An Unkindness of Ghosts
A Best Book of 2017: NPR, The Guardian, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Bustle, Bookish, Barnes & Noble, Chicago Public Library, Book Scrolling.
CLMP Firecracker Award Winner
A Stonewall Book Award Honor Book
Finalist for the 2018 Locus Award, John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and the Lambda Literary Award.
Nominated for the 2018 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Debut Novel
"What Solomon achieves with this debut--the sharpness, the depth, the precision--puts me in mind of a syringe full of stars. I want to say about this book, its only imperfection is that it ended. But that might give the wrong impression: that it is a happy book, a book that makes a body feel good. It is not a happy book. I love it like I love food, I love it for what it did to me, I love it for having made me feel stronger and more sure in a nightmare world, but it is not a happy book. It is an antidote to poison. It is inoculation against pervasive, enduring disease. Like a vaccine, it is briefly painful, leaves a lingering soreness, but armors you from the inside out."
"In Rivers Solomon's highly imaginative sci-fi novel An Unkindness of Ghosts, eccentric Aster was born into slavery on--and is trying to escape from--a brutally segregated spaceship that for generations has been trying to escort the last humans from a dying planet to a Promised Land. When she discovers clues about the circumstances of her mother's death, she also comes closer to disturbing truths about the ship and its journey."
"What Solomon does brilliantly in this novel is in the creation of a society in which dichotomies loom over certain aspects of the narrative, and are eschewed by others...Hearkening back to the past in visions of the future can hold a number of narrative purposes...The past offers us countless nightmares and cautionary tales; so too, I'm afraid, can the array of possible futures lurking up ahead."
"This book is a clear descendent of Octavia Butler's Black science fiction legacy, but grounded in more explicit queerness and neuroatypicality."
"Ghosts are 'the past refusing to be forgot, ' says a character in this assured science-fiction debut. That's certainly the case aboard the HSS Matilda, a massive spacecraft arranged along the cruel racial divides of pre-Civil War America."
Aster has little to offer folks in the way of rebuttal when they call her ogre and freak. She's used to the names; she only wishes there was more truth to them. If she were truly a monster, she'd be powerful enough to tear down the walls around her until nothing remains of her world.
Aster lives in the lowdeck slums of the HSS Matilda, a space vessel organized much like the antebellum South. For generations, Matilda has ferried the last of humanity to a mythical Promised Land. On its way, the ship's leaders have imposed harsh moral restrictions and deep indignities on dark-skinned sharecroppers like Aster. Embroiled in a grudge with a brutal overseer, Aster learns there may be a way to improve her lot--if she's willing to sow the seeds of civil war.
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About the Author
Rivers Solomon graduated from Stanford University with a degree in comparative studies in race and ethnicity and holds an MFA in fiction writing from the Michener Center for Writers. Though originally from the United States, they currently live in Cambridge, England, with their family. An Unkindness of Ghosts is their debut.
Included in Los Angeles Review of Books's Reading the Rainbow: A Pride Reading List (Blue + Violet)
Included in the American Library Association's GLBTRT 2019 Over the Rainbow List
Included in Hypable's list of book recommendations related to Captain Marvel
"This novel from an exciting new voice follows Aster, who lives in the slums of a spaceship that is escorting the last survivors of humanity to a Promised Land--a journey that has taken decades so far. The vessel is segregated and cruel, and as she tries to escape, she starts discovering dark connections between her own mother's death and the fate of the ship's sovereign. Solomon has already been called a successor to Octavia Butler, rightly so."
"Rivers Solomon's debut science fiction novel is cunning, dark, and unapologetic; atmospheric and visceral; the kind of story that pulls you in and doesn't let go. Aboard the HSS Matilda, a spaceship in the future, Solomon and her characters deftly tackle race, identity, sexuality, gender, poverty, and discrimination, all with thoughtful insight and thrilling intensity. This is a difficult work that pays off; the rare kind of book that stays with you for years. You should read it now--I plan to read it again."
Selected by Montreal's Drawn + Quarterly for their Strange Futures Book Club
"This book thoughtfully explores race, gender, and much more, while delivering a story that you won't be able to put down."
