An Unkindness of Ghosts

Paperback, 349 pages

English language

Published Aug. 8, 2017 by Akashic Books.

ISBN:
978-1-61775-588-0
Copied ISBN!
OCLC Number:
974676983

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4 stars (52 reviews)

"Aster has little to offer folks in the way of rebuttal when they call her ogre and freak. She's used to the names; she only wishes there was more truth to them. If she were truly a monster, she'd be powerful enough to tear down the walls around her until nothing remains of her world. Aster lives in the lowdeck slums of the HSS Matilda, a space vessel organized much like the antebellum South. For generations, Matilda has ferried the last of humanity to a mythical Promised Land. On its way, the ship's leaders have imposed harsh moral restrictions and deep indignities on dark-skinned sharecroppers like Aster. Embroiled in a grudge with a brutal overseer, Aster learns there may be a way to improve her lot--if she's willing to sow the seeds of civil war"--Page 4 of cover.

5 editions

[Adapted from initial review on Goodreads.]

4 stars

There aren't actually any ghosts in this book. If you're looking for spooky horror/fantasy IN SPACE, this is absolutely not the book for you: all ghosts are purely metaphorical.

What this book actually offers: American-style slavery, racism, intersexism (kind of combined with racism, in this case), whatever -ism goes with mental illness and neurodivergence, transmisia, homomisia, &c. .... IN SPACE.

(I don't mean to imply that it condones these things. Quite the opposite, in fact. But it certainly does portray them.)

The hard sci-fi setting serves more as a backdrop for all this slavery and oppression and whatnot than as a foreground element, despite its plot-relevance; possibly I feel this way because the plot itself takes something of a background role as compared with social themes, relationships, and the constant crushing realities of slavery. Thematically, though, it is important. Even knowing that the vast majority of slaves never escaped, there's …

Review of 'An Unkindness of Ghosts' on 'Goodreads'

4 stars

So much of this book didn’t work: the physics, the political power structure, the life-support mechanisms, the security protocols, many of the interpersonal dynamics, the languages. But that’s just logistics—as a whole, it worked remarkably well regardless. It kept me hooked, made me think and feel. I honestly enjoyed it.

The story is more than just a clumsy Southern Plantations In Space: sweeping themes include body autonomy, gender identity, arbitrariness of beauty norms, neurodiversity, abuse of power, and the use of religion to justify race/class persecution. (A significant subset of my hot-button topics). Solomon writes with deep feeling: I cared about even the minor characters. Huge thanks to E. for handing me this book.

Brutally beautiful

5 stars

The ship is out in the black void. The ship is falling apart. The society is in the rotten ship and the society is rotten. The people are in the society and they are falling apart. The protagonist is doing her best and holding together her chosen family in a series of dangerous places. The protagonist is doing her best and is full of problems and her best may also be falling apart and the stakes are personal, realistic and high.

fantastical yet realistic

5 stars

the back of the book compares the Matilda to the antebellum southern US, in space, but that's far from being an adequate comparison. instead it seems to me an honest portrayal of a possible future—certainly unlikely or impossible in many respects, but in all important ways uncomfortably truthful.

it's not a cheerful story, but it never drags because of this; it is persistently lively. it doesn't inspire despair: there's always a core of resilience even when hope is scarce.

I look forward to reading more of their work.

Review of 'An Unkindness of Ghosts' on 'Goodreads'

4 stars

This wasn’t a perfect book, but I enjoyed it a lot despite some flaws.

The flaws would be some unanswered questions and coincidences along the way (such as convenient password guessing). This is definitely soft SF because I found myself regularly thinking, this doesn’t make sense, or this is impractical. I want to call it something like steampunk in space, but it’s not in your face about it. I started thinking about it that way halfway through.

I also had some questions, like why does the Lieutenant obsess over Aster so much? What was the instigation? Otherwise it feels sort of random.

Despite all that, I enjoyed this. It reminded me of Le Guin! There’s a lot of quieter action and progress. Intense moments still feel quiet. The author focuses mainly on Aster, who is no one in particular. She plays a role in the climax at the end, but …

A Gripping SciFi With Nuanced Political Themes

5 stars

A gripping work of science fiction that establishes Rivers Solomon as one of my new favorite authors! While the depiction of individual and collective trauma in this novel makes for an emotionally fraught read, I fell in love with the protagonist and their chosen family. Descriptions of this book that boil down to "the Antebellum South but in space" fail to capture the unique world building, strong queer representation and neurodiversity, or nuanced political themes explored.

Review of 'An Unkindness of Ghosts' on 'Goodreads'

4 stars

This was a complicated book that looks at a deeply stratified and racist society, illustrates it mainly through the eyes of nonbinary characters who don't quite fit into it, and puts the whole thing on a damaged spaceship far from Earth or any planet. I found it started a little slow and ended a little too fast but I enjoyed the characters and it grabbed me around the middle; I wish the ending had been a bit less rushed feeling and more triumphant.

Some hopefully minor spoilers below:

I suspect it would take another few readings to catch all the details and nuances of the story, but in short: generations ago a colony ship set out, controlled by a religious leadership called The Sovereignty. Believing they knew better than the autopilot, they decided to execute a risky maneuver near an asteroid field and failed, resulting in damage to the ship …

Review of 'An Unkindness of Ghosts' on 'Storygraph'

No rating

I love so much about this book, I just couldn't handle a particular topic that's triggering for me when I was already stressed (mostly in good ways) by the story so far. The worldbuilding is very cool, paying attention to language and tiny cultural differences existing between the decks. The audiobook performance is good. I like Aster as a main character.

I really wish I could handle finishing this, but I just can't.

Review of 'An Unkindness of Ghosts' on 'Goodreads'

4 stars

I feel like you don't really need my (a white girl) thoughts on this book, because I was half-way through the book before I was like "They're cultivating sugar cane? On a generation ship?!? That's indefensible! It has almost no nutritional value and exists only so the privileged can -- oh. Oh wait."

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