“The Battle of Gan-De, Part 1” by Yoon Ha Lee (serial episode s01.09)
No Spoilers: Well this is it, the penultimate chapter in what has been a breakneck story. It’s not a spoiler to say that it doesn’t let up yet. The situation is dire. Asala and Niko aren’t exactly on good terms any more, but at least they’re still on the same side—the one trying to get as many of the Ghalan refugees out alive as possible. With the promise of wormhole technology and the threat of not one but two hostile fleets, though, that’s becoming a trickier and trickier prospect. The piece jumps around between Asala and Niko, adding back in Cynwrig for brief moments and concentrating on, as the title indicates, the growing battle both in the space around Gan-De and aboard Camp Ghala, which is in the middle of trying to pull itself apart. There’s action, there’s emotional wreckage, and I’m not sure I’ll ever be ready for what comes next.
Keywords: Space, Battle, Hacking, Family, Trans MC, Nonbinary MC
Review: Some of the lingering plot threads are finally starting to catch up with everything else. This episode is full in terms of characters and balls in the air, but the author does an admiral job not just keeping everything moving smoothly, but with enfusing an energy and desperation into everyone’s actions. The stakes here are bigger than just the fate of a single station, or even a single planet. What was a leisurely extinction has become a much faster one as everyone is throwing all their eggs in the same basket, banking on this one hope of escaping the hell they all created. The story continues to focus on the big question of who deserves saving in this situation. The refugees who have been most shattered and hurt by the climate nightmare? Those who have the strongest central authority to control resources and organize a new colonizing effort? The “best and brightest” who will have the best chance of adapting to life in a new star system? I actually love Asala’s take on all of this, one that she’s earned over a life of fighting—genocide is always wrong. Niko doesn’t seem to have the age to argue when their father calls, to really push this point, in part because they’re carrying so much guilt about their own privilege. But Asala knows that every side that would leave millions if not billions of people to die is evil, regardless of how they might feel justified about it.
Of course, Asala gets a bit distracted in this episode, by the return of her sister, who they were presumably looking for in all of this...adventure. She’s been on Gan-De the whole time, the knowledge held by Cynwrig in another level of “that bastard!” and also like Asala just can’t catch a fucking break in any of this. She’s holding everything together with duct tape, dental floss, and hope that’s been heavily frayed, and in the end most of what she can do is watch as everything might be falling apart. Because at the end she’s left with a choice, to try and do what she can with the fleet, with the players and personalities, or throw herself headlong after her sister, on the verge of being lost in the void. And it’s just heartbreaking to see her put back there, in a position where people want her to leave her sister. Again. When she’s still carrying the hurt of doing it the first time, of leaving to save herself when the rest of her family was lost. It’s am impossible situation and one this episode leaves somewhat open as the wormholes finally open and a second, larger hell opens up in the midst of the first.
Plus, you know, Niko has to kill someone and hack an entire planetary defense network and face their father and did I say there was a lot going on? Because there’s a lot going on. I keep on expecting something to, like, throw up the pacing some, but it’s as relentless as ever, perhaps even more so as everything is exploding at once and the characters are all separated by space both literal and figurative. I can’t wait for the conclusion!
“The Battle of Gan-De, part 2” by Becky Chambers (serial episode s01.10)
No Spoilers: Things have happened. Three different fleets face off in space, each of them hungry for the technology that will let them escape their dying solar system. I’ve been trying to brace for this moment, for this episode, and still somehow it managed to shatter me, to make the stakes EVEN HIGHER and if you have been following along with me you might question how the fuck that happens but seriously, this is a masterpiece of building and building and then hitting in such an unexpected and devastating way. The personal level moments are phenomenal and the larger picture stuff is just, well, imagine that gif of the cat with the cheese on its head and then going into hyperdrive and maybe you can imagine how I was through this entire experience. It’s been a wild ride and from the way things end it’s not the end yet (I hope!).
Keywords: Space, Wormholes, Family, Queer MC, Trans MC, Nonbinary MC, Battles
Review: So wow. There’s a lot that happens in this episode and some of it just came out of left field and has left me like Niko and one point, curled up on the floor like “whatever happens I don’t care.” It’s an episode that manages to visit with each of the viewpoint characters so far and brings closures big and small to most of the ongoing plot threads while unwinding a new one the size of a planet. Seriously. And some of this comes down to who lives, who dies, and who is left somewhere between the two. On the one hand, it’s an episode that further tears apart everything that Asala has built for herself and takes from her the one person who...hadn’t betrayed her that much. Someone who was as close to a friend as she had. On the other hand, it gives her back a family, and while that is still shrouded in doubt and the possibility of ruin, it’s something that remains in the win column. For Asala, this battle has taken a lot from her but also given some back and now she’s out to follow her own stars and try and find a way to maybe fix things so that no one gets left behind.
Niko’s moment is a bit bleaker. Their loss is the more profound one, and this after they had to kill and were willing to die in order to buy the Ghalan fleet enough time to maybe make it into the wormhole. It seems like they give up, that they despair, that they wallow in their own feelings of hurt and loss in a field that has seen so much of it. Niko’s made some mistakes this season. They’ve betrayed and they’ve nearly been a party to a sort of genocide. But it seems like maybe they’re starting to pull free from their own naive opinions and in dealing with the reality of what’s happening can maybe start to become someone other than the spoiled rich kid they’ve never really wanted to be. They get to be in large part the hero of this episode, using their skills to keep the fight going in the face of two vastly more powerful forces.
The real story here is what the episode opens up, though, and that’s the wormhole itself. Not because it allows people an escape from the solar system, but because this isn’t just some door being opened in space. The episode does such a great job capturing the Oh Shit moment when it’s revealed that the wormhole has pulled Gan-De to a new orbit, to a new rotation. The planet is fucked in about every way imaginable, and this does some very interesting things for Cynwrig, who has always defined herself and her planet has having stability and resources. And now to be put in the same boat as the refugees she’s hated and dehumanized...well, it’s poetic as fuck and also terrifying and also messy. Because the story as always asks if this really is justice? For a whole planet to die because the majority of them were assholes? The scope is staggering and it changes the stakes in a visceral way. It also sets up what might be the future of the project. At least, I hope that there’s more! This has been such a ride and it’s strange that it’s not over. Rather, it leaves things open enough that the problems haven’t ended, even if some key players have been taken off the board.
This season has played havoc with my emotions, hardly giving the reader a chance to breath before introducing increasingly disastrous events that push the characters further and further towards utter ruin. But it’s also a story about resilience, and the refusal to give in to despair or hate. Asala remains committed to trying to do the right thing, even when she’s not sure what that is. What she knows is that there’s no good, no justice, in furthering the murder. And it makes for a fantastic read. Seriously people, demand more of this project and then join me for Season 2! I NEEDS IT!!!