This wasn’t bad, but it could have been so much better. I think I just really don’t gel with this author. I read a short story from her that one year I voted for the Hugos and it turned me off so hard from her stuff. She seemed like the kind of author who was more interested in being artsy and impressive than in telling a good story. Those kinds of authors and I usually butt heads. So when this book was chosen for December’s Illumicrate, I almost skipped my first box (I try to give all the authors a go, otherwise what’s the point of a subscription box). But strong reviews persuaded me to give her stuff one more chance. And like I said, I didn’t hate it. It just left me wanting.
The premise here is that in some far future timeline, potentially in another galaxy or universe, who knows (maybe not even the author!), A.I. has advanced enough to become truly sapient, and A.I.s (in this instance A.I. ships) are considered real people and members of families, and can even marry and legally have children. Our main characters are Xích Si (a scavenger captured by pirates) and Rice Fish (a sentient ship, the widow of the Red Scholar, who was leader of the Red Banner pirates). Rice Fish offers to marry Xích Si for protection in exchange for her help proving who killed her wife (because she’s good at technology? I would argue it’s more important that she’s an outsider, but this is never mentioned). The fate of the pirate consortium seems to be at stake. There’s lots of weird pirate politics and Xích Si is very conflicted about liking Rice Fish and feeling safe, between understanding that these people she’s getting to know regularly perform violence and steal at best, kill at worst, innocent people to maintain their own safety and wealth.
This book needed to be at least two hundred pages longer. Everything, from the worldbuilding to the character relationships, needed more development and explanation. The best way I can describe this author’s style is that it’s a painting in word form. We get the surface level version of everything, the visual, and then you as the reader seem to be responsible for extrapolating the rest, just as if you were looking at a piece of art. How does the technology work? Do they have FTL? What is the overlay (seriously, could you have even tried to explain this, author?) We get no wider context for the universe this takes place in, which I guess is fine, but I like that context. I’m not usually satisfied by sci-fi that holds off the big picture.
The real killer for me was the relationships, though, and in particular the romance between the two main characters. This book takes place over the span of a month, and after basically a week, the two are in love with each other, after like, what, four interactions?? And barely speaking to one another. At least that we see. We do not see them fall in love, and I barely got an inkling of why they were attracted to each other, even by the end. Because of that, this read perilously close to instalove. The sci-fi pirate plot was definitely the strongest element in the book, but even that could have been expanded. We don’t see any of the stuff I wanted to see, including important moments where characters change their minds or make decisions. Again, it’s assumed.
And lastly, there are some cultural considerations to be made in any sci-fi or fantasy book because other cultures are foreign, even made up ones, and especially here, with a culture that seems to be based on Vietnamese culture. Still, there is only so much leeway you can be expected to give. This book was written in English for an English-speaking audience, so when characters go from calling each other “Big Sis” and “Little Sis” one second to fucking each other the next, I’m gonna get uncomfortable. The least this author could have done is written those terms in Vietnamese so I’m not getting weird incest vibes. That, or spend A LOT more time explaining the cultural mores of this world.
So yeah, this author is not for me, but at least I know that definitively now! It’s a shame, though, because some of the ideas she was working with were really interesting. The way she used them in her story, though, just made me frustrated, so I will be moving on!
[2.5 stars, rounded up]