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The Deep Sky: A Novel
By: Yume Kitasei
Published: July 18, 2023
Genre: Science Fiction, Thriller
After spending the first ten years of their mission in hibernation, they had woken eleven months ago, as planned, flying through deep, empty space, light-years from anything. Radiation, cosmic rays, star dust, and junk were always a concern, considering the speed they were traveling at. The ship was equipped with a radiation windscreen, noise shield, magnetic field, and advance warning system to protect them and an army of bots and drones to repair any problems as quickly as possible. But they were literally in uncharted territory. The farthest humans had traveled up to this point was Jupiter, so no one really knew what they might find out here, (Chapter One).
For me, when I think about science fiction thrillers, narratives such as Alien, Independence Day, and Armageddon come to my mind. Yes, I know those are movies. The truth is I haven’t read many science fiction books that would fall under the thriller subgenre; not to mention, some of the sci-fi thrillers tend to crossover into dystopian fiction (i.e. “it’s the end of the world”). However, there are more than a few sci-fi thrillers that are worth reading. One of these titles includes The Deep Sky—the debut novel by Yumi Kitasei—in which, a crew of astronauts must solve a few mysteries abroad their spaceship lightyears away from Earth.
The protagonist in this novel is Asuka Hoshino-Silva. She is in her early to mid-20s, physically; while her actual age places her 10 years older. This is because Asuka—along with 79 other women around the same age—have spent the past 10 years in a chronic sleep while abroad the spaceship, the Phoenix, which has been traveling light years from Earth to Planet X. All 80 of them spent the last 10—though 20 technically—years training in a rigorous program to be 1 of the 80 astronauts selected for a mission to inhabit and to populate Planet X. It’s been several months since the all-female crew have “woken up” and resumed the duties assigned to them on the spaceship. Asuka’s role is an “Alternate,” or someone who takes on the role of whatever needs to be done on the spaceship at the moment. Right now, both Asuka and Kat—one of the other crew members—suit up to investigate an unidentified object on the side of the spaceship’s hull. As they spacewalk towards the spot, Asuka thinks about everything she sacrificed to get here, while worrying about how she hasn’t been able to fulfill her role in the Second Assignment given to the entire crew. Then, there is an explosion. Asuka manages to survive the worst of the blast, but Kat does not. After returning inside the Phoenix safely, Asuka and the surviving crew members learn that 2 others were killed: Captain Becky McMahon and Winnie. Now, the surviving 77 crew members have more than a few problems at hand, one of which is trying to figure out who tried to sabotage the mission. Asuka—now riddled with survivor’s guilt—tries to piece together who tried to kill all of them and why. Asuka thinks back to what she remembers of all of her crewmates, going back to when they were all children and were training and competing for the coveted spots. She is forced to consider the possibility that someone else with close ties to Asuka, back on Earth, could be responsible for the explosion. In order to narrow down her list of suspects, Asuka must revert back to her “competitive” side—the same behavior that led her to making the cut to travel to Planet X. And yet, Asuka knows there are a few on the spaceship who believe she is responsible for the explosion and the deaths of those crew members.
There are 2 plots in this novel; one represents the events of the past and the other one represents the events of the present. The novel begins with the plot in the present: all 80 female astronauts have been traveling through space for over 10 years (they were “asleep” for the initial voyage). As of now, they still have a long way to go before the spaceship reaches Planet X, so the crew has been carrying out their duties on the ship—which, includes medical appointments for physicals and inseminations. Asuka and Kat go out on a spacewalk when an explosion occurs, and Kat and 2 other crew members are killed. Now, the surviving 77 crew members not only have to figure out what happened and why, but also need to repair the damage to the spaceship before they all move off-course and are left stranded in space. The second plot focuses on the past, Asuka’s past. This plot delves into many things about Asuka from her early childhood to her family life, and from her entering EvenStar’s program and all of the ruthless training Asuka and the other girls go through to the events leading up to the day of the launch. This plot isn’t just background information into Asuka’s past on Earth, it investigates her growth into adulthood. Both Asuka and the audience are trying to figure out who tried to sabotage the mission. And, for Asuka to do that she needs to recall what she knows about EVERYONE—both on Earth and on the Phoenix. There is a subplot in this novel, and it focuses on the decisions made by the protagonist and by the other characters in the past and in the present. For some of the characters, some of the difficult choices were made “in the moment” without considering any of the consequences of those choices. This subplot is essential for both plots because now Asuka and the other survivors have to make a few more life-changing choices within a limited time frame.
