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You Sexy Thing

December 5, 2021
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You Sexy Thing is the name of the spaceship, in Cat Rambo’s new science fiction novel. A group of soldiers who have retired from the grand army of the Holy Hive Mind are operating a restaurant called The Last Chance when their space station is attacked; they escape with a food critic and a rich spaceship owner who gives them a password with his dying breath* so they can board his bioship. The password, “I believe in miracles,” is a secret signal to the ship informing it that the crew is stealing it, and that’s just the start of their adventures.

*One of the crew, Lassite, is a priest and healer. He says he can’t heal the rich spaceship owner because “we are forbidden to pass a certain edge, and that is where death crouches.” I was, of course, glad to see his acknowledgement that necromancy never pays.

The universe-building is fascinating, although briefly sketched as bits of backstory like this one: “Old Earth was an environmental disaster, and had been left so as an object lesson, despite what it did to those inhabitants who couldn’t afford to abandon it and find a new world….Both chimps and humans were condemned there; only the dolphins and whales had managed to remove the entirety of their species. The few of those who had chosen to linger were long dead, while their fellows swam between the stars in vast water-filled ships.”

Largely character-driven, the novel features an inventive cast of characters who reveal themselves as the plot unfolds, and not always in ways we’d expect. The group of former soldiers are commanded by Niko, who was “of indeterminate human mix, with pale brown skin and graying dreadlocks,” and her second, chef Dabry, who was an “Ettilite, and eight-foot-tall humanoid with four arms and skin the color of the eggplant.” Then there’s Skidoo, a “Tlellan, which humans sometimes called Squids for their resemblance to one of the few Terran creatures left alive. Her ten limbs functioned as either arms or legs to propel her sacklike body along. Atop that squat bundle was a lump that served as a head, fixed with three bright blue eyes. Unlike Terran squids, she was colored as brightly as a festival, purples and reds variegating across blue and yellow dots and stripes.” And there are the lion shapeshifter brothers, Thorn and Talon, who appear as “tall, well-muscled youths with golden skin, long amber hair, and dark brown eyes” in their human form. Then there’s Gio, a chemist and former quartermaster with a simian body type, and Lassite, with a “narrow, scaled face” and a priest’s robe who has a connection with the restaurant’s Derloens, who “leave what some species might call ‘ghosts’ behind them, and these spirits, while no longer sentient, still inhabited the space in the form of long, glowing blue worms swimming through the air.” And there’s Milly, who was not a soldier with the rest but recently hired as a pastry cook, a bird body type.

Niko protects and tries to educate Talon and Thorn, who “had seen terrible fights in the two years of service with her, and their presence was one of the reasons she and Dabry had figured out how to retire and take all of them outside the Holy Hive Mind’s grasp.” They are agog to see the bioship You Sexy Thing, so when we find they actually get to travel in it, we’re happy for them. This is a trap, as not everyone will survive the adventure.

The food critic turns out to also be a space pirate, a connection to a world Niko is still entangled with. And a character who has been mailed to Niko in a crate turns out to have connections to the Empress of the Paxian Empire. Niko dodges and circles, but some of the webs set up to catch her hold her and the crew long enough to keep them from escaping entirely unscathed.

The character development of the ship is one of the most fascinating parts of this fascinating story. It took “more than eighty years to become fully grown” and for its “adulthood rites” it was pitted against its siblings in fights to the death, which was “when it had first learned about emotions, first with the adrenaline surge of joy and later the throb of loss as old habits died and it tried to speak to a sibling no longer there.”

The ship’s second owner, “an elderly androgyne who wrote poetry….taught the ship about humor, but the ship, which had had so many names before becoming You Sexy Thing, was still unsure about that. It did think it understood sorry and anger and pride by now, and after the poet died and it kept passing from hand to hand until it finally settled as a favorite possession among many possessions owned by Arpat Takraven…it continued to learn emotions, chief among them boredom, irritation, and impatience, but its software prohibited it from acting on any of these in overt ways.”

You Sexy Thing tells Niko and her company that the space pirate “directed me to shut off all life support except for the level she is on, but does not have full control over that function, so I chose not to do so.”

Later we learn that the ship misses them, thinking that
“They had made life so much more entertaining. They made demands, for one. They asked for foods the ship had never been asked to provide before, and then they taught the ship how to make all manner of things. It thought now, savoring the emotion of sadness, that it might never be asked to make any of them. They had been enjoyable to watch.
But more than any of this, they did something that none of its owners had ever done before, even the poet, whose conversation had been like speaking to a simple-minded pet. Niko and her friends had talked to the Thing; they had interacted with it as though it were another person, there in the room with them.”

At the end of the adventure, Niko is left with “her crew, one of the fastest ships in the world, and someone to find,” so we know there will be more adventures.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. December 5, 2021 7:57 am

    Just bought it for my son — thanks!

  2. December 6, 2021 7:35 pm

    Ok, love the title and password. 😂

    • December 7, 2021 1:02 pm

      Yes, they’re fun. That’s indicative of the sense of humor in the novel (for short, they refer to the ship as Thing, which also amused me).

  3. December 7, 2021 12:57 pm

    Now I’m going to have that Hot Chocolate song running through my head all day! Does the song get any further reference than the ship name and the password? Sounds like a fun book. I m ight have to look for it!

    • December 7, 2021 1:01 pm

      Every time I see the title, the song starts running through my head. I don’t think there is any further reference to the song other than the ship’s name and the one password, but I wasn’t looking for them.
      It is a fun book.

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