I have read a few books lately, of which this is one, that have made me reflect very seriously on how good my life has been and how undeserved that goodness is. It’s a cliché to say I’m grateful in a world where we post selfies captioned #blessed, where we shamelessly flaunt our good fortune like it’s something we earned, or worse, something owed to us. For a while I’ve wondered what to do with the knowledge that my life is privileged in so many ways, and while I still wrestle with that question, I have come to the conclusion that for now, the best thing to do is to set myself aside and listen to others. Self-flagellation is still, after all, about the self. I want to get outside myself and my experiences and learn, as best I can, what it is like to be people who aren’t me. This is what I want my reading to do: grow my understanding of what it means to be human. I use the word “grow” deliberately, as this current moment feels to me like a time when some are trying to limit, shrink, and restrict the parameters of who is a worthwhile person and who is not. I would rather frame my world with more generous proportions. I would rather make room.
That last paragraph had a lot of sentences beginning with “I.” Maybe I’m not so great at setting myself aside yet. But if I can make one more “I” statement: I’ll keep working on it.
An Unkindness of Ghosts is a science fiction novel unlike any I’ve ever read. It’s set on a massive ship in deep space with stratified levels separating different classes of inhabitants. Aster, a lowdecker, is essentially a slave, forced to work in the fields at the mercy (or lack thereof) of harsh, power-hungry overseers. The only bright spots in her life are her memories of her mother, a brilliant woman trapped like Aster in a low station, and the time she spends with her mentor, the Surgeon. As Aster starts to decode some of the notes her mother left before her death, she realizes she may have a chance to upset the entire social order of the ship. Of course, it’s not a simple matter to topple a regime that has sustained itself on the backs of human chattel for hundreds of years. Some of the setbacks Aster suffers devastated me. I felt them in my gut. So no, An Unkindness of Ghosts isn’t an easy read. I’m pretty sure it will haunt me. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The best science fiction illuminates a truth about our world by telling a story about another world, and Rivers Solomon is a master storyteller. Highly recommended.