A brilliantly engaging read that really pulled me along for the ride; my favourite sci-fi of the year.
Author: Edward Ashton
Publishing Information: Rebellion, 15th February 2022
Mickey7 will possibly be my last book I finish this year and wow, what a great read to close the year off with!
I’ve read some great books in 2021 but it’s been a real rarity to be thinking about a book I’m reading while I’m running errands or sat at work, eager to get back to it. This book has that quality and I felt immersed and excited to continue the story every time I picked it up.
The titular Mickey7 is Mickey Barnes – the 7th iteration to be precise. The story is set in the future and humanity has left Earth to colonise other worlds on high risk missions to interstellar space, with no margin for error. Most of the people on board are the absolute elite of their fields in order to increase the chances of success, willing to work for humanity’s future exploring hostile biospheres and terraforming inhospitable atmospheres.
They’re not leaving our ‘old’ Earth (nobody’s heard from them for over 600 years anyway) – the world Mickey and the colonisers are travelling from is a third generation colony world, Midgard which is a pretty pleasant place. So it takes a certain sort of person to leave on a potentially apocalyptic mission, stuck for 9 years on a spaceship. Despite this, every position on the expedition this story focuses on was applied for by hundreds of people, except one – the expendable.
Each of these missions needs one expendable, who is usually conscripted or a convict. Their DNA and a lot of other vital information is taken at great expense and they are effectively cloned. The living expendable uploads their data as often as possible, a full map of their mind – memory, hopes, dreams, attachments. If the expendable dies, the next one is woken up from the tank and emerges the same person, completely indistinguishable to anyone who knows them. Mickey is the expendable and as you can guess, he’s already died 6 times.
The inhabitants of the ship believe Mickey to be basically immortal, and that’s the way they try to sell the job to would-be recruits. In the book we are reminded about Theseus’ ship – over time all its planks and materials were replaced until not a part of it was the same as the original. Is it still the same ship? And if it is, then why does it make a difference if it is replaced over time or in one go?
You might also think of Trigger’s Broom (not mentioned in the book!)
The concept of the expendable is introduced in the very first chapter, and it gets you thinking more and more about the philosophy of life and death as the book goes on. If the soul exists, does it disappear with the first Mickey? Should each Mickey be viewed as a different person, a continuation of the same? How would our loved ones in our own lives react to us dying if an exact copy of us could wake up the next morning and give the impression that nothing has ever changed?
There are a lot of thought provoking questions throughout that really add to the overall enjoyment, without making your brain hurt too much.
I think knowing how much to give your mind to think about is something Ashton is really successful with here. You always feel like he knows his science and is well researched, but he never tries to show off that knowledge at the expense of the story. It’s something in sci-fi especially that I feel many of even the most popular authors struggle to strike the right balance with. Too little science or explanation and it doesn’t feel believable, which can take you out of the immersion; too much, and you start to skim read or switch off.
This is finely tuned and the balance so well struck that I feel the need to emphasise how much I appreciated it when it came to the flow of the story. It literally can make or break an otherwise solid read.
The story itself is all in the first person perspective of Mickey7, him trying to survive in a job that you’re not really meant to survive in at all…
The colony is set up on the new planet as the story begins and continuing the Norse worlds theme after Midgard, this icy and barren landscape is aptly named Niflheim. The inhabitants are barely scraping by, and Mickey7 has fallen down a rather large hole.
A spanner is thrown into the works when he’s wrongly reported as dead, resulting in Mickey8 emerging from the tank by the time Seven has even returned home. Being a ‘multiple’ is a massive no-no and the two Mickeys know if they come clean, they’ll both be heading for the cycler.
This book can be pretty grim in places, despite a healthy dose of both light and dark humour, and the cycler is a particularly shiver-inducing piece of tech, that casts an ominous metaphorical shadow over events. Because food is scarce, the colony has to use every available nutrient. The cycler is extremely efficient at converting anything fed into it back into its base nutrients – a perfect recycling machine. A core component of the food rations is cycler paste, which is exactly as it sounds. It contains all the right nutrients, but isn’t appetising in the slightest. Waste is fed into the cycler and it comes out the other side as a viable nutritional source. This waste includes Mickey’s dead bodies. Waste not want not, eh!?
The book is about survival – for Mickey7 and for the colony, the main plot being Mickey7 and 8’s attempts to live and conceal their situation, as well as the colony’s attempts to thrive, led by the commander, Marshall. He’s a natalist – he believes expendables to be abominations, and an already tough life for each Mickey is made even tougher as a result. Despite this, and although he’s sort of the villain of the piece, he’s still just a person trying to do what he thinks is right and I think is a really well written character.
There is an enjoyable cast of side characters and Mickey himself has that everyman quality you can really relate to and admire in his narrative voice.
Ashton has the pacing of the book spot on and doesn’t waste time with needless exposition with the book at just over 300 pages, advancing the plot at a steady pace. He does however add enough worldbuilding to really add valued depth, and we experience some harrowing scenes of past Mickey’s, especially the unfortunate Mickey2. They really give you a bit of anxiety and make you wince reading them. We also learn about failed expeditions, some of the other colonised worlds and about Alan Manikova, an expendable who took over his planet with his multiples. Snippets of history like these were really fun and if the author ever writes a companion piece looking at some more of the individual colonies and expeditions I’d love to read it.
I won’t end the review giving away spoilers, but there was so much I enjoyed – including the life forms named The Creepers that have started picking off the security goons out in the snow. It helps that the writing style was just so readable and I had that feeling throughout of being in capable hands, with an author who knows just how to craft his tale so that you end the book wanting more, whilst having experienced a well rounded and satisfying story arc.
If Edward Ashton wants to further explore the world he’s created (as I do), the possibilities for more stories are endless. I’m genuinely gutted that there aren’t any more books for me to move straight onto now!
I highly recommend giving Mickey7 a read, my favourite sci-fi of the year.
Thankyou to Rebellion Publishing and Edward Ashton for the eBook in exchange for an honest and fair review. Books like this make being a reviewer a real pleasure.
The Martian meets Dark Matter in Edward Ashton’s high concept science fiction thriller, in which Mickey7, an “expendable,” refuses to let his replacement clone Mickey8 take his place.
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.