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The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley
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The Stars Are Legion

by Kameron Hurley

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Strange book with wombs, no male characters, travel through levels of organic world with mutants, giving birth to a new world litterally, ( )
  mgriel | May 26, 2017 |
At the outer universe are a series of world ships that are quickly falling apart and dying due to a cancerous growth. On one of these worlds, the Katazyrna, Zan awakes with no memory of who she is only that she is a prisoner of sorts, but also is a savior as she keeps going into the Mokshi, a world that is believed to be able to leave the Legion and start anew. Jayd tells her this and Zan feels an attraction to her but also knows that she can't completely trust her. It seems if she wants her memories back she must take the Mokshi for that is where her memories are. She's very limited to where she can go on the world ship and with whom she can talk to. When Sabita talks to her Sabita gets into trouble with Jayd. The ship is a living thing that pulses and has creatures inside it that can break down and need to be repaired. To leave the ship you spray on a suit to go to the docking bay and an opening is created that sucks you out into space once you are on a high-tech version of a space motorcycle.

Anat is the Lord of Katazyrna and the rest are considered her daughters, though some have a rank if they fight. Zan was found around the Mokshi area when Jayd led a group of there to try to take it and failed. Jayd brought her back to try to get her to do what no other sister has been able to do. Anat is a very impatient woman and a bit of a crazy dictator and she is fighting the Bhavajas the only other powerful group left in the Legion. They think Bhavajas are not as strong as the Katazyrna, but their leader Rasida is the creator of worlds, meaning her womb is special. The women (there are no men in this book) all get pregnant and give birth to whatever the world needs. Rarely is that a child. And Jayd is pregnant with one. Rasida wants to marry Jayd and possess her. Jayd seeks to end the war by joining the two worlds with their marriage and then she can get what she needs from Rasida and take the metal arm that Anat wears on her arm and take the Mokshi with it. It's the only way to take Mokshi. But she's the only one who knows that. Zan doesn't remember and she can't tell Zan the plan because she might remember the truth and the truth is pretty ugly and Zan might not go along with the plan if she remembers everything so she just tells her that she will bring her the world. What she doesn't count on is Rasida being as bad as Anat and harder to manipulate.

The Bhavajas double cross the Katazyrnas and attack the wedding party on the way back to their world while they are also attacking their world. Jayd is unaware of this. She was given something to put her to sleep and she woke up in Bhavja when Rasida returns with Anat's arm. Zan, meanwhile survives the space onslaught only to go down at the last stand on the ship. All the bodies are thrown in the recycler. The recycler is many levels down and has quite a few large scary creatures that devour the bodies that are sent there. Zan is still alive, though badly wounded. She meets up with an old woman who has been living there for who knows how long named Das Muni. After she heals up enough she vows to get out of there no matter that Das Muni says that there is no way out. Eventually, they come across a young woman who has climbed down a rope to scavenge named Casamir who comes from a tribe of engineers. They believe Zan to be crazy when she tells them about her world in space and all the things that go along with it. Casamir agrees to take Zan to the next level though because as an engineer she must take a trek and bring something back and this is a good time to do it.

While Zan goes on her long trek to try to get back to her world she meets many interesting women who help her and runs into lots of trouble. Jayd, meanwhile, will wonder if she can trust the resistance movement that is growing on Katazyrna and on Bhavja and Sabita who has managed to survive and is given to her as a maid. This is an incredible book with such a creative world structure and I'm not just talking about the fact that it only has women in it. There's the world of the Legion in space and the world of the ground and both are so drastically different and neither knows of the other and yet both are dying. Will everyone make it out alive? Will the Mokshi be the saving grace it's supposed to be? Will Zan get her memories back? You'll have to read it to find out and it is definitely worth reading.

Quotes

There is nothing I fear more than someone without memory. A person without memory is free to do anything she likes.-Lord Mokshi, Annals of the Legion

-Kameron Hurley (The Stars Are Legion p 3)

The common people don’t want war. Better to broker for peace, and break it, so they are willing to fight for what they have lost, than pretend that spilling cold blood will warm weary hearts.-Lord Mokshi, Annals of the Legion

-Kameron Hurley (The Stars Are Legion p 72)

The heart is a vital organ. Control the heart and you control the flesh it feeds. We all have weaknesses. The heart is mine. Once you have the heart take the head.- Lord Mokshi, Annals of the Legion

-Kameron Hurley (The Stars Are Legion p 79, 89)

I don’t know why desire has to be so complicated. I know what I need and what I want, and there is a place where those two things intersect, but it is a dangerous place. I want it nonetheless.

-Kameron Hurley (The Stars Are Legion p 86)

True power is the ability to make those who fear you desperate to love you.-Lord Mokshi, Annals of the Legion

-Kameron Hurley (The Stars Are Legion p 114)

What is love anyway but a hunger than no meal can satisfy.

