Eleanor Lerman began her writing career at twenty-one as a poet, branching out over the years into short stories and novels while winning prizes along the way. Her latest book is a suspense-filled science fiction novel called The Stargazer’s Embassy.
If science fiction is your genre of choice, you may have come across grays, creepy-crawlers, visitors, phreaks, and travelers. Lerman’s word of choice for her protagonist to use is “thing.” In Part One of the book, which takes place in 1990, twenty-seven-year-old Julia cleans houses for a living. Her goal is to go unnoticed, blend in. On the first night of the Perseid meteor shower, she meets John, a psychiatrist and university professor who is obsessed with humans who have been abducted by aliens. Julia and John hit it off and eventually move in together. All seems happy, but there’s the not so minor matter of Julia omitting to tell John about her own supernatural experiences.
We do learn that Julia’s mother Laura, who died when Julia was thirteen, was eccentric, somewhat distant, and fixated on “UFOs, aliens, abduction stories.” And the Stargazer’s Embassy of the book’s title turns out to be a bar where Julia and Laura had an upstairs apartment.
Preliminaries out of the way, I was eager to see what all this was leading to. Then a third of the way into the story Lerman delivers a stunner. Julia sinks her teeth into the arm of a “dough-gray thing nearly seven feet tall and wearing a biker outfit.”
From there, the tale radiates as other oddly-dressed aliens appear, like the raincoated figure in white go-go boots and the one sporting a daisy-printed summer dress. Julia observes:
it was as if they were trying to mimic the way humans dressed, but there was always something off about their choices, something wrong. Some fundamental disconnect that they couldn’t seem to make up for, though they must have been trying.
More humans round out the cast. Nicky owns The Stargazer’s Embassy and may carry clues to Laura’s personality. One of John’s patients named Alice claims to have been abducted and displays profound jealousy over John and Julia’s relationship. Jim Barrett is a celebrated author of a book questioning the reality of alien abductions.
Then there is the recurring appearance of the tattooed and pierced Kel who sees “creepy crawlies,” but was never abducted. However, back on his 18th birthday, while seated in Nicky’s bar, the creepies gave Kel a Stargazer’s Embassy to the World passport. Hints are dropped that a Stargazer’s Embassy passport, with its image of “two dark blue stars with the three smaller ones off to the left,” may lead the passport holder to more than a free drink.
Part Two of the book takes place in 2000. Julia and John’s status has changed, Julia has changed her name, and she has moved by herself to the Bronx. In the last ten years, no alien abductions have been reported. Barrett is now showing his true colors, and two new characters are introduced.
Ted Devere not only considers an Embassy passport special, but also has an exceptional way of producing polaroid photos. He has insights into the aliens: “It’s not as easy for them to get back and forth as everybody thinks,” he says to Julia. “That’s what your mother told me. [ . . . ] I could see why they liked to be around her. And around the Embassy. It’s a fun place to have a drink. The good [aliens] like to drink. They’re partial to Jack, I think.”
Another new character, Michael Mills, is an internet blogger “in online paranormal-ville” who switched from covering Big Foot sightings to aliens and their ilk. A gossipy grapevine traveling from Kel to Barrett to Mills results in a problem for Julia who wants to keep her personal life and that of her mother private. But Mills threatens to go public.
Kel tells Julia that her name will be all over the internet. “It’ll be a free-for-all; everybody will be after you.” Mills is “gunning for you, Julia. He’s going to find out who you really are and what you know and he’s going to find a way to use it to his advantage.” By the time I got this far in the book, I was pretty sure Julia wouldn’t stand for that.
Great entertainment value aside, one lovely takeaway from The Stargazer’s Embassy is that everyone—human or alien—is looking for answers to questions about life that have puzzled scientists, philosophers and countless others for centuries.