“Wherever there were people, there were secrets.”
Sisters of the Vast Black mainly takes place aboard a living spaceship crewed by nuns who are more interested in providing medical assistance than converting heathens. However, they’ve recently been assigned a new priest who may want to change their mission.
Also, they’ve just discovered their spaceship is seeking out a mate, which brings up a moral dilemma. Since the ship is a consecrated house, allowing it to mate would be unseemly, however as the ship is more than just a cow to them, some sisters think it would be wrong to limit its agency. The living spaceship makes for a really cool setting with details such as being able to hear its heartbeat when they’re inside.
We learn there was a Great War in the past and Old Earth had kept to itself afterward, however Old Earth is now trying to exert its control over the other three systems again. There’s a new pope who seems keen on reasserting the hierarchy. Earth Central Governance is controlling the church and using Bibles to track people.
There are a lot of great details such as references to Martian China and a person having a Venusian name which give the present time history and makes the world feel lived in. The medical and biological details feel well-researched to me as well.
The sisters are looking for a cure to a virus called ringeye which makes people become mindless and violent. It has a very high infection rate. Entire colonies die from it, leaving only children who usually end up starving to death.
Each of the sisters aboard the ship seems to have a secret. The Reverend Mother, having taking a vow of silence, hasn’t spoken for 43 years and communicates via hand gestures. She’s keeping a worsening medical condition secret, as well as past sins.
Sister Faustina is secretly a non-believer, but she wants to do good. She’s the communications officer, but keeps some of the communications secret. We’re told everybody in space is religious and prays to some God, even if it’s the God of Science, which I take to be a metaphor for awe.
Sister Gemma is a biologist who cares for the ship and has a secret lover aboard a different ship. There are many other great characters as well. By the end, events lead to most of them questioning their faith.
One minor issue I had is that the conflict on board the Cheng I Sao regarding whether the crew should risk their lives to help ringeye victims was resolved too quickly. Other than that, this was a great book and I found myself wishing it was longer.
The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson takes place in a world which seems primitive in some ways (spears are the weapon of choice) but modern in other ways (people talk using modern language including modern slang and modern medical and scientific verbiage).
Demane originally comes from an egalitarian society, but is currently living in a patriarchal one. He is descended from gods, so he has special powers such as being a human lie detector and expert healer. He also has a Mary Poppins bag which can carry everything he owns in a small space.
His romantic interest, Captain, is also descended from gods and has special powers of his own, including being a heliovore (he has solar-powered hair).
The two of them are escorting a merchant caravan through dangerous territory where they have to face bandits, extreme weather, and a saber-toothed tiger wizard. They even encounter dinosaurs.
There’s a lot of violence including descriptions of gladiatorial combat. It feels particularly brutal to include the deaths of child soldiers in one of the battle scenes.
It’s an entertaining book in many ways, however the ending does kind of leave you hanging.