Can you think of any books that entirely populated by women? No? Well, now you’ll be able to name one. Kameron Hurley’s first stand-alone novel, The Stars are Legion, coming from Saga Press in the US and Angry Robot in the UK, flies in the face of the male-dominated trends of most science fiction. Here is a military space opera, written by a woman and featuring only women. Not only does this work, you’ll find yourself blown away by a number of increasingly bizarre ideas and concepts in the book, but never by the lack of men.
My exposure to Hurley going into The Stars are Legion was not from her previous fiction series, but from her collection of essays, The Geek Feminist Revolution. There I learned that this was a woman after my own heart, someone who wanted to challenge boundaries while being a firmly entrenched fan of the genre – a genre which has often played too much into the hands of the boys’ club. Having read her feminist essays, I was pleased to find that The Stars are Legion in no way disappointed with its social conscience credentials. Whiny fanboys might cry ‘Social Justice Warrior’, but I simply cried ‘Thank fuck!’
‘What happened to the Mokshi?’
The novel is military SF, space opera, and a mystery all mixed together. If it weren’t for the fact that all of the characters are women, it could easily read as golden age science fiction. Weird and wonderful, The Stars are Legion keeps readers guessing throughout while managing to hold their interest.
When Zan wakes up, she cannot remember anything. With no idea who she should trust, she must navigate a precarious political situation. Worlds are at war with one another and racing against the clock – they want power over each other while also needing to save themselves from their dying worlds. Readers are pulled along at speed, picking up clues and unravelling the mystery along with Zan as she tries to save the entire Legion.
‘It’s just another mystery piled on top of another mystery.’
For the most part, the mystery element works. It drops the reader into the deep-end in a way that shouldn’t put off less well-seasoned scifi fans. In the early stages of the book, the deliberate withholding of information from the reader occasionally leads to some clunky phrasing with the character of Jayd talking around the issues within her own p.o.v. sections. But this decreases as you read on and is a minor quibble, all things considered.
As the story builds, the mystery deepens. This works well, with each additional twist in the plot aligning with further world building. Unlike many speculative fiction mysteries I’ve read (or seen) over the years, The Stars are Legion thankfully avoids the most common flaw – while the world and narrative becomes more complex as we go on, we also get more answers. This is no Lost. You don’t constantly feel confused, forever having more questions than you began with, but you do still have more than enough overall questions to drive the reader to the end of the book.
‘Much of the task I’ve been given since I woke is sorting out the truth from the lies, the real from the rhetoric.’
With the depressing political situation across the globe at the moment, The Stars are Legion feels very timely. It is the story of a society that has broken down so much they no longer know what it is they were working towards to begin with. The societal degradation is reflected by the dying worlds on which they live. But despite this seeming hopelessness – again reflected in Zan’s repeated struggles to achieve her goal, trying and failing only to start all over again – never strips the characters of their hope. They will not stop hoping for a better future, a world that is thriving, people who are healthy and happy. Despite betrayals and innumerable hardships, our protagonists never give up.
‘… For several long minutes, we are a group of four women screaming at the top our lungs in the middle of a buzzing bog.’
There’s no denying that this is a weird book. Hurley takes the reader well outside of our ordinary comfort zones and indulges in the bizarre. But after reading countless stories that feel practically interchangeable, this weirdness is welcome. The pacing occasionally falters, but overall I’d recommend The Stars are Legion to any SF fans looking to read something fast, fun, and one of a kind.
Verdict: Not for the casual fan of SF despite its page-turning qualities. The Stars are Legion presents an epic war of families, generations, and worlds amongst an intriguingly unique fictional setting.
Be sure to check out my interview with Kameron for Breaking the Glass Slipper out tomorrow.
The Stars are Legion is published on the 9th of February, 2017.