Tom Whitmore Reviews Escaping Exodus by Nicky Drayden

Escaping Exodus, Nicky Drayden (Harper Voy­ager 978-0-06-286773-5, $15.99, 300pp, tp) Oc­tober 2019.

On a generation ship, two young people from different classes meet and fall in love. One rises, one falls, and their complex and forbidden rela­tionship causes a major rupture in the society. This is a classic SF trope: Drayden takes it to new places.

In Escaping Exodus, people use a pod of space whales as generation ships to escape an (unnamed) catastrophe on Earth. The people “ter­raform” the interior of the beasts, exploiting both the beasts’ internal systems and the biota that have adapted to live inside them; as those systems are exhausted, the society has to move from one beast to another. There are ten different groups, each with a different social system – we see one in de­tail through Drayden’s characters, and only get glimpses of a few others. Drayden concentrates on an African-based, female-dominated society with polyamorous marriages and strong emphasis on family lines, and she does an excellent job of show­ing the strengths and weaknesses of such a system. The crises the characters go through make a great deal of sense within the society. I found myself slowing down reading the book, even though it’s got a breakneck pace: I wanted to take just a little longer to be with these people as they grow.

Nicky Drayden’s new novel builds on the amaz­ing strengths she’s shown before. If you can imag­ine a feminist, Afro-centric, queer Heinlein juve­nile, with a strong discussion of class politics, then you might get close to what she’s doing here. I don’t think I could have imagined such a book be­fore reading this one. This is something I’ve been missing.

This review and more like it in the September 2019 issue of Locus.

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