Every week, The Thread checks in with booksellers around the country about their favorite books of the moment. This week, we spoke to Nialle Sylvan from The Haunted Bookshop in Iowa City, Iowa.
This premise may be familiar to some in the world of science fiction: Earth is gone. The last of civilization is on board a spaceship, hurtling through the darkness.
But Rivers Solomon has so much more at play in their debut novel.
“The first thing you notice is that this is not ‘Battlestar Galactica,’ it is not ‘Star Trek,’ it is not your father’s colony ship story,” says bookseller Nialle Sylvan. The ship at the center of the novel has “tragic similarities to the world as we actually know it … The society has resorted to slavery. The social class distinctions are so intense that there are different languages spoken inside the ship.”
The book follows Aster, who “has grown up with the mentorship of a medical professional, who is also this sort of fluid character, moving between ranks of society.” Aster can do what most can’t: move around the ship. They use their medical training as a pass to navigate the strict social structure.
Aster is on a personal quest to find out the truth about their mother, who they’ve been told died by suicide. At the same time, the ship is facing debilitating disrepair and a fatal disease affecting those at the top.
“Aster’s keen to find out what their mother’s discovery is about this, which is encoded in some notebooks, and what is Aster’s own purpose … What does a trans, neuro-different person inherit and pass on in a lineage of mothers?”
Sylvan said Solomon’s work earns comparisons to some of the biggest names in literature: Octavia Butler, Colson Whitehead, and even the lyricism of Toni Morrison.