In this sci-fi debut, a young person comes of age aboard a planet-hopping cargo ship.
Alfie Dale, a legendary glassmaker is a settler on the distant planet of Outer-23 in the settlement zone of Gutshot. There, men “own the stores, run the bars and lead the settlement,” while women “gave birth to more men, or died in the whorehouse trying.” Problems are solved as they were in the old American West—by dueling. One day, Alfie’s 14-year-old daughter, Arisa, throws dust bombs back and forth with her friend Nate Jennings. When she accidentally hits wanted man Wild Clyde Wallace, he mistakes Arisa for a boy, due to her short hair and scrawny frame, and attempts to kill her. After Alfie successfully saves his daughter’s life, Wild Clyde’s brother, Munroe, shows up for revenge. Alfie hides Arisa on the Calypso, a cargo ship with a tightknit, friendly crew that travels among the well-off “Inner” and frontierlike “Outer” worlds. Accepted by the veteran shipmates, including Lucas, Kelle, and Safia, Arisa starts a new life, taking the name “Ari.” She’s always been more comfortable dressing like a boy, and she does her best to “pass” as a young man while gathering details about other people who look like her, with “tea-colored” skin and uncommonly shaped eyes. In this series starter, Thomas offers a coming-of-age tale that isn’t held back by standard tropes of space-based adventure. The plot proceeds episodically—sometimes with gory violence—and Ari ages in fits and starts. Ari, as someone grappling with gender issues, is a welcome character in the sci-fi genre. Along the way, she grows closer to both Safia and Lucas, the latter of whom eventually reveals that he knows that Ari was born female, saying, “I’ve never, in all my time on Calypso, ever come across a man with a smile as amazing as yours.” Safia, who’s gay, comforts Ari with the statement: “You’re not pretending....You’re living. Never think otherwise.” Other key moments in the novel include Ari’s first sight of an ocean and the introduction of Laila, a companion who helps Ari walk confidently as a man.
A heartening exploration of outer space and a teen’s true self.