I’ve been hearing about An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon for a while now, someone or another popping up in my twitter feed to announce how wonderful the book is. Having read it, I am in complete agreement with the praise it’s received.
“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.”
Aster is a fascinating character, an adept healer, as well as a scientist with an avid curiosity for how things — machines, the ship, the universe — work. She’s also brilliant, obsessive, and somewhat solitary due the way many in the community treat her, calling her ogre and freak. She’s The ways she interacts with other people is complicated by her being aneurotypical. She has difficulties with parsing out meaning behind people’s words, has difficulty recognizing sarcasm, and tends to have difficulty understanding the emotional undertones in her interactions with others.
The few people she is close to — Giselle and Theo — are each hard edged and complicated in their own ways. Giselle, her closest friend, is violently self destructive. Theo, the Surgeon General of the ship, is an ally and friend who helped to educate Aster in medicine and health care. Both act as a kind of foil to Aster, providing pushback and counter perspectives to the way she perceives the world.
It’s Giselle who provides the key Aster’s obsession with discovering more about her mother’s past, providing the key to unlocking her mother’s journals. As she dives more and more deeply into that history, hoping to understand herself, she begins to see how the some of the stories she’s been told may not be what they seem and that the ghosts of the past provide no easy resolution.
This novel provides many layers that could be unpacked. It’s a stunning and beautiful accomplishment — and I’ll be keeping my eye out for more work from Solomon in the future.
Rivers Solomon is nominated for theJohn W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, an award associated with the Hugos. All my Hugo related posts are under the 2018 Hugos tag and you can check out the complete list of nominated creators and works here.