Very Quick Review: SISTERS OF THE VAST BLACK by Lina Rather (Tor.com)

RatherL-SistersOfTheVastBlackAn intriguing sci-fi story of secrets and survival

The sisters of the Order of Saint Rita captain their living ship into the reaches of space…

Years ago, Old Earth sent forth sisters and brothers into the vast dark of the prodigal colonies armed only with crucifixes and iron faith. Now, the sisters of the Order of Saint Rita are on an interstellar mission of mercy aboard Our Lady of Impossible Constellations, a living, breathing ship which seems determined to develop a will of its own.

When the order receives a distress call from a newly-formed colony, the sisters discover that the bodies and souls in their care — and that of the galactic diaspora — are in danger. And not from void beyond, but from the nascent Central Governance and the Church itself.

This, for me, was a novella ultimately about secrets: the secrets we tell ourselves, and those we keep from others — especially those who are close to us. It is also set in an engaging, interesting version of the future.

The sisters are traveling through space, administering to the various refugee and colonist communities who have spread through the stars. Some of them are attempting to get away from the authoritarian government, to escape conflict, and the ravages of past conflicts. The Church has gained power, and exerts wide influence (even if some try to minister in their own ways). And, because no sci-fi story would be complete without this, corporate and authoritarian greed and malfeasance endures.

One thing that jumps out from very early on is that Rather is very good at characterization. Each of the sisters of the Order of Saint Rita feels distinct and fully-formed. They are varied, have their own agendas and petty frustrations with some of their sisters. They have their own passions, doubts, and distractions. And, as already mentioned: their own secrets. This, of course, makes the novella rather difficult to review in any great detail. A couple of the secrets end up being slightly telegraphed, but the story remains engaging throughout.

Very well written, the novella also contains some fantastic sci-fi elements — the living ships, for example, are pretty cool while also being a little nerve-wracking. (I don’t think I could stomach traveling the void inside a living creature…) I enjoyed the way Rather wove the ship’s sentience and natural rhythms into the story and day-to-day chores of the sisters.

I’d definitely be interested in reading more about this future. I think Rather includes enough in this novella to offer plenty of avenues of further exploration, too: either delving into the “history” of the setting, or diverting away from the sisters and official factions, to explore those who live on the periphery.

Recommended for any fan of sci-fi. This is very good.

*

Lina Rather’s Sisters of the Vast Black is due to be published by Tor.com in North America and in the UK, on October 29th, 2019.

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

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