I can’t get enough of books set in space at the moment. It started with Illuminae, one of my favourite books of last year, endured through reading These Broken Stars and This Shattered World, and inspired me to pick up The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. To that list I now add The Loneliness of Distant Beings, Kate Ling’s brilliant new book about a three hundred year trip across the galaxy to respond to a beacon from what may or may not be a call from another planet.
Of course, the journey isn’t really the main point of Ling’s book, which focuses on Seren, a teenage girl who has spent her whole life on board the Ventura, and will spend the rest of her life on it too. With the mission set to last several hundred years, the original volunteers consigned their descendants to life onboard the ship too, and the unfairness of that is a large factor in Seren’s romantic act of rebellion. The premise really drew me in; the idea of generations of families living out their whole existence essentially trapped in a spaceship fascinated me, and the reality of the set-up onboard is depicted in great, although never unnecessary detail. Ventura’s inhabitants spend their early years in Education before graduating to Service, which also comes with a forced Union: marriage to a partner chosen by the ship’s authorities and participation in a sinister-sounding breeding programme which allowed me to make comparisons between this and The Handmaid’s Tale or Louise O’Neill’s Only Ever Yours, which regular visitors to this blog will know is my favourite reference point for everything.
Fans of the Starbound trilogy by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner should definitely pick up The Loneliness of Distant Beings; there’s a definite similarity in theme to These Broken Stars, although with more romance and less bickering. As a boring grown-up, it’s easy to dismiss the instalove seen in so much YA (and, to be honest, literature as a whole) as unrealistic, but it’s not a stretch to see the frenetic pace of the romance between Seren and Dom as reflective of their insular and limited lives on Ventura. Seren’s reliability as a narrator is sometimes in doubt; she tells us early on that she’s spent time in the medical centre being treated for psychiatric problems, and her mother’s mysterious alleged suicide is mentioned more than once. To my mind, it’s never quite clear whether there’s anything wrong with her; as in Catch-22, if the situation you’re railing against is clearly mad and wrong, how can railing against it be mad and wrong? Seren could easily have ended up as a moaning teenager and unsympathetic character, but her struggle is so convincingly realised that I found myself really rooting for her.
So there’s plenty to be fascinated with in The Loneliness of Distant Beings. It’s riveting without overdoing the action, with the bulk of physical drama coming in the exciting climax. I’m definitely not over space-set stories yet and this is a great addition to my intergalactic bookshelf. I’m excited to see what Kate Ling does next. And, obviously, I want everyone to buy and read this book.