One of the Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Books of the past decade, selected by NPR
A Best Book of 2017: NPR, The Guardian, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Bustle, Bookish, Barnes & Noble, Chicago Public Library, Book Scrolling.
CLMP Firecracker Award Winner
A Stonewall Book Award Honor Book
Finalist for the 2018 Locus Award, John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and the Lambda Literary Award.
Nominated for the 2018 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Debut Novel
"What Solomon achieves with this debut--the sharpness, the depth, the precision--puts me in mind of a syringe full of stars. I want to say about this book, its only imperfection is that it ended. But that might give the wrong impression: that it is a happy book, a book that makes a body feel good. It is not a happy book. I love it like I love food, I love it for what it did to me, I love it for having made me feel stronger and more sure in a nightmare world, but it is not a happy book. It is an antidote to poison. It is inoculation against pervasive, enduring disease. Like a vaccine, it is briefly painful, leaves a lingering soreness, but armors you from the inside out."
"In Rivers Solomon's highly imaginative sci-fi novel An Unkindness of Ghosts, eccentric Aster was born into slavery on--and is trying to escape from--a brutally segregated spaceship that for generations has been trying to escort the last humans from a dying planet to a Promised Land. When she discovers clues about the circumstances of her mother's death, she also comes closer to disturbing truths about the ship and its journey."
"What Solomon does brilliantly in this novel is in the creation of a society in which dichotomies loom over certain aspects of the narrative, and are eschewed by others...Hearkening back to the past in visions of the future can hold a number of narrative purposes...The past offers us countless nightmares and cautionary tales; so too, I'm afraid, can the array of possible futures lurking up ahead."
"This book is a clear descendent of Octavia Butler's Black science fiction legacy, but grounded in more explicit queerness and neuroatypicality."
"Ghosts are 'the past refusing to be forgot,' says a character in this assured science-fiction debut. That's certainly the case aboard the HSS Matilda, a massive spacecraft arranged along the cruel racial divides of pre-Civil War America."
Aster has little to offer folks in the way of rebuttal when they call her ogre and freak. She's used to the names; she only wishes there was more truth to them. If she were truly a monster, she'd be powerful enough to tear down the walls around her until nothing remains of her world.
Aster lives in the lowdeck slums of the HSS Matilda, a space vessel organized much like the antebellum South. For generations, Matilda has ferried the last of humanity to a mythical Promised Land. On its way, the ship's leaders have imposed harsh moral restrictions and deep indignities on dark-skinned sharecroppers like Aster. Embroiled in a grudge with a brutal overseer, Aster learns there may be a way to improve her lot--if she's willing to sow the seeds of civil war.
Solomon debuts with a raw distillation of slavery, feudalism, prison, and religion that kicks like rotgut moonshine. On the generational starship Matilda, which will take hundreds of years to reach its destination despite traveling at a significant fraction of the speed of light, a tech-ignorant white supremacy cult called the Sovereignty runs on the labor and intimidation of a black enslaved class. This is worldbuilding by poetry; hard science fiction fans may look in vain for some of the elements they expect from a generation ship story, as the narrative instead relies on many layers of metaphor. Aster Grey, orphaned from birth and raised in slavery on deck Q, teaches herself medicine and much more. She discovers that notes handed down by her mother are encoded and may map the Sovereignty's fatal weakness, but as the notes become shuffled, divided, damaged, and destroyed, it's unclear whether Aster can ever fully decode them. Neuroatypical Aster is literal and unsparing as she examines her precarious life and flawed environment; she accepts the horrors of objective reality but struggles passionately with the allusions and evasions of human interaction. Solomon packs so many conflicts chiefly concerning race, gender, and faith, but also patriarchy, education, mental illness, abortion, and more into a relatively brief space that the story momentarily strains here and there to contain everything. The overall achievement, however, is stunning.