Tales From the Mad Monk

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Our World is Shitty. Read About a Better One.

If you haven’t read the Halcyone Space series by LJ Cohen, you’ve made a horrible mistake and you should probably fix that ASAP. It’s YA Space Opera set in a dystopic future that’s much better than the stormy present.

The universe of Halcyone Space can be pretty miserable. Earth has suffered a climate catastrophe that has driven millions into permanent refugee camps where they exist as a permanent underclass. The government of the galaxy is incompetent, corrupt, and utterly uninterested in serving the people.

It’s got problems, but it’s a tremendously immersive world that feels like it still exists when it’s offscreen. Oh, and it’s the setting for a hell of a story.

What do you mean kids have parents?

Halcyone Space is YA, and while I’ve read a decent amount of it, I’ve always had a few problems with it. One of the most obvious is the complete de-personing on parents.

I get it. The books are about the kids and the parents are always going to have more power than the kids so they have to be put out of the way somehow. That generally makes them incompetent or merely absent, and that’s always made the world feel a bit off.

That’s not true of the Halcyone Space series. The kids have parents who are real people with real talents and real flaws. The kids have relationships with their parents that have the same problems real kids have with their real parents. Those problems are taken to extremes, but that’s just how fiction works.

Most importantly for verisimilitude, those relationships change. In one case, a parent who begins the story as an obstacle akin to an immovable object. By the end of the series, this parents child comes to view them as a real person whose flaws are based on a secret, painful past.

The change in that relationship makes both characters better and is just one of several threads that make the world immersive.

Apparently, the future is brown, female, queer, and disabled

The cast of characters includes those who are male, female, Latin, Asian, black, white, rich, poor, straight, queer, abled, disabled, powerful, and powerless.

The story isn’t about being male, female, Latin, Asian, black, white, rich, poor, straight, queer, abled, disabled, powerful, or powerless.

None of the characters are there to be the male, female, Latin, Asian, black, white, rich, poor, straight, queer, abled, disabled, powerful or powerless character.

Actions are like elections. They have consequences

People don’t heal entirely, but it’s often the case that in fiction, someone gets hurt, they heal, and we never hear about it again until the author wants to make them look old and frail.

As someone who has cared about disabled people, and cares about disabled rights and representation for disabled people, it has always kind of pissed me off.

It doesn’t happen here.

Two characters face decisions that they know will likely lead to an impairment that might be permanent. They make the decisions and they live with the consequences. The injuries they suffer don’t define them, but they become a thing the characters visibly and repeatedly deal with.

At the same time, the story never devolves into inspiration porn and it’s never about being disabled.  

The Universe Expands with the Series

One of the things that happen as we grow from child to adolescent to adult is that our world gets bigger. We get a bike. We get a car. We get our apartment. Our world gets bigger than what it was when we were kids living with parents who took care of us.

The Halcyone Space universe expands similarly. In the first novel, Derelict, we see a space station and a junky old spaceship. The larger universe with space stations, planets, an interplanetary government, and a resistance movement are mostly off stage.

That changes as the series moves on. We see Earth in the wake of a climate catastrophe. We see other spaceships, wormholes, the resistance movement, technological advances, and multiple societies made up of the same species.

We see the real lives of real people in real situations where they’re just trying to make the best of things. It’s a universe that feels big and real and populated.

The Snickers People are Jealous of the Ending

The ending feels like a real-world ending and that’s remarkably satisfying. In the real world, endings aren’t pat. We don’t get all of our questions answered. Our lives don’t end when we graduate high school or college or change jobs or end a marriage. They just change. We go on as slightly different people than we were the day before.

That’s what the ending to the Halcyone Space series feels like. When you close the book, you feel like the characters are going about the remainder of their lives. They have further questions to answer. They have new adventures. And yet, there’s been a resolution. It’s satisfying.

If you’d like to check out the series, you can find it at this link regardless of your preferred format.

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