LIGHT FROM UNCOMMON STARS
by Ryka Aoki
Publisher: Tor Books, Macmillan
Market/Genre: adult science fiction
Trigger warnings: deadnaming, homophobia, transphobia, sexual assault, rape.
Girls surviving is my brand. Ryka Aoki brings me that in the rawest and sweetest form–a story about a trans girl with scars. It’s about the power of found family, with the absolute loveliest and space-tastic sapphic mommas you’ll ever read. It’s bittersweet but also has that feeling of losing yourself in an old romantic bookstore.
The premise to Light From Uncommon Stars seemed absolutely wild to me. That Tor published this doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. The weird and fresh science fiction belongs to them more than any other speculative imprint. It does feel like Tor says yes to every original idea and manages to make it marketable when most publishers wouldn’t even bat an eyelash. The Queen of Hell, a Faustian bargain, a trans runaway with dreams of classical music, alien asylum seekers, aliens making donuts.
I’m just a gay reader dragged into the water towards the beautiful sirens.
That siren appears to be Ryka Aoki.
Katrina Nguyen, a young trans woman, ran away from her abusive home and into the hands of toxic gays. If there’s one thing she can put her hope in, it’s her violin. But when the one person in San Gabriel Valley that gave her a safe place tries to sell her only solace on this earth, she flees for another path. Every place shows her transphobia, violence, and abuse. Like many trans women, she has few resources and fewer options for supporting herself. Ryka Aoki depicts a very real and unflinching portrayal of trans experiences with sex work.
Returning to the U.S., Satomi looks for her last and 7th soul. Every one of her six students rose to fame with a sudden tragic fall into the pits of hell. Yet Shizuka Satomi stays ageless. Just one step closer to her freedom. After grabbing some perfectly designed donuts from Starrgate donuts, Satomi happens upon her next student. Katrina, playing on her violin, captures the ear of the famed violin teacher. She finds a home like no other.
Katrina is an abuse survivor trying to piece herself together. Dynamic, magical, complicated, and a total sweetheart, I fell hard for Katrina. She’s one of the most vibrant and scabs-on-your-knees raw characters I’ve read in a long time. Abuse is a part of her. That’s one thing that made me sink into her. I utterly refused to leave her and would cry any time she left me. Abuse survivors are the ones I love most. For the firey rage and claws for a world that burned us from the start but also for the soft exterior we all seem to present, even with all our different experiences.
All the characters felt fun and interesting. All of them had such carefully chosen details that made me interested in knowing more about them. One such character and relationship I became enthralled with is that of Lan Tran. A spaceship captain and mother of four, she runs a perfect little donut shop (and a slow burn romance with Shizuka on the side).
Ryka Aoki treated me like I arrived just in time for a strawberry milkshake—a quaint invitation to a world of compassionate and sparkling souls.
In such a horrible world, I see a story about choosing to own the scars and still be loved. What I loved most is this: it’s a love story about non-humans taking in a magical girl, healing their trauma with queer joy, and bags stuffed with donuts. Okay, I can’t get over the food. It is necessary that authors feed me their wonderful queer SciFi novels with fatty foods from now on. The food, the donuts, love amidst all the despair—It was such a magical place to be.