Tuesday 5 September 2017

Review: The Stars Are Legion

Challenging and unsettling, The Stars Are Legion might not be to everyone’s taste. But it is
(Image via Tor.com)
impossible to deny the inventiveness and scope of Kameron Hurley’s ambitious novel. 

Set set in a bioengineered fleet of rival world-sized organic spacecraft inhabited by a multitude of societies, The Stars Are Legion is narrated by Zan, a soldier with amnesia, and Jayn a member of an aggressive and violent ruling class, as they undertake an ambitious plan that may hold the key to the fleet’s salvation. 

The overall arc of the story remains unclear for most of the first 150 pages as the chapters narrated by Zan are clouded by her amnesia, and those narrated by Jayn are clouded by ulterior motives, and what some of our group considered unsubtle foreshadowing. This is a book that builds slowly, layering the narrative with concepts as it builds towards a rewarding payoff.  

The fleet of worlds in which the story takes place are made of biological technology, but not the relatively clean biotech that most science fiction readers will be familiar with. This is diseased, rotting, ugly biological technology, and because of this, The Stars Are Legion is less space opera than it is body horror. Almost every page seems bathed in bodily fluids in a way that made even the most hardened of our group feel squeamish. 

As a Tiptree Award List alum, and the author of the Geek Feminist Revolution and God's War, it
The geek feminist revolutionary,
Kameron Hurley.
(Image via KameronHurley.com)
should come as no surprise that Hurley continues to explore and challenge notions of gender. This work presents a diverse cast of female characters, but whether it fits as a work of feminist or queer fiction could be questioned as the societies depicted have no conception of masculinity or patriarchy. The Stars Are Legion is a world inhabited only be women, where the very concept of men is lost to the ages.

What is more interesting is the exploration of body horror, consensuality, and freedom, as the people who populate these organic world ships have their bodies used as breeding devices to birth both new generations of workers and the spare parts used by the world ships to repair themselves, becoming spontaneously impregnated by unknowable forces. Meditations on free will abound, not only because inhabitants are inexorably part of and trapped within the biological systems of their worlds, but also because the protagonists are swept along their conspiracy, unable to break free of their own machinations.

The language of the book, while not particularly varied, is effective and evocative. This book shines brightest when delving into the grotesque, such as the series of truly horrific yet fascinating scenes in which the core of the world - effectively it's digestive system - is explored as a character is discarded for "recycling" from the more civilized levels above by a rival invading force.

Some members questioned whether there was too little distinction in tone and language in the alternating first-person narratives, but others considered it a very successfully executed novel. Regardless, The Stars Are Legion will definitely be near the top our nominating ballots. It’s just too brilliantly inventive a novel to ignore.

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