The narrative in this novel is told from Asuka’s point-of-view in 3rd person limited. The main reason this narrative style works for this story is because there are A LOT of main and secondary characters who interact with the protagonist. Having the story told in 3rd person allows the audience to keep up with Asuka’s perspective; the limited P.O.V. also makes sense because Asuka is trying to figure out the culprit behind the explosion, and solving it won’t be easy, so why should it be for the audience. As I mentioned earlier, the sequence shifts back-and-forth between the present (in space) and the past (on Earth). This means Asuka’s thoughts shift from her stream-of-consciousness (present) to flashbacks (past) of pivotal moments leading up to the launch date. It is important to know that Asuka is experiencing and remembering the good, the bad, and the ugly moments of her life. Yes, you might question a few “incidents” involving both the protagonist and the other characters, but you will conclude that the narrator is reliable. And, more importantly, the narrative can be followed by the audience easily.
The style Yume Kitasei uses for The Deep Sky is different from other sci-fi thrillers in that it begins with a “hopepunk” scenario. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term and the subgenre, hopepunk is when characters in a narrative fight for a “better” future and “positive” change; or, the opposite of the grimdark subgenre. Climate change has destroyed most of Earth, leaving many places uninhabited and causing the extinction of numerous flora and fauna. One billionaire decides to fund a space program with the purpose of searching for a “new” planet to “save” what remains of life on Earth. They gain the approval of all of the world leaders and EvenStar is born. Now, between the founding of this space program and the launch date, the hopepunk within the narrative gets replaced with the brutal reality of both the space program and the continuation of the (believable) effects of climate change. Not to mention, the themes and the notions surrounding nationalism and identity influence both the sponsors and the candidates, which highlights the reality within the fiction and the continuing practices and notions worldwide. The mood in this novel is urgency. However, the urgency is based on a “one shot” scenario. In the past, EvenStar has one shot for the mission to Planet X to be successful. In the present, after the explosion, Asuka and the rest of the survivors have one shot to get the Phoenix back on course to Planet X. The urgency is based on saving humanity from extinction. The tone in this novel is consequences. Everything we do has consequences, positive and negative. We tend to focus more on negative consequences because those are the outcomes no one wanted; unfortunately, once the consequences are known, everyone has to live with them. All of the characters in this narrative are living with the consequences of their actions and their decisions. All 80 astronauts knew the risks and the consequences of the sacrifices they all made in order to embark on this mission. But what about those they left behind, including those who didn’t make the final cut? Or, does one of the crew on the Phoenix expressing regret of their decision to leave Earth?
The appeal for The Deep Sky will be positive. Yume Kitasei wrote a hopepunk science fiction novel, which I believe we will be getting more of in the near future. The novel has received rave reviews on Goodreads, and has been named one of the “Editors’ Picks for Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Books” for July 2023. This debut novel does not withhold the thriller components in the narrative, and this is demonstrated as you read your way through it. Fans of both Andy Weir and Emily St. John Mandel should read The Deep Sky. And, those who read How High We Were in the Dark, The Last Cuentista, and The Deluge should consider reading this book as well. The Deep Sky is an excellent addition to the science fiction genre, and the sci-fi thriller and hopepunk subgenres. The author combines sci-fi with reality while incorporating “newer” ideas into her stories to expand the genre further.
The Deep Sky is an excellent space thriller which bends both contemporary issues that could (more like will) lead to a similar scenario happening in the near future with the “reality” of space travel. Yume Kitasei presents an essential story in her debut novel with strong characters, a topical conflict, and an essential narrative style which allows a full comprehension of the events of the past and the present from 2 different settings. I’m looking forward to reading more stories from this author, and so should you.
My Rating: MUST READ IT NOW (5 out of 5)!!!