spindizzy: (Ready when you are)
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Cover of The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley


Somewhere on the outer rim of the universe, a mass of decaying world-ships known as the Legion is traveling in the seams between the stars. For generations, a war for control of the Legion has been waged, with no clear resolution. As worlds continue to die, a desperate plan is put into motion. Zan wakes with no memory, prisoner of a people who say they are her family. She is told she is their salvation - the only person capable of boarding the Mokshi, a world-ship with the power to leave the Legion. But Zan's new family is not the only one desperate to gain control of the prized ship. Zan finds that she must choose sides in a genocidal campaign that will take her from the edges of the Legion's gravity well to the very belly of the world. Zan will soon learn that she carries the seeds of the Legion's destruction - and its possible salvation. But can she and her ragtag band of followers survive the horrors of the Legion and its people long enough to deliver it?


I picked this up as part of my transcription duties for Fangirl Happy Hour – it's a lot easier to follow a discussion about a book if you've read it – and it turns out that I have more thoughts on it than I expected!

The plot that can be described without spoiling the book is this: Zan wakes up with few memories of who she is, and a mission to take over a living planet/ship called the Mokshi on behalf of women who claim to be her family. The women are part of the Katazyrna, the ruling family of their own living planet/ship, one bound into a network of other planets/ships known as the Legion; they want the Mokshi because it is a planet not bound into orbit with the rest of the Legion. And from there, things get... Complicated.

As a fair warning, I think the strongest opinion I can muster on The Stars Are Legion is that I have a serious genre mismatch with it. I don't know what the subgenre is, but it turns out that SFF where everything is cancerous, the walls are made of flesh, and all but maybe three characters are awful? Is not my thing. (Is there a genre term for it? 2000AD ran stories like this, and there's The Vagrant by Paul Newman, and bits of The Dark Tower...? The closest I can think of is "splatterpunk" but I don't know if that's right.)

One thing that I enjoyed, however, is how The Stars Are Legion has an all-female cast. Not "all the principle characters are female," but "all of the characters are female, men are never mentioned as a thing" and it's honestly so relaxing. (#misandry!) Like, I almost feel weird talking about it because it felt completely natural for the setting, to the point where I didn't even notice till I was a third of the way through? Our [personal profile] renay pointed out that it "makes the the power dynamics and motivations of the characters way more interesting because we can immediately shed the distracting and cracked husk of gender essentialism" and that is probably the best way to explain it – I didn't have to brace for misogyny, tiny victory!

I think my favourite parts of the book were entirely Zan. I mean, Jayd is interesting as a viewpoint, because she's so arrogant in the face of danger, and her assessment of the danger that she's in and how well she can mitigate or manage it changes so fast, and not always in her favour. Her ruthlessness in her willingness to sacrifice everyone she loves for her plan, and her lust for a woman she knows could kill her without remorse are things I don't get to see a lot in female point-of-view characters, so she's fascinating to me! But I am more interested in what happened to Zan and her memory loss, which is written almost like a timeloop; everyone else remembers what happened the times she has done that exact mission before, but she has to piece it together from scraps. She is an unreliable narrator, but it's not through any fault of her own – she is working from bad information, and I really enjoyed seeing how this led her to different conclusions each time around.

Honestly, it felt like a slog when I was reading it. I didn't care about the plot, and while there were bits of Zan's Journey From The Centre Of The Earth that were interesting, I didn't care. It's a somewhat traditional journey where she picks up various party members who are varying levels of sane, knowledgeable, and trustworthy, who agree to help her reach the surface of the planet so she can complete her mission. The different levels inside the world-ship were a surprise – I had been thoroughly taken in by the priorities of Jayd and the Katazyrna family, which is that only what is happening on the surface level matters; that there are other cultures with different priorities was a shock, but a very welcome one! Especially because (despite most of the party having a cultural mistrust of each other) it allowed for a warmth and sense of teamwork that the rest of the book lacked.

I was warned that there was a lot of body horror in this book, but it's not body horror like I think of it – yes the walls are flesh and the corridors are umbilical cords, but that's not the proper horror. The closest thing to body horror for me is that the women are in a symbiotic relationship to the world-ships they are from, such that they give birth asexually to things that the world needs. So it's not always to children – some of them give birth to machine parts, others to horrors, others to... Well, spoilers. And they cannot control when it happens, because it's expressly when the world-ships need something. That's awful. Jayd manages to subvert this a lot herself with her schemes, but the concept itself horrifies me.

(The thing that I really horrified by was that while Jayd's POV talks about how Zan can't get pregnant again, Zan doesn't know. There is a specific low-key horror for Zan wondering when the sudden pregnancy is going to happen to her and what's going to come out of her.)

But despite this, I found the end to be genuinely hopeful. Zan working with the clues that she left herself on previous attempts to make a decision that works for the person that she is this time and the people she has collected for herself.

I honestly think that I've enjoyed the discussions around The Stars Are Legion more than I've enjoyed the book itself; certainly Fangirl Happy Hour managed to convince me I think more fondly of the book than I did to start with. But on the whole, I'm filing this as Good, But Not For Me.

(Caution warnings: abuse, forced pregnancy)

Other Reviews


Fangirl Happy Hour discusses The Stars Are Legion.
Ren talks about The Stars Are Legion and trans/non-binary erasure.
The Book Smugglers review The Stars Are Legion.
Yours?

Date: 2017-09-16 03:12 am (UTC)
subsequent: (-just call the moonbase)
From: [personal profile] subsequent
Have you read The long way to a small angry planet by Becky Chambers? Judging by this, it'd be the type of thing you'd love (I certainly did!)

Date: 2017-09-16 02:05 pm (UTC)
subsequent: (-general sci-fi icon)
From: [personal profile] subsequent
No worries!

(The sequel is also fantastic. I wish there was more of a fandom for both of them).

Date: 2017-09-16 08:37 pm (UTC)
bookgazing: (Default)
From: [personal profile] bookgazing
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