The Vela is a serial box space opera in ten episodes, co-written by Yoon Ha Lee, Becky Chambers, Rivers Solomon and S.L. Huang. So far, only one season has been announced, and I will be reviewing all of it, but I don’t exclude that there will be others.
The Vela is a story about a mercenary teaming up with a young hacker to find a lost starship in a planetary system in which the stars are dying and there’s an ongoing refugee crisis.
Something that stood out to me right from the start was the way The Vela portrayed discrimination. This is the first time I’ve ever read a story that was dealing with issues similar to what is going on in my country. Refugee crises and the combination of xenophobia + racism isn’t something I often see in American fiction, but it’s closer to the kind of stories I’d love to see published.
The Vela is an action-packed story in which the stakes keep getting higher as new elements are revealed – and I have to say that the reveals usually caught me by surprise – and the main characters often have to question their morals and loyalty. This is a story that has a lot of interesting things to say about ethics and judgement: how can you condemn a whole population, but at the same time, how can you not when their leaders are currently attempting genocide? It’s a complex situation and this story does not shy away from that.
I also really appreciated the diversity. One of the main characters is a brown-skinned trans sapphic mercenary who uses hearing implants, the other is a non-binary hacker (they/them pronouns!) and there are several queer and disabled main characters as well. Also, there’s no romance, which makes sense, as their planetary system is basically falling apart.
I can’t talk about the sci-fi technology in depth without spoilers, but I want to say that I really liked reading about it, it was kind of terrifying at times. I also really liked the descriptions of the spaceships, when they were there.
One more thing: while the writing styles were often easily recognizable and I could usually tell who was writing what even if I didn’t remember which episode I was reading, the story didn’t feel disjointed to me.
What didn’t work for me:
A story about xenophobia in which the cultures aren’t developed isn’t going to work as much as it could if they were. I just know that these people look different from each other, but when you’re talking about both xenophobia and racism… there should be also other factors at play? It doesn’t really make sense to read about a war between people of different cultures when I know nothing about the cultures. This ended up being the weakest aspect of the worldbuilding.
While I was invested in the overarching plot, I realized that I couldn’t get myself to care about the main characters. I didn’t have any problems with Asala, it’s just that she couldn’t carry this whole story by herself, and Niko… I didn’t like the portrayal of Niko, because they’re several years older than me but read as younger than I am. Yes, they grew up sheltered, but they shouldn’t have read like a gifted fifteen-year-old if they were supposed to be in their twenties.
But what really didn’t work for me was Asala and Niko together as protagonists. Their dialogues weren’t interesting to read – there was nothing interesting about their relationship, or what they thought of each other. They just happened to share the same space for most of the novel and not always trust each other, but I wanted so much more.
As I said before, the story didn’t end up feeling disjointed, but I also felt like what made these authors’ books stand out in their genre, what made each of their books and style memorable in their own way… just wasn’t there.
My rating: ★★¾