Welcome to Diversity in Sci-Fi! Today we are reviewing The Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez, a touching debut novel about found family and connecting with others across space and time.
Title/Author: The Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez
Summary: Nia Imani is captain of a starship that travels cosmic currents in a "pocket" dimension, where mere days pass for the inhabitants of the ships while years go by in real time. When a mysterious child lands in her care, a child with great galactic significance, both of their lives are changed forever.
Sub-genre: Space Opera, Time Travel
Book Format: eBook (also available in downloadable audiobook and physical formats)
Length: 390 pages
The Vanished Birds is a beautiful, diverse read. Three major characters are POC: Starship captain Nia Imani is black, with dark skin and a shaved head; genetically modified genius Fumiko Nakajima is Japanese; and enigmatic Ahro is a brown-skinned boy of great galactic significance. Side characters of other ethnicities are also casually represented: for instance, one of Nia's shipmates, Nurse, is South Asian and has a habit of rubbing the material of her sari between her finger and her thumb. The future depicted in this book may be fantastical, but it is realistic in how colorful it is.
Society in the world of The Vanished Birds appears to a be a post-homophobic society. No sexualities are ever explicitly stated: people are free to have relationships with whomever they love, with no need to hide their relationship. Nia's crewmates includes a heterosexual couple, a growing young man discovering his attraction to men, an asexual, polyamorous man, and a woman who has feelings only for Fumiko. Fumiko, while not part of Nia's crew, also plays a significant role in the story. As a woman who was genetically modified to have "ugly" physical traits but superior intellect, Fumiko is shocked when her first lover treats her as if she's beautiful—which she is, despite not adhering to misogynistic beauty standards. Her relationship with this woman is short but sweet, only ending due to work conflicts. Some thousand years later, Fumiko has many female consorts, but despite the passage of time, she clings to the faint memory of her first love.
I loved the women of this book: women who were brave, women who were cowards, women who got their hearts broken, women who broke others' hearts, women who were masculine, women who were feminine ... there was no shortage of female characters in this book. Every one of them was uniquely depicted, and I found myself invested in all of them, regardless of how minor a role they played.
This was a beautifully written book. Jimenez's command of language is stunning, and I found myself entranced by his choice of words. The Vanished Birds plays with the concepts of time and space, and this is reflected in the narration style. Viewpoints change seamlessly, but each shift in vantage is handled gracefully and immerses the reader in a new world for a brief period of time. The less said about the plot, the better: this is a book where you want to go in blind to any twists that may come. It was an emotional read that touched my heart, and I recommend it to anyone looking for a unique, intellectual take on speculative fiction.