There were elements of Space Unicorn Blues I liked, but unfortunately it couldn’t make up for some of the clunky world-building and general hatefulness of some of the characters (or their past). Sometimes it was a bit too on the nose intersectional that it completely took you out of the plot. Occasionally it was fine but sometimes it was *HONK* INTERSECTIONAL MOMENT *HONK*.
I think the plot is fairly simple, while all the characters and universe complicate it. On the surface, a misfit crew have to deliver a set of packages to a summit. The complication being that the misfit crew have a really awful history and the universe is basically Trumpian politics on a galactic scale.
Humans escaped a dying planet only to become a plague upon other intelligent beings, the Bala. The Bala are basically magical creates (unicorns, fairies, elves etc) that have already been in space for a long time. Fine. They have over a 100 years subjugated the Bala and alternatively kill them or harvest them for their magical parts.
Unicorns for example, can power faster than light travel with their horns. Which is kind of a daft way to build your ships but whatever. Anyway, Gary is a half-unicorn and has just got out of jail. He then teams up with Jenny and Jim, who held him captive for 2 years and stole is his ship. They are joined by Ricky, a transwoman who basically outs Gary as a unicorn (he looks mostly human) and fucks up his attempt to leave the planet. Jenny is a Maori, lesbian, disabled ex-Reason officer and Jim is just an asshole (that is basically his sole character trait).
The problem for me sets in quite early, as Ricky apparently knows that The Reason (humanity’s organisation out in space) are going to confiscate her bar that day anyway (because the Reason are racist against the Bala and also massive bigots). So she could have just cut a deal with Gary and escaped relatively easy, but she didn’t. It really irked me throughout the book. There were a bunch of these things that bugged me all along the way.
No one took the obvious or easy or sane route out of problems. Therefore, the other problem was the perpetual peril the team were in almost all the time, there was just no let up. It was impossible predicament after impossible predicament, which they manage to just escape from. Jim is perpetually an asshole (they only keep him on board as he’s 100% human so can get him through the Reason checkpoints) and is just really irritating all the time.
The whole other problem was the summit itself, where benevolent god like beings were going to judge how well the humans and Bala got along. I think the subtext of the book was that humans didn’t think the omnipotent beings would come back and so treated everyone terribly. I didn’t like the deus ex machina vibe about it. Also, I don’t think humanity would be that dumb and take that chance. Maybe I have believed it more if there was some background to why the Reason turned out that way, but instead you are just dumped with fundamentally evil humanity. And maybe that’s fine. I think .a story about how terrible humans would be fine. But I couldn’t buy it as on one hand you had the Reason, but on the other hand you had stories of other humans siding with Bala and trying to make peace (or having inter-species families). There are a few clunky attempts at explaining humans in general behaving badly but it was so ad-hoc and tacked on that it never really resonated as an adequate explanation.
But there was also the crew. Their histories are so polluted that I don’t think they could ever co-operate. At any point Gary could have probably dealt with them all (peacefully or non-peacefully). Instead, he just kind of exists. He’s quite boring as a character and really only exists in order for the crew to be in constant peril or for some of them to have their own catharsis. He’s essentially a McGuffin in unicorn-human form.
The ending is also fundamentally unsatisfying, I think doing the classic thing of sacrificing the story for a potential sequel. Or at least it felt that way. Several things happen in this story that clearly need a sequel to make sense. It was a bit hammer on nail and anti-climactic meetings.
Anyway, I think more time spent on make a coherent universe, and less time of making zany shit happen, would have helped this book. I just could see way too much of the scaffolding to make it interesting or keep me into the story. It was also a little predicable at times (especially with what the cargo was going to hold.) I feel like it had a lot of potential but sacrificed storytelling for silliness, and proper character building with just chunks of exposition. It was nice that it was so diverse (except for Jim) but it could have been better handled. You might like it, you might hate it. I certainly was disappointed.