Dying isn’t any fun… but at least it’s a living
Mickey7 is an Expendable: a disposable employee on a human expedition sent to colonize the ice world Niflheim. Whenever there’s a mission that’s too dangerous—even suicidal—the crew turns to Mickey. After one iteration dies, a new body is regenerated with most of his memories intact. After six deaths, Mickey7 understands the terms of his deal…and why it was the only colonial position unfilled when he took it.
On a fairly routine scouting mission, Mickey7 goes missing and is presumed dead. By the time he returns to the colony base, surprisingly helped back by native life, Mickey7’s fate has been sealed. There’s a new clone, Mickey8, reporting for Expendable duties. The idea of duplicate Expendables is universally loathed, and if caught, they will likely be thrown into the recycler for protein.
Mickey7 must keep his double a secret from the rest of the colony. Meanwhile, life on Niflheim is getting worse. The atmosphere is unsuitable for humans, food is in short supply, and terraforming is going poorly. The native species are growing curious about their new neighbors, and that curiosity has Commander Marshall very afraid. Ultimately, the survival of both lifeforms will come down to Mickey7.
That is, if he can just keep from dying for good.
It's been a while since I've read a sci-fi novel. The last I read in the genre was the complete Space Odyssey series from Arthur C. Clarke and, to be completely honest, I still haven't recovered from finishing it. I wish I could forget everything about it just so I can read it again for the first time. It set an standard on me. I say this so you can understand – or at least get an idea – of where I come from.
For me, it's a book about human history, identity and their intersection.
Mickey is a historian by trade. Funnily enough, history is now available and easily accessible for all humans thanks to ocular implants that interface with the brain. What's an historian supposed to do now? Access it and learn from it. Just because things are there doesn't mean that someone will make anything of it. The writer poses the question several times while studying other colony missions: this happened to someone, so what if, by doing what I'm doing, it also happens to me?
Then, there's the Ship of Theseus that is history in itself – weird Mickey didn't know about this one being an historian, but if it's old history for us I can only imagine how old it's for him – but it's also completely about identity.
Anyway, it's the story about a ship that has parts replaced during maintenance. After years of maintenance, if each individual piece of the Ship of Theseus was replaced, one after the other, is it still the same ship? This goes hand on hand to what Mickey experiments each time he's required to die and be replaced by another copy. Is Mickey7 the same as the already dead Mickey6? They both had the same memories and background; and by all means, both remember living the same life. So is Mickey7 a continuation of Mickey6 or is him his own version of Mickey? Well, the thought only seems to be more complex when both Mickey7 and Mickey8 are alive. They're both the same person and have lived the same life, but their memories will start to drift apart the more they both are alive. So, is constitution equal to identity? Are we our memories?
The writer also touches really interesting ideas when bringing up other beachhead colony missions like religion, communism(?), encounters with other sentient creatures, a planet of only duplicates, space politics and even threesomes with a cloned version of yourself.
At the end of the day
Mickey7 is a great book for new sci-fi readers. It's well written, accessible and depicts – predicts? – a future I can for sure imagine. It's a book that's smart and humorous, but the one thing that was highlighted to me throughout the book is how short it's on science and how good it manages fiction. It's a fresh take on a topic that's been around for a while but it constantly reminded me of the Moon movie, starred by Sam Rockwell, just taking the story to a different direction that still manages to feel authentic.
It really feels like it was made so you really don't have to wonder about the technical details of how things work and instead you focus on what the thing actually does. That adds to the book being easy and quick to read but I think it also subtracts from the reader's ability to imagine those details and delve deeper into its universe. This may divide people into those who would like to know and those who do not. I belong to the former and can attest that it doesn't make this book any worse, but, in my opinion, limits what could have made a more interesting read.
As for the plot and philosophy behind the book, the ideas are clearly there and I'm sure they could have been developed more, not only to give readers some food for thought but to actually make an statement on how things would work and create its own universe... However, it ends up playing it safely and brushing them aside for the sake of moving forward with the story of two copies of Mickey, who seems to be hated by the man in charge of the mission because of religion beliefs.
To me, it feels like it did everything just right so it could stick the landing.
AELO Notes and Highlights
Quotes I found interesting, straight from my Kindle
I added up the benefits of having him in my life, deducted the annoyance of having to pay for everything anytime we went anywhere, and decided that on the balance, he was a net positive.
Mickey, talking about his friend Ben Aslan, who was extremely rich yet incredibly cheap.
You are the Ship of Theseus. We all are. There is not a single living cell in my body that was alive and a part of me ten years ago, and the same is true for you. We’re constantly being rebuilt, one board at a time.
Jemma, explaining to Mickey the key to being an expendable and how him dying and being rebuilt is not different from anyone else's life, just faster.
I hope you know, though, that this is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
Jemma, comparing Mickey's reasoning to be an expendable to that of suicide.