The best science fiction books about people who won’t stay dead

Edward Ashton Author Of Mickey7
By Edward Ashton

The Books I Picked & Why

The Ophiuchi Hotline

By John Varley

Book cover of The Ophiuchi Hotline

Why this book?

The Ophiuchi Hotline is the first of four novels set in Varley’s Eight Worlds universe, where bodies are malleable things, and appearance, gender, and even your basic form can be changed on a whim. Its protagonist, Lilo, begins by escaping her execution by allowing an illegally produced replicant to die for her. Her situation deteriorates steadily from there, as she is repeatedly killed and resurrected while passing through the belly of the solar system’s underworld.

This book hits all my sweet spots—a morally ambiguous protagonist, an imaginative plot that provides a running commentary on the many ways we’re making a mess of the present world, and, as a bonus, someone getting chucked into a black hole for making a new kind of food called “bananameat” out of human DNA. What more could you ask?


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Six Wakes

By Mur Lafferty

Book cover of Six Wakes

Why this book?

Six Wakes begins at a very similar jumping-off point to my own book—colonization mission, immortality through cloning and mind-mapping, things spinning rapidly off the rails—but it then takes off in a wildly different direction. This book is a head-hopping murder mystery, with the fun twist that, because all the characters are clones whose memories are decades out of date, even the murderer doesn’t know who did it. I tend to really admire books that I could never write myself, and this one definitely fits that description. It feels like every chapter presents a new plot twist, but somehow Lafferty still manages to pull all the threads together by the end. If you like your science fiction with a noir twist, you should give this one a look.


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Kiln People

By David Brin

Book cover of Kiln People

Why this book?

Speaking of noir, Kiln People is basically Mickey Spillane with replicants. This book posits a future where the well-off use temporary copies of themselves to do things that are dangerous or difficult or just boring. The copies fall apart after a few days, at which point they ideally merge their memories back into their original. Brin’s protagonists are a private detective and one of his copies who decides he’d rather spend the few hours of life he’s given doing something more interesting than his original’s scutwork. I came to this story for the fun premise, but I stayed for the deeper exploration of the morality of creating an army of sentient beings whose only hope is to live long enough to be re-absorbed into the mind that created them.


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The Echo Wife

By Sarah Gailey

Book cover of The Echo Wife

Why this book?

Gailey gives us a narrator whose traumatic childhood seems to have blinded her to the fact that her work—she’s the world’s foremost expert in creating and murdering sentient clones—is an abomination. It turns out to be a good thing that she’s got a moral blind spot the size of Montana, though, because as the plot progresses she finds herself devoting her skills to the task of covering up the murder of her ex-husband, who has died at the hands of his mistress, who happens to be the narrator’s own illegally produced clone. In the hands of a less-skilled writer this could have descended into farce, but Gailey turns it into a moving exploration of the ways in which we find support and kinship in the unlikeliest of places. 


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Good Night, Mr. James: And Other Stories

By Clifford D. Simak

Book cover of Good Night, Mr. James: And Other Stories

Why this book?

This one is a deep cut, first published in 1951. It begins as a straightforward adventure, with a protagonist tasked with hunting down a dangerous alien that’s gotten loose on Earth. It becomes increasingly clear that something isn’t right, though, and eventually, our hero realizes that he’s actually a replicant, sent to do this job because his original was too cowardly to do it himself, and that his only hope of survival is to murder his original and take his place. I first read this when I was nine or ten years old, and the growing sense of horror as the truth becomes clear has stuck with me ever since, as has the dark, dark twist of an ending. This might be a tough one to find, but it’s well worth the effort. 


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