Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Quick Sips - Serial Box: The Vela [episodes 3-4]

Today's the day! The Vela is now available for your greedy eyeballs! And people, it is so worth it.  For those who missed it, I just reviewed the first two episodes, and I’m back looking at the next two as the series continues to deliver when it comes to action, political intrigue, and all the power of a solar system’s slow demise. Where the first two parts focused on Asala and Niko’s personal reasons for taking the mission, these parts move into the actual hunt for the missing Vela, and all the danger and corruption surrounding what happened. In the outer planets, with extinction knocking on the door, there is a desperation that gives rise to predators. And Asala and Niko have to decide if that’s what they’re going to be, or if there’s another way to move foward. It’s thrilling, tense, and harrowing, and I should just get to my reviews!


“[Title TK]” by Rivers Solomon (serial episode 3)

No Spoilers: The Vela has gone missing. It’s part of the hook of the series, but something that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention so far, with the larger concerns of assassination attempts and subterfuge taking up most of the real estate. With this third chapter, though, focus returns sharply to the transport ship carrying the last Eratosi refugees. It also turns to Asala and the planet she was forced to leave behind. The planet that is quickly running out of time in the face of falling temperatures and desperate conditions. Hypatia. It’s a chapter that mixes well the heavier elements of the story—corruption, genocide, and diaspora—with a nice sense of action and a quick banter, resulting in a story that builds back up to steam quickly following the short breath of last chapter.
Keywords: Refugees, Prisons, Queer MC, Trans MC, Climate Change, Hacking
Review: The story has done a great job slowly touching and then retreating from Asala’s relationship with Hypatia. She’s a refugee, a survivor—without much in the way of family or even strong connections to her home world. A world that is, after all, dying. It’s something that’s both always in her mind and something that she actively doesn’t think about. Because of the pain involved. Because of the loss. And I love how the opening of this episode grounds all of that in poetry, the thing that connects Asala to her sister. Who is supposed to be the main reason that Asala has come back to Hypatia. But who she spends most of her time not thinking about, because the mixture of guilt and shame. Which the episode does a great job of exploring through Asala’s feelings about the things she’s lost, her language and her family and all the things that really ground her to her planet. Even without those things, though, Hypatia distracts her, comforts her. There’s this complex push and pull and the story really conveys how Asala is torn here, all her old wounds reopened.

It’s also mostly an episode about trying to find out what happened to the missing ship, something that should be easy given how large the ship was, but which turns out to be next to impossible. Because Asala doesn’t have connections. Because Niko is even more of an outsider. They catch a break, but it requires them to take some chances and to make some promises. And it leads to quite a few twists and turns and shocks. Really, once the story really starts going, it’s a roller coaster of emotions and things happening. And it sets up a situation going forward where going home has led to no closure. Indeed, it’s brought her back to a situation where she’s leaving someone behind. Where she’s going to have to look at what she does next and who her loyalties are to. Is she an outsider, as she fears and often feels, who is just working a job of a foreign power? Or does she still owe something to her home, and to the people who are there, trying to make the best of the slow extinction? It is a wrenching experience and I can’t wait to see where it brings Asala’s character, and what it reveals about Niko.

In turns of style, this episode also keeps things in Asala’s head. Where Niko has been a viewpoint in the previous two episodes, they’re mostly aloof here, though the revelations about the character at the end of episode two continue to inform their actions and paint them in some conflicting colors. It makes sense to focus on Asala here, though, on the world of her birth, and I love the painful quality it gives to the action. The way it reveals Asala wanting there to be time, to be something she can hold onto, that she can still call home, and finding instead that she’s pushed to betray it again and again. It’s a wonderful continuation of the serial, and an excellent read!

“Camp Ghala” by SL Huang (serial episode 4)

No Spoilers: Camp Ghala orbits Gan-De, holding as many refugees fleeing the outer worlds as possible. With the political situation on Gan-De incredibly closed to immigrants from the outer planets, Ghala is a humanitarian crisis barely contained with tape, corruption, and hope. After nearly dying in their escape from Hypatia, this episode finds Niko and Asala arriving at Camp Ghala no better off than anyone else, having to balance the importance of their mission with the importance of the human life all around them. In Ghala they meet a slew of new characters, including Soraya, the woman who keeps the station mostly under control, though not without getting her own hands a bit dirty. It’s an episode that really questions what is important in this setting, when the entire solar system is on a decline, and human life is being lost every day, human tragedies paving all roads into the future.
Keywords: Refugees, Terrorism, Compromises, Queer MC, Trans MC, Space Stations, CW- Rape/Child Abuse
Review: After spending the entire previous chapter with Asala, this episode splits over four different characters, showing a wide range of experiences, none of them all that happy. The shock of the piece comes with the opening, where Asala remembers the fate of the ship that she and Niko used to get off Hypatia, decompressing in space before reaching its destination, Asala and Niko rescued with a mere fifth of the refugees. And I love how that hits them, how it puts an underline on the death that going on all the time. They are focused right now on a possible terrorist plot, but next to that is this quieter genocide that the inner planets get to author through their inaction. Through their turning away those fleeing their dying worlds, forced to take desperate measures because there is no safe choice. Niko especially feels this loss, feels the dissonance between their views on the crisis and the realities. That they have been wealthy and protected all their life comes home to roost, especially when contrasted against the lives of those at Ghala, like Ifa, a young boy who has had a very difficult journey in hopes of finding safety for himself and his sister.

Not only that, but the episode also pushes the search for The Vela forward, with Asala and Niko making big steps in finding out what happened, though not exactly why. With the situation on the station deteriorating, and with their trust in Soraya tenuous, they find that what was already a complicated mess is even more twisted. And through this I feel like the episode lingers on morality, and what the right thing to do is when faced with extinction and pain and torture. It’s easy enough for Niko to think that they know right from wrong, wanting to believe that the refugees and aid workers are all doing good work, but like with all things it’s a bit more gray than that. Because in order to keep as many people alive as possible, Soraya has had to make some difficult decisions, and work with some unscrupulous people. But then, so have Niko and Asala, and it’s not like either of them haven’t gotten people killed, directly or indirectly. It’s not like anyone in this is innocent. Instead, everyone has their own missions, their own directives, and I love how the serial is exploring what that means. And I’m excited to see where that’s taking the characters, who for all they try not to care, really do want to help more than themselves. They do care, and I love how that care leads them forward, never offering an easy answer but always provoking them to dig deeper. What they’ll do when shit really starts hitting the fan, though, and all their secrets are laid bare...well, I’m not sure. But I can guess that it’s going to be awesome to read!

And yeah, it’s another great installment of the series. I like how it pushes forward with the mystery and also dips back into what happened to Asala’s sister. It shows Niko and Asala mostly getting along, mostly working well together, though there isn’t quite the same banter as in some of the rest of the series. It’s a more visceral, bloody episode, defined from the start with tragedy and loss and trauma and seasoned as it moves forward with a moral labyrinth of laws, limited resources, and impending doom. It also amps up the foreboding, with a promise of Something Bad coming very quickly. A fantastic episode!


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