SF Novella of the Month, January 2022: Sisters of the Vast Black & Sisters of the Forsaken Stars

The #sfnovellaofthemonth for January 2022 is a double feature: Sisters of the Vast Black (Tordotcom, October 2019) and Sisters of the Forsaken Stars (Tordotcom, February 2022) by Lina Rather. I requested an advance review copy of Sisters of the Forsaken Stars from the publisher via NetGalley on a whim, not realizing until after receiving the ebook that it was the second in a series. Thankfully, my local public library had a copy of Sisters of the Vast Black, and so here we are.

I have a soft spot for stories that engage with the tensions one so often encounters in the intersections of religious faith, moral requirements, obligations to institutions, and personal dreams, desires, beliefs, and aspirations. Sisters of the Vast Black—the story of a small group of spacefaring nuns who inhabit a fascinating—if slightly gross—living spaceship—is a beautiful example of one way to explore this tension without ultimately selecting a one-size-fits-all resolution. This little book has many fine points, and one of its finest is the delicacy with which it shows that different paths are right for different people.

If much of Sisters of the Vast Black’s focus is largely on individual choices, Sisters of the Forsaken Stars zooms out to place more consideration on the consequences choices made by both individuals and groups can have not only on those groups and individuals but on the futures of whole societies. The stakes grow ever greater for these spacefaring nuns and all the people they encounter, but Rather’s writing remains eloquently personal.

There are a lot of reasons I would recommend these novellas. Both of them are beautiful, written in clear, unfussy prose that largely stays out of the story’s way without fading into a dull backdrop. Both are thematically engaging, their particular combination of faith and queerness making for truly captivating reads. Both books are deeply moving—especially, at least for me, the second—and both are the kind of thought-provoking that will keep readers thinking long after the last page is turned.

I don’t know if there will be more books in this series, but I devoutly hope so. I’ll be eagerly looking out for whatever Lina Rather publishes next.

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