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Book Review: An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

Book cover depicting a Black woman's face set against a starry sky.Summary:
Aster lives in the low-deck slums of the HSS Matilda, a space vessel organized much like the antebellum South. For generations, the Matilda has ferried the last of humanity to a mythical Promised Land. On its way, the ship’s leaders have imposed harsh moral restrictions and deep indignities on dark-skinned sharecroppers like Aster, who they consider to be less than human.

When the autopsy of Matilda‘s sovereign reveals a surprising link between his death and her mother’s suicide some quarter-century before, Aster retraces her mother’s footsteps. Embroiled in a grudge with a brutal overseer and sowing the seeds of civil war, Aster learns there may be a way off the ship if she’s willing to fight for it.

Review:
I went into this book hearing it was a space opera take on the American antebellum south with queer characters, written by a Black American author. That was an apt description, but what I didn’t know was that Aster is neurodiverse, and that was the finishing touch that really sent me over the moon about this book. So let’s talk about Aster first.

Aster is clearly autistic. (I am using this language, rather than person-first based on the wishes of the overall autistic community). Being autistic is just a part of who she is at her core of her being. It’s not perceived as something to be overcome or a superpower. There are parts of her autism that are strengths and parts that are weaknesses. Her ability to learn in-depth about plants and their healing powers is a strength and her tendency to take people literally and miss the point is a weakness, but only in situations where others aren’t considerate of how she perceives the world. When they are considerate and think about how to frame what they say in a way Aster will understand, it is totally fine. I loved everything about Aster. I want more books starring people like her with the representation handles so smoothly.

Other representations that exist in the book in beautiful ways include, but are not limited to: asexual, bisexual, trans*, lesbian, and a wide variety of abilities and disabilities.

The intermingling of spaceship and Antebellum American south was heartbreaking. Imagine everything about how Starship Enterprise is largely a utopia and turn that on its head, and you have the MatildaIt’s not that systemic inequality is not already clear to me, but I do think depicting it on the confines of a spaceship heightens the awareness of it seeps throughout everything.

The mourning of a child’s murder is not one of my moods, so please do not dismiss it thus.
[location 71%]

Although I think it should be obvious from the fact this is telling a story of the Antebellum south in outerspace, I do want to give trigger warnings for rape, abuse, violence, executions, and torture (all things that of course happened in the Antebellum south and anyplace with systemic inequality).

Everything about this was simultaneously richly imagined and depicting the diverse world we really do live in. I thought this was gorgeous and hope to meet Aster again (or someone like her) in future worlds by Rivers Solomon.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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Book Review: Nova by Samuel R. Delany (Bottom of the TBR Pile Challenge)

January 18, 2012 6 comments

Spaceship above a red planet.Summary:
Lorq von Ray is the head of one of the biggest corporations in the galaxy that for years has worked hand-in-hand with the Red corporation, currently headed by incestuous brother/sister partners Prince and Ruby.  But now internal fighting between the two has made von Ray determined to find his corporation’s own supply of Illyrion, normally supplied by the Reds.  He’s heard rumors you can fly through the center of a nova (an imploding star) and survive and that Illyrion is inside.  He gathers an unlikely crew in a race against the clock to gather the fuel.

Review:
I really wish I could remember what made me acquire this book.  The cover was nothing special, and the summary on the back said approximately diddly-squat about the actual plot (unlike my own).  Supposedly this book took years and tons of research into the Tarot and the Holy Grail, yadda yadda.  Fine.  All I know is that it was boring as fuck with a plot like it was written by a fifth grader.

One of my updates on GoodReads said, “Reading this book is like going to the dentist,” and I still think that’s the most apt review of it.  The plot drags, which is shocking for such a short novel.  We learn an astonishing amount of backstory about the Mouse, who is a minor character, but not a ton about Prince and Ruby Red, who are far more essential to the plot.  We don’t learn the backstory for the plugs everyone wears until the book is almost over, when plugs are key to the story.  A set of black twins work on the ship with one mysteriously albino for no apparent plot reason, and they operate as one person finishing each other’s sentences.  Their whole characterization really bumped my racism button.  Yes, I know this is an old book, but still.  We also have the annoying novelist member of the crew, who is such an obvious Mary Sue it’s painful.  And I don’t throw around the term Mary Sue willy-nilly.  Come on.  The guy is a novelist trying to write a Holy Grail book. *blinks*

The amateurish exposition consists mainly of long speeches by various characters.  The plot saving device of a miracle machine that can fix almost all wounds appears part-way through the story.  The whole thing would get maybe a C from me in a creative writing class. Maybe.

The only thing that keeps this book from one star is that it does, in fact, have a plot and is readable.  Of course, I can’t for the life of me figure out anyone who would want to read this if they knew what they were getting themselves into.

2 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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