Sisters of the Vast Black by Lina Rather

Read November 2019
Recommended for fans of Chambers
★   ★    ★   ★ 

There’s something incredibly campy sounding about nuns in space. But this is less meme and more character study in the most unique space faring vehicle yet (even surpassing Tchaikovsky’s webship). In fact, I can wholeheartedly recommend it, with a caveat. Something like a cross between A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet and Memory Called Empire, this should appeal to those who can let go some of the demands of physics and biochemistry, and follow Rather’s focus on the personal and ethical choices of various crew members.

First, and most oddly, it’s a living ship–not an AI mind in a shell, mind you, but a type of slug with a hardened exoskeleton. I think. I might have got a bit lost in those details, although it goes into a bit about how the ships grow and develop, and the sisters have an ongoing debate about whether or not their ship has a soul.

The sisters are a varied bunch. I was worried that they wouldn’t stand out, but aren’t inundated with a nunnery, only a handful of people. They do achieve some individuality in their characterization. The Reverend Mother is starting to mentally deteriorate. She’s able to cover her infirmity because she long ago took a vow of silence, only speaking through signing. Sister Lucia often serves as the Mother’s interpreter for finer points of meaning. Sister Gemma joined out of expedience and has a talent for caring for the ship. Sister Mary Catherine is an Earther and everyone knows she won’t be staying long. Sister Faustina is not in the least a gentle soul, but she comes through under pressure. Then there’s their late arrival:

“Many of the adjustments to spaceborn life he found primitive, upsetting, and uncomfortable. They had not shut off the gravity since he arrived, not even on holy days, because it upset his stomach. He was very well-meaning, and like most people who were well-meaning and ignorant, he bulldozed through everything in his way with not even a thought.”

The world-building is intriguing. Being of anti-religious persuasion, I did not find the backdrop of religion overwhelming or boring. If there’s any downside at all to the world-building, it’s that the idea that the Catholic Church manages to remain relatively unchanged so far into the future. But what do I know? It’s tried to remain structurally and theologically similar to a thousand years ago, so it might manage. As the story continues, more details and history get added through the story of the sisters.

If I had any complaint, it is that the pace seems uneven, and the more thoughtful build of the beginning isn’t matched by the ratcheted up activity in the final third. Nonetheless, it remained interesting, with further implications into the world. Hopefully it is enough to get Rather another book deal, as I’d unhesitatingly read more in this world.

About thebookgator

avid reader and Goodreads reviewer looking for a home.
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