Real talk: I love space opera. Like, LOVE it. I cut my teeth on Elizabeth Moon. I’ve read the Liaden books more times than there are books. Give me Miles Vorkosigan or give me death. One of my absolute favorite comfort re-reads that nobody has ever heard of is Doyle and MacDonald’s Mageworlds series. Space opera is one of the first things I ever handwaved about. It combines everything I love about science fiction with the character-driven arcs that make me adore romance. I just REALLY LOVE it.
So when POLARIS RISING showed up on my radar, I got a little giddy. Space opera has fallen out of style, a little bit, and I don’t necessarily blame anybody for it. There’s other, more exciting ways to tell a story, particularly when you’re trying to write about complex concepts and marginalized voices, which we all should be. The fine old tradition of space opera has its roots – like so many of the things we love – in lots of problematic stuff. Colonialism, imperialism, military-industrial complexes, you name it. (Incidentally: this post is about POLARIS RISING, but another recent book called AURORA RISING – not to be confused with POLARIS’ upcoming sequel, AURORA BLAZING – I know, I’m confusing you, sorry – does an amazing job of looking at some of this stuff through a YA lens. It’s a little less space opera and more space heist movie, with a fantastic, diverse cast of characters. I recommend it!)
So anyway. I got really excited about a new take on space opera, written in the current age of publishing. And it turns out I was right to be excited, because oh. my. gosh. This book is SO good, and for SO many reasons. There’s a rebellious space princess! (There HAS to be a rebellious space princess. I don’t make the rules.) There’s cool technology, both in widespread use and in SUSPICIOUS SECRET SPACE LABS! There’s a sexy rebel! There’s family conflict! There’s secret society people working behind the scenes! Somebody inherits a planet! (Like you do.) There’s action! There’s chase scenes! There is a cool planet-city where you go to shop for stuff! I mean. Just… everything, you know?
But what I want to yell about specifically is the immersion. Jessie Mihalik is an amazing author with a gift for description. Her worldbuilding (spacebuilding?) is incredibly on point. I was invested in learning about the different ships Ada and her crew were on, the planets and buildings they visited. Mihalik is able to describe the world Ada inhabits as effectively as if she were writing contemporary romance in a familiar setting; the details are all there. Specifically, what made me fall instantly in love with this book and this author: this is the only book I have ever read that casually identifies where the toilets are on spaceships.
Ada goes to the bathroom in space and it’s an incredible detail that legitimately MADE this book for me. I don’t know whether this says more about me or the book – I think everyone else is talking about the fabulous settings, the really cool intrigue, Ada’s fascinating family and the conflict that is building in their society that will be continuing through the rest of the series, the secondary characters who are all really interesting in their own right, and more. And here I am yelling about space toilets. But honestly? That detail took my breath away. It showed the amount of thought that went into this book. And – yes – I’ll say it: I can’t imagine a man writing that detail in, even if they were writing a female lead. It felt like for once, this amazing space opera, a genre I’ve loved even when it’s problematic and weird and targeted at men who fetishize the military, for once, this one was written for ME. And I loved it. Thanks for the space potties, Jessie. Keep ‘em coming.