The Stars Are Legion, by Kameron Hurley
Kameron Hurley does not write pretty stories. But they are pretty darned amazing.
Her space opera, The Stars Are Legion, is somewhat easy to summarize: in a system of decaying worldships known as the Legion, a struggle is underway to take control of the hostile world of Mokshi – the only ship to have broken away from the Legion in a failed bid for freedom. Warring families from the other powerful worldships of Katazyrna and Bhavaja strategize, bludgeon, betray and plot for supremacy, but it is only when warrior Zan and her motley collection of companions undergoes an epic journey through the stronghold of an ascendant world in order to save Jayd, the royal sister bartered to the opposition family, that we learn what really is at stake for the Katazyrna, the Bahavaja, and indeed, the entire Legion.
While that summary is completely true, it also is absolutely misleading. Well, not misleading, but incredibly inadequate for the tale that Ms. Hurley weaves.
As with Ms. Hurley’s other novels – the Bel Dame Apocrypha (God’s War, Infidel, Rapture) and the Worldbreaker Saga (The Mirror Empire, Empire Ascendant, The Broken Heavens) – you cannot divest her stories from the powerful worlds that she creates. It is imperative that one grasp her characters’ realms in order to have even a modicum of understanding of the perils they face and the obstacles they must overcome.
But these worlds which Ms. Hurley builds are not simple, nor are they easy to embrace. The basic framework may be familiar, but the environment, the creatures, the very trappings of her worlds are bizarre and often uncomfortable. (Bioluminescent bugs, anyone? Multi-headed, multi-limbed witches, perhaps? Oozing, fibrous walls? Tentacles and pustules and bloat, and gaseous bodies and leaking flesh?) Plus, the ethos of her worlds, and the cultural attitudes, can run counter to our standard beliefs and comfortable assumptions, but without any kind of moralizing framework against which we might gain purchase. Kameron Hurley is not making any statements in building her worlds as she does, but that these worlds exist is a statement in and of itself.
For instance, in The Stars Are Legion, there are humans, but no men – this world is made up entirely of woman. Men simply do not exist, not in thought, word or deed. And yet, pregnancy is an expected condition, a part of their physiology that figures prominently in the world and in the novel. And those pregnancies (which can occur on a cycle, be delayed due to “treatments”, or controlled for political maneuvering) do not always – in fact, do not often – involve birthing children. Not complete ones, anyway. And while this may sound absurd or even off-putting to a reader, it is such a natural and accepted part of this world that one cannot question it (although it’s still possible – perhaps even expected – to find it off-putting).
There is no “anti-male” treatise being espoused in The Stars Are Legion. Nor are pregnancies in the novel any kind of statement of female empowerment or judgment on biological issue. There does not need to be. That the story exists is statement enough, for as powerful as Ms. Hurley’s worlds are, they merely mirror the dramatic impact of the stories that take place within them.
“Casamir’s pregnant,” I say.
“Yes,” Arankadash says. “It’s easy to tell.”
“You are blind to a good many things.” She raises her head from the thing in her arms. “It’s odd, isn’t it, that you are the only one not to become infused with a spark of life, here on this long journey?”
“Is it?” I ask. “How often do people get pregnant?”
“It depends on the will of the Lord,” she says. “When it needs something, it gets it from us.”
“How is there air to breathe?” Arankadash says. “It’s like that.”
“It sounds like we’re slaves to this ship,” I say.
“This world,” she says. “No. It gives us shelter and food. It shields us from the black horror of the abyss that lies in wait for us after death. It keeps us warm and protected. We are as much a part of the light as it is a part of us.”
I remember the great metal door that Casamir cracked open, and the Legion of worlds above, and the corridor of giant bodies whose purpose I hope I’ll never know.
No, this is all very wrong. If I were a god, this is not how I would create a world, by enslaving everything that lived in it. Or would I? I gaze up at the ceiling. The world is a living thing, yes, but it is more than just a collection of organs and flesh and fluid? Is it conscious? Sentient? Is the world a literal god, some creature that’s captured us the way Casamir’s captured those women in the cages? I imagine us circling the misty Core of the sun for generation after generation, locked in a battle not just with ourselves but with the terrible things growing around us and inside of us, tying us so closely to themselves that we cannot exist without them.
Pretty powerful stuff. And that barely touches the surface of what transpires in this incredible, strange, thought provoking book. I can’t even begin to describe it to you, I couldn’t do it justice. But I can urge you to read this book, if you feel open to it.
No, it’s not pretty. But yes, it is pretty darned amazing.