The Sound of Stars, Alechia Dow (Inkyard Press 978-1-335-91155-1, $18.99, 432pp, hc) February 2020.
Alechia Dow’s The Sound of Stars opens two years after a first-contact experience (which in retrospect was actually sort of a preliminary invasion) went horribly awry. The Ilori showed up over Earth and humanity responded exactly as every single science fiction story, book, and movie has made clear humanity should not – by trying to blow them out of the sky. After the dust settled, one-third of the planet’s population was dead and the aliens were largely in charge. In New York City, which is firmly under Ilori control, every form of creative expression (books, music, art, etc.) has been outlawed. There is also very little freedom of movement, and some adults have become the unwilling test subjects of a drug protocol that is turning them into automatons. That is what happened to Ellie Baker’s father, while her mother is being worked nearly to death. In desperation the teenager has turned to a small but dangerous form of rebellion: she is sharing books from her family’s former home library (now hidden in their storage unit) with the residents of her apartment building. Then one of the Ilori gets curious about Earth’s culture and finds Ellie’s stash.
First, let us all pause with delight to discover a YA science fiction novel! There are not nearly enough of them, especially those that include alien invasion, cross-country road trips, smart romance, discussions of good books and music, and some significant acts of rebellion. Dow has a tight plot (alien meets girl, alien has a big secret, girl takes a chance to save her family, alien and girl meet some good guys and some bad guys as they flee New York, big exciting ending with some surprise twists), two very different protagonists, and, beyond the obvious nefarious purposes of the Ilori overlords, a compelling look at the social and racial structures of two species which have more in common than the reader will initially expect. It was also nice to see that the book was not New York-centric and included several stops across the country as Ellie and Morris make a break for freedom.
In the midst of the primary storyline, Dow gives readers several points to ponder, ranging from how we communicate and work together in our neighborhoods, cities and country, what we should value (each other, more books, more music, more art), what truly makes us powerful (respecting each other, more books, more music, more art), why we keep screwing up in big ways and small (sigh), and who might be living in California. (I’ll let you find out this wonderfulness on your own.)
To say that The Sound of Stars is particularly well suited for the current moment in history we are experiencing would be a vast understatement (Dow drops some pointed political comments in the narrative), but as with the best science fiction, it has the potential to be timeless. Everyone always secretly hopes they will be heroic if the moment presents itself; The Sound of Stars is a novel of a great moment, and for 2020 readers, it is right on time.
Colleen Mondor, Contributing Editor, is a writer, historian, and reviewer who co-owns an aircraft leasing company with her husband. She is the author of “The Map of My Dead Pilots: The Dangerous Game of Flying in Alaska” and reviews regularly for the ALA’s Booklist. Currently at work on a book about the 1932 Mt. McKinley Cosmic Ray Expedition, she and her family reside in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. More info can be found on her website: www.colleenmondor.com.
This review and more like it in the August 2020 issue of Locus.
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