Sisters of the Vast Black follows the journey of a group of nuns travelling on a living spaceship (derived from sea slugs), Our Lady of Impossible Constellations. They’re wandering about the universe on missions of mercy, baptising babies in colonies, celebrating marriages in young colonies… The universe has barely recovered from a civil war, and hints of that unease wrap the story around, while everyone on board has their secrets, their doubts and their worries. The Mother Superior of the little order is suffering with dementia, Sister Gemma has fallen in love, and Sister Faustina is keeping everybody’s secrets as she watches their correspondence come and go. Worse, their ship wants to mate, and they’re struggling with whether to allow it, or whether it — as a mobile convent, essentially — should be forced to remain celibate as well.
Oh, and there are disturbing hints that a new war might be brewing…
It feels fairly small-scale and insular at first, but it quickly opens out. The Mother Superior’s secrets can shake everything, and the Sisters have been using the ship’s immune system to make vaccines for dreadful diseases. Earth influence is expanding again, including with the arrival of a new priest with new orders from Rome to bring the Sisters into line. It all comes together in a final rush, and you see what it’s all for — there’s a reason for all the choices it makes. It works beautifully; I worked out where it was going ahead of time, but was still glad to see it happen, and there were some beautiful lines about the importance of helping people.
It boils down to: it’s a big world, and we’re just lonely little specks, but we can make ourselves something more. It’s very hopepunk in that sense, and I enjoyed that it was not super cynical about everything. The faith (or lack thereof, in the case of one character) of the Sisters is treated sympathetically, but without elevating them above other people. We’re all human, and can all shine our lights in the vast black, and create our own impossible constellations.