An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This one is rather hard to rate for one good reason: It is good, and I did not like it. I would reasonably give this 3.5 stars, but let me explain:
Really quite wonderful main characters, all full of interesting mixtures. Astra seems to have autism, is rather more gay than not, but more closely binary. She's also strong and pretty brilliant and she also has a tendency to say exactly what she means and do exactly as she wants, regardless of whether it's safe for her to do so. This is a mixed blessing. Theo is a somewhat distant character but he is also fairly nicely rounded, as is a few other of the MC's.
As a study on slavery and cultural abuse taken up ten notches, it is a quite sickening study, and this brings us to the title. Ghosts are Whites. The slavery is almost ship-wide.
It's almost unbearable to read. When you can count up to 90 massive trauma events to your person by the time you reach 40, both of a strictly abusive nature and a sexual one, and this is considered the normal and natural order of things, then you know something is slightly off.
For what this tale does, in making a very varied read and one that illustrates the horrors in so many ways, it is very good.
Now, the bad.
It's almost unbearable to read. If the author is intending to depress the living hell out of me and make me want to end it all because I happen to have white skin, then I shall call her a winner. There is VERY little, other than Theo, to make me think that whites are anything other than complete and utter a**holes.
All the villains, and I mean the ghosts, are cardboard cutouts of complete and utter evil. A slight taste of a rounded villain or at least a lying rounded villain might have given this whole thing a bit more meat. As it was, I just learned to hate and hate and hate and hate and hate and hate. Maybe I need to be more clear... it's tiring to hate so much. Emotionally. Intellectually. Everything.
And then there's an SF reason to dislike this novel. If I am to accept the premise that a generational starship can be made, maintained, and piloted for an unknown number of years on a slave-race, then this is doable. It's a completely dystopian (turn your mind off) SF trope, applied to a generational starship. Good for reinforcing that whole world-as-prison mentality, NOT good for rational thought.
I kept asking myself that one question, over and over and over. WHY? Ignore the how. Social structures can be maintained indefinitely with a little ruthlessness and power, even with the possibility of revolution. My big question is WHY would anyone put a bunch of slaves on a high-tech, easily destroyable, long-term spaceship? You need a VERY educated workforce, and one that is more than willing to go the extra effort not to punch holes in hulls or start random fires that can wipe out the entire crew. Instead, we have fires and rifles here. On a spaceship. Okay. Turn off the mind. Got it. Assume it's super high-tech, as is implied by the computer at the end or the hints at faster FASTER travel through space. I beg the question again. WHY all the hate, hate, hate? I'm talking about the ghosts. If they hate so much, why didn't they just gather themselves up with a bunch of robots and go *uck off to some other planet, if it's so easy to have a bunch of a**holes GET a generational spaceship in the first place? Why bring along a slave-workforce to abuse at all? Especially when you KNOW it's bound to turn bad?
Religion could have been an answer, but the closest we get to that is the ghosts calling themselves gods. So, not developed. Even the Pharaohs had a rich and varied social system to account for the pyramids.
No. This is just social inequity, massive abuse built into the culture, a bit of cool character-building, and lots of really difficult (emotional) reading. It's not hard to follow or enjoy, otherwise.
So? Good and bad. It really depends on what you're looking for. A rich SF this is not. A heartbreaking tale of a world-prison? This is.
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