"The Stars Are Legion"

Kameron Hurley’s big imagination carries the day in her exciting and fascinating novel, “The Stars Are Legion,” a space opera featuring a lead character with amnesia, a society composed entirely of women, and a strange and mucky setting aboard organic spaceships.

In Kim Stanley Robinson’s “Aurora,” which I reviewed last year, Robinson speculates that mankind’s desire to explore far away galaxies will be checked by our own biological needs. Tethered to the planet on which we developed, our bodies were not made to survive in space or on alien planets. Hurley’s imagined future starts from Robinson’s denial, wondering what it might take to overcome our limitations and journey through the stars.

What she imagines is gooey: organic, living spaceships on which people live in symbiosis with the host spaceship like parasites living in the human body – a society “...carved into the flesh of the world.” The spaceships live, reproduce and die, rotting from the inside as the people aboard the craft struggle to survive on their dying world and resort to Machiavellian politics.

The problem with the spaceships, collectively known as the Legion, is that the humans have been in space so long they have lost touch of their original purpose of their voyage and no longer fully understand the organic technology on which they live. The countless ships of the Legion orbit around a central sun, which brings up questions. What is this sun? How was it created? Was it created?

The organic spaceships that Hurley conjures are so weird that I fully accepted her other big idea without question. There are no men. This is an all-woman society. The lack of men doesn’t make for peace or likeable characters. Everyone is compromised somehow. Hurley explores love, revenge, purpose and loyalty in a world that is short on trust - but rich in bodily fluids.

Zan’s situation is bad. A warrior, a commander, someone who has been sent on many missions she can no longer remember, no longer knows what or who she is. Zane is told she is the savior, the only person who has ever penetrated the mysterious world called the Mokshi, a world with the power to leave the Legion. Where did the Mokshi come from? Why is Zan the only one who even comes close to success? Why does she keep losing her memory?

When the Bhavajas, enemies of the Katazyrnas, unleash a surprise attack, Zan is captured and “recycled” - sent to the belly of the spaceship, where she will die and be reabsorbed into the ship. However, the resilient Zan escapes death and begins a long journey back to the surface. Along the way she encounters strange subterranean civilizations, disturbing creatures and a whole lot of muck, mucus, and scum.

Just as we are tethered to Earth, the Katazyrnas and Bhavajas are tethered to their strange worlds, with all sorts of bizarre implications. I haven’t even touched on some of the strange ideas lurking at the core of this novel.

Hurley has written a winner, a weird and original novel.