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An Unkindness of Ghosts (2017)

by Rivers Solomon

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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5474230,692 (3.92)44
Odd-mannered, obsessive, withdrawn, Aster has little to offer folks in the way of rebuttal when they call her ogre and freak. She's used to the names; she only wishes there was more truth to them. If she were truly a monster, as they accuse, she'd be powerful enough to tear down the walls around her until nothing remained of her world, save for stories told around the cook fire. Aster lives in the low-deck slums of the HSS Matilda, a space vessel organized much like the antebellum South. For generations, the Matilda has ferried the last of humanity to a mythical Promised Land. On its way, the ship's leaders have imposed harsh moral restrictions and deep indignities on dark-skinned sharecroppers like Aster, who they consider to be less than human. Embroiled in a grudge with a brutal overseer and sewing the seeds of civil war, Aster learns there may be a way off the ship if she's willing to fight for it.… (more)

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» See also 44 mentions

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RTC ( )
  Evamaren | Jun 7, 2020 |
This one is rather hard to rate for one good reason: It is good, and I did not like it. I would reasonably give this 3.5 stars, but let me explain:

The good.

Really quite wonderful main characters, all full of interesting mixtures. Astra seems to have autism, is rather more gay than not, but more closely binary. She's also strong and pretty brilliant and she also has a tendency to say exactly what she means and do exactly as she wants, regardless of whether it's safe for her to do so. This is a mixed blessing. Theo is a somewhat distant character but he is also fairly nicely rounded, as is a few other of the MC's.

As a study on slavery and cultural abuse taken up ten notches, it is a quite sickening study, and this brings us to the title. Ghosts are Whites. The slavery is almost ship-wide.

It's almost unbearable to read. When you can count up to 90 massive trauma events to your person by the time you reach 40, both of a strictly abusive nature and a sexual one, and this is considered the normal and natural order of things, then you know something is slightly off.

For what this tale does, in making a very varied read and one that illustrates the horrors in so many ways, it is very good.

Now, the bad.

It's almost unbearable to read. If the author is intending to depress the living hell out of me and make me want to end it all because I happen to have white skin, then I shall call her a winner. There is VERY little, other than Theo, to make me think that whites are anything other than complete and utter a**holes.

All the villains, and I mean the ghosts, are cardboard cutouts of complete and utter evil. A slight taste of a rounded villain or at least a lying rounded villain might have given this whole thing a bit more meat. As it was, I just learned to hate and hate and hate and hate and hate and hate. Maybe I need to be more clear... it's tiring to hate so much. Emotionally. Intellectually. Everything.

And then there's an SF reason to dislike this novel. If I am to accept the premise that a generational starship can be made, maintained, and piloted for an unknown number of years on a slave-race, then this is doable. It's a completely dystopian (turn your mind off) SF trope, applied to a generational starship. Good for reinforcing that whole world-as-prison mentality, NOT good for rational thought.


I kept asking myself that one question, over and over and over. WHY? Ignore the how. Social structures can be maintained indefinitely with a little ruthlessness and power, even with the possibility of revolution. My big question is WHY would anyone put a bunch of slaves on a high-tech, easily destroyable, long-term spaceship? You need a VERY educated workforce, and one that is more than willing to go the extra effort not to punch holes in hulls or start random fires that can wipe out the entire crew. Instead, we have fires and rifles here. On a spaceship. Okay. Turn off the mind. Got it. Assume it's super high-tech, as is implied by the computer at the end or the hints at faster FASTER travel through space. I beg the question again. WHY all the hate, hate, hate? I'm talking about the ghosts. If they hate so much, why didn't they just gather themselves up with a bunch of robots and go *uck off to some other planet, if it's so easy to have a bunch of a**holes GET a generational spaceship in the first place? Why bring along a slave-workforce to abuse at all? Especially when you KNOW it's bound to turn bad?

Religion could have been an answer, but the closest we get to that is the ghosts calling themselves gods. So, not developed. Even the Pharaohs had a rich and varied social system to account for the pyramids.

No. This is just social inequity, massive abuse built into the culture, a bit of cool character-building, and lots of really difficult (emotional) reading. It's not hard to follow or enjoy, otherwise.

So? Good and bad. It really depends on what you're looking for. A rich SF this is not. A heartbreaking tale of a world-prison? This is. ( )
  bradleyhorner | Jun 1, 2020 |
Satisfying speculative fiction with an autistic, genderqueer protagonist of color: Trigger warnings for physical violence (justified by the themes of oppression and liberation). ( )
  testingwithfire | May 25, 2020 |
**An Unkindness of Ghosts** is so good that it seems implausible that it is *Rivers Solomon*'s debut novel. I mean, I'm very much into generational starships as a literary setting, but this is the best usage of the genre I've encountered so far (it nearly reached a five-star rating for me). We find ourselves on a generational starship, over 200 years into the journey away from a dead planet Earth. People are organized by deck, with the upper decks being the ruling class with a Sovereign, and the lower decks being the ill-treated worker class under guard. But instead of being as simplistic and YA-y as this sounds, **An Unkindness of Ghosts** goes deeper.

Each deck has its own variations in language, and its own variation in culture and upbringing. It starts at words, it ends at default pronouns and religous views. Decks are also race-coded, with the ruling class being white and the lower decks being dark-skinned. The acts of both purposeful and casual violence were so believable that they were very disturbing, and made the various reactions of the main cast very believable. The main cast features a guy with strong gender dysphoria, a woman with heavy psychoses, and the protagonist who is a woman (probably enby, though) on the autism spectrum. All characters experience terrible violence over the course of their lives, and seeing them deal with it was realistic and heart-wrenching. The titular ghosts of this book will haunt me for some time. ( )
  _rixx_ | May 24, 2020 |
I really enjoyed this story. The characters were interesting and several were explored in some details. The exploration of gender, language, science, and lost information were unique and refreshing. The brutality of humans is all to real, even though some would deny its existence in the present day. I felt I could travel in some of spaces of the created world - generation ship with what seems like many levels and thousands of people. The book remains open for a continuation. ( )
  kenley | May 7, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 43 (next | show all)
I want to say about this book, its only imperfection is that it ended. But that might give the wrong impression: that it is a happy book, a book that makes a body feel good. It is not a happy book. I love it like I love food, I love it for what it did to me, I love it for having made me feel stronger and more sure in a nightmare world, but it is not a happy book. It is an antidote to poison. It is inoculation against pervasive, enduring disease. Like a vaccine, it is briefly painful, leaves a lingering soreness, but armors you from the inside out.
added by souloftherose | editNPR, Amal El-Mohtar (Oct 6, 2017)

» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Solomon, Riversprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Boothe, CheriseNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
TG DesignCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To my mother
and her mother
all the way back to Eve.
First words
Aster removed two scalpels from her med-kit to soak in a solution of disinfectant.
What was a person's self but carefully articulated mimicry?
That was all one could do with the past—be satisfied with half-answers, take the rest on faith.
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