Orphan, refugee, and soldier-for-hire Asala Sikou doesn’t think too much about the end of civilization. Her system’s star is dying, and the only person she can afford to look out for is herself. When a ship called The Vela vanishes during what was supposed to be a flashy rescue mission, a reluctant Asala is hired to team up with Niko, the child of a wealthy inner planet’s president, to find it and the outer system refugees on board. But this is no ordinary rescue mission; The Vela holds a secret that places the fate of the universe in the balance, and forces Asala to decide—in a dying world where good and evil are far from black and white, who deserves to survive?
When the chance came up to read a story co-written by such amazing SF writers as S.L. Huang, Becky Chambers, Rivers Solomon, and Yoon Ha Lee, I think I reacted the way any sane person would — jumping at the opportunity with an overexcited shriek. A very reserved and distinguished shriek, of course.
I have no regrets. I loved the bones of this one.
The Vela is a story put together by the above writers (seriously, how insane is that cast?) and the people over at Serial Box. For those unfamiliar with Serial Box, they publish their stories like episodes of a TV Show: releasing new “episodes” on a regular schedule, which are grouped together into “seasons”. For The Vela, each successive episode is written by a different author.
In a nutshell, The Vela is about a decades-long refugee crisis in a dying solar system. The inner planets have mined the sun for hydrogen, and now that the star is dying, the outer-system planets are paying the price. Their people try to flee to the more resource-rich inner planets to survive, but rather than admit responsibility, these planets are shutting their borders. With the exception of a few politically-motivated publicity stunts, of course.
And that’s where Asala and Niko come in. One is a outer-ring sniper, and the other the child of an inner planet’s president. Together, they’re tasked with finding a ship that has gone missing following a rescue mission. Of course, they stumble into a whole lot of complications and conspiracies along the way.
The Serial Box format wasn’t something I’d tried before, but it was really interesting getting so many different perspectives on the same characters. Each of the authors brought something different to the table, resulting in a story that’s almost like a cocktail of tragedy, hope, and injustice.
Admittedly, it was slightly jarring at first to jump from style to style. Seeing the same characters written in slightly different ways felt a little Uncanny Valley at times, but this was something that I quickly got used to, and even grew to like. Having such a range of perspectives made me feel like I knew the characters in a deeper and more nuanced way.
I loved Asala and Niko. Their strength, their vulnerabilities, their rage at the injustices of their world…
I always relate to Becky Chambers’ characters on a visceral level, but in The Vela it’s almost as though this improbably talented band of authors has weaponised that relatability. They made me smile, made me nervous, made me rage…
Made me cry.
I love SF stories that have parallels to our own world, and this definitely falls into that category. It’s easy to dismiss some stories as “just fiction“, but here the parallels are too vivid to be ignored. It’s powerful stuff, and it’s worrying. As it should be.
The Vela touches on so many things: loss of culture, duty of help, greed over collective good, resource hoarding, isolationism, the excuses we make to avoid helping the people who need it… There’s too many for me to list. This is an extremely relevant story, with some of the best representation I’ve ever seen. There are disabled, LGBT+, and non-binary characters, and none of them need to make excuses for their existence.
I wish I had been a fly on the wall when this was being written. I hope the authors get together to do a podcast interview or something, because I’d really love to hear their thoughts on this world they’ve all been a part of.
I adored this story. It’s not perfect, and maybe the pacing is a little rough at some points, but I loved it. And by the looks of the ending, there might just be a second season. I can’t wait.
If you’re looking for a story with awesome, badass, wholesome, and relatable characters exploring an injust world, then this is the story you’ve been waiting for.