Genre: Sci fi
Queer content?: Yes. F/F.
Sisters of the Vast Black teases readers with a futuristic world, a disconcerting mosaic of cultures, planets, and political developments of which we only see the edges. This, however, is the reality of most people and groups, their lives irreparably damaged by the machinations of higher powers, yet never directly engaging with those powers.
The Earth Central Governance, a once imposing and oligarchic force, has become obsolete in a galaxy peppered with colonies that stretch into the most remote corners of known space. Obsolete, that is, until a new religious regime lends its support to the ECG, reigniting Earth’s desire and propensity for inter-planetary dominance. As nuns dedicated to the administering of rites and healing in areas beyond the reach of Earth’s floundering government, the small crew of the Our Lady of Impossible Constellations prefer to focus on what good they can do for others, and for their ship. But as the Church works to re-establish androcentric control over orders such as theirs, simultaneously bolstering the ECG, such micro-level concerns dissolve.
Intriguing, complex and convincing, Rather’s characters build and secure the quality of this story. The sisters, each driven or haunted in their own way, gently invite readers into their world of deep space. In particular, Sister Gemma’s budding romance with a female engineer aboard another vessel, coupled with the Mother Superior’s disquieting origin story, hold the reader in place throughout a generally slow-paced narrative. This is not a novella that relies upon fireworks or explosions, but rather excellent characterisation and provocative worldbuilding.
The ship that protects the Order of Saint Rita must also be counted among these vibrant and fleshy characters. Though living creatures as space ships has become a common trope, Rather’s exploration of the breeding and manipulation of these ships introduces a fresh and somewhat unsettling perspective. She illuminates the paradox of human relationships with environments, the simultaneous love for, and abuse of, the natural world.
Sisters of the Vast Black is a strong debut from an author well-worth following in the future.