Beyond a Book Review: The "What if?" of The Deep Sky

beyond a book review_the what if of the deep sky, purple text over lightened image of an open book
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Shawna Ayoub moves "beyond the book review" in not only recommending great books by diverse writers, but highlighting a technique to apply to your own writing.


The Deep Sky, by Yume Kitasei

Yume Kitasei is Japanese-American speculative fiction writer in Brooklyn. Her space thriller, The Deep Sky, takes readers aboard The Phoenix, a spacefaring ship carrying 80 astronauts, all of whom are biologically capable of pregnancy. They are a gender-diverse crew tasked with the goal of saving humanity by populating Planet X. When the novel begins, the crew are about halfway to their destination. Tragedy strikes when a bomb is set off on the hull of The Phoenix, and Asuka is tasked with investigating her peers to learn who committed the act of sabotage. 

There are many great points to this book. As I read, I was excited to discover that the future Kitasei imagined for us is one that does not discriminate when it comes to sexuality or gender presentation. While the characters in this book are tasked with biological reproduction, they do not have to be women to do so. In The Deep Sky, you will find masculine, feminine and nonbinary characters. Further, the crew is assembled to represent Earth’s racial makeup. In other words, the future imagined for us is one that mirrors our present when it comes to diversity.


Speculation and reflection

Speculative fiction is perhaps my favorite genre because it allows the space for writers to imagine what could happen outside the restrictive box of reality. Could this crew be assembled today? No. There would be too many acts of terrorism supported by many of the world’s governments in response to a gender-diverse while only biologically-female-bodied crew. Too many people today believe that gender diversity is an evil. In fact, in the book, there are still cisgender male groups committing acts of violence against supporters of The Phoenix and its mission. But speculative fiction is defined by the question of what if in a way that’s even broader than in fiction. 

That broader what if is one that I’m always trying to encourage my writing students to explore. We don’t have to dig into or bend the rules of science to imagine a future reflective of our dreams because our dreams are often a reality reflective of our inner life. As a queer person of color, The Deep Sky was reflective of my community: A gender and racially/culturally diverse set of humans seeking to better the future by our actions now. Settling into Kitasei’s story felt cozy and affirming to me. My own writing should do the same. But plenty of times it doesn’t because I get too into navel-gazing and don’t look outside my inner reactions and experience. If I did, there would be more queer characters in my writing. There would be more incorporation of global struggle. And I would feel less isolated when I write.

And there is the key—writing is often done in isolation, but it is inherently an act of connection. Taking a broader view of our what ifs can encourage us to engage at a deeper level with our communities. With that in mind, here is a prompt to try.


A writing exercise

For 15 minutes, write a letter to the place or person that feels like home to you. Assume you haven’t spoken in at least 10 years. Give that place or person an update on how you are, how you’ve changed and what you hope. 

Afterward, reflect on what came to mind as you considered your distance from home. How did writing this letter make you feel? Did it connect you to home or make you feel further from it? What did you learn about yourself in the process of writing this letter?

The Deep Sky was a very good read. I hope you’ll pick up your own copy. Kitasei does a wonderful job of creating an environment the reader can navigate and filling it with compelling characters we want to get to know better. There is also an urgency to the story that drives the reader forward, making the conclusion both one that satisfies and encourages more thought. 


Will you read this book or try this exercise? Share with us in the comments.


Related reading 

Beyond a Book Review: Grief and Hope in All We Are Told Not to Touch

Beyond a Book Review: Once Upon a Time in Dovelion

Beyond a Book Review: Narrators and Compassion in Finding La Negrita

Beyond a Book Review: Research as Connection in Through the Banks of the Red Cedar

Beyond a Book Review: Intuition in River Woman, River Demon

Beyond a Book Review: Timeline(s) in Becoming AppalAsian

Beyond a Book Review: Unwieldy Creatures and retelling our stories

Beyond a Book Review: Containers as safe spaces in Nonwhite and Woman

Beyond a Book Review: Footnotes in Belly to the Brutal


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