Since we’re heading into winter here in the Northern Hemisphere, I decided to check out A Starbound Solstice, by Juliet Kemp. This queer, cozy holiday story takes place in space, at the mid-point of the journey between Earth and the first planned human/alien shared colony. It’s a lovely book about choosing hope and trust over fear.
The story lingers over the opening, introducing the seven characters – five humans, the ship’s AI (Heron), and their alien liaison (Aliax) – as they plan a solstice celebration, combining the best of all of their respective winter holidays. It’s worth noting that every one of the human characters is queer. Three of them are in a poly relationship, and two use alternate pronouns (as does the alien, Aliax, though that feels less noteworthy).
Their holiday planning is interrupted when Heron begins to malfunction. This is a problem for the obvious reasons, but also because Heron controls their needledrive, the alien technology that will allow them to make this trip in a mere 70 years. Without it, it could take another thousand years to reach their destination. To make matters worse, Aliax – the only alien on the ship, and thus the only who understands how the needledrive works – falls ill shortly after Heron starts to glitch, and so xe can’t do much to help.
Fifty years before the ship left Earth, the Ferolyt – aliens like Aliax – helped humanity step back from the brink of self-destruction, giving humanity hope and a future. When our crew finds the source of Heron’s malfunction, they have to decide if they are going to hold onto that hope, or give in to fear. Will they take a risk in order to live up to their ideals, or will they take the route of self-interest and suspicion? The journey to get there is a bit predictable, but no less delightful for it.
I loved the interactions of the crew. This story feels cozy – even though they’ve only known each for a little over a year, they feel like a family. There’s a real twenty-somethings, punk vibe to the group that I found endearing. That being said, there are too many characters for such a short book. The plot only needed 3 of the human characters, if that. Fortunately, since most of them seem to be there to add personality, and don’t have much impact the plot, it’s okay if you lose track of them.
And what holiday story would be complete without a romantic subplot? The narrator (Linn) has a huge crush on the ship’s engineer (Taye). The rest of the crew constantly tease xyr about it, and xe spends a lot of time trying to determine whether or not they reciprocate. It’s sweetly done, and I enjoyed seeing two nonbinary people flirting.
Overall, this is a sweet, low-key story. It’s enjoyable and wholesome, without demanding much from the reader. I salute Juliet Kemp. They have written the optimistic, queer holiday story that my frazzled heart needed this season. If you, too, need a break from the chaos, A Starbound Solstice is worth checking out.