Kameron Hurley’s 2017’s The Star Are Legion is a standalone space opera.
In a distant future, a flock of huge world-ships orbit an unnamed star. Within the ships, there are life forms of all kinds, including humans. But every living thing has its allotted span and the world-ships are no exception. They are dying and when they do die, so too will all the humans who live within them.
Zan and Jayd have a cunning plan to escape the coming mass extinction. The cost of the plan will be much greater than they expect.
Anat rules world-ship Katazyrna with an iron fist . Her daughter Jayd (and Jayd’s friend Zan) have a cunning plan. If Jayd’s plan is to work, Anat needs to be carefully managed. Once her mind is made up, Anat seldom changes it; she sees disagreement as betrayal. She also sees no point in arguing with traitors. They are better sent off to the recycling plant.
The world-ship Mokshi, which has recently left its remote orbit near the core of the Legion and entered the region in which world-ships Katazyrna and Bhavaja are fighting an endless war, is the other key to the plan. An unfortunately inscrutable, unreachable key. The Katazyrna has sent numerous strike forces to commandeer Mokshi for Katazyrna’s use. Only one of these unfortunate warriors has returned: Zan. She has returned with amnesia: she has no memory of Mokshi, nor any inkling of how it has managed to defeat all comers. Or why she alone was spared.
Bhavaja has been sniping at Katazyrna forces on their way to Mokshi, thus making an already tense situation even worse. Jayd manages to convince her mother Anat that it would be a good idea to marry Jayd to Rasida Bhavaja, thus allying the feuding world-ships. (Anat is convinced that she thought of this all by herself; Jayd keeps her mouth shut.)
Marital and martial alliance. Not exactly a new plan. It’s the same basic strategy that Lady Kaede’s family used in the classic romantic comedy Ran: end an interminable war by joining rival families together. This is one of the few plans in the book that delivers: by the time Rasida is finished with her wife’s family, continued warfare seems profoundly unlikely.
With Jayd a prisoner in a gilded Bhavaja cage and Zan consigned to the recycling plant, their grand plan seems doomed. So too is their hope of saving a remnant of humanity from the approaching collapse of the cloud of world-ships.
It’s possible that I could have picked a more upbeat book for the first review of a new book for 2017.
A note for readers concerned about the preponderance of women. Because I have limited review space, I have to leave out less significant characters. I can assure y’all that the novel itself displays a gender balance that is true to the hallowed traditions of science fiction.
Although at the time of writing this novel has yet to be published (I read an e-ARC) I see that the book already has reviews on Amazon. I note what seems to be a misapprehension caused by inaccurate cover copy, which says:
Somewhere on the outer rim of the universe, a mass of decaying world-ships known as the Legion is travelling in the seams between the stars. Here in the darkness, a war for control of the Legion has been waged for generations, with no clear resolution.
The book itself paints a different picture:
“Welcome to the Outer Rim of the Legion,” Jayd says in my ear, speaking to me now from the vibrating worm casing. “You see now why I couldn’t explain. We are a Legion of worlds. Ours are the Katazyrna worlds. But the Mokshi is something else. The Mokshi has escaped the Core, there beyond the misty veil that shrouds the sun.
The Katazyrna is at the outer edge of what seems to be a vast Dyson Swarm made up of independently orbiting habitats of unusual size. The whole array orbits a central star. The text seems very clear on that point.
Anyone looking for prudent, sensible government should probably look somewhere other than the science fiction of Kameron Hurley. While her duelling autocrats fit nicely into science fiction’s grand tradition of authoritarian politics, I note that Anat and Rasida’s governing style is rather rough on their unfortunate subjects.
Jayd is so enamoured of subterfuge that she withholds vital plot information (though alluding to it) even in her internal monologues. Just as she withholds info from her co-conspirators. Well, info security is good, but in this case Jayd manages to spread as much misery and death as her hated and feared mother has done. Truly, she is her mother’s daughter.
The absence of terrestrial worlds, the dependence on decaying life support systems, the looming, inescapable doom in the near future … all recall Vinge’s Heaven Chronicles. (Well, at least to those of us who have read both books.)The books are also similar in that badly-thought-out political decisions have made many people’s lives more unpleasant and much shorter than they might otherwise have been. Where the books differ is genre: Vinge wrote pure Analog-style hard SF. Hurley imagines user-unfriendly biotech  that verges on horror.
This was not quite the affirmation of essential human goodness that I might have wished as the harbinger of a new year. But it was very fast paced and impossible to put down. I started reading it just after dinner and I did not stop reading until I was done, coincidentally just in time for a late dessert. I may not like most of the characters, but I did care what happened to them.
The Stars Are Legion is available here.
1: Or at least she rules those parts of which she is aware. It turns out that world-ships are rather large and (thanks to the general social decay) poorly documented. Societies within the world-ship, even the ones who think they are in charge, have only tenuous information about the rest of their home.
2: There are a number of moments when readers will probably ask “why would you design it that way?” One possible answer: “the designers of the world-ships really, really hated the people who were going to live in them.” However, even that does not explain why, for example, recycling is carried out by wandering monsters who guarantee that the process is as horrible as possible for the unfortunates now surplus to needs.