The Order of Saint Rita aboard the living spaceship Our Lady of Impossible Constellations has one objective: to do as much good throughout the outer systems as they can. They’ve officiated weddings, tended to both births and deaths, and assisted in countless humanitarian missions. But now, the celibate order faces a theological conundrum: Should they allow their ship to mate?
Though Sisters of the Vast Black—the debut novella of the writer Lina Rather, whose fiction has appeared in Lightspeed, Shimmer, and elsewhere—opens on a fantastic premise, the novella isn’t only about theological questions in space. The Order of Saint Rita quickly gets caught up in a conspiracy much larger than their modest order that hints at a revival of the deadliest war the universe has seen. At the same time, both the Reverend Mother, who has taken a mysterious vow of silence, and Sister Gemma, who oversees the ship’s health and research projects, grapple with secrets of their own.
Sisters of the Vast Black packs a lot of story and strong worldbuilding into its very brief narrative. The story is dense and robust, striking the perfect pace on its way to a satisfying conclusion. The imagery of a gastropod-derived loving ship is compelling, painting a vivid picture of a fascinating technology. The ensemble cast also works well despite the limited space—an impressive feat, particularly with how well-rounded and distinct the characters are.
A novella isn’t much space to critique and deconstruct such broad concepts as space colonization, but this one nonetheless comments incisively on the topic, in particular illustrating how religious proselytization can be used as a tool of political control even as the religion itself provides solace for believers.
Sisters of the Vast Black is a deft, compact novella that encapsulates a story that is cosmic in scope while still being poignant and compelling on a micro-level, individual scale. The rich worldbuilding supports an immersive tale that is as satisfying as it is vast.