Across a Field of Starlight Review

By | Monday, July 31, 2023 Leave a Comment
The Fireback rebels are in a long-standing war with the Blossom empire. Fassen, who was accidentally orphaned as young child, was training to become a Fireback medic when they managed to help distract a number of Empire soldiers during an ambush. Their natural skill caught the attention of Nide, a virtually legendary Fireback fighter and he recruited Fassen into a role Fassen was decidedly more excited for. They begin training using some recently stolen Blossom tech that acts as a kind of thought-responsive, gelatinous bio-armor. They eventually gain enough intel to make plan a very strategic strike against Blossom but, while things do largely go to plan, Fassen and Nide butt heads when Nide orders all the civilians and children killed.

Meanwhile, Fassen's long-time friend Lu is conducting experiments on what appears to be a similar gelantinous substance she happened across in a wreck. Despite Lu being part of an independent faction actively working to remain out of the war, the two share insights across light years, which allows Fassen to get acclimated to their bio-armor more quickly than their peers. What is surprising, though, is that once Fassen and Nide run into conflict with one another and Fassen goes into a near-panic to escape, they are instantly teleported to Lu's location. This leads to Fireback, and then Blossom, following them and bringing the war directly to the independent's doorstep.

That is the basic backdrop of Blue Delliquanti's Across a Field of Starlight... but that's not the story. It's also not a love story. Or a coming of age story. Or any version of the hero's journey. It is a story about... well, it's probably easiest if I just copy some of Delliquanti's own notes from the Afterward...
A common conversation I've had with people over the last few years is based around the question of what we deserve. Can we live in a society that provides everyone with food, shelter, or health care, even those who can't pay for it? Does everyone deserve it? Many people are told they are undeserving of certain things based on who they are or what they have... This affects how we live, how we think of ourselves, and what we feel obligated to do just to get by... How can anybody dream of going to the stars if they're told the don't deserve them?

What we see, then, in the quieter moments is characters (mostly Fassen) trying to even comprehend how a society unlike the one they were raised in even be a thing. For example, Fassen immediately begins talking about paying off his debt to the people in Lu's commune from the health care they provided his teammate, Sertig. Except that only serves to confuse everyone because health care is free in Lu's world. The notion that Fassen would have any debt to pay off is entirely lost on them. Most of the examples are a bit more subtle than that, but that's the general idea.

I can see some people who are looking to attack anyone promoting even vaguely liberal ideas like ripping this book to shreds. Delliquanti doesn't even attempt to explain how a free health care system might work, and those with an axe to grind migt dismiss both the idea and the whole book as a utopian fantasy. Here's the thing, though: it's science fiction. There is all sorts of technology in the book that is clearly well beyond anything we have and what is science fiction but showing us the possibilities that might exist if we're able to move a bit further in this technology or that. There's thought-responsive bio-armor here, so worrying about how free health care might be practical in this world is something only a disingenuous jackass would argue about. It's about putting ideas out there that people can work towards. You think cell phones just came to engineers out of nowhere? No, those people were the ones watching Star Trek as kids! That's what Delliquanti is trying to do here: get people to think about how we could provide food, shelter, and other necessities to people who need it, not just those who can afford it!

Despite the progressive "agenda" throughout the book as a whole, it doesn't get preachy at any point. The story is always moving along, and the social elements being discussed are woven into the story pretty seamlessly for the most part. There's some solid characterization throughout and everyone's voices feel authentic and unique, and the art is impressively solid throughout. (Impressive because the book clocks in at nearly 350 pages!) There were a couple sequences in which Fassen interacts with some locals near the training facility that I didn't quite understand the inclusion of, and there was a bit of storytelling fuzziness around the two AI's "discussion" towards the end (though I think the fuzziness was somewhat deliberate) but the book on the whole was a very good read. And I was very pleased to see someone working some genuinely excellent questions into a story like this, without hitting readers over the head with social commentary.

Across a Field of Starlight came out last year from RH Graphic and the paperback retails for $16.99 US. You should still be able to pick it up or order through your favorite bookstore or you can order it from the author via their Big Cartel store.
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