Cover image of "Far From the Light of Heaven," an interstellar murder mystery

When can there be too much of a good thing in a novel? Is that even possible? To explore that question, let’s consider Tade Thompson’s 2021 interstellar murder mystery, Far From the Light of Heaven.

Michelle “Shell” Campion, the young captain of the starship Ragtime discovers that 31 of the 1,000 passengers in Dreamstate on their way to the colony world Bloodroot have been murdered. Authorities on the planet send up a two-person investigative team to solve the mystery. So far, so good, right? It’s a promising scifi-mystery mashup that offers the promise of a fascinating inquiry that might take us in many different directions.

Abundant and unnecessary complications

Unfortunately, Thompson sees fit to complicate the plot unnecessarily with a multitude of new characters. Shell’s “uncle,” the Governor of Space Station Lagos, where the Ragtime last stopped for repairs. The “quintillionaire” who owns MaxGalactix, which in turn owns the Ragtime. A rogue AI. (Well, two of them, actually.) The investigators’ bosses on Bloodroot. The woman who is the real power on Space Station Lagos. Three people sent from Lagos to rescue their Governor. “Artificials” who are a cross between androids and robots. A wave of killer robots and toxic fungi. And a young woman who is really a Lamber, an alien race that has the power to shift at will through spacetime. It’s absurd, really. Thompson should have stuck with one or two of these complications and left good enough alone.

Far From the Light of Heaven by Tade Thompson (2021) 385 pages ★★★☆☆

Artist's rendering of a hypothetical starship like the one in this interstellar murder mystery
Artist’s rendering of a hypothetical interstellar spacecraft resembling the starship Ragtime of the novel. Image: Max Barry – NationStates via Amazing Science

This might have been a terrific interstellar murder mystery

In fairness, Thompson gets a lot of things right. His description of the Ragtime seems in synch with spacecraft designs that scientists have suggested. The young captain’s backstory is well developed and interesting in its own right. The same is true of the lead investigator from Bloodroot. And the story’s pacing works well, with momentum steadily building toward the end. It’s just that it would all have been a lot more enjoyable if he hadn’t felt the need to make the tale so downright complicated.

About the author

Photo of Tade Thompson, author of this interstellar murder mystery

Wikipedia says Tade Thompson is a British-born Nigerian psychiatrist best known for his science fiction novels. Beginning with his first novel in 2015, he has released a total of eight. Thompson grew up in Nigeria, where he studied medicine and social anthropology, ultimately specializing in psychiatry. He now lives on the south coast of England.

For more reading

For more good reading, check out:

And you can always find my most popular reviews, and the most recent ones, plus a guide to this whole site, on the Home Page.