Super-cool premise, super-soft execution.
Good memories of Lafferty’s Six Wakes led me to requesting Station Eternity. Sadly, time seems to have increased ambition without accompanying skill. Six Wakes was a fun, locked-room–of sorts–in-space mystery. I had forgotten that it had multiple viewpoints and multiple shifts in time, but the narrative complexity was contained by the limited number of people and the convention of the locked room. When I stalled out on Station and went back to read my review for Six Wakes, I realized Lafferty has hung on to her multiple viewpoints and multiple time shifts, only this time, there’s nothing to help her organize her story. There’s some interesting stuff here, there really is, but it’s concealed by almost impenetrable storytelling and marred by inattention to detail.
Station Eternity starts on the living space station Eternity. The murder-magnet Mallory is one of three humans aboard, and the one the narrative uses as the center. The first five chapters are hers (that pesky third-person limited omniscient again) and although it goes back and forth in time, it does provide an anchor for building a world with aliens. Chapter six starts including other viewpoints, but it’s not neatly circumscribed by chapter, so it starts to get a little messy. When a shuttle containing the second-ever group of humans is inbound for the space station, Mallory and the other humans start to panic. A murder happens, and given the build-up, I expected the story to be about the murder, but strangely, it became more and more peripheral to events both current and past.
Narrative includes two different alien views, but they are sloppy as all get-out. I’d give one a ‘C’ for actually feeling alien, and the other a solid ‘D’ for developmental teenager. Alien? Nope. The characterization is notable for breaks according to what the story needs, not for species congruency–we’re told they live millennia and move slowly, but they’re always moving quickly, making rapid decisions and operating as hospital staff. “So telling you to hurry is equivalent to telling a human to fuck off,’ Mallory had ventured….That sounds correct, yes,’ Stephanie said.” Then at the end of the chapter, the being Mallory said that to says to another of her species, “‘I suppose you are one, now,’ Stephanie allowed. ‘But we should hurry.'” We’re told people’s emotions but it doesn’t always seem congruent with what we’ve learned about them to that point.
Unfortunately, dialogue can’t save it. There’s a lot of, “as you know, John, the aliens only…” type of dialogue that sounds super-contrived. Some of it is just plain odd: “And then Xan replied, saying the phrase that he would regret for the rest of his life: ‘Yeah, thanks.'” Spoiler: he doesn’t.
What did I like? Hmm. I like the attempt at something more sophisticated–the fractal viewpoints, the past timelines with events leading to the present–but Lafferty just doesn’t have the writing chops to pull it off. It was honestly a chore to read, and that’s with me being generally well-disposed to space-murder-shenanigans-aliens.
Many thanks to Netgalley and Berkley Publishing Group for the advanced reader copy. Clearly, all opinions are my own.