So Rivers Solomon’s An Unkindness of Ghosts is a dystopian novel set on a generation ship. The dystopia is partly due to events—something happened to the ship at one point in the past that screwed up its functioning, and it hasn’t been quite right ever since—and partly intrinsic in the society that built it, which is deeply racist in a kind of 19th century way, with explicitly segregated decks and racialist science about the subhumanity of those on the lower decks.

The book is focused on the people living in the margins of the ship. The protagonist is a woman from the lower decks, brilliant, autistic, and working as an assistant to the Surgeon (who is part of the ruling families, but whose position in society isn’t that simple); in addition to the Surgeon, it also focuses on her quasi-sister, angry and erratic and dealing (not entirely successfully) with the abuse and trauma that have been heaped upon her.

As a generation ship novel, it’s heavy on the “generations” part, focusing on the mysteries surrounding the characters’ parents and ancestors. It actually reminds me a lot of these books that I read when I was young, the title of which I’ve long since forgotten, YA post-dystopian things where characters had to break the rules of their society to find out what was really going on (which, it turned out, was some aftereffect of nuclear war, omni-present in Cold War SF). The characters here do the same sort of thing, breaking the rules of their society to find out what’s really happening on the ship. But these aren’t the rules of a cool and distant priesthood, they’re the rules of oppressors whose cruelty is more explicitly visceral.

It’s well-written, the characters feel deeply real, and the story moves along at a good pace; and though it’s anything but a cheerful book, it’s not “grimdark” in the way that I find off-putting. Recommended, though maybe not for light vacation reading.


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