Murder in the Stars: Review of Mur Lafferty’s Station Eternity

Murder in the Stars: Review of Mur Lafferty’s Station Eternity

Jeremy Brett

Under Review:
Station Eternity. Mur Lafferty. Ace, October 2022.

To me, the best murder mysteries are the ones that explore character, which delve into the emotional lives and backgrounds of the victims, the suspects, and even the detectives seeking to uncover the truth. The deepest mysteries are the ones that reside within the human heart, after all, and I’ve always thought that the exploration of emotion was far more interesting than exploring a murder scene. This is why, when I read mysteries, I prefer character-driven writers like P.D. James to writers like Agatha Christie, who center the riddle, the puzzle, and the reveal of their stories. In character-driven mysteries, the solution is ultimately secondary to the solving process, in which we readers observe people playing out their fears, prejudices, and desires. Those emotional stakes make a mystery much more compelling than the extended game of Clue that so many whodunits are. And it helps, I must admit, to have an interesting or unusual setting for the crime.

Mur Lafferty has been through this all before; her 2017 science fiction thriller Six Wakes spun anew the traditional locked-room/And Then There Were None-style mystery story by staging the mysterious one-by-one murder of clones on board the claustrophobic setting of a drifting starship. With her new murder mystery-set-in-space Station Eternity, she brings that same sensibility to a new interstellar setting (with a sizable soupçon of conspiracy thriller on the side), in the process providing a beautiful account of the relationships between and among different kinds of people. Whether mystery or science fiction, Station Eternity thus combines the best and most human elements of both genres.

The sleuth (for what good mystery doesn’t have one?) is Mallory Veridian. Mallory is no standard private eye, but rather a detective by circumstance and compulsion. Her life is one of constant unease and voluntary isolation, because Mallory has an odd way of attracting death to her. People around her die violently, and, over time, she is driven to help solve the murders. Her proximity to death makes her a target of suspicion by law enforcement, and a social pariah. It also provides her with an income as a mystery writer of novels based on the murders that happen around her, which adds to her angst.

A desperate Mallory embarks on the destination of last resort – hoping she can escape humanity altogether, she travels to Eternity, a sentient space station that is home to a number of cooperating alien species and (almost) entirely human-free. And for a time, it appears that Mallory has found a suitable home. That is, until the murders start. Not to give away too much, but the murders that occur on Eternity are of a higher order than the individual deaths that plagued Mallory on Earth—Eternity’s very life is threatened, along with everyone else who relies on the station. 

What makes Station Eternity so fun, and at times profound, is watching the ways that the various alien species on board the station interact with and impact each other. Though set aboard a Star Trek-like station, the humans are distinctly the junior partner among a collection of older, wiser cultures. The few humans on the station—Mallory, veteran and fugitive Xan, and supercilious human ambassador Adrian Casserly-Berry—are seen, when seen at all, as interesting curios that may have useful information to impart. Mallory supports herself on Eternity by offering herself to the insectile hivemind The Sundry for medical study, described in a passage that melds the bizarre humor of the situation with the inherent dehumanizing discomfort of being on medical display (matters aren’t helped by Mallory’s fears of stinging insects):

Countless other wasps buzzed around her, some landing on her head and shoulders, then taking off again, leaving nothing but a whisper-brush of an antenna against her skin. Human physiology changed from day to day with hormones, which they found fascinating in sentient beings. They’d explained that most beings had evolved to hide the scent of strong pheromones from other species, which Mallory found nearly as strange as the fact that humans didn’t regularly bond with another sentient race symbiotically. She also discovered that her doctors were obsessed with how wet humans are. 

The human lack of symbiotic relationships sets our species apart from the rest of the known galaxy, and marks us as particularly lonely and isolated. As the book notes, crushing feelings of isolation are endemic to the human condition, and to the novel’s characters. Mallory, of course, self-separates from society to protect people from murder; Xan is in lonely exile from all he knows on Earth (mostly his dysfunctional family); and powerful elements on Earth itself so fear what lies outside our small sphere that they are willing to commit acts of destruction to protect themselves. The novel, as life itself can do, posits that isolation is ultimately crippling, whereas true, natural existence comes with cooperation and understanding. That may sound like a cliché, but it is no less true for all that.

Station Eternity is no mere murder mystery—though it doesn’t lack the usual tropes, and on the contrary taken purely as a mystery is gripping, clever, and rife with unexpected twists in the genre’s best traditions. Instead, it sets itself off as a more sublime representative of the genre with its exploration of character: the ways in which people relate to themselves, their pasts, the people and world around them, and the value we can offer to one another. The book’s climax, which relies on the cooperation of humans and the alien denizens of Eternity, affirms the importance of union and mutual reliance, without which we drift, alone, in space.

Jeremy Brett (he, him, his) is an archivist and librarian at Cushing Memorial Library & Archives, Texas A&M University, where he serves as Curator of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Research Collection, one of the largest of its kind in the world. 

Transparency Statement

This article was commissioned by an emailed pitch from ARB’s monthly calls for review. The author is a regular reviewer at ARB. It was edited by Jake Casella Brookins and copyedited by Misha Grifka Wander. ARB arranged a review copy from the publisher.

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