2022’s Station Eternity is the first volume in Mur Lafferty’s Midsolar Murders science fiction mystery series.
Mallory Viridian has a knack for murder. More accurately, she has a tendency to find herself in the vicinity of violent death. Fortunately, she also has an uncanny ability to figure out who did it.
Alas, her repeated involvement in murder cases has not won her any accolades. Police suspect the murders were no coincidence; folks fear to invite her to social functions lest a brutal death follow. She has become a pariah. She has managed to eke out a living writing mysteries inspired by her cases; she won’t starve. But life on Earth has become unremittingly grim. Offered the chance to live elsewhere, Mallory jumps at the opportunity to immigrate to Eternity Station.
This space station is where humans and aliens meet. There are just three humans on the station: Mallory (who earns her keep by allowing aliens to study her), alien abductee Xan, and Ambassador Casserly-Berry. All the other inhabitants are aliens. So far the aliens have been immune to Mallory’s lethal penumbra.
But if more humans were to visit the station the murder hiatus might end.
Humans are seen by the civilized peoples of the galaxy as a less evolved species. Alone of all the known technological species, humans have not formed any symbiotic relationships with other species. Consequently humans are regarded with patronizing contempt and quarantined on Earth; they cannot board interstellar shuttles and they are denied the secret of starflight.
Casserly-Berry’s attempts to convince the aliens to allow humans interstellar travel have thus far failed, probably because the ambassador is the sort of unskilled no-hoper who might be assigned an impossible task by unsympathetic superiors. For reasons of its own, the station, an intelligent being in its own right, suddenly decides to reverse policy without informing the ambassador. A shipload of humans is on its way to the station.
The news alarms Mallory. Thus far the three humans on the station seem to be below the threshold of whatever causes murders in her vicinity. An entire shuttle full of people will surely include at least one would-be killer and at least one doomed victim. As soon as the passengers disembark, blood will flow.
Mallory’s belief that the relentless murders will begin once more as soon as the shuttle docks proves sadly optimistic. Spectacular carnage ensues even before the spacecraft docks.
This time, for the first time, one of the victims is an alien. Even aliens succumb to Mallory’s lethal penumbra.
Points to the cops for actually considering that the amateur detective who keeps turning up at murder scenes is the killer. As it happens, she is not, but it is a reasonable hypothesis to consider.
There is an explanation for Mallory’s circumstances that I won’t spoil except to say I am certain I’ve run into it somewhere else. I cannot remember where. In any case, it’s not a concept I’ve seen very often.
Regrettably I did not care for this book, in part because of a preference of mine of which I was previously unaware. The quirk? It seems that I strongly prefer who-dunnits to have a single viewpoint, whether omniscient, that of the detectives, or that of some person involved in the investigation. Station Eternity is told from many perspectives. I found the shifts from one storyline to another jarring.
I can’t think of any reason why mysteries should be limited to a single viewpoint; I’m sure that there are successful, beloved mysteries that aren’t. Well, one can’t love everything.
The other thing that kept kicking me out of the story was that I found the aliens, their cultures, and their biology utterly implausible. Perhaps I could give a pass to culture. After all, human culture often is pretty silly, especially from the outside — remember pet rocks? Remember when Jonathan Livingston Seagull was a best-seller? But I am sure that biology should at least have a patina of plausibility. (It can often be unexpected, given that it’s the happenstance outcome of variation and selection1, but it is explicable. ) But several of the alien species in this book are … well, kind of silly. The rock people in particular.
It is possible that this book is all a brilliant sendup of SF who-dunnits and the treatment of aliens in SF, and that I am just too humourless to appreciate it. “James is too humourless to spot a joke without a guidebook, a Power Point presentation, and a chorus of dancers prancing around the punchline” is a description that applies in many cases. You may well see virtues here to which I am blind
1: Except in cases where the lifeforms were designed from scratch by someone.