Serial Box offers a very modern way to consume your fiction. Its app enables you to switch from reading on your phone/e-reader to audiobook at the press of a button, enabling you to read on the train, then continue with your story whilst you walking to the office/running in the gym/shopping for groceries. Stories for Serial Box are delivered in 40-minute-long chapters, again aiming to make them easily consumable during your daily commute.
Serial Box offered me a chance to read The Vela, a space opera set in a dying solar system. Here are five reasons why you should read it (or listen to it—or both!).
1. The Authors.
I mainly jumped at the chance to read The Vela because of its authors. Becky Chambers has written some of my favorite books of recent years. In 2015, I designated Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, my book of the year. Yoon Ha Lee, author of the critically acclaimed Ninefox Gambit, is another author who has been on my radar for a while. I haven’t had the time to read any of his work yet, but this seemed like the perfect opportunity to do so. Rivers Solomon and SL Huang, names that were new to me, complete this eclectic quadrumvirate. Their novels, Unkindness of Ghosts and Zero Sum Game, both sound fascinating and on the strength of The Vela, I’ll be looking to pick them up soon.
2. The Characters.
The characters in The Vela are of the caliber of Chamber’s Wayfarers trilogy (of which Small Angry Planet, was the first) and they are what makes the story special.
The two main protagonists are both conflicted, flawed characters. Mercenary for hire, Asala Sikou, escaped from her dying planet as a child, leaving her family behind. She is now an excellent sharpshooter and a fighter with few parallels. As the novel opens, Asala is hired to protect the (military) leader of an insular planet. One that refuses to take any refugees from Asala’s homeworld.
Her employer, President Ekrem, leader of another planetary faction, sends Niko, his son, to work with Asala, but both Niko and Ekrem have a host of hidden reasons for keeping close to the mercenary. Ekrem’s next mission for Asala is to find The Vela, a ship filled with refugees from Asala’s homeworld. It has gone missing during its slow journey to safety. Keen to find word of her family, Asala feels she must take on this job, but at what cost?
The interplay between Asala and Niko over the course of the novel is excellent. The undulations of their relationship lays bare their motivations and loyalties. The Vela‘s other characters are very fine too. Leaders, Ekrem and General Cynwrig, are two heads of state with wildly different approaches, yet both can get the job done. The rest of the cast, as they enter and fall away, help build a complex secondary world, complete with loyalties and prejudices, with heroes, villains, and some that are neither or maybe both.
3. The Setting.
A dying Solar System. A Sun plundered of resources so that it is collapsing and can no longer sustain the planets that revolve around it. The wealthy planets closer to the sun, the ones who gained the most from reaping its resources, now keep refugees from the system’s outer fringes from claiming solace.
This is mass migration writ large. The politics of a resource-scarce system, with displaced populations and interplanetary conflict, are exquisitely realized. Similarly, the cobbled together, refugee-filled space station, Camp Ghala, is deeply evocative; it’s an off-world shanty town filled with the brave and the desperate.
4. The Action Sequences.
The story of The Vela is strongly character-based but that doesn’t mean it lacks action. Asala is a soldier of some skill, and the authors use this to good effect in a host of environments. There is a lot of kick-ass combat here that utilizes some very neat fictional future-tech.
The novel’s climactic action scenes are breathtaking, and once the book enters its final stages, it’s almost impossible to put down. It’s an intoxicating mix of high-octane action and human emotion.
5. The Real-World Parallels.
Regular readers of my 5 Reasons posts will know that I love my SF to have real-world parallels. This is certainly the case in The Vela. It’s arguably a little heavy handed. The plight of The Vela‘s refugees is too bold to be subtext. The Vela examines the perils of unchecked resource plundering, economic colonialism, and the First World’s treatment of refugees.
It offers the refugees’ point of view, elevating them beyond statistics and “problem” stories that permeate the media. The Vela narrates the human stories of those dispossessed, often through no fault of their own, and usually, as a result of policies of the rich and powerful. It demonstrates the level of commitment and heartache required to leave everything you know behind, to uproot family and culture, in the hope of a better, uncertain future.
The stories told in The Vela, though fictional, help dispel the myth that refugees are moving because they are looking for an easy life. It promotes the idea that they come because they have no other choice. They are a group looking to contribute, looking to build themselves something we all want: a stable, safe environment in which to live with their families.
The Vela is a story told using Serial Box’s modern storytelling app. It’s a single narrative wrought by four hugely talented authors that tells of the refugee experience. Driven by great characters with conflicted loyalties, The Vela is a political tale peppered with high-quality action that entertains from start to finish.
Disclosure: I received a digital copy of The Vela in order to write this review.