Review: The Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez, at Strange Horizons

My review of Simon Jimenez's debut novel The Vanished Birds appears today in Strange Horizons. This is a fantastic novel that hasn't really gotten the attention it deserves--perhaps because its title and artsy cover design obscured its meat-and-potatoes SF premise, which in turn may have alienated readers who picked it up expecting a straightforward literary novel. Whatever the reason, if you're a fan of smart, well-written, thought-provoking science fiction, you should absolutely pick up The Vanished Birds, which riffs off the space freighter found family premise (familiar to us from everything from Firefly to the novels of Becky Chambers) in several intriguing ways, and uses it to give readers a glimpse of how the logic of capitalism asserts itself in far-future, spacefaring civilization.
The Vanished Birds both honors the space freighter premise and dismantles it—at one point, literally. Only part of the novel is set on a ship and among a crew, and by its end both feel irrelevant to the novel's point—and certainly to its characters. But The Vanished Birds nevertheless feels like a quintessential additional to the subgenre, because, perhaps more than any example of it since Firefly itself, it grasps that this is a premise rooted in inequality. Unlike traditional space opera, with its gargantuan time scales and equally gargantuan space objects and battles, the space freighter gives us a groundling's view of the inhabited galaxy. Its stories are often concerned with the prosaic demands of life under capitalism, and especially for people who possess only a small amount of power within it. What The Vanished Birds is interested in is the limited choices and limiting structures that such a life binds people into, even those who supposedly enjoy the freedom of a spaceship. 
I know we just got done handing out last year's Hugo awards, but if there's one novel from 2020 that I am eager to see on next year's shortlists, The Vanished Birds is it. Hopefully more people will discover it.


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