When I was offered The Vela as ad advance review copy, I was thrilled – because look at the author list! Several new ones I have not read yet are in there too, but if you know what has been going on in the world of scifi for the past two or three years, you’ll recognize the names of Becky Chambers and Rivers Solomon. These authors are at the forefront of diverse, inclusive, fresh and imaginative scifi. They’re the best of the best in current science fiction, at the least in my eyes. That could only mean they MUST be in good company – which is why I snapped up the review copy before my angel of luck decided to change their mind!!
A GIF of a squirrel wagging its tail in what seems to be excitement
And naturally – I had HUGE expectations for The Vela. But guess what? THEY WERE EXCEEDED. Now, I’m going to write a REALLY long review about The Vela, because I LOVED it, but for those who don’t have much time to read today, here are the main points:
- The Vela is incredibly diverse, both in terms of race, culture, gender, queerness, disability and, well, pretty much EVERYTHING
- the women kick ass basically without exception
- and it’s pretty much just the women and the queer characters that kick ass, men take a back seat
- non-binary in the center stage!!!
- there’s some real adventure, and the pace can be wild
- and yet, it’s written so well
- it’s about a refugee crisis, so a lot of tough moral questions and points of view are tackled
- it’s gritty and real, and it will not cease to surprise you (yes, I mean twists. Smart ones.)
- it’s the book we’ve been waiting for for a long time now
- or rather, it’s the book women, queer people, disabled people and any allies have been waiting for for a loooooooong time
Note: I apologize if I use any terms related to queer/non-binary people incorrectly. Please let me know in the comments and I can fix it.
The Vela introduces us to a world, or rather, multiple worlds that are slowly dying – because of reasons that hit quite close to home – corporate greed. The sun has been mined almost dry, so the outer system planets are slowly turning uninhabitable, with the inner ones to follow later. Of course, this creates a huge refugee problem, and naturally, it’s the governments of the inner planets that get to decide who is worthy and who is not. In this whole mess, Asala is a war veteran and a security agent, a refugee herself, who has earned her place through blood and sweat. But she’s about to embark on a mission that will change everything – although she doesn’t even know it yet.
The Vela is huge – conceptually. It encompasses refugee problems, moral dilemmas of who gets to live and who has to die, the ideas of loyalty, love, original family vs found family, and many more. And all of this – in the background of incredible diversity and empowerment. This is the novel we’ve all needed in scifi for YEARS.
Okay, So Let’s Talk About Diversity Then
Frankly? I don’t think I’ve ever read a more diverse book in my life! (Not, not even The Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon, one of the authors of The Vela.) And it’s not just about diversity in The Vela – it’s about what the spotlight falls upon. It’s full of non-binary, queer characters of all sorts of races, but what I mean is that it’s them who are in the spotlight – all of the most important characters are either women or non-binary, and if they’re women, they’re often queer. Did I mention a lot of them are disabled, but that doesn’t stand in their way? I’m not sure I’ve ever read a more empowering book than this one. (Seriously, men, whine all you want – you’ve got hundreds of scifis, can I have ONE where we have women, kicking ass? Disabled women, queer people too? Thank you.)
A woman of color punching the camera with a boxing glove
Anyway, let me elaborate a little bit. Asala, one of the main characters, is a woman, a refugee, and she’s also a mercenary, basically. She’s hearing impaired – she needs special implants to be able to hear. However, when it’s mentioned that she’s disabled, it’s said that it can also act as an advantage – turning off her implants lets her concentrate for certain aspects of her job, such as being a sniper. Have you ever really read books that present disabilities like that?
Anyway, then there’s Niko, and I swear, I have a serious crush on them!!! Niko’s a hacker, they’re adorable, sweet, idealistic and… Non-binary, and they’re the first character I’ve ever read who have been referred to as ‘them’ throughout the entire book, without a single person questioning this or even thinking twice about it. Clearly, in this society, non-binary is normal. Again, how many books have you read that do that?
Other than the two main characters, pretty much everyone, aside from Niko’s father, are either women or non-binary. And the women are mostly all queer too, some of them disabled as well. Most of them are in positions of power or skill and knowledge – one is a general (granted, an evil general) – the leader of a planet, another is a ground-breaking scientist, then there’s a mercenary general and war hero, a refugee camp leader, and so many more. There are plenty of redshirt soldiers who are also women. It’s just such a different scifi! It’s wonderful.The Vela is the scifi we've all been waiting for – it empowers women, queer and disabled people and is very diverse, but to top it off – it raises some serious moral questions about dealing with a refugee crisis. ★★★★★ 5 stars: Click To Tweet
The Writing And The Character Building
Gosh… Where do I begin? I really loved the characters. You know, I am not sure I’ve ever read a book that has been written by more than two people – so before I started reading, I was slightly worried that it would be hard to piece together, or worse, that each chapter would be unrelated to the other, or only very distantly related. I was wrong! It’s written SO well, I could have never guessed it was written by multiple people, if I hadn’t known. The writing is great altogether, but for me, it’s always the characters that make the story. And I have to say, I loved ALL the characters! Yes, even the bad ones. Because the way it was written, even their point of view made sense, when told from their perspective – maybe flawed, at times heartless, but it was thought through. The only other book I can say this about is The Girl With All the Gifts – the doctor in the story was written the same way, where you hated her, but still understood why she did the things the way she did them. General Cynwrig is written the same way in The Vela, but not just her – there are other characters who have truly compelling reasons for doing some evil stuff they do.
