JY Yang’s Waiting on a Bright Moon is a standalone space opera.
In another life, Ansible Xin might have been a starmage. In this one, her sexual orientation was the pretext used to strip her of her birth name and consign her to endless drudgery as a living communications device on Eighth Colony.
The appearance of a mysterious corpse on the threshold of an interstellar portal sets in motion events that will transform Xin’s life.
The authorities determine to their own satisfaction that the corpse is insignificant, merely a gambler whose murder over unpaid debts was intended to send a message to the gambler’s relatives.
The death is not insignificant; eventually it will have enormous consequences for Xin and for her masters as well.
One immediate consequence for Xin is that Starmage Suqing takes personal note of her. It is attraction at first sight. Forbidden attraction. Nevertheless, they manage to hint their interest in each other and eventually find sufficient privacy for intimacy.
Another consequence is that the Authority concludes that their interstellar network has been used for criminal purposes. Perhaps the living Ansible on the origin world has been subverted? The solution: dispose of the old Ansible, Ren, and install a new one. Although Ren’s guilt has not been proven, actual guilt or innocence is beside the point as far as the Authority is concerned. At the very least, killing Ren will encourage diligence among the other Ansibles. That’s the theory, anyway.
Xin was one of Ren’s lovers. Xin realizes immediately that she is also suspect, thus liable to disposal and replacement. The only reason she is still alive is that the Authority has not yet decided how and who. Xin has nothing to lose by casting her lot with the revolutionaries seeking to overthrow the Authority.
It turns out that Suqing has also decided to defy Authority, if by a different path. If Xin wants to make contact with the revolutionaries, all she need do is roll over in bed and speak to her partner.
Yang appears to be cheerfully exploring the boundary between fantasy and science fiction. Their Silkpunk Tensorate stories fall on the fantasy side, with a healthy helping of SF tropes. Here, the setting is clearly SF … but some readers may hear echoes of fantasy.
It’s possible that Yang was inspired by the (coincidental, as far as I know) fact that “ansible” is an anagram for “lesbian”. They (Yang’s preferred pronoun) were more likely inspired by the many other SF novels featuring space travel and communication via the psionically gifted. The example that comes to mind is the (beyond obscure) role-playing game Universe , although there are other genre examples. Such as … um … several books written by Kevin O’Donnell, Jr. (“Low Grade Ore” and the Flinger series). And … uh … I seem to be drawing a blank here, so feel free to chime in with your own examples.
If you’re an oppressive empire hoping to deter an armed uprising, it might not be advisable to adopt countermeasures so draconian, cruel, and bloody that any reasonable person will conclude there is no opportunity cost to rebellion. History is full of examples of such shoot-myself-in-the-foot over-reaction. Since the one thing we learn from history is that we do not learn from history, presumably the future will be full of examples as well.
Although this novel appears to be inspired by several historical models for the oppressive Imperial Authority, the plight in which Xin and Suqing find themselves, a setting in which they must court each other obliquely and tentatively, and face mocking condescension even if they are tolerated, will be all too familiar to many readers.
Despite my reservations about yet another series in which the political choices are between brutal exploiters and ruthless revolutionaries (whose higher ranks do not seem all that distinguishable from team evil empire) I did enjoy this story. I found myself wanting to see the setting explored a bit further, especially through Xin’s eyes.
Waiting on a Bright Moon is available here.