There’s a new series about to start over at Serial Box, and oh my word I’m so excited I could dance (I don’t dance. Ever). A line-up of the best new SF authors writing political space opera? Can I get a HELL YES? And it gets better – they let me have a sneak peek, so I can give you the lowdown on the first episode…
S L Huang, Rivers Solomon, Yoon Ha Lee and Becky Chambers.
The system is dying. The sun is failing, its hydrogen reserves harvested beyond replenishment. The Vela is climate apocalypse writ large: corporate greed and privileged convenience will be the death of everyone.
But nobody will die quickly.
A leisurely extinction
The colony on Samos has been gone for a decade. The Vela holds the last 2000 survivors of dying Eratos. The planet of Hypatia will be next, but planetary orbits mean it’s only viable to ship out once every 17 years – and only as far as Gan-De, where the military dictator refuses to admit them, prepared to let them die in orbital camps that have been full for over 34 years.
Nobody can reach the temporary haven of the Inner System without a hop through Gan-De. Warm, affluent Khayyam has traditionally wrung its hands but done no more to help. Until now. Now, a president seeking re-election has sent The Vela to win hearts and minds. It will bring back Eratosi politicians and celebrity scientists, and show that the human race can survive this self-induced apocalypse with compassion and collaboration.
But The Vela has gone missing off Hypatia…
Real talk: The Vela nearly lost me in its opening sentence (I am 100% not interested in milSF and wasn’t expecting it as a starting point). Still, there was no way I was turning my back on my most anticipated Serial Box outing yet without giving it at least an episode. The author line-up alone has had me salivating for months, and the description promised more juicy reading than hard-boiled assassins and gun designations.
…and sure enough, by the time I was a quarter of the way into A Leisurely Extinction, I was hooked.
The Vela is built on a careful edifice of simmering outrage and toxic politics, but it’s designed – at least in this first outing – like a high-octane action movie. The set-up is rapid but effective, giving us a plot for this first episode even as it deftly delivers relationships, intrigues and conflicts to usher in the rest of the season. The characters are recognisable archetypes, but there’s hints of more as they navigate explosive situations designed to show off their skills and manouever them into position.
The good guys? A smarmy president (no, I don’t expect him to stay in the ‘good guy’ box, either), who needs his hand-picked team to go find The Vela and secure his political future. His liberal child Niko, a geeky, clumsy, naive data ops agent desperate for a chance in the field to do good and save lives. And Asala, a special ops freelancer from Hypatia – icily competent, ruthlessly efficient, her heart long-armoured against her planet’s plight (not to mention irritating juniors like Niko). Asala and Niko are the sort of odd couple pairing blockbusters are made of.
In the antagonist corner we have the Gandesian general with her creepy AI spider bots and her deliberate uncaring racism. Of course she’ll find herself relying on a despised Hypatian refugee for her survival, setting up a relationship of antagonistic competence and a professionalism as glacial as the Outer System. Will she have her perspective changed? Will she be a pivotal villain, happy to kill strangers – and perhaps allies? – under the banner of defending her people?
As the episode gathers pace, there’s multiple shadowy agendas in play: somebody wants to assassinate General Cynwrig. President Ekrem is sending Niko to keep an eye on Asala (which is hilarious; like Niko could do anything if Asala went off-task), but is clearly keeping secrets from them as well. Niko is a little too jumpy, suggesting they have links to the would-be assassins or possibly to people smugglers. As for Asala? Asala is just doing her job, right? Yeah, right.
Some of the choices are very familiar, lulling us into a false sense of security with easily-digestible action content. But there’s so many ripples suggesting hidden depths and dangerous undertows. And there’s Rivers Solomon and Yoon Ha Lee in the wings ready to explore them…
Add in a meltingly hot final scene nod to Terminator and little grace notes of suppressed memory and Hypatian poetry, and I’d long forgotten any qualms about The Vela being military SF. It’s promising to be everything I hoped and more.
A relationship will be forged. History will be confronted. Trust will be betrayed (surely). And as for that haunting final line about family: just whose blood ties will hold strong, and – with Becky Chambers picking up the reins next week – can we expect found family to show that love and loyalty can run thicker than blood?
I can’t wait to find out.
I was offered an advance copy of The Vela in exchange for honest reviews (which is why I can post this in advance), although I’d already subscribed to it because oh my goodness this is so clearly my jam.
The Vela launches on March 6th at https://www.serialbox.com/serials/the-vela