Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki. New York : Tor, 2021.
What do a transgender violinist, the Queen of Hell, and a starship captain hiding in a donut shop have in common? They are the main characters of Ryka Aoki’s Light From Uncommon Stars, a heart-wrenchingly sincere science fiction novel released in September 2021. Separately these characters struggle with existential crises: How do I survive in a world that does not want me? What and who am I willing to sacrifice to gain what I want? How do I protect my family after our lives have been consumed by war? Together, they discover love, connection and truth capable of solving their greatest struggles and making their lives worth living.
In the tradition of Terry Pratchet and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omensand The Wayfarer series by Becky Chambers, Light From Uncommon Stars is not a science fiction novel concerned with the particulars of math or physics. It cares about people. The book’s most realistic moments lie in its descriptions of transphobic violence, fear, and abuse. The novel makes readers viscerally understand its characters’ depression and despair. It tackles tough topics including abandonment, sex work, child abuse, murder and intergalactic war. Throughout these troubles, however, there is music.
Above all, Light From Uncommon Stars is a book about connection. It uses the medium of music, shared between a violin teacher and her student, an online performer and her Internet listeners, a scared performer and her first audience, a violinist determined to play her truth and those who hear her, and even a passerby and the resonating notes of a warp drive, to show that people are never alone. As long as there are those brave enough to recognize the small joys in life between moments of suffering and to share both their hardships and their joys with others, there will always be hope in the galaxy.
It might not sound like a book about Faustian bargains, a quasi-immortal being getting WiFi for the first time, and aliens learning how to make good donuts could be one of the most optimistically human books of 2021, but Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki pulls it off. It is a novel for lovers of music, social science fiction, unique novels, and books that are both dark and whimsical like Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.
Rebecca Zimmerman is the Children’s Librarian Assistant at Graham Public Library. You can ontact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.