Starsong — Aliette de Bodard

The first of “The Universe of Xuya” stories that take us into space.

One thing this book made me think of was the navigators in Dune.   We’re told how the navigators began, by taking too much spice that they changed their whole being into one that could meld with their ships and fold space and travel anywhere in the universe, but we’re never told, as far as i’m aware, what it was like for that first navigator who experienced this.   And that to me is what Starsong is about, the story of those who travel first.   The outsiders who will never belong who are shoved far out beyond the boundaries of where other people’s fear will never allow them to go.

Originally published in Asimov’s July 2012, you can now find it at Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show where you can read it for free.   And while you’re there be sure to also read “InterGalactic Interview With Aliette de Bodard”.

My first Xuya book was The Tea Master and the Detective, which, in my review, i mentioned needing to get up to speed on all things Xuya and mind ships, and Starsong is where all the mind ship things begin.

So we have ships and pilots, the pilots of these ships have some kind of implants — neural shunts — that allows their minds to plug directly into the ship’s systems and thus fly the ships, but, they remain separate, a ship and a pilot.   However, this story begins with the ship telling us that the pilot has just got in and connected and the safeguard’s and barriers have failed, the pilot’s neural shunts have been overwhelmed and engulfed by the ship’s systems, melding pilot and ship into one being.

The pilot, who one moment is a whole and separate being, is now no longer, lost in the new embrace of this completely new being, drifting in the deep planes, listening to the starsong and able to travel wherever they chose simply by willing it.

And then we are thrown, back and forth, throughout this short story, between past and present and various characters.   It’s like the total cacophony of a full on psychotic episode:  which, i suppose, if we were suddenly joined as a mind ship without any warning, or prior knowledge, is exactly what our experience would be like.

I realise, from reviews i’ve read about other books with lots of temporal/spacial shifting going on, that some people really won’t like this book, but, that’s their loss.   Unfortunately, some people’s minds just aren’t up for this kind of trip into the “deep planes” and back again — several times over.   But for those of us whose minds are ready and who enjoy this sort of thing, this book is genius.

Yes, i got to the end, which also takes us back to the beginning, and i went straight back to the beginning and read the whole lot again — all in one sitting.

And that’s what’s so perfect about being able to write this as a short story (6141 words) and make it work: you can read the whole thing twice in one go and it’ll only take you up to novella length.   And being able to read it twice, so quickly, is really what makes this work.   So don’t throw it away when you find yourself adrift in the deep planes, set aside a couple of hours to read this and when you begin to feel a bit/lot lost, keep going, and when you get to the end the first time go right back to the beginning and dive straight back into the deep planes and read it all again.

Enjoy!

Lots more Xuya story reviews coming soon — i’m now a Xuya addict.

Aliette’s Page

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