The Vela, Episode 1.1: A Leisurely Extinction, by SL Huang

Hooray hooray, it’s a new serial day!

The Vela is one of the latest new releases from Serial Box Publishing and has been on my 2019 watch list for a while, because the lineup of writers associated with it knocked my geeky socks off: SL Huang, Becky Chambers, Rivers Solomon and Yoon Ha Lee.

I mean. It’s like rock star levels of writer collaboration, if you’re a modern sci-fi nerd. And I love me some modern sci-fi. So let’s dive in, shall we?

General spoilers follow for this episode.

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In the fading light of a dying star, a soldier for hire searches for a missing refugee ship and uncovers a universe-shattering secret. 

Asala Sikou is used to looking after number one while crisis reigns in her dying planetary system. But when she’s hired to find a missing refugee ship, she discovers that this is no ordinary rescue mission, and she must play a role in deciding the fate of the whole universe.

First off, and in order to get that inevitable comparison out of the way – if you’re a fan of The Expanse, it’s a very safe bet that you’ll enjoy reading this serial. I am, and I’m already hooked on this.

Secondly, I’d like to expand on why this team of writers is such an exciting prospect to me. I’m here for thrilling science fiction and imaginary spectacle, big explosions and futuristic tech and whodunits in space, but I’m one of those SF nerds who believes that none of this would be especially interesting without having it all grounded by the stories of the people involved. I want interesting characters, and story beats to follow, that intrigue me every bit as much as the plots they’re tangled up in. And right away, in this first episode, I’ve got a handful of those to settle in with and get to know.

We learn very quickly that Asala Sikou is The Badass Mercenary – but also that she’s a former refugee herself, one who has some very deep-rooted issues (resentments?) regarding her origins and how she came to be where (and who) she is now. We also learn that she’s deaf, and she deals with it. You know, like the badass (and very clever) mercenary she is.

President Ekrem and General Cynwrig, as the apparent Political Figures at the forefront of this story, are equally as interesting in very different ways. There’s the public faces they present, and – more in the case of Ekrem at this point – then there’s the private personality we get a glimpse of, thanks to good use of POV shifts. Huang cleverly saves Ekrem’s POV for last in this episode, just to complicate matters, and of course – of course – the tyrant-pleasing president is more devious than he seems.

I love it when a writer pulls off this sort of reader-baiting. I want to know more about this guy already – but I certainly don’t trust him. Or Cynwrig, for that matter. The general seems far more upfront about being abominably shady, but that just makes me wonder where her own story arc is going. Is she going to prove to be antagonist material, or is there a twist coming? I can’t wait to find out!

And then there’s Niko av Ekrem. The president’s child, the hacker, the activist, the bumbling geeky cinnamon roll who Just Wants To Do Good. I’ll give you three guesses how I responded to them. Just let me hide the heart-eyes before you start.

Oh, Niko. You’re going to make so many mistakes and I’m quite sure I’m going to love you for all of them.

I am full of speculation about where this story is going after what was a delightfully well-rounded and spectacular opening episode, but I’ll save sharing those thoughts until I’ve read episode two. Let’s see how things unfold a little more. For now, I am content to have this intriguing band of characters who are totally not going to clash in various disastrous ways over this tangled knot of political intrigue, human rights, and severe interstellar corporate greed. No, not at all, I’m sure they’ll sort it all out over tea and crumpets.

Where’s my popcorn?

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