By: Ryka Aoki
Genre: Science Fiction
WARNING: There may be spoilers for the book
Today’s spotlight book for Pride Month is The Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki. This book was on just about every list as must read science fiction for 2021. While at its core it is a science fiction novel, there is LBGTQ+ representation, and addresses the hardships of transgender individuals.
Katrina Nguyen is the main protagonist who leaves home to escape the abuse of her father because she is transgender. It is a scene that is played out over and over to transgender individuals who are not accepted for who they are and how they were born. Ms. Aoki perfectly captures the angst and pain of Katrina, while at the same time normalizing that she is transgender. The story of her being a violin prodigy is the main focus of who she is. By writing her this way, the fact that she is transgender is not what defines her. This was a brilliant way to write Katrina’s story arc. The reader sees her talent and her relationship with Shizuka Satomi, the world-renowned violinist who becomes Katrina’s teacher. Her motives are indeed questionable as Shizuka made a deal with the devil to deliver seven souls by a certain date, and Katrina is the seventh. If she fails, her soul goes to hell.
There is an alien race in the book, Lan Tran and her family, who escaped their planet and have come to Earth. Their ship lies below a donut shop which they run. Lan and Shizuka form a bond that grows into love, albeit something that they at first deny. It is from this relationship that Shizuka realizes what she has done is wrong, and they all set out to deceive the devil. Shizuka has a redemption arc as she talks to Lan and refuses to give up Katrina. This was another poignant relationship between the two women, and the aloofness of Shizuka throughout the book begins the peel away. Their relationship is natural and develops over time. In the end, Shizuka leaves with Lan to travel wherever the universe takes them
This prose of this book was poetically beautiful. Ms. Ayoki captures the feelings of the characters perfectly. While I did say that being transgender did not define Katrina, we do get the angst and pain that she often goes through. Representation in books is so important and I think The Light from Uncommon Stars deserves all the praise it received. For a transgender individual to pick up a book and see that representation, they will see themselves reflected in it and finally have a book they can relate too.
Transgender individuals are one of the most marginalized groups in our society. They are facing laws everyday that seek to overturn the progress that has been made for both transgender individuals and the LBGTQ+ community in general. People fear what they do not understand. People believe misinformation and form opinions based on this misinformation. It’s very dangerous, especially when it reaches individuals who base legislation off of their own agenda and “facts” which are false. I can only hope that none of this comes to fruition, but I fear it will. I can only hope that as a society we will come to accept people for who they are and how they were born. For Pride Month and every month, always remember that LOVE IS LOVE.
Shizuka Satomi made a deal with the devil: to escape damnation, she must entice seven other violin prodigies to trade their souls for success. She has already delivered six.
When Katrina Nguyen, a young transgender runaway, catches Shizuka’s ear with her wild talent, Shizuka can almost feel the curse lifting. She’s found her final candidate.
But in a donut shop off a bustling highway in the San Gabriel Valley, Shizuka meets Lan Tran, retired starship captain, interstellar refugee, and mother of four. Shizuka doesn’t have time for crushes or coffee dates, what with her very soul on the line, but Lan’s kind smile and eyes like stars might just redefine a soul’s worth. And maybe something as small as a warm donut is powerful enough to break a curse as vast as the California coastline.
As the lives of these three women become entangled by chance and fate, a story of magic, identity, curses, and hope begins, and a family worth crossing the universe for is found.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ryka Aoki is a poet, composer, and teacher and author of Seasonal Velocities, He Mele a Hilo (A Hilo Song), Why Dust Shall Never Settle Upon This Soul and The Great Space Adventure. Her next novel, Light from Uncommon Stars is forthcoming from Tor Books September 2021.
Ryka’s work has appeared or been recognized in Vogue, Elle, Publisher’s Weekly, Bustle, Autostraddle, PopSugar, The Daily Dot, The Guardian, Buzzfeed, The San Francisco Bay Times, and the Huffington Post. Her latest poetry was part of “Are you okay?” curated by Franny Choi at Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, and she was honored by the California State Senate for “extraordinary commitment to the visibility and well-being of Transgender people.”
Aoki’s work appears in many queer and mainstream publications and anthologies, and she was honored to work with the American Association of Hiroshima Nagasaki A-Bomb Survivors, where two of her compositions were adopted as the organization’s official “songs of peace.”
Ryka also appears in the recent documentaries “Diagnosing Difference” and “Riot Acts,” as well as writing for and acting in the award-winning film “Transfinite.”
Ryka was the inaugural performer for the first ever Transgender Stage at San Francisco Pride, and has performed in venues including the Sundance Film Festival, San Francisco Pride Main Stage, Barnard College, the National Queer Arts Festival, Yale University, UC Berkeley, UCLA, the University of Iceland, the University of Winnipeg, and Ladyfest South. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Cornell University and is currently a professor of English at Santa Monica College. She is Japanese-American.
She is a two-time Lambda Award finalist, and winner of the Eli Coppola Chapbook Contest, the Corson-Bishop Poetry Prize, and a University Award from the Academy of American Poets. Ryka is also a former national judo champion and the founder of the International Transgender Martial Arts Alliance.
For the past 10 years, she has directed Supernova Martial Arts, a self-defense and martial arts program, now at the Trans Latinx Coalition, and has presented self-defense seminars at conferences and special events throughout Southern California. For her work with youth, Ryka was named an Outstanding Volunteer by the LGBT Center’s Children, Youth and Family Services. (It’s her favorite award ever.)
Ryka is also Executive Director of Dissonance Press, and The After School programs at Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center, in Venice, California.
She is also a professor of English at Santa Monica College, a half-decent pianist, and is starting to learn to play the violin.