• The Good: Strong character stories and elegant prose
  • The Bad: Minimal scifi, slow plot
  • The Literary: Deeply personal stories across light years and centuries

Every 15 years, Nia Imani arrives in a spaceship to collect the harvest of seeds grown on a specific planet. Kaeda , who lives on the planet, is drawn to Nia, but since her space travels cause her to experience only 8 months for every 15 years of planetary time, Kaeda is soon an old man and Nia is still young. One day a strange child falls to the planet from the sky, and Kaeda cares for him until Nia visits again and agrees to take the boy. As Nia develops a connection with the mute scarred boy, she soon realizes she isn’t the only one who is interested in him.

I love all the bittersweet feelings I have upon finishing this novel. Nia lives for work and her next paycheck, having aged past all former friends and lovers. But something inside her shifts when she meets the young boy who plays haunting music on an old wooden flute. Nia finds someone to care for outside of herself; as the boy discovers a place of love and safety he begins to speak, developing into a self-sacrificing young man.

The Vanished Birds is ostensibly a science fiction novel with spaceships and pocket spacetime (resembling folding space for travel, or just think wormhole). But instead of focusing on the technical or species-wide implications, this novel is a character story about one lone woman learning to care about a few others. It’s a rare love story between mother and son. And often the makeshift family bonds are stronger than blood.

In addition to Nia, there are several chapters from other points of view that explore the future of humanity in space where capitalism rules, including the boy Nia agrees to raise, Ahro, and an engineer who creates the space stations to which humanity relocates when Earth dies, Fumiko Nakajima. Particularly in the beginning, the the novel reads like a series of short stories that intertwine beautifully.

In recent years there has been a resurgence in the scifi and fantasy written world of heart-warming stories with characters who are empathetic and nice to one another. For myself, I often find them at best fun but with incredibly low stakes, and at worst boring with no tension. But this novel manages to balance the sweet with some salty, and despite the positive ending it’s not a happy one.

Highly recommended as a beautiful story about learning to love and care for others!