"This is a dark book in which the characters are treated brutally, but also a powerful one. For me, the nuances of how Aster's peers deal with mental illness, neurodivergence, and trauma are especially fascinating."
--Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog
"An Unkindness of Ghosts is a debut of a powerful new voice in science fiction, and a must-read for fans of Ursula Le Guin, N.K. Jemisin, Octavia Butler, and Margaret Atwood."
--BookRiot, Included in 8 Great Reads to Get Into Afrofuturism
"Perfect for: Readers who are looking for a space opera that tackles themes surrounding identity in thoughtful and fascinating ways."
--Bookish, included in 4 Space Operas to Celebrate May the 4th
"With an Afrofuturist premise grounded in a queer neuroatypical worldview, An Unkindness of Ghosts is the post-Butler novel many of us have been waiting for."
"My recommendation for today is to check out An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon, which made all kinds of sci-fi and fantasy 'best' lists of last year. It's about a stratified society aboard a spacecraft, and it is intensely thought-provoking."
--LeVar Burton Reads (podcast)
"Because the unjust society of the generation ship Matilda--divided by race, class, and religion--is deeply detailed, and uncomfortably close to home."
--Barnes & Noble
"Solomon's evocation of this society is so sharply detailed and viscerally realized, the characters so closely observed, the individual scenes so tightly structured, that the novel achieves surprising power and occasional brilliance...Aster [is] one of the more memorable characters in recent SF, and it's enough, in the end, to make An Unkindness of Ghosts among the most provocative and fiercely passionate of recent generation starship tales, and Solomon among the most distinctive new voices to emerge this year."
"Solomon's big, unflinching and poetically detailed sci-fi debut tells the story of Aster Grey, an orphan raised on the slavery deck of a starship called the HSS Matilda as she searches for answers to her mother's death and the mystery of the forces who control the starship. Aster is both neuroatypical and queer, and these elements of her characterization work seamlessly and nonexploitatively into a plot that mirrors so many of our own world's greatest injustices, probing at our ideas about classism, racism, abuse and tyranny. A stunning first novel by a writer I can't wait to see more from."
--Them, included in 10 Books That Stole Our Queer Hearts in 2017
Included in a roundup of the Reading Women Podcast, Must-Read Fantasy Novels by Women
"This striking debut novel, set aboard a generation ship where white supremacists enslave black laborers, combines sharp allegory with poetic metaphor. Aster Grey, a literal-minded medic, hopes to undermine the ruling Sovereignty with the help of notes left by her mother, but decoding them is an almost impossible challenge. Solomon addresses numerous daunting topics with incision and insight in this stunning achievement."
--Publishers Weekly, Best Book of the Year, Science Fiction/Fantasy
"Harrowing and beautiful, this is SF at its best: showing the possible future but warning of the danger of bringing old prejudices and cruelties to that new world. While a story about enslaved people in space could be a one-note polemic, the fully rounded characters bring nuance and genuine pathos to this amazing debut."
--Library Journal, Starred Review
"Aster was born on the lower decks of the USS Matilda, a space vessel searching for a habitable planet after an ecological disaster on Earth. Only Aster grasps the means of melding science, tradition, and spirituality to heal from generational trauma so the ship can return safely."
--Library Journal, from a February 2019 feature on Afrofuturism
"Solomon's distyopian fantasy stars quietly rebellious Aster, whose family has lived for generations in the hold of the creaky HSS Matilda, putatively carrying the last of humanity to a Promised Land."
--Library Journal, Included in Barbara Hoffert's Debut Novels spotlight
"Solomon debuts with a raw distillation of slavery, feudalism, prison, and religion that kicks like rotgut moonshine...Stunning."
--Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
"Infused with the spirit of Octavia Butler and loaded with meaning for the present day, An Unkindness of Ghosts will appeal to a wide variety of readers. Solomon's impassioned, speculative, literary book is sorely needed on library shelves."
"Rivers Solomon is a bold new voice in speculative fiction. This startling debut delves into issues of class, race and gender on a futuristic spaceship whose society mimics the antebellum American South...Though shaped like the past transported into the future, Solomon's narrative seethes with underpinnings of the present carried to the extreme, a police state where women have lost reproductive rights and people of color face servitude and constant brutality. Complex and prophetic, An Unkindness of Ghosts will have readers cheering Aster as she fights for her freedom."
"With An Unkindness of Ghosts, Rivers Solomon inarguably shows themselves to be a literary child of genre leader Octavia E. Butler...Suffused with the past, the present, and the future of human experiences in its events, An Unkindness of Ghosts launches the career of a brilliantly gifted and important new writer in science fiction."
--Foreword Reviews, Starred Review
"The HSS Matilda is a well-crafted world, and...the diversity of the people who inhabit it--their various sexual and gender identities, physical abilities, and psychological burdens--is refreshingly visible and vital even as they face brutal discrimination for their differences. An entertaining novel that does not neglect the vitality of its story while probing society's assumptions."
"The HSS Matilda is a generation ship organized much like the antebellum South. Embroiled in a grudge with a brutal overseer and sowing the seeds of civil war, sharecropper Aster learns there may be a way off the ship if she's willing to fight for it."
--Publishers Weekly; included in Fall 2017 Adult Announcements, Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror
"A Generation Ship story like no other...Remarkable."
--Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog
"Transposing the cruelties of a Southern plantation to outer space, this book was the best debut I read this year. The white people on the massive spaceship Matilda's upper decks live in luxury and keep the black people on the lower decks enslaved. Aster is black, neuroatypical, ambiguously gendered according to her society's mores, and an orphan of the lower decks. While an outsider in her social groups, she is also a medical genius, and with the support and friendship of a light-skinned surgeon from the upper decks, she navigates Matilda's horrors to bring succour and healing where she can."
--NPR, Book Concierge Best Books of 2017
"In Rivers Solomon's An Unkindness of Ghosts, a generation starship has left the ruined Earth behind: the senior crew are all white supremacists, while dark-skinned people are kept below decks as slave labor. In this unflinching debut Solomon invites comparisons with Octavia Butler."
--The Guardian, Best Book of the Year / Science Fiction and Fantasy
"Solomon's strong characters, led by Aster herself, make this a deeply affecting tale that is far more than a simple allegory of injustice."
"Solomon's work earns comparisons to some of the biggest names in literature: Octavia Butler, Colson Whitehead, and even the lyricism of Toni Morrison."
--The Thread (Minnesota Public Radio), Recommended by Nialle Sylvan from Iowa City, IA's The Haunted Bookshop
"Rivers Solomon's debut makes for a stellar gift for readers looking for an intensely thoughtful meditation on race, class, and humanity's future."
--Bookish, Best Books to Give in 2017
"This debut novel will absolutely take your breath away."
--Bustle, Best Fiction Books of 2017
"Here is a novel that puts non-binary and multiracial identities at the forefront of a violent future we may all too easily recognize today...Solomon's fascinating and deeply realized novel joins the imaginative ranks of Octavia Butler and Nalo Hopkinson, each of whom carved out unique places in the largely white male world of sci-fi as black women writers. Solomon, who is non-binary, enters the world of sci-fi with their own revolutionary debut, which should appeal to avid and first-time sci-fi readers alike."
--Literary Hub, Included in "15 Books You Should Read This October"
"In this debut, Rivers Solomon transports readers to a spaceship bound for a new world but very much trapped in the past. When the Earth began to die, humans decided to flee. It's been over 300 years since the original group boarded the HSS Matilda, and in that time a white-supremacist cult known as the Sovereignty has seized power. Aster Grey was born on the ship and into slavery, but a new discovery leads her to believe that she might be able to break free."
--Bookish, Included in "Best Book Club Picks for October 2017"
"A debut work of speculative fiction features a spaceship with a white supremacist cult at the helm, making a generations-long trip to a new world via the labor of a group of enslaved black people living belowdeck."
--The Millions, Included in "October Preview: The Millions Most Anticipated List"
"An Unkindness of Ghosts brings the burden of our history to an imagined future and makes us bear the weight. A speculative page-turner, Afrofuturist dystopica, slave (spaceship) narrative, reconciling character study, queer noir, and more--this novel achieves an otherwordly wonder that's all too painfully of this world."
--Community of Literary Magazines and Presses, citation for 2018 Firecracker Award for Fiction
"A truly extraordinary and compelling read from cover to cover, An Unkindness of Ghosts showcases author Rivers Solomon's impressive flair for originality and master of the science fiction genre. A simply riveting read from cover to cover, An Unkindness of Ghosts is a 'must' for the personal reading lists of dedicated science fiction fans."
--Midwest Book Review
"For people who are tempted to dismiss science fiction as one-dimensional or superficial, An Unkindness of Ghosts digs deep into issues of race, class, gender and human connection."
--The Thread (Minnesota Public Read Newsletter), a Must-Read
"An excellent science fiction novel and debut by Rivers Solomon, An Unkindness of Ghosts is able to touch on today's racial issues by dipping into the past to create a story set in the future without sounding like it's a lecture on morality."
--San Francisco Book Review
"Following in the footsteps of Asimov and fellow science fiction writer Octavia Butler, debut author Rivers Solomon also considers what it means to be human--or not. Written from the perspective of a gender non-conforming, neuroatypical, and preternaturally brilliant protagonist, this novel tells the story of humans fleeing their trashed Earth in a generation ship that recreates many of the worst excesses of the world they've left behind, including racism, slavery, and creeping pollution."
--Georgia Tech Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts, included as a Science Fiction Day 2020 Recommended Title
"An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon takes the classic space vessel saga and updates it by seamlessly interweaving a cast of diverse characters and confronting many of the social issues we face today."
--Vernon Area Public Library
"The 2017 book deals with plantation life in a futuristic setting, and its bisexual, black, intersex protagonist, Aster, has the opportunity to dismantle it all. The story is riddled with characters of marginalized identities, like that of Aster, but what makes An Unkindness of Ghosts stand out is that the characters' queerness is not the central part of the story, nor does it feel tokenistic--it just is."
--Study Breaks, included in 5 Works of Queer Contemporary Literature for Your Pride Reading List
"Solomon's writing is so absorbing, her eye for detail in every aspect of her storytelling so keen that it would take way too much time explaining everything impressive about it. It's in the little observant touches, such as each deck having its own dialet, even its own language, that the world building achieves a criterion of realism. And by all means, give me a broken, flawed, angry, often aggressively unlikable but still brave and committed protagonist...The ultimate peace [Aster] works her way towards is that much sweeter because of everything she wasn't afraid to fight to get there."
"Solomon's exploration of a futuristic yet all too familiarly repressive society is highly recommended for anyone interested in the ever-growing field of SF which is invested in engaging with race, gender, and sexuality as an integral part of any vision of the future."
"The sci-fi debut by Rivers Solomon takes place aboard a spaceship named Matilda, and features a teased and taunted main character named Aster, described as 'odd-mannered, obsessive, withdrawn, ' who is on a mission to discover the potential connection between the deaths of her mother and the Matilda's potentate."
--Bay Area Reporter
"Slavery, racial segregation, and resistance, all set in outer space."
"This hard sci-fi novel that parallels our history in post-Civil War America, but is set aboard a spaceship. The Earth can no longer support life, and survivors fled aboard a spaceship. That ship, the Matilda, is now a colony, and segregation is a way of life. Anyone with dark skin is a laborer, while those with light skin are upper class. From what I've heard about this book, it's hard to read, but I think it's an important story that needs to be told."
"Rivers Solomon uses the generation ship setting to craft a challenging narrative of inescapable racial prejudice. In an explicit rejection of sci-fi's typical futurism, Solomon transposes the antebellum plantation system on to her novel's setting, the spaceship Matilda."
"A powerful story...An Unkindness of Ghosts is the novel every queer geek of color (and ally) has been waiting for."
--Black Girl Nerds
"Amazing, heartbreaking, yet it still gave me the hope that some good people will be able to endure and survive no matter what...A favorite for me."
--Monlatable Book Reviews
"This book may technically be science fiction, but like all good sci-fi/dystopian stories, it draws its themes from our world: slavery, oppression, classism, gender, and sexuality...If you're at all a fan of sci-fi or dystopian stories, you must read this book. Solomon is a seriously unique voice and this is a masterful debut novel. I can't wait to see what they write next...5 stars."
"Rivers Solomon's debut, An Unkindness of Ghosts, reworks the generation ship in a way that feels almost miraculous, putting slavery in space to remind us that no act of dehumanisation can truly extinguish the human spirit."
