Litstack Recs | Little Failure & Light from Uncommon Stars
Light from Uncommon Stars, by Ryka Aoki
When I saw its publisher promote Ryka Aoki’s Light from Uncommon Stars as “Good Omens meets The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet”, red flags – and lots of ‘em – went up in my mind. I actually resisted reading it, just because I want a book to stand on its own, not ride the coattails of earlier phenoms.
But after reading it, I must admit that this statement is pretty spot on – and in a very, very good way.
The book melds two very differing stories into one multitudinous one, and takes two very different styles and blends then together to create something truly fantastic. (One could argue that there’s a third story, as well, but for me it was wonderful but adjunct to one of the main themes.)
One takes a family of interstellar travelers, fleeing both a galactic war and an encroaching plague, who take over an iconic southern California donut shop (yup, you read that right) as a front in their efforts to both escape notice and to build a stargate.
The other is the story of Katrina, a trans runaway, who is also a gifted if untrained violinist, and the legendary teacher who stumbles across her. This teacher – Shizuka Satomi – just happens to have made a deal with the devil to deliver seven souls to Hell; and not just any souls, but souls full of fire and passion. Six students have willingly made that bargain in order to gain fame and fortune, and the artistry that only Shizuka Satomi can draw from them, but time is running out for Shizuka to deliver the final soul or default on the bargain.
(The adjunct story is about claiming your birthright, regardless of being taught it’s not yours to claim.)
There are lots of wonderful themes in this book, brought out in amazing ways: the power of music, and the artistry involved in unlocking that power, how music can transcend mere notes on the page and transport the listener beyond mere melody. The intricacy of art, regardless of its pedigree. The value of idiosyncrasy, whether it be in the interpretation of a piece of music, or the flavor of a sugared donut. The driving force that is love, between mother and child, teacher and student, between romantic partners, and the driving force that is the absence of love.
But the main theme is being true to yourself and who you are, even the wounded parts, the scary parts, the merciless parts. To take who you are and find your own music, your own power, your own path, regardless of who points you down the path you are supposed to take. Embracing the ugliness of life and using it, not to shine but to feel. To open yourself to newness, and see where it takes you. And realizing that sacrifice does not necessarily giving up, but giving in.
But then again, it’s also about donuts. And how freakin’ awesome they are, too.
Yes, this book is full of big themes, and big feelings, and big, big, big stages. But it’s also very humble and very, um, human, and often very funny. It’s a lovely read, especially right now when everything seems jumbled and awful and confused. It’s so much more than the sum of its parts – but each of those parts is wonderful. Find out for yourself – I can’t recommend it highly enough.
— Sharon Browning