***BIG FAT SPOILERS THROUGHOUT***
This wasn’t like anything I’ve ever read before.
If there’s one thing I love about this whole bloggy thing – not just writing my own posts, but reading what others have to say about books I love or loathe or want to read or haven’t even heard of – it’s that I’ve broadened my reading and I’m appreciating so much more of what I’m reading than I used to. Not necessarily loving everything, but being able to value it on some level and being able to say what I didn’t like as much as what I did. And this is one of those books that makes me really, really happy for the bloggy thing.
After reading the brilliant three-part recommendations post for Read Diverse 2017 by Dina of sffbookreview (which you can read for yourself here: part one, part two and part three), I put some stock suggestions in at work. One of them was for The Stars Are Legion, which I picked out of Hurley’s works mostly because it was a stand-alone novel and I liked it’s dark and foreboding cover art. I didn’t read the blurb or anything, just kind of waved my finger and shouted ‘that one!’, which only makes me so much smugger now because I picked good (even though ultimately the credit is Dina’s, of course).
Let me tell you why: Think back to the late 90s early 00s and the awesomeness that was Farscape with its bio-mechanical Leviathan Moya. Now strip back the rest of the show’s characters and blow Moya up until she’s the size and shape of a planet. Give her some tentacles. OK. Multiply her, so there are lots of world-ships, and make them old. Some of them are dying. People all of these worlds with women. Now take Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth and squish it into one of the world-ships. Finally cover everything with mucus. There you go. You’ve got yourself The Stars Are Legion right there. Happy reading.
Seriously though, I love Hurley’s world-ships. I love their squidgy, pulsating organic-ness; I love how the women aboard them are a necessary part of the world, birthing replacement parts as needed; I love that these worlds aren’t perfect, eternally renewable things, that they rot and calcify and die, and that the women can birth new worlds too; I love that infection isn’t a thing because everything is made of the same material as the world, and that everything is recycled again and again; I love that the smaller vehicles aboard the world-ships are also living creatures; that the creatures deeper within the world exist, the recycler beast, the insects, the mutants, no matter how scary or gross they may seem; I love that Hurley has fleshed it all out so much. Doors open like unfurling flowers, corridors are likened to throats, travel between level is done via umbilical (and sometimes via artery), surfaces are damp and spongy, the walls pulse and throb with the world’s heartbeat. It’s fantastic (or gross – your call)!
The plot only slightly less so. The story is told from two points of view: Zan’s, an amnesiac, and Jayd’s. This is a little bit odd because on the one hand, you’re with Zan desperately trying to piece everything together and make sense of things, and on the other you’re with Jayd, knowing everything Zan doesn’t know. I suppose it works in that Zan sees the world as if for the first time (showing, not telling), while Jayd gives us more of a sense of the plot than Zan can. And I guess it’s necessary to have these two different viewpoints later on when Zan goes into the world and Jayd travels off world. Whatever the reasoning behind it, the decision to use two POVs does kind of ruin any sense of discovery there might have been at the end of the book (there’s a big ‘secret’); by the time you get there you already know what happened. On the other hand, these two POVs are important in creating a picture of the broken relationship between Zan and Jayd. Through Jayd the reader sees what that relationship was, in all it’s messed-up glory, and through Zan we see how these two characters can move forward. Her decision at the end not to enter back into a relationship with Jayd is a heroic deed, as she sees the terrible damage they have done to one another again and again and chooses a new ending for them both.
My favourite part of the book though, was Zan’s journey back up to the surface after being thrown into the recycling pit at the centre of the world. I enjoyed all the different environments she and her collected companions travel through, from the terrifying shadows of the recycling pit itself, to the crystal forests, to the sea, to the room of giants trapped in amber. I loved not knowing what was coming next, and trying to work out what role these various environments played in the life of the world-ship. And her companions are fabulous. Das Muni is my all-time favourite with her Gollum-ish appearance, apparent madness and virtual indestructability, but blunt ‘engineer’ Casamir and tough mutant-hunter Arankadash are just as fascinating. They all live on the same world, yet have no awareness of that world beyond their own small part of it, and their religious beliefs and attitudes are so different, but still they achieve cooperation and some sort of friendship with one another as they help Zan reach the surface.
I also think it’s worth noting that I didn’t once miss the men that are not in this book. Science-fiction often seems very man-heavy, even in these enlightened times, and while that isn’t in and of itself a problem, the attitude that is often behind it is. In The Stars Are Legion there were a lot of the usual science-fiction roles: hunter, explorer, fighter, power-crazed war leader, rebel … and they’re all women. It didn’t make the story any less satisfying, tense, exciting, scary or adventurous. I don’t know if that’s something Hurley intended, and honestly, I don’t care. I just wanted it noted that I didn’t feel it was missing anything. And the story wouldn’t really have worked with men in it anyway, I mean, where’s a fella going to birth a world from?
(I read this for the “Read a Diverse Sci-Fi” Book Bingo category).