The Stars are Legion
By: Kameron Hurley
Published: February 7, 2017 by Saga Press
Page Count: 380 pages; hardcover
The Rundown: “Somewhere on the outer edge of the universe, a mass of decaying world-ships known as the Legion is traveling in the seams between the stars. For generations, a war for control of the Legion has been waged, with no clear resolution. As worlds continue to die, a desperate plan is put into motion. Zan wakes with no memory, prisoner of a people who say they are her family. She is told she is their salvation—the only person capable of boarding the Mokshi, a world-ship with the power to save the Legion. But Zan’s new family is not the only one desperate to gain control of the prized ship. Zan finds she must choose sides in a genocidal campaign that will take her from the edges of the Legion’s gravity well to the very belly of the world. Zan will soon learn that she carries the seeds of the Legion’s destruction—and its possible salvation. But can she and her ragtag band of followers survive the horrors of the Legion and its people long enough to deliver it?”
Don’t Get Strung Out by the Way I Look: The cover depicts the view from one planet rising over another, while two small spaceships race between them. It’s beautiful, but it raises the question: if these planets are this close, shouldn’t they crash into each other? I mean, they’re close enough to fall into each others’ gravity wells. If you think about it, the Legion shouldn’t be possible.
What a Wonderful World: The world-ships in the Legion are living, fleshy beings with tentacles coming out of their surfaces. Unfortunately, they are growing old, and are developing cancers on their surfaces from the exposure to cosmic radiation. The inhabitants feel their worlds’ sickness, and many are falling ill and dying themselves. Their only hope for survival is the plundering of healthy tissue from better worlds; as a result, different planets in the Legion are turning against each other and engaging in armed conflict. Of course, flesh grafts are only a stopgap measure; the only real hope is for someone to birth a new world.
The Good Guy: Zan, who suffers from amnesia, is a bit of a cipher. She’s told that she’s the daughter of Lord Katazyrna, and has been charged with retaking the rogue planet Mokshi. She recognizes that this is a lie, yet serves the Katazyrnas without question. It’s not clear precisely why she does this, but loyalty—and sexual attraction—to Jayd Katazyrna are implied to be a part. After she is unceremoniously dumped in the planet’s recycler, she goes on a quest to return to Jayd, despite warnings that Jayd has done something terrible in the past.
The Bad Guy: The central antagonist is Rasida, also known as Lord Bhavaja, the ruler of an enemy world that is also interested in invading the Mokshi. Jayd is pregnant with something that Rasida desperately needs, and Rasida is willing to marry her to get it. Throughout the novel, the two women engage in a battle of wills, each one trying to gain the upper hand and save her world.
The Love Interest: Several of the novel’s chapters are told from Jayd’s point of view. Jayd thinks of herself as a ruthless, almost monstrous person, and obliquely references something horrible that she did in the past. She’s right: she is a terrible person. However, the reader only learns of her vile deeds after the fact; nothing is shown firsthand. Because her crimes are not immediate, they have less of an impact on the reader. What ends up happening is you have someone whom we’re constantly told is horrible, but who spends most of the story moping around feeling sorry for herself.
A+: So you know how the world-ships are alive? Well, not only are they alive; they are fucking disgusting. Everything is made of flesh and sinews and ligaments. Liquid oozes from the fleshy walls. At one point, Zan encounters a warm sea made of some sort of thick secretion. The human characters are equally disgusting, creating tables covered in human skin and cutting chunks of their flesh out as a form of blood oath. Furthermore, the characters—all female—reproduce via parthenogenesis. However, most people don’t give birth to children, instead growing cogs and doodads in their wombs which help the world to function. There’s something deeply unsettling about randomly getting pregnant with something which you do not wish to give birth to. So, add subtle pro-choice arguments into the mix to this novel’s positive attributes.
F-: Zan’s amnesia. Having a story where the character wakes up not knowing who they are and then having them thrown into a conflict that they don’t understand makes the book feel like a video game. As it was, I couldn’t figure out why Zan cared at all about what happens to Jayd and the rest of the Katazyrnas. She knows nothing about them except that they are lying to and manipulating her. Why, then, does she struggle to return to them? Furthermore, wouldn’t Zan’s relationship with Jayd be more meaningful if she actually remembered it? As a result of this, it was difficult, to feel engaged in anything that happened before Zan was thrown in the recycler.
Does it Represent…
Women: Every single character in the story is female. Men are not so much absent as nonexistent: since the humans give birth via parthenogenesis to things the world needs, there is no need for male humans. Because there’s a reason for everyone to be female, The Stars are Legion feels less political than a book like Ancillary Justice, where people are biologically male or female, but gender is simply not acknowledged.
People of Color: Zan and the Katazyrnas are described as “tawny skinned,” whatever that means.
LGBT People: Since all the people that exist in the Legion are female, any romance that occurs must be a lesbian relationship. There’s a love triangle between Zan, Jayd, and Jayd’s wife, Rasida. I am curious, though, that if everyone reproduces by parthenogenesis, why marriage evolved as a social institution.
The Disabled: Zan’s friend Sabida gets her tongue cut out. Her other friend, Das Muni, is a mutant. Her strange appearance leads other characters to attack her, and is presented as the reason she was thrown in the recycler.
Memorable Quote: “What is love anyway but a hunger no meal can satisfy?”
Recommended for: People who like gross-out fiction.
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars