Friday, January 8, 2021

The Vanished Birds, by Simon Jimenez (author), Shayna Small (narrator)

Penguin Random House Audio, ISBN 9780593167847, January 2020

The universe of The Vanished Birds is one of, perhaps faster than light travel, but not so fast that crew on trading ships aren't separated from family and friends, staying young while those they leave behind grow old.

Nia Imani is a ship's captain who is a bit isolated, and haunted by guilt at leaving her sister behind to deal with their late father's debts herself.

Kaeda, when we meet him, is a young boy growing up on an agricultural world, a Resource World for the Umbai Corproation. Umbai controls much interstellar trade, and is quite ruthless, but we don't see that in the visits Nia makes to Kaeda's world collect their crop. 

For Kaeda, the visits are fifteen years apart, starting when he's seven, but for Nia, they are eight months apart, and she meets Kaeda as child, youth, adult, and village elder. Not long before one of those visits, Kaeda and his village find that a young boy, naked and scarred, has appeared mysteriously among them. Kaeda takes him temporarily, but since he's obviously from offworld, he is given into Nia's care when she arrives.

The boy doesn't speak, and communicates only with the music of a flute Kaeda gave him--that Nia had previously given to Kaeda. We see the nameless boy and Nia build a relationship, and then gradually, he starts to communicate with other crew members. He begins to talk, and chooses a name, Aro.

At one of their stops, they meet Fumiko Nakajima, and we learn a little about Fumiko's background and strange upbringing on Earth, when it was dying, and invented the space stations and much of the system of interstellar travel--a thousand years in the past.

Fumiko claims Aro, and but also offers Nia a deal. She will take Aro on a years-long journey through the Fringe, an area Nia and her crew would ordinarily prefer to avoid, and remain there till Aro is grown and, hopefully, reaches what Fumiko believes to be his potential. She won't say what she believes that to be until Nia has signed the contract, and she can't tell her crew until they sign the contract. Most of them refuse, and her crew is replaced by people supplied by Fumiko.

And Nia has no idea whether Fumiko's wild expectations will be fulfilled, or if that will be a good or a bad thing. But they are off on their travels, a very different life than before, with new people, building a new family, and a new life for all of them.

Until the day comes that they're supposed to go "home."

This is in many ways a lyrical and strange book, with a hard look at the ruthlessness of corporations, and the science-fictional elements in soft focus. It's fascinating and enjoyable.


I bought this audiobook.

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