But I have to talk about Niko. Oh my god, just let me talk about my book crush, okay? Niko’s a wonderful character, awkward and anxious, a kid who asks all the uncomfortable questions – a real idealist. An activist, the voice of humanity, who acts as the ‘carer’ for the team, as The Doctor would say (from Doctor Who, to the uninformed). Niko defends the weak and wants to right all the wrongs, even if it sometimes brings them to do horrible things. But the funny thing is that maybe Niko isn’t as innocent and as simple as everyone thinks. Maybe it’s actually pretty easy to use the innocent face to appear slightly simpler than you actually are sometimes. Which makes them all the more a complex character that I can’t resist loving! Ah, Niko – will I get to read about you again?
Usagi / Bunny from Sailormoon, swooning at something with heart eyes
The Refugee Crisis
I feel like the topic of The Vela was chosen so well – even as it has already been quite a long while into the refugee crisis in Europe and other immigrant related scandals in the rest of the world, this topic remains as relevant as ever. For those who have not invested a lot of time in understanding why refugee crises happen and what that means socially, culturally and even morally – The Vela is a great source. Not only does it paint an accurate, in my opinion, picture of a refugee crisis, but it does so in a way full of empathy. I believe that it could make even the most skeptical person (for lack of a better word..) change their outlook on refugees and immigrants at least a little bit, because of how the story removes their ‘otherness’ and paints them just as people – just like any of us, while still being culturally different, because that’s how it’s supposed to be. The Vela shows how refugees live, or rather wait, to live. It shows how hard it is to get through the line if you’re just a small person, unlucky to have been born in a place that’s dying. It also shows the unrelenting, thankless work of people who choose to stay in bad circumstances just to they could save more refugees, knowing full well they won’t be able to save themselves, or that they are risking their lives daily. There’s no romance in it – it’s not swashbuckling heroism, it’s just silent strength and determination.The Vela is great for helping understand refugee crises, what they mean socially, culturally and morally. Not only does it paint an accurate, in my opinion, picture of a refugee crisis, but it does so in a way full of empathy. Click To Tweet
But it’s not only that – The Vela walks the reader through all sorts of tough moral questions, for example, who should get to go and who should have to stay? Does it work like that? Should it? Do the children of the guilty ones have to be considered guilty as well? Doesn’t judging make you the guilty one? And not only those. I’m sure that if you read it, you will find many new questions that I didn’t even find, because it’s one of those stories that touch you personally, and every reader probably finds something very different in it. It’s crucial for books like these to raise tough questions about refugee crises and the moral dilemmas behind them.
Okay, so you might have picked up on the fact that I flat out loved The Vela, yes? Despite having written a longer review than usual, I still feel like I have not said so many things. But that’s good!! Because now you get to pick up the book and experience it for yourself. It’s quite long, it’s jam-packed with stuff happening one straight after the other, it tackles tough questions and never skips a beat. I think you will love it, or at the very least like it. It’s something special. Read it!!
I thank the publisher for giving me a free copy of the book in exchange to my honest opinion. Receiving the book for free does not affect my opinion.
Naturally, a book like this will have triggers. They include
Other Books You Might Like
Well, of course the first book I am going to suggest you to read that’s similar to The Vela, is An Unkindness of Ghosts by one of the authors of The Vela, Rivers Solomon. I absolutely loved it, and you can read the full review here. Then, there were some similar themes in Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves, but the direction and the feel of the book isn’t quite like it. However, if you liked it, you will definitely enjoy The Vela. And of course, I have to mention All Systems Red, AKA Murderbot Diaries #1, review here – there’s a lot of intersections here – a non-binary main character, themes of discrimination and not having a place to call a home, and just the kind of work Murderbot does for a living. All of these books were amazing, so The Vela is in good company.
Have you read anything even remotely as diverse in scifi than The Vela? If yes, please let me know in the comments! And are you going to be checking out The Vela as well?
I’m Evelina and I blog about books that made an impression on me. I love middle grade, women’s, scifi and some literary too.