Sisters of the Vast Black

by - February 12, 2020

Sisters of the Vast Black

Sisters of the Vast Black was an amazing read. It presents a universe that in many ways reminds me of the Becky Chambers novels and for me that's high praise indeed. The thing I love is the hopeful tone, the sense that in the future anything is possible, that humanity can rise above its divisions to explore other worlds. In other words, the grand promise of science fiction, the sense of wonder interspersed with themes that are recognizable to us today, the real world issues we face daily. 

 Sisters does that very thing. It takes themes that are so relevant today- what it means to be human, the fragility and promise of relationships, the intersection of faith and secularism, and makes it so readable and enthralling, just like Chambers' books do. Here we have nuns- yes, nuns- serving aboard a living starship, a being that plies the starways but is itself artificially created, born (or grown) in orbit and providing a biological means of traveling through space. How cool is that? It reminded me a little of the acanti from X-Men- living creatures that traverse the spacelanes, although here they're created by mankind. The Order of Rita is a sisterhood that descends from the church on Old Earth and has taken on a life of its own, providing services such as weddings, baptisms and whatnot to the scattered worlds that have no churches of their own. 

There's also the aftermath of a great war between Earth and it's former colonies and the ramifications of that conflict inform the story in numerous ways. We focus here on a few of the sisters- the Reverend Mother as well as Sisters Lucia, Gemma and a few others- and each one has a compelling story to tell, just like the characters in Chambers' books. I keep going back to the comparison because, frankly, it's one of the best compliments I can come up with, and again it speaks to how impressed I was with this novella. 

And speaking of being a novella, I need more. I'll definitely be trying anything else this author writes, and I wouldn't mind seeing some of these characters again, but either way this was a total winner. There were a few niggling issues I had, perhaps with pacing at one point, but it's a story told in three acts and each one has a distinct theme and feel to it. We're introduced to the characters, we learn more about them and feel their struggles and challenges, and then we're introduced to a horrific situation that turns this into an almost science fiction/ horror mashup, taking some familiar tropes and putting its own spin on them. I read this in on sitting and could have honestly kept reading for hours. 

So to sum up- this was a fantastic read and a window into a universe that I really fell for. I'm very impressed that someone could write a story like this- a look at religion in the far future that doesn't feel like being hit over the head- instead it's more like an examination of what would a future version of Catholicism look like in a world of scattered extrasolar colonies? But don't be turned off by the hints of religion- there's a hard look at faith and both losing and finding it, along with humor and questions about what makes an artificial being unique- does it have a soul, for example- and the themes of redemption and atoning for sins of the past are huge here. Like Becky Chambers' books, this world feels huge and expansive, full of possibilities and wonder and hope, and it left a huge smile on my face. Can't think of anything else to say- just read this.  

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