The solar system is dying. A ship of refugees has disappeared en route from Eratos to Khayyam. And a hardbitten mercenary – once a refugee herself – together with the privileged child of an Inner System president are the odd couple tasked with bringing The Vela safely home…
Asala Sikou saved the life of possibly the most-hated person in the system, General Cynwrig. She agreed to take President Ekrem’s contract to find The Vela. Now she needs to get back out to Hypatia to confront her past and complete her new mission. Most ships would plot a route based on planetary orbits, slingshotting their way on gravity assists to cross the enormous emptiness of space.
Fuel was expensive, physics was free. Missed your flight? No problem, there’d be another in 8 years.
…or 17 years, in the case of Hypatia.
But when you’re a freelance special ops hotshot on a secret mission for the President of Khayyam, your expense account lets you take shortcuts. We find Asala taking ownership of her sexy (so sexy) rental spaceship. If you’re rich or important, you don’t need to wait for launch windows or freeze to death in the outer system. You can go wherever the hell you like, whenever the hell you want.
But not, sadly, with whoever you want. Asala is saddled with bumbling naïf Niko and – SURPRISE! – General Cynwrig. Asala is such a professional; just the idea of being packed in a confined space with two such incompatible people gives me the heebie-jeebies.
The conflicts begin almost as soon as the hatch closes. Irritated by a lack of dessert options on meal station, Cynwrig begins needling first Asala and then Niko. It goes without saying that Asala is equipped to deal with a smug racist, but I found my heart swelling with pride for Niko’s less-practiced but carefully-crafted retaliation.
Because Niko has been watching the videos streamed from The Vela by acclaimed scientist Uzochi Ryouta. Hats off to Niko for rubbing Cynwrig’s nose in this, but hats off also to Becky Chambers: the refugees’ video interviews are interspersed with the bickering travellers for the rest of the episode, and they’re brilliant.
We get snapshots of life on Eratos, and of life failing on Eratos as Ryouta attempts to win empathy from the untouched Inner system planets. She makes a heart-breaking appeal for a collaborative approach to what could be the end of the human race.
“One day, we’ll all be refugees”
I was crying for Eratos before I knew it (yes, literally, thank you Ms Chambers; your record for provoking an abrupt need for tissues remains untarnished). I’m an absolute mess for this sort of thing. Give me a narrative in interview format and I hear the words spoken in my head, the character leaping to vocal life with a hotline to my heart.
“I figure all people suffer in pretty much the same way”
A series centring on a refugee crisis was always going to cut close to the bone; Becky Chambers comes out swinging in her first episode and if your feelings don’t reel from it, then you can go sit in the corner with General Cynwrig and think hard about your attitudes.
“We are all at war. Time is our enemy, and resources are the only weapon we have.”
I love that Becky Chambers doesn’t let this become a one-sided debate though. Cynwrig is given opportunities to get her point of view across… not that understanding her convictions made her attitudes more palatable to me. She seems to combine a short-sighted naïveté (…surely Gan-De will freeze before the inner planets?) with a self-centred lack of compassion that makes my blood boil. She cares first and only about Gan-De: the rest of humanity can die while the Gandesians take the time to figure out how to deal with the apocalypse (and presumably so Gan-De can capitalise on any advances made by those who died before them). She simply can’t wrap her head around the idea that maybe we can solve it if we work together.
In case you’d missed it, The Vela is unapologetically SJW space opera and I am here for every page of it. I expected nothing less than awesome from this author line-up; two episodes in, I’m ready to relax and enjoy the ride.
I say relax.
I’m pretty sure this is going to be one hell of a rollercoaster.
I’ve checked my straps.
Let’s do this.
I was sent an advance copy of The Vela in exchange for honest reviews ahead of release, but I’d already subscribed to it because oh my goodness this is so clearly my jam. Not sure where that leaves me with the new UK laws on declaring interests? No, me either.
The Vela is now available at https://www.serialbox.com/serials/the-vela