Revenge is a dish that’s best served cold, but that doesn’t mean it’s not complicated. These three novels use the imaginative landscapes of science fiction to explore the motivations behind revenge and how the act itself can help (or hurt, as the case may be) a larger cause.
“Medusa Uploaded” by Emily Devenport (Tor Books, $16.99 paper)
On the generational ship Olympia, worms like Oichi are supposed to know their place. They’re the servant class, subject to the whims of the Executives. But after Oichi’s parents are killed aboard the explosion of a sister ship, she begins plotting her revenge. Those around her don’t take kindly to that, and Oichi is sentenced to death in the vacuum of space for her trouble. But before she takes her last breath, a sentient AI called Medusa rescues her and Oichi begins to realize just how much she has been lied to over the years. It’s a strange world that Devenport creates, and it takes time to adjust to its intricacies and terms. (“Worms,” for example, is a slur against the lower class, and no reflection on their form). The narrative is dense, but the author did an excellent job guiding me through it. I was specifically fascinated by the otherworldly nature of the Medusa units — this book promises to be the first in a series about them — and what that meant for the people on board the Olympia. There are mysteries around every corner here, layered on top of one another, and the end product is just as fantastic as one would hope.
“Afterwar” by Lilith Saintcrow (Orbit, $15.99 paper)
Sometimes there’s a difference between liking a book and thinking it’s necessary. “Afterwar” is incredibly timely, well written and important. But is it enjoyable? Not so much. The novel is set in a future America, in the aftermath of a terrible civil war, and the country is led by a brutal regime reminiscent of Nazi Germany. Fighting against them are the “Federal” forces, and finally, they’re winning. The book opens with the liberation of a death “kamp,” and the scene is horrific. It’s there the reader meets Lara, a prostitute favored by the camp captain. After he flees, she is finally free to make her own choices and joins a team searching for war criminals. The novel centers on, as the title suggests, the aftermath of war. Is it possible to recover after such brutality? What happens when achieving peace is even harder than ending the war? And is it possible to set aside revenge and focus on rebuilding? These are questions without easy answers, and it’s a testament to Saintcrow’s skill that she handles them so deftly. It’s at once a large story but also an intimate personal one, thanks to Lara.
“Space Unicorn Blues” by T.J. Berry (Angry Robot, $12.99 paper)
In the strange future of “Space Unicorn Blues,” human beings live alongside creatures of magic and even gods. You’d think having mystical powers meant that you were higher up in the pecking order, but as Gary Cobalt, a half-unicorn knows, his very existence means a prison sentence. He’s been in captivity for years, and now he just wants freedom. The problem is he has to contend with his desire for revenge against Jenny, the woman who imprisoned and tortured him before turning Gary over to the authorities. The galaxy and crew of misfits that Berry creates are weird. It’s a universe with its own laws, but this isn’t the kind of novel that asks you to figure out how everything works. Shut your brain off and go along for the wild ride that Berry provides. This novel can get grisly at times, including some uncomfortable scenes where Gary is victimized by Jenny. Still, Berry deftly creates a diverse and representative universe full of all kinds of magical creatures and humans, a strange, wacky world.