and how they died, or understanding just a little bit more of the lore surrounding the universe. One of my personal favorites is further on, when we discover just what makes duplicates so universally despised.
The supporting cast is also quite good. In a colony of 200ish, Mickey knows pretty much everyone’s names. But he’s not on great terms with them all. Especially given his job as an Expendable and all. Which makes total sense. If some dude dies all the time, you’re probably not going to be thrilled to spend a lot of time around him. But he’s got a girlfriend, a best friend, some acquaintances, and a whole lot of people who hate him. While not all the named faces get fulfilling roles, the named characters that Mickey does get on with (or very much doesn’t) have backstories, motivations, and ambitions all their own. Everyone has a different motive; which works well together in a story all about survival.
The story itself is fairly straightforward. Okay, so… there are two of us. Step 1) Don’t tell anyone. Check. No one knows—probably. 2) Keep anyone from finding out. Also check. One of us will probably die soon; Expendable and all. But with a crew of only a couple hundred and a small colony, there are only so many places to hide. 3) Don’t make it worse. No problem. In these science fiction thriller nobody ever makes any bad decisions. It’ll be fine.
So the story is all about mitigating and dealing with what follows, when things don’t go exactly to plan. Because when has anything ever worked out 100% like you thought it would—in real life, or a fictional dystopian world inhabited by ice monsters? As expected, Mickey7 blends excitement with humor. Very well, actually. It’s often dark humor, which I found paired quite well with the somewhat ominous tone of the story. Niflheim—as you might guess from the name (especially if you’re at least somewhat familiar with Norse mythos)—ain’t exactly a cheery place. So what follows is a tale of disaster mitigation that’s part comedy, mystery, thriller, adventure set on a scifi hellscape with hostile aliens and the constant threat of death—that’s also being deconstructed as part of a clone’s philosophical crisis. With… himself.
If nothing else I’ve said convinces you to try this book, I guess let it be the age-old question: will we get to see a Mickey9?
My average reading rate for a 300-odd book is about a week. It usually takes me time to warm up to the lead, the characters, the story, and really get into the swing of things. I finished Mickey7 in just over a day. That alone should tell you something. If not, maybe the clone questioning his humanity while trying to avoid actually, physically strangling himself trope will do it. Or that it has really very good ratings thus far. Or that it’s a story of damage mitigation set on an frozen world with hostile aliens where the entire environment is out to kill the colonists, but a multiple is the one thing that they can’t stand. Or that—in spite of how all of that sounds—it actually comes off as damn well realistic …should hopefully be enough to get you to give this a try. I loved it. I hope you do, too.