In this futuristic world, set in deep space, socio economic collapse has caused university degrees to be worthless and regular jobs to be less desirable than say, being a space pirate. In fact, being a space pirate and joining any of the infamous space pirate crews out there is the dream. Noticed my italicised delight about this novel being about space pirates? Well you can only imagine how utterly happy I was that this is not only a novel about space pirates but also specifically about queer space pirates of colour fighting off a murderous AI.
Barbary Station starts with a dangerous, high stakes plan: two recently graduated engineers—girlfriends Iridian and Adda—hijack a colony ship to use it as a gift to the infamous pirate Captain Sloane in a bid to join their crew at Barbary Station, a long abandoned shipbreaking station, said to be a paradise where the pirates make tons of money and live in perpetual luxury. It should be more or less an easy thing—especially with Adda’s little brother Pel already being part of the crew.
And at first, it kinda is. They breeze through the hijacking part of the plan and reach Barbary Station without any major problems.
When they finally arrive at Barbary Station, they realise that the news of the glorious and luxurious pirate life have been grossly exaggerated. Not only have Sloane’s crew been living in a makeshift base around the space station as hostages to the Station’s possibly awakened AI (that has been slowly killing them) but they are effectively isolated from the other inhabitants, including a group of refugees, the station doctors and most importantly, the weird, mysterious pilots that could fly them out of there (but for some reason don’t). If that wasn’t enough, Adda’s brother Pel also suffered a tragic accident but he refuses to talk about it.
Earning their way into the crew was already a high stakes risk to begin with—but now Iridian and Adda’s ONLY chance of survival is to find out what is happening with the AI (which is Adda’s specialty) while keeping the rest of the crew—and themselves—alive (which is Iridian’s specialty as a former soldier).
Barbary Station is a super cool novel. It mixes unpredictable mysteries, a murderous AI, space battles, an awesome and fashionable Pirate Leader in Captain Sloane as well as a healthy dose of romance and found families. I’d say it’s a blend of Die Hard andthe Illuminae Files while centring the story on a lovely, well-established lesbian couple. The latter is maybe my favourite thing about the novel—the fact that Iridian and Adda share the narrative, co-lead the plot and they do it as a couple already in love, already together in a stable, undramatic relationship and utterly devoted to each other. The novel also features thought-provoking takes on Artificial Intelligence, and the lovely if sometimes difficult budding relationships between these two characters and other members of what effectively becomes their crew.
And although sometimes the transitions between scenes are awkward and the action sequences go on for way too long for my personal taste, I still found so much to love and engage with here that I can only recommend it wholeheartedly.
In Booksmugglerish: 8 out of 10