"Through this debut, Solomon proves themself a bold and unapologetic bringer of truth and knowledge, a forbearer of wondrous new possibilities in speculative black fiction...If I need to say it plainly, I will do so now: buy this book. Let it fill you with its vengeful ghosts and hollowed out living humans. Let it hurt you and try to break you and then, when you are spent, let it lift you up and carry you forward. Let it guide you home."
--Women Write About Comics
"Fans of Octavia Butler and China Miéville--both socially aware and critical science fiction writers--will adore this debut, as will any reader eager for a blending of genres and story."
--Read It Forward
"I am so thrilled about An Unkindness of Ghosts, because Aster is the powerful sci-fi lady that I've been waiting for...An Unkindness of Ghosts is a science fiction book that deserves to be on 'must read' lists for feminism in sci-fi."
--Hedgehog Book Reviews (blog)
"Amazing, hopeful, strikingly incisive. It brought me back to my feelings ranging from quiet grief to breathtaking rage. It was one of the high points of literature...It was brilliant, and it spoke for me."
--Bogi Reads the World (blog)
"This book contains the best disability representation I have ever read in fiction...Check out this book to read a desperately necessary story featuring intersectional characters, respectfully depicted. You won't regret it."
--Tonia Says (blog)
"Hands down one of the best science fiction novels I've read."
--The Illustrated Page (blog)
"Sci-Fi worthy of Octavia Butler...An Unkindness of Ghosts is a fascinating study of our own society and an exciting new work of science fiction. Solomon has created an intense, brutal world within the walls of the Matilda."
--Mom Read It (blog)
"Rivers Solomon pulls you through a difficult journey that is shockingly real, while being utterly engaging as science fiction...It's refreshing to read a new writer who can manipulate such well known motifs, while churning out a story that still instigates a contemporary discourse, one that dares to remind the reader that the past doesn't always stay buried."
"An Unkindness of Ghosts absolutely blew me away...A must read on so many different levels and needs to be on your reading list."
--Utopia State of Mind (blog)
"Incredible...It is what I wish every book could be: an exploration of the best and worst parts of society in a literary setting."
--Red Hen Book Shop's Talk & Peck Blog
"A stunning debut novel of a colony ship traversing space...I hungered for this and it was done amazingly."
--Bogi Reads the World (blog), included in Hugo & Nebula Award recommendations
"Thanks to the more-than-a-few brilliant moments scattered throughout the book, the captivating (and important) metaphor at its core, and the natural depiction of diverse characters, I'd recommend An Unkindness of Ghosts, and I especially look forward to what Solomon does next based on such an ambitious first book."
"An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon is a fantastic science fiction novel. It never stumbles into the pitfalls other debut novels too often do. This is one of the best sci-fi novels involving generation ships I've ever read, and I cannot wait to see what else Rivers Solomon has in store for us."
--Looking Glass Reads (blog)
"Solomon's masterful debut...is a powerful story about oppression, racism, gender non-comformity, and the role of trauma in society and peoples' lives."
--New Books Network
"Immediately immersive and sophisticated...This is a phenomenal piece of work."
--Lee Child, author of the Jack Reacher series
"An Unkindness of Ghosts marks the debut of a wildly talented writer. Rivers Solomon has put together a heady science-fiction novel that speaks directly to some of the most pressing political and social concerns of the modern day. And yet for all that it remains deeply humane, and it's even quite funny at times. This is a book you'll want to read now so you can tell your friends you read it first."
--Victor LaValle, author of The Changeling
"Welcome to the Tarlands aboard the space vessel HSS Matilda--home of the poor and rejected--and the setting of Rivers Solomon's powerful debut novel. Imaginative in the vein of Colson Whitehead, Samuel R. Delany, and Octavia E. Butler, this novel explores the struggles of slum dwellers aboard a spacecraft sadly reminiscent of our own world: rife with poverty, caste, and discrimination as told through the Looking Glass. With outstanding world-building and an unforgettable protagonist in Aster, An Unkindness of Ghosts is a notable debut by an author whose work I look forward to reading for years to come."
--Tananarive Due, author of The Living Blood and Ghost Summer