SY Thompson’s newest novel, Destination Alara, transports readers to a science fiction plot replete with nearly everything for which an aficionado of such books could wish: the creation of a unique galactic world with its own historical backstory, strong female protagonists, a romance which enhances the plot rather than overwhelming it, sophisticated political intrigue, and vivid, descriptive settings which are richly sensory in nature. It isn’t surprising that Thompson delivers a novel in the tradition of Ursula Le Guin, with a bit of Elizabeth Lynn, and Mercedes Lackey tossed in for good measure. Thompson creates a unique world, with incredibly nuanced characters, and a view of a matriarchal social structure that is not overly simplified or stereotypical, but possible. Needless to say, I loved this book. Thompson brought a bit of glee to my sci-fi soul.
Thompson creates a rather post-apocalyptic setting with its own historical backstory (not just a few years prior, but layers/generations of societies, not completely unlike that of Star Trek or Star Wars, but unique unto itself). That history is useful in that it helps stage the current a political struggle, cast, (aptly), with gender, class, imperialist issues. If Thompson had simply inserted a matriarchal society in place of the patriarchal one in which we live, the tale would be simplistic.
Instead, the use of matriarchy allows for a tension between the antagonists in such a way that demonstrates the oppressive nature of male centered culture toward women; particularly with respect to women in power, the means by which rape culture would attempt to strip the power from any woman, as well as the disdain patriarchal societies hold for lesbians. These themes play out well in the dynamic character of Admiral Meryan as a daughter of the ruling family and the circumstances in which she is placed within the plot, as well as how Van, the other protagonist, military hero, and love interest, works within that dynamic.
Certainly, I could go on for pages about the themes at work in Destination Alara, it seems more appropriate for this review to clue the reader into the incredibly, no, sensuously vivid descriptions that Thompson provides the reader. Each scene can be felt, heard, visualized completely, as if the reader is along side the character. If one has ever watched an episode of Star Trek, then take that visualization and double it – that’s how intense the descriptors are written. With respect to dialogue, each character has a unique phrasing, accent, emotional range, even with respect to minor characters. Thompson delivers such a rich complexity to each moment of the plot that it seems genuine – an excellent rendering of a possible world.
All in all, SY Thompson delivers outstanding science fiction with a lesbian fiction focus. The lesbian focal aspect should not dissuade non-lesbians from picking up this book, because it is outstanding and transcends gender identity. It is simply put, wonderfully written science fiction. I highly recommend this book.
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