Jul 182022

Light From Uncommon Stars, by Ryka Aoki

Synopsis: Alien refugees sell donuts in the Bay area, one falls in love with a woman who sells souls to hell, as that woman begins grooming a runaway trans girl with world-class violin skills to be her next soul sacrifice.

Book Review: FYI, despite how I had to phrase the synopsis, the primary focus of the novel is on the violinist girl, with a strong secondary focus on the soul-seller, and only a tertiary focus on the aliens.

This book is an absolute delight. Maybe you wouldn’t work this sort of genre mashup would work, but it works so well it’s ridiculous. It’s a modern Cinderella story, which honestly would be a better synopsis, but wouldn’t really give a fair impression of what you’ll be reading. How do I put this?

A recent tweet asked “So many fiction writers seem eager to have us connect with their despair, listlessness, rage, or cynicism. Who are the ones who seem to be saying, “Connect with my joy?”

This novel is a prime answer to that tweet. Yes, really bad things happen to Katrina (the protagonist). We meet her at her absolute lowest point in life. But every page of this book vibrates with optimism and wonder. You can feel the author’s joy in writing, and love for these characters, in every word. The book is a romp, of the kind you normally only see in fanfic or webserials.

I don’t know anything about the background of this author or book, but it feels like it was written as a webserial. Not just due to the emotion tenor of the work either. There are several instances of the author wandering off to explore an interesting side-quest shiny, writing it for a while, and then returning to the main storyline. There’s unusual formatting that suggests places where there were pauses between updates. There’s at least one very brief scene that appears to be patching to address all the commenters saying “Hey, all her problems can be solved with this one easy trick the aliens can do, why is it being ignored?”

To be very clear, this is praise from me, two of the most impactful works in my life are webserials. I love them.

Also this novel is basically a cartoon. And again, this is not a diss. The best works of the modern day are all animated. It allows a freedom to explore ideas that most live-action doesn’t have. The silliness this allows for helps with the fun/joy of the book. This book very much feels like a Steven Universe AU fanfic, <3.

The cartoonishness make ups for the rather glaring problem of “there are only ten beings of moral weight in the universe” that crops up a couple times. It’s a little disorienting, and in a “this is srs bizness” story it would be absolutely fatal. In something cartoony like this it’s easy to gloss over. Discussing it is a spoiler though, so there is a separate post about that.

Against my expectations, this is also a great trans story. I say “against my expectations” because in the current awards environment, to be award-eligible one has to be confronting current social issues. This often results in works where social issues feel crammed-in, or inauthentic. Not uncommonly it results in works that are laser-focused on being performatively outraged to a ludicrous degree. In Light From Uncommon Stars, Katrina is a trans girl with big problems. Many of the problems stem from being trans. But it’s not about the Struggle of Being Trans In An Oppressive Regime. It’s about Katrina. It’s about her personal problems as a teenager, and how she overcomes them. And it’s about aliens and demons and violins. And it’s about finding yourself after securing a nurturing home life.


Book Club Review: Another great novel for book clubs. The energetic writing kept everyone engaged, and there were several really bizarre things that got the group talking. With so much being thrown into the mix, there’s no shortage of items that one can pick up and say “What about this thing, what was all that about?” We had a great turnout. Recommended.

Light From Uncommon Stars on Amazon (sponsor link)

I’m moving to SubStack. Eventually this blog will no longer be updated, so switch on over.

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