r/fantasy Bingo 2017 · Review

[Review] The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley

starsarelegionTitle: The Stars Are Legion

Author: Kameron Hurley

Published by: Saga Press

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Where I got the book: Public library

“Somewhere on the outer rim of the universe, a mass of decaying world-ships known as the Legion is traveling in the seams between the stars. For generations, a war for control of the Legion has been waged, with no clear resolution.  As worlds continue to die, a desperate plan is put into motion.

Zan wakes with no memory, prisoner of a people who say they are her family. She is told she is their salvation – the only person capable of boarding the Mokshi, a world-ship with the power to leave the Legion. But Zan’s new family is not the only one desperate to gain control of the prized ship. Zan finds that she must choose sides in a genocidal campaign that will take her from the edges of the Legion’s gravity well to the very belly of the world.

Zan will soon learn that she carries the seeds of the Legion’s destruction – and its possible salvation. But can she and her ragtag band of followers survive the horrors of the Legion and its people long enough to deliver it?” (Source)

Where has this book been all my life? It’s everything I wanted, I can barely stand it.

One of the reasons it took me so long to transition from YA to adult SFF was the perception that sci-fi and fantasy are stories about men written by men. When there’s a woman in the story, she’s secondary, a love interest. Obviously there’s books that don’t follow this long-standing pattern but I get occasionally tired of shifting through lists of books to find them.

When I read Ancillary Justice recently I liked it but felt that the use of she as a non-gendered pronoun felt a bit gimicky at times. I’ve been wanting the reverse of a traditional space opera for a while because why can’t there be a book with only female characters since there’s so many with only men. Where’s my queer, all-female space opera god-damnit?!

Hurley has finally gifted us such a book, creating a world that blends violent war and birth together through the use of giant sentient world-ships made of organic matter. I believe the technical term for this kind of story is biopunk, although The Stars Are Legion does deviate from that definition a bit, but I’m not terribly familiar with the subgenre.

People are born, sustained, and die by the world-ships, and unfortunately the ships are now dying. The Stars Are Legion is then one of the more interesting and innovative stories I’ve read because of how the world is build of organic matter. It’s still very much a space opera but there is no technology the way we currently envision it. Metal is a rare commodity and as the world-ship are alive they provide everything its inhabitants need in a symbiotic relationship. Women birth creatures and objects the ship needs in exchange for living there, and the ship consumes all organic matter, including humans, in order to feed itself.

One of the main reasons I loved this book is how Hurley doesn’t separate war and childbirth as two distinct stories that can never meet. SFF Author Kate Elliot posted a tweet a while ago under #ThingsOnlyWomenWritersHear where in reaction to her stating on a convention panel that we have 1000 stories about war but so few about childbirth, only to have a male pannelist reply to her that all childbirth is the same. Obviously this is one of the biggest understatements of the known and unknown history of the world, but it’s sadly true. Before The Stars Are Legion I’d never read a SFF story that included childbirth other than as a form of tragic death for mothers.

But Hurley has written an epic queer all-women space opera that includes both war and childbirth as the world-ships battle and raid each other in attempt to gain more supplies and control. Birth is an integral part of the world, not in a clichéd version of the miracle of life, but as one of the many parts of human experience and a necessity for the world-ships survival. All the characters have different feelings about birth and children, some going through with pregnancy for the good of the world-ship despite their disinterest in it, some terminating their pregnancies for a variety of reasons, others wishing for human children and crying when the world-ship takes the creatures they’ve birthed from them.

The Stars Are Legion is the book I’ve been waiting for for so long. It’s filled with women, violent women, women in love, remorseless women, mothers, enemies, explorers, engineers, slaves, and more. Violence and motherhood are not opposed dichotomies, but rather merely different parts of the same person as The Legion fights and struggles to survive.

Hurley also uses one of my favourite approaches to world building when introducing diverse characters and identities, where instead of introducing one character as an outlier to humanize the particular group they represent, but rather builds the world from the ground up to include that group as an integral part of it. The jokes calling The Stars Are Legion “Lesbians in Space” are totally accurate. This is an incredible story of queer love and desire between women, not in the usual manner of ‘Oh no! There’s no men so I guess we’re all lesbians now”, but as an active story. The women of The Legion fall in love, hate each other, kill one another and have hot sex all across the galaxy.

Unfortunately due due to having an all female-cast there’s no place for bisexuality in this world and trans identities are not explored. This is something I’ll be looking for more in my SFF now though and I hope that Hurley will include it in her world building if she ever writes another space opera. I’m aware that her Bel Dame Apocrypha Series and Worldbreaker Saga Trilogy do include bisexual characters and other sexual orientations as part of the world building (although I’m unsure about trans characters and gender identity), but I haven’t read them yet so I can’t comment.

In regards to the plot, I really enjoyed it. There were a few moments where I spotted where the book was going but it goes along at such a fast pace it’s a joy to read. All together as a whole package though, The Stars Are Legion is everything I’ve been hoping for and have been longing to see in my SFF. I really need to pick up Hurley’s other work and am greatly looking forward to her next book.

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