“A misfit crew race across the galaxy to prevent the genocide of magical creatures, in this unique science fiction debut.
Having magical powers makes you less than human, a resource to be exploited. Half-unicorn Gary Cobalt is sick of slavery, captivity, and his horn being ground down to power faster-than-light travel. When he’s finally free, all he wants is to run away in his ancestors’ stone ship. Instead, Captain Jenny Perata steals the ship out from under him, so she can make an urgent delivery. But Jenny held him captive for a decade, and then Gary murdered her best friend… who was also the wife of her co-pilot, Cowboy Jim. What could possibly go right?” (via Goodreads)
How many science fiction or fantasy books have a disabled woman as a main character, much less one who’s also Māori, a lesbian, and an all-around BAMF? Jenny’s journey from eager colonist to bitter supporter of a supremacist system to passive guilt to active reparations is staggeringly well done. Throughout the novel we watch Jenny confront the system and the different ways in which it maintains the white cis male hierarchy, disenfranchises those who eek a modicum of privilege from the system, and oppresses everyone else. She is the fulcrum around which the fate of humanity turns. Gary and the Bala already recognize how horrifically skewed the system is. Jenny (and others like her such as Subedar Singh) is the one who has to break it. She’s the one who benefits from it, albeit less than men like Jim or Captain Wenck. She must reject that privilege and fight for equality.
Further complicating Jenny is her tumultuous relationship with Cowboy Jim. Western society is built upon the foundational twin ideologies of patriarchy and white supremacy. Both support each other. In Space Unicorn Blues, human men are above all, other humans next, followed by humans that co-mingle with Bala, then half-Balas, and Bala at the bottom. But wait: the book notes that Reason officers are generally white and grunts and corrections officers generally brown. Jenny tolerates Jim’s presence because she is Reason, and Reason was templated on Western colonialism.
As weird as it may seem at first for her to keep him around, think about all the ways we do just that with cis white men today. Think of all the years it took to take down Harvey Weinstein. Think about the ways in which we defend Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, and countless others. Think about the ways in which even women, particularly cis white women, are willing to jump to the defense of abusive men, or at the very least continue to tolerate their presence and power. Yes, Jim is terrible, but in real life I know half a dozen Jims who people insist are “nice guys.” Western society is tailored for men like Jim, so much so that it’s often difficult for those not directly harmed by them to see how rigged the system really is…
To read the rest of my review of Space Unicorn Blues by T.J. Berry, head over to Tor.com.
He’d been a toddler when the Reason Coalition formed, but his mother had been on the first generation ship to meet alien life on their way to a new planet. It didn’t matter that the alien Bala had familiar shapes known to humans through centuries of myth and legend; unicorns, fairies, and elves. Or that they offered to use their magic to help the colonists survive in their new home. The humans fired the opening shots in what would become a hundred years of war between the humans and the Bala. Growing up, Gary watched a ragtag collection of starving humans become a highly efficient colonizing machine. War galvanized them and gave them the will to live. Humans were never more persistent than when they were in the wrong.
Thanks to Angry Robot for sending me a review copy.
Do the world a favor and buy this book from your local indie bookstore or borrow it from your public library.