Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Byr): Vroom! by Barbara McClintock

Sisters of the Vast Black

On the sparsely settled frontier of humanity's galactic exodus, nuns from the Order of Saint Rita provide aid and perform rites where needed. Their ship, Our Lady of Impossible Constellations, is a colossal, photosynthesizing sea slug with habitable cavities. The order's Reverend Mother, vowed to silence decades ago, has long acted with some sense of independence, thanks in part to a generation-old war that severed Earth Central Governance's control over humanity's outlying systems. But old bureaucracies are stirring. A new pope rules the Vatican, one who is less willing to let the church's far-flung functionaries operate on their own. And ECG, despite its catastrophic loss in the last war, remains the most powerful human polity, and its greedy eyes have turned heavenward once more.

Lina Rather's debut, Sisters of the Vast Black, is a science-fiction novella with the wallop of a much larger work. In only 160 pages, Rather builds an intriguing human future populated by layered characters. The book also explores timely Catholic concerns, especially tensions between the Vatican and nuns in the United States, and how political posturing and religious dogmatism interfere with doing good works. Beyond these thematic successes, Sisters of the Vast Black is excellent sci-fi. Our Lady of Impossible Constellations, the sea slug ship, is gratifyingly imaginative, and its occupants hold secrets both heartwarming and shocking. Sisters of the Vast Black breathes new life into the sub-genre of space-based religious orders. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer