“Six Years Stolen” is another murder mystery — a sniper is picking off policemen, one by one, and Malcolm is co-opted by his superiors to track down the murderer. But this version is a bit more noir than the previous one — set against a grimly dark backdrop that is presumably in the future but at the beginning feels (despite what would be obvious anachronisms) rather like the 1930s. It doesn’t take long for it to take a sharp turn into dystopia, though, when we find out that everyone has been drugged without their knowledge, for more than a century — a drug that prevents people from blacking out each day. I would say more about the drug and the side effects it is intended to prevent, but that would give away too much of the horror… This was a superlative premise, excellently executed.
This brief non-fiction interlude follows “Ten Little Astronauts” and describes some of the motivation behind the story, as well as the author’s choices concerning how to incorporate the science into the fiction. I found it interesting to read Wakes’ explanation for why he chose a relatively hard SF framework for the story, ensuring that “easy” answers to the whodunit question could be excluded (this despite the fact that briefly the characters entertain the possibility that the killer is an alien).
I myself didn’t know enough of the science to know, while reading the story, how well Wakes accomplished what he set out to do, so I appreciated the chance to read a bit more about the fact behind the fiction. In reading this I also found out that a promotional video for the novella was filmed onboard HMS Alliance. For those of you who are interested, you can view it on youtube here; however, I would recommend reading the story first.
This story is billed as “Agatha Christie in Space”. I’m not actually a Christie reader myself — somehow, mystery has never made it high enough up my priority queue to read, though I’ve enjoyed TV adaptations of Christie’s stories — so I can’t speak to how well the Christie-style was rendered, but as a mystery it held up well. We got our first body on the first page, and very quickly after that we were given a panoply of possible suspects, each with their own very different and very strong preferences and motivations. The opening pages fairly teemed with conflict. After that, the story was stuffed full of uncertainty, second-guessing, mistakenly drawn conclusions, and even a possibility that would not have been available to Christie — that the murderer might be an alien. All in all, I found it exquisitely composed.
This collection contains the titular story, “Ten Little Astronauts”, an Agatha Christie-style hard SF/mystery novella; a brief nonfiction interlude, “Murder by Magnetism”; followed another novella, which provides an alternative approach to setting a mystery story in space, “Six Years Stolen”. It’s an unusual combination, but the three pieces ended up making a coherent whole in my opinion.
As usual, we’ll review each individually, and link the reviews back here when they are published: