Mur Lafferty is no stranger to KODT. Aside from her column Geek Fu Action Grip column back in the day, I reviewed another novel of hers, the Hugo-nominated Six Wakes.
But while Six Wakes is more along the lines of hard SF, her latest novel, Station Eternity, is more along the fantastical lines of science fiction, with living space stations, aliens made of rock that evolve into spaceships, hive minds intelligences, symbiotic relationships, and translation bugs injected into your ear.
What the books have in common, however, are layered mysteries and characters with slowly revealed backstories.
Station Eternity also has a heck of a setup for the protagonist. You ever watch a murder mystery series and wonder how the heck the Jessica Fletcher type of person ends up around so many murders—yet nobody finds that odd? Like really odd?
That’s what happens with our protagonist, Mallory Viridian. Ever since she was a child, murder has followed Mallory. What’s more, she’s been solving those murders ever since she was old enough to do so.
However, rather than getting on with her life each time, this instead takes a toll on her. Being able to solve murders is a small comfort when you’re increasingly convinced that you’re somehow the one triggering them in the first place. And people either don’t believe her, which is bad, or they do believe her, which is worse.
Needless to say, it puts a damper on things like relationships. And she can’t even get a job as a cop or detective, because the powers-that-be block her at every turn. The best she is able to is take those cases and turn them into fiction.
On top of that, the rest of the universe has just made first contact with Earth, which makes a lot of people excited, and a lot of other people nervous.
So when she gets the opportunity to leave Earth and find sanctuary on board Station Eternity, Mallory leaps at the chance. After all, if she’s not around other humans, she can’t trigger more murders, right?
Except, of course, when the humans start coming to her.
While Mallory is the protagonist, the two other main perspectives we get are Xan, an Army quartermaster on mortuary duty who somehow ended up AWOL on Eternity (and happens to be an old friend of Mallory from college) and Stephanie, a Gneiss (living rock creature) who is probably her closest friend on board the station.
We see things from almost everyone’s perspective at some point in the story, both human and alien, as well as slowly revealing their histories. This is the kind of mystery where it feels like information is not being revealed so much as withheld at every possible step, teasing you, making you always want to know what someone isn’t telling you.
Having the story take place on a station where aliens are only slowly getting used to humans is a great way to let us get to know our supporting alien cast and see things from their perspective. Some are slow and methodical in their thinking (though not quite Ent-like). Some are disgusted by how “wet” humans are. Some are collective intelligences with unusual means of communication. Some have no means of speaking or hearing at all. And so on…
Lafferty makes her aliens both very alien, and still relatable once you understand a bit about how they think or view the universe. So, a step up from Star Trek, but not mind bending or seemingly unknowable like Arrival or 2001. But we’re always reminded of that gap between species that makes it difficult to connect, whether it’s expressions and body language, how we view time, or even basic obligations to one another.
Another alien aspect to them is the fact they all have symbiotic relationships with other species, and not necessarily from their own worlds. Even the living station has a host who acts on its behalf. In fact, the only species they’re aware of that does not create these symbiotic bonds is, well, humans. And that’s worrying to a number of aliens.
Meanwhile, these aliens are worrying to a number of humans, too. It’s bad enough that they come to Earth as tourists, completely ignoring things like “sovereign airspace” and “designated landing pads” and just land up wherever they feel like to gawk at the sights. What’s worse, any one of these races could wipe us out if they wanted to, and that leaves certain people in positions of power wondering if it’s somehow possible to level the playing field…
Despite the grim doom the protagonist carries around with her, the story is definitely on the light side, as one would expect of a cozy mystery. The fact the series as a whole is called “The Midsolar Murders” is a wink to anyone familiar to British television (Midsomer Murders) should be enough to set the tone for you.
And the next of these books, Chaos Terminal, has just been released!