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The Daughter Star and The Seeker Star

April 29, 2015

A friend of mine who is on twitter more than I am heard an author say she would send her new book to anyone likely to review it, so he sent me a message telling me to look at it, because it sounded “right up my alley.” The author was Susan Jane Bigelow, and the book was The Seeker Star. On this occasion I echoed something I recall Jo Walton saying one time, that “I’ll read almost anything if it has aliens and spaceships in it.” These books do, and the aliens are unlike any I’ve read about before. Bigelow’s publishers, Candlemark & Gleam, were kind enough to send me the first book in the series, The Daughter Star, in addition to The Seeker Star, which takes up where the first one left off.

In The Daughter Star, Marta Grayline is a spaceship pilot for a trade fleet from a small country called Gideon that is ruled by the Church, on a planet with high gravity called Nea, where some of the people from Earth moved when aliens called the Abrax provided “windows” to Nea and the lower-gravity Adastre. When Nea and Adastre go to war, she is forced to return to Gideon for a while. Her younger sister Beth goes with her as an engineer when she returns to space to fly cargo for Nea’s side, but then they both get rescued and caught up in the activities of people who are neutral in the war and call themselves Shadow Runners. One of them, Janice, is from Gideon, and they trade stories about their sister Violet’s upcoming wedding and Janice’s father’s threat to “steal her eggs” since she didn’t stay home and reproduce like a proper young Gideon lady. When the Shadow Runners trust Marta with a ship, she sets off to rescue a group that includes her sister and some of the alien Abrax, and she gets entangled in a fight for independence from Nea and Adastre on a mining planet called Haven.

Finding Beth, who has merged with an Abrac, Marta finds out the secret about why her ancestors left Earth. Much of it is sung into her mind by the Abrax part of her sister:
“The Abrax, ancient and powerful, spread through space. They built amazing cities on far-flung planets. But…they weren’t the Abrax. Not the Abrax as Marta knew them. So different, they were tiny and gray, with a dozen long, spindly legs, four powerful arms, and squat, spiderlike bodies. They moved with such grace.
But this wasn’t the first, Beth said. We are many.
The scene shifted.
Now the Abrax were huge winged creatures, clumsy with tools but highly intelligent and evolved. They ventured forth into the stars, seeking others like themselves….
And then…they began to evolve beyond themselves, and their physical forms began to shift and change. They became unmoored.
They didn’t know what to do. They were both frightened and elated by what they were becoming. There was a terrible fear that they would lose everything that had made them who they were, that all of their technology, culture, and knowledge would be lost as they left their physical forms behind. The decision was made to split themselves.
The Abrax found another race, a new people who were just beginning their journey into the stars, and poured their essence into them.
And then the old Abrax vanished into nothing, while the new Abrax, the Alil Abrax, began to evolve.
It happened again and again, and billions of years passed.”

Marta and the other humans realize that, rather than the story they grew up with, which is that Earth was destroyed, the Abrax merged with the humans left on earth to produce Alil.

In the end, Beth is kidnapped by an anti-Alil group called “Humans First,” and Marta has to set out to find her and rescue her, once again an independent spaceship pilot.

At the beginning of The Seeker Star, Marta and Beth’s other sister, Violet, finds her attempt to fit in as a good Gideon wife and mother foiled by infertility, and so she sets out to find her sisters and bring them home. More than Marta or Beth, Violet believes in Gideon and the potential for women to make a difference in their patriarchal society.

Like her sisters, Violet can speak to and hear the Abrax, and she finds that there is one particular Abrac who has chosen to spend her life helping her, although sometimes the help comes in the form of influencing or manipulating her to do things she wouldn’t otherwise be brave enough to do, like finally reveal the truth about Earth to both the Adastrans and the people of her own home planet.

Because some of the human forces on Earth, including former Shadow Runners, are threatening to kill the remaining Alil, Violet comes up with a plan to evacuate them to Nea and provide sanctuary, partly because her sister Beth, now an Alil, should be protected under Gideon’s laws.

Marta explains to Violet that the Alil are
“a way of prolonging their species. They have a long evolutionary cycle they always go through, and they’re at the end of it now. They evolve into nothing but patterns of energy, I think, and they think that’s really bad. Like, a kind of death, only worse. So they need to transfer the things that make their species what it is to a younger species so the Abrax will continue.”

Although Violet continues to feel that every group she meets wants to use her in some way, she finally allies herself with a General whose aims seem to be similar enough to her own to make it worth tossing his way what ends up being her considerable influence. He tells her that
“my men and I have been frustrated with the slow pace of change. We fought for Nea and Gideon on Haven, Violet…thousands of us died….And when we came home, there were the same old travel restrictions, the same communications restrictions, the same attitude towards the women we love and respect….We fought alongside women on Haven, women from every other country on Nea but ours. They were our comrades and our friends. We remember their sacrifice. We came home, and were ashamed of how we’d treated our own women. So we pushed for change.”

By asking the right questions at the right times, Violet continually pushes for transparency, forcing the Abrax and Alil to live up to their admission that no matter how ancient and powerful their race might be, it has been wrong to try to manipulate the humans.

Violet rallies first the women, then the reverends, and then all the people of Gideon to her cause, reforming the government and providing refuge to the Alil who survive the war between the former Shadow Runners and the “Humans First” group versus the human allies of the Alil and the Abrax.

No one, including Violet’s family, is unscathed by war. Gideon can no longer hold itself separate from other Novan countries, and the Novan countries where Alil settled now “shared the bounty of their technological knowledge.” By refusing to let herself be used for anyone else’s purpose, Violet has helped to create a world in which humans and aliens can cooperate and thrive.

It’s a satisfying adventure, with plenty of detail about the rocket ships, and aliens that are quite complicated and interesting.

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