-Kameron Hurley (The Stars Are Legion p 115)

Be careful what you pretend to be. It’s far too easy to become what you pretend.- Lord Mokshi, Annals of the Legion

-Kameron Hurley (The Stars Are Legion p 199)

When you understand what the world is, you have two choices: Become a part of that world and perpetuate that system forever and ever, unto the next generation. Or fight it, and break it, and build something new. The former is safer, and easier. The latter is scarier, because who is to say what you build will be any better.

-Kameron Hurley (The Stars Are Legion p 204)

The secret to leadership is not to be a particularly intelligent person. It is to surround oneself with those far smarter than oneself, and try not to kill them.-Lord Mokshi, Annals of the Legion

-Kameron Hurley (The Stars Are Legion p 256)

If you cannot kill what you love, make best friends with it.- Lord Mokshi, Annals of the Legion

-Kameron Hurley (The Stars Are Legion p 333) ( )
  nicolewbrown | Mar 27, 2017 |
I enjoyed this more than expected. It took a long while to get a coherent story going, and even then it wasn't particularly gripping, but there was a rather good secion in the middle of a journey through the organic planet's underworld which I liked. Sort of a cross between Neal Asher's splatterpunk Polity and the dream-like world of Jeff VanderMeer's [Veniss Underground]. The ending was underwhelming, though. ( )
  SChant | Mar 9, 2017 |
Disclosure: I received this book as a Review Copy. Some people think this may bias a reviewer so I am making sure to put this information up front. I don't think it biases my reviews, but I'll let others be the judge of that.

Some books are simply difficult to review. The Stars Are Legion is one of those books. This is not due to any deficiency in the book, but rather because, to a certain extent, even discussing what makes this book so very good will ruin the reading experience for someone. This is a book with secrets inside of secrets, and following along as the characters uncover the answers to them is a significant part of what makes this book so fascinating, in large part because the answers both feel so naturally correct, and are so unexpected at the same time. This book is, in many ways, a masterpiece of misdirection and discovery packed into a gripping space opera complete with armies dueling in the coldness of space, monsters to evade, political intrigue, romance, betrayals, and revelations.

The central characters in the story are Zan and Jayd, ostensibly two lovers and co-conspirators working on a plan of sorts to take control of the Legion by conquering the world named Mokshi. The story is told from their perspectives, with chapters alternating between their respective viewpoints. The mystery in the story revolves mostly around exactly what that allegedly shared objective is, because at the start of the book Zan has lost her memory, and the only information she has is that provided to her by Jayd. This makes Zan something of a stand-in for the reader, as she has essentially exactly the same amount of information about the world as the reader does, but it also introduces an element of uncertainty, as neither Zan nor the reader can ever be sure that Jayd is actually telling them the truth. This uncertainty is compounded by the fact that Jayd assures Zan than it is better that she not remember her past, because when she remembers, she goes insane.

Hurley is an uncompromising writer who simply throws her readers into the story without much in the way of explanation, trusting that they will be able to figure out her world as the story moves along. In The Stars Are Legion, this style enhances the effect of Zan's confusion, putting the reader alongside the memory-impaired protagonist as she moves through a world that is alien and at times bewildering. This also works well when the story is told from Jayd's viewpoint, as Jayd spends much of her time plotting and scheming, but little time thinking about the ultimate objective of her intrigues, or what the larger meaning of her actions might be. The net effect of this chaos is a story that feels completely immersive, while also feeling disjointed and frightening. Zan fights, struggles, and otherwise endures for reasons that, for the most part, she doesn't understand, working towards an unknown goal. Jayd, for her part, provides almost no illumination on these subjects, holding her cards so close to her own chest in an almost paranoid self-defense, terrified to give anything away, even to herself. The only real guidance the reader receives, apart from the discoveries made in the story by the characters, is brief quotes from "Lord Mokshi" found at the beginning of each chapter, and even those serve to heighten the feeling of unease and and disquiet that permeates much of the book.

At the outset, Zan is told that she and Jayd are part of a family of warriors named the Katazyrnas, and they are in conflict with another family known as the Bhavajas, both named after the worlds they inhabit, floating among the many worlds of the Legion. But the worlds each family inhabits are slowly dying, and to tilt the struggle in the Katazyrna's favor, Zan is told she must seize the rogue world Mokshi, a feat she is told she is uniquely suited for, although she is not told why. Through twists and turns, Zan and Jayd are separated, with Zan embarking on a journey through Katazyrna, while Jayd finds herself trying to survive among the Bhajavas on their world. In the course of their respective journeys, Zan discovers that she (and the other Katazyrnas, and many of the other people in the Legion) may not truly understand the living worlds that they inhabit, while Jayd discovers that her plans and schemes may not be quite as clever as she had believed them to be. These voyages of discovery form the heart of the story, and through them, Hurley lays out how the assumptions made by the characters lead them astray, but also how they react when they are shown that what they believed turned out to be wrong.

While Zan and Jayd are at the center of the book, the supporting characters that surround them are what gives the story its emotional and intellectual heft. Through her travels Zan acquires a retinue of companions, each pushed outside of their comfort zone by the journey, and each responds in a different manner to the unknown. Das Muni, Casamir, and Arankadash each leave their familiar haunts and accompany Zan as she works her way through Katazyrna, but each makes this choice for a different reason, and each deals with the world in a distinctly different way: Where Casamir is curious and adventurous, Das Muni is timid and afraid. Casamir relies upon what she views as science, while Arankadesh places her trust in faith and tradition. Each of them has a perfectly reasonable basis for their world view, and yet each of them also brings wholly irrational prejudices to the table as well. Jayd's story has fewer truly compelling characters - her plotline is dominated by Anat, the leader of the Katazyrnas, and Rasida, the leader of the Bhajavas, and how the two women wield their power in very different ways. Most of Jayd's story revolves around the sacrifices one must make for their goals, and how even the best laid plans can go wildly awry if one miscalculates the intentions of others.

Lurking even behind the obvious set of supporting characters is yet another layer - the worlds themselves are alive, and in conjunction with the mysterious and misshapen witches, influence the course of events in accord with their own needs and designs. While many imagined science fictional universes contemplate a future in which biological elements are replaced by clean mechanical processes, Hurley's future is messy, full of living (and dying) biotechnology. The worlds are alive, and the women who inhabit them (and all of the inhabitants are women) are not so much living symbiotically with them, but are an integral part of their functioning, necessary to replace parts of the worlds as needed. This reality gives the entire story a somewhat creepy, and definitely icky feel, which is enhanced by the fact that no one, except maybe the witches actually understands how the worlds everyone lives within work, or how they are connected to the women in the story, and if they do know, the witches aren't telling. Like everything else about the world in The Stars Are Legion this seems to be calculated to be as disorienting as possible, putting the reader on edge throughout the book. This effectively puts the reader in much the same position as Zan, and serves to heighten the tension that one feels when reading the book.

The book only has one real misstep, and that takes place close to the end after Zan and Jayd undergo their respective journeys, when the book is reaching its climax. At that point, a narrator of sorts appears on the scene to basically do a giant exposition dump, explaining the meaning of much of the story. This scene is so at odds with the tone of the rest of the novel that it feels jarring, almost like Hurley got to this point of the story and decided it was time to wrap things up in a few pages. Given the strength of the storytelling in the rest of the book, this is a somewhat minor quibble, but it does stick out, and since it is near the end of the book, it leaves a lasting impression.

The Stars Are Legion is a deeply unsettling book, but it is deeply unsettling in one of the best possible ways. One of the best things done by good science fiction is that it takes fanciful ideas and explores the full range of their ramifications. In this book, Hurley tackles a number of such ideas and takes them to their completely logical, although completely disturbing conclusions. Even though the story doesn't really have a happy ending, it does have a satisfying one. Even though this book is often creepy and disturbing, it is a glimpse into an intriguingly designed world full of complex and fascinating characters, and overall it is an excellent read.

This review has also been posted to my blog Dreaming About Other Worlds. ( )
  StormRaven | Mar 2, 2017 |
Well, Kameron Hurley certainly doesn’t play by anyone else’s rules. The Stars Are Legion is a space opera with a flavor that’s all its own. The Legion is a group of worlds, or spaceships, (the word for both is the same) traveling through space and filled with warring groups.

The worlds are organic constructs, many of which are dying and cannibalizing each other for materials with which to regrow. The worlds are in fixed orbit, except for the Mokshi which is a world capable of independent movement. Zan awakes with no memory. Jayd tells her she is a great general and has a crucial role to play in a plan they both conceived which involves conquering Mokshi. Zan feels a powerful attraction for Jayd but also a great deal of mistrust. Jayd is promised to a rival and Zan ends up dropped in a “recycler” where she falls to the center of the world. Climbing back to the top she discovers new civilizations even as she struggles to regain her own memory. Zan questions if she truly wants to remember who she was previously yet remains determined to be reunited with Jayd and to complete their plan.

Hurley has fascinating world-building at work here. Organic ships, odd symbiotic relationships between world-ships and the people who live on them, and intriguing politics and relationships. Hurley’s books are filled with blood and guts, quite literally, and there is no shortage of that here. As brutal as some of the action is, there is also a hopefulness to it as well. The story is told through Zan and Jayd’s eyes, and while they are interesting, they are a little hard to get to know. They sometimes lie to themselves and they know themselves to be untrustworthy. Zan is more of a blank slate, even as some of her memories return.

Much is made about the fact that there are no men in this book, or this world or this universe. That’s perhaps a little overblown. There are plenty of books that are predominantly or exclusively populated by male characters and that are unremarkable for that fact. Much like I don’t need to see characters going to the bathroom on TV or in books to assume that they do. I can accept a civilization made up only of women that manages to continue to propagate the species, particularly in science fiction, without fretting about the how. That’s kind of the point here.

There is a lot to like here, even if it is all hard to digest, no pun intended. Complicated world-building, interesting relationships, and thought-provoking concepts. Hurley continues to push the boundaries of science fiction, and that’s a good thing. This book may not be for the squeamish, but it is for everyone who likes their science fiction to stretch their minds a little bit.

I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book. ( )
  tottman | Feb 6, 2017 |
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