March 9, 2022

Review: Mickey7

Mickey7 Mickey7 by Edward Ashton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think this book is best described as "Andy Weir-lite." It has an old-fashioned hard-SF feel, but it doesn't get bogged down in the scientific details and minutiae as Weir tends to do. There's enough to give a mostly plausible explanation of what is going on, and the author lets his plot and characters carry the day rather than the gosh-wow ideas. (Not that a book of gosh-wow ideas can't be good, but Andy Weir's books don't quite succeed in doing that, in my opinion.) Edward Ashton is definitely better at characterization than Weir, and this book is a lean, fast-running machine that never really lets up.

This is the story of Mickey 7, a clone whose job is to literally die in the service of his colony world. In fact, he does so seven times over the course of the book. That is my only quibble with the plot--my understanding of the current state of consciousness and memory is that they cannot be separated from the physical brain, and thus this book's idea of "uploading" both to allow Mickey to awaken in a new cloned body each time he dies is impossible. Each new iteration would be a copy of the one before it, not the one that actually died. (Which is kinda proven by the fact that in the course of the story, Mickey 8 is pulled from the bioprinter without the colony knowing that Seven is not actually dead, and Eight, while having most of Seven's memories, is definitely a different and more assholish person.) Having said that, the author spends some time discussing the "Ship of Theseus" conundrum to explain what he's doing, which at least shows he's aware of the problems and contradictions.

This scientific handwave drives the plot, but the real themes are ones of identity and exploitation, and nearly everyone in the colony viewing Mickey more or less a disposable thing who they don't have to bother to rescue because they know he will come back. In fact, one of the colonists, Berto, who is supposed to be Mickey's friend, abandons him to his death after he falls into an ice crevasse because it would be too much trouble to save him. (Berto proves himself to be a real jackass throughout the book, and I was so glad at the end when Mickey punched him in the face.) The colony's commander, Marshall, is another asshole (there are a fair amount of those kinds of characters in this book) and religious fanatic who thinks Mickey is a soulless monster. Marshall therefore does his best throughout the book to eliminate both Mickeys, either by starving them--since the colony is having a great deal of trouble getting food to grow on the planet, supplies are tight--or sending them to their probable deaths in an attempted genocide against the planet's native species.

Throughout, Mickey's character and voice carries the story. He's not the superhero sort and makes a fair amount of mistakes, but keeps plugging away until he triumphs. He succeeds in communicating with the so-called "creepers," the native species who live in tunnels under the colony's dome, and works out a compromise with them whereby humans and Creepers will stick to their defined areas and leave each other alone. This also involves pulling a bit of a con on Marshall, making the commander believe the Creepers have possession of the weapon which was to be used to destroy them to force him to back off. At the book's end, the formerly snow-bound planet enters a new phase of its sun, the snow begins to melt, plants start to grow, and the colony takes a tentative step towards survival.

This book is written in an enjoyable, breezy style that didn't take me long to get through, but its ideas and themes also carry some heft. If you find Andy Weir's books a bit overwhelming, give this a try.

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