Chasing the Stars
I was promised “gender-swapped Othello in space!” when I picked up Malorie Blackman’s Chasing the Stars, and while I don’t exactly feel cheated, I somehow did not expect to get a version of the story that, like the movie O, gives the Iago figure a motive. And then…
Oh, Malorie Blackman, “thou hast not half that power to do me harm/
As I have to be hurt.”
… this version of the story shows Desdemona getting the chance to explain how the handkerchief (in this version, the necklace) was lost. This version also completely exposes the Iago figure’s villainy, in addition to his motive.
Chasing the Stars ends with the most inane dialogue imaginable, the Othello figure saying
“You promised to love me for ever and it was implied, though never stated, that I wouldn’t try to kill you”
and the Desdemona figure still unable to forgive, speaking his parting words
“you take care of yourself, OK?”
The beautiful, haunting words of one of the most passionate plays in the history of the English language reduced all the way down to these. Really?
And it started so well! I liked the science fiction handling of the racial aspect of the play when the Desdemona figure, Nathan, reveals that he is a “drone” and the Othello figure, Vee, (gender-swapped but not race-swapped, evidently) responds “Like you could be a drone! They’re just sub-intellect labourers doing all the menial, manual work that’s too filthy or hazardous for normal people to do” because she’s never been a slave, never seen “The Anthropophagi and men whose heads/Do grow beneath their shoulders.”
The relationship between Nathan (Desdemona) and Anjuli (Cassio) is very nicely set up—on the prison planet where they were both drones, Nathan says,
“Anjuli had befriended me, shown me the ropes and taught me which guards and supervisors to avoid like primate flu and which ones were still relatively human. And she’d actually saved my life once. I would’ve sunk without trace if it hadn’t been for her and we both knew it.”
Similarly, the relationship between Vee and her Iago is very well set up and fits the science fiction theme interestingly, although aspects of it are a surprise that it would entirely spoil the book to reveal.
Let’s talk about the writing, though. I was bothered by the occasional needless use of words like “amongst” in sentences like this one: “The only thing I hadn’t shared with any of the others was the executive command code which allowed me amongst other things to lock out or lock down any computer function at a moment’s notice.” Then it accelerated. I started seeing “whilst” in sentences like “Nathan, you’d better make the most of her whilst you’ve got her” and “He was locked out whilst there were people inside the conduits.”
So I was less inclined to give this author a pass for quoting bits of Othello like “Beware the green-eyed monster which mocks the meat it feeds on” without any reference to what the second part means in this space-age context. I was also complely unprepared to forgive the author of a 2016 novel for using Wash’s famous phrase from the 2005 movie Serenity, about being “a leaf on the wind” in this clunky sentence:
“Aidan made that craft dance like a leaf on the wind.”
It’s not that bad an updating but boy, did it make me angry. Desdemona would never leave Othello. Othello would never leave her. The ending of this particular story is always that when Othello no longer loves Desdemona, then “Chaos is come again.” It’s not just another day in the universe, you know?