Welcome to Diversity in Sci-Fi! Today we are reviewing Salvation Day, a creepy thriller set on a spaceship whose original inhabitants died ten years ago… and never left.
Title/Author: Salvation Day
Summary: Ten years ago, a deadly virus was unleashed on House of Wisdom, a massive exploration vessel that housed 400 colonists. Everyone on board was killed, save for the one child who escaped in the nick of time: Jaswinder Bhattacharya. Now, Zahra and her crew are determined to break into the derelict House of Wisdom and claim it for their own. All they need to do is secure some hostages, specifically Jas, the only living person with a genetic signature that enables him to board the ship. But when they enter the long-abandoned House of Wisdom, they soon find out… some things should stay locked away. Some things should stay buried in the past.
Book Format: Ebook
Length: 310 pages
This is one of those rare books were the majority of characters are people of color, including both point-of-view characters, Zahra and Jas! I roll my eyes when people complain about “forced diversity,” but for those naysayers, I can assure you: the varying ethnicities of all of these characters does not feel shoehorned in in the slightest. In fact, it would be more suspect if the majority of characters were white. The book begins when Zahra and her crew hijacks a shuttle of research scholars chosen for the Leung Fellowship, named for one of the founders of the United Councils of Earth. As such, all of the hostages come from all over the world. Why would the majority of them be white? Another little detail to note: Most of the book takes place on spaceships, but Jas grows up in Dharamsala with his aunt, Councilor Bhattacharya. The Councilor wears a brilliant green and gold sari when she wants to look most intimidating, which I thought was a nice touch. Minor details like that make me think that the author considered the character’s cultural background when writing them and how it would influence them as a character of a color.
Jas is gay and in love with his best friend, and their relationship is one of the most tender and fiercely hopeful portrayals of love I've seen in a science fiction novel. I didn’t know about Jas’ sexuality going into this book, and it takes a long time for the narrative to explicitly state that he’s in love with Baqir, but from their very first interaction, I knew. While there is some angst on Jas’ part about his feelings potentially not being requited, his fears are unfounded as the two of them have an incredibly intimate relationship throughout the entire book. It’s obvious from the start that Baqir loves him as much as he does. Baqir calms down Jas whenever he has a panic attack: “You’re okay, you can breathe, you’re okay”. Not only does this accurately represent life with PTSD-induced anxiety, it’s just one of many ways that Jas and Baqir have been there for each other through thick and thin. I was rooting for them and their unshakeable bond throughout the entire novel. There’s also the briefest mention of poly representation in Baqir’s background, which was a nice touch. Baqir has four parents, described as “a complex marriage of two men and two women.” Also, it’s not explicitly stated, but I read Ariana and Xiomara’s relationship as a lesbian one. Ariana has spiky, rainbow colored hair, a descriptor which made me read into her interactions with Xiomara closer to see if they could be romantic in nature. While they are side characters without very much screen time, I do think they could be interpreted as a couple as well!
One of the two POV characters, Zahra, is a woman and one of the primary antagonists for the majority of the book. At first, I liked Jas’ chapters more, but as I learned about the motives behind Zahra’s seemingly unethical actions, she became more and more sympathetic as a character. I began looking forward to her chapters just as much as I looked forward to Jas’. It was really interesting seeing both the perspective of the captor and the captive. She’s more of a victim than a villain, though she does have some grey morals. Her character arc is fascinating to watch: the role that she plays in the denouement is tremendous and shows her true nature. Overall, she’s a strong character and a great example of a well-written female character.
As for the supporting cast of characters, it’s a roughly 50-50 split between men and women. The supporting cast doesn’t get as much screen time so obviously they aren’t as well fleshed out, but even they never felt like cardboard stereotypes to me. One female side-character is essentially removed from the cast relatively early on the plot, but she doesn’t disappear from the narrative – later on in the novel, another character mentions the academic project she had been planning to present at a conference. She still exists as a character beyond being a simple plot device; she had hopes and dreams and goals, and drawing attention to that was a beautiful move on the writer’s part.
I can’t discuss the importance of this book’s commentary without revealing significant spoilers, but I will say that this was a very timely read. The messages it has to offer about refugees, the government, injustice, and helplessness are extremely relevant in today’s political climate. It made a statement on the modern world without being overtly preachy or sacrificing the futuristic flavor of sci-fi. As a horror aficionado, I also appreciated that there were some seriously creepy moments in this book. It does a wonderful job of instilling the reader with a growing sense of dread and “something’s not right here…” Ultimately, I enjoyed this book and its premise so much that I purchased it for my personal ebook collection and am excited to reread it!