Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, space opera
Series: Our Lady of Endless Worlds #1
Published by Tordotcom on October 29, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Bookshop.org
The sisters of the Order of Saint Rita captain their living ship into the reaches of space in Lina Rather's debut novella, Sisters of the Vast Black.
Years ago, Old Earth sent forth sisters and brothers into the vast dark of the prodigal colonies armed only with crucifixes and iron faith. Now, the sisters of the Order of Saint Rita are on an interstellar mission of mercy aboard Our Lady of Impossible Constellations, a living, breathing ship which seems determined to develop a will of its own.
When the order receives a distress call from a newly-formed colony, the sisters discover that the bodies and souls in their care—and that of the galactic diaspora—are in danger. And not from void beyond, but from the nascent Central Governance and the Church itself.
The quick and dirty summary of this story as “nuns in space” does not nearly do it justice.
For one thing, the situation isn’t nearly that simple. At first, it seems like a cross between Farscape, the first episode of Star Trek Next Generation, “Encounter at Farpoint”, and the recent We Shall Sing a Song into the Deep. At least right up until the hints of A Memory Called Empire sneak in to bite pretty much everyone in the ass.
Yes, there are nuns aboard the spaceship Our Lady of Impossible Constellations, which still feels like the best name for a spaceship EVAR. But the ship is operating as an interstellar convent – and its pregnant. Hence the references to Farscape and “Farpoint”, because the ship is very much alive.
But the resemblance to We Shall Sing a Song into the Deep is equally apropos, although as seen in a mirror considerably more lightly than in that story. Well, at least the nuns are considerably lighter in purpose and intent than the brothers on the Leviathan.
Even if they are operating just as far outside any clerical authority. And that’s where the reference to A Memory Called Empire comes in, because the memory of imperial glory that the Sisters of St. Rita are concerned about is the dangerous alliance between a resurrected central government on Earth and an equally militant Church of Rome that are both more invested in bringing their long-independent and errant flocks to heel than they are to serving anyone other than their own pride and ambition.
No matter how dark the deeds they must do to bring their former followers back to what only a central authority could possibly see as the light.
Escape Rating A-: The story begins with the nuns on the horns of multiple dilemmas. They’re answering a call to minister to a fledgling colony that needs blessings, baptisms and a bit of medical treatment. Their living ship has somehow found a mate out in the black, is already pregnant and needs to return to that mate for her eggs to be fertilized. Or the sisters need to essentially abort the unfertilized eggs before they rot.
We can all guess just how well that discussion is going.
But four of the sisters have secrets. One has fallen in love with an engineer on another ship and has to decide whether or not to relinquish her vows and her place in the order. The communications officer has received a message from the Vatican regarding the impending arrival of a newly assigned priest to direct their mission towards proselytization and away from service – a direction that none of the sisters have any desire to go. One of the sisters has become aware that their Mother Superior is exhibiting the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. And the Mother Superior herself is not only aware of her condition but is frightened that her diminishing grip on herself will expose secrets that she’s spent a lifetime concealing.
As a gentle story about religious devotion and service to far-flung colonies out in the black, this would have been a lovely thing without going any deeper. But the ambitions of both the governmental central authority and the religious hierarchy push the story to another level, as the nuns have to decide whether to stand up or knuckle under – with hellish consequences either way.
Those consequences will be visited upon them from all sides in the upcoming second book in this series, Sisters of the Forsaken Stars, coming in February. Someone, or something, is going to burn in the fires they’ve lit. And I can’t wait to find out who. Because even though I figured out where this was going, I was still absolutely fascinated watching it get there.