A Paean of Hope Against the Dark: Ansible–A Thousand Faces by Stant Litore

Posted 5th April 2022 by Sia in Crescent Classics, Queer Lit, Reviews, Sci-Fi Reviews / 0 Comments

Ansible: A Thousand Faces (The Complete Omnibus of Seasons 1-3) by Stant Litore
Genres: Queer Protagonists, Sci Fi
Representation: Middle Eastern cast, bisexual Muslim MC, Syrian bisexual MC, Black African MC, F/F, queernorm cultures
PoV: 1st person present tense, multiple PoVs
Goodreads
five-stars

This omnibus edition includes the entire Ansible series: Seasons 1-3.

"My mind has touched the stars, wearing a thousand faces..."

In Ansible, 25th century Islamic explorers transfer their minds across space and time to make first contact...and get marooned in alien bodies on alien worlds. Along the way, they encounter the most dangerous predator humanity has ever faced. Now a Syrian refugee, a thirteenth-century librarian, and a hijabi shapeshifter from the far future must travel across space and time to defend humanity from this intergalactic and devouring evil.

They'll find allies: A wheelchair gunslinger from far-future Beijing. A legion of women soldiers wielding Spinning Saws that can slice through predators that only barely exist inside our universe. A strange child-empath who can hear all of humanity's suffering at every instant in history. A firestarter-goddess from our prehistory. Together, they will face a species that travels across time and feeds on terror itself.

Highlights

~bisexual shapeshifting hijabi time traveler
~the most nightmarish monsters to ever nightmare
~psychic scholar-scientists
~gleaming prose
~it’s never time to give up on hope

This is a masterpiece.

It starts beautiful but bleak; beautiful, because a new Islamic Golden Age is flourishing after the environmental collapse of Earth, which is slowly recovering; bleak, because it is all about the Starmind program, where the minds of trained individuals are flung through space and time into the bodies of alien life-forms – and that experience is predictably lonely, occasionally tragic, as is to be expected with something so new, experimental, and exploratory. The humans can’t make it home again, after all.

Then it turns to horror. Because one far-flung Ansible, as they’re called, comes to a world full of monsters. And unintentionally gives them the location of Earth.

Picture enormous, near-invisible jellyfish. Now imagine that they are immune to most weaponry, are impossibly strong, and feed on sapient fear. If they touch you with their tendrils – which can lift an adult human up into the sky, not nearly as delicate an they should be – they trap your mind in an eternity of nightmares and feast on your psychic screaming forever.

This is the first 16% of the book – about 100 pages of this 600-page epic. And it’s rough. By which I mean, difficult to get through, not poorly written.

After that, though.

Gods.

Uncertainty is not despair; it’s another word for hope.

Ansible was pitched to me as featuring a ‘bisexual shapeshifting hijabi time traveler’, and you know what, that really is all I need to hear. But even though, with that premise, I was expecting it to be awesome? I did not, could not, imagine the…the scale of it. How completely it would take my breath away. How utterly it would consume my every waking moment – and quite a lot of my sleeping ones. How impossible it would be to stop thinking about it. How it would – would fit, the way the perfect stone fits in your hand, smooth and silken and just inexplicably right. Except Ansible isn’t your average pebble, but some kind of crystal, one with veins and dapples of colour running through it, so that every time you look, every time you turn it over in your hand, there’s some new and unexpected brilliance to fall in love with.

This moment will be my shield and my dome lifted in praise of he who is All Compassionate and who drops universes from his hand the way a jeweler drops diamonds onto a dark fabric, to show them off as things of unparalleled and indescribable beauty.

Sahira is a psicaster, someone who can project into the minds of others. Most psicasters need the help of specialised technology to become Ansibles – Sahira doesn’t. She can even ‘leap’ into another body without destroying the original mind of that body, which is another aspect of her talent that is unprecedented. When the pneumavores – the ‘soul-eaters’, nightmare-makers, world-enders – retrace the paths of previous Ansibles and attack first Starmind and then the world, Sahira manages to escape, leaping across galaxies and back and forth through time. And she dedicates her life to fighting back and saving humanity.

This isn’t a blockbuster; this is an epic. Sahira travels the timeline searching for others with powerful psi talents to help her, honing her own skills and teaching them to her allies, learning how to fight monsters that can barely be seen or felt, while simultaneously safeguarding and shepherding refugees from across the universe – for humans have spread to the stars, a little further into the future – into the Last Redoubt, a pyramid the size of a nation, of a hundred nations, impregnable and safe from the pneumavores. She falls in love more than once, but finds the love of her life in Rasha, a Syrian refugee from roughly our own time; she lives not in straight lines but in some impossibly intricate geometric pattern like an Islamic artwork, present in so many presents, going into battles knowing she’s already survived them, won them, lost them.

And Litore takes us through the timestream with her; we see the far-future of humanity in the Last Redoubt; we see our present, and Rasha’s life before she leaves it to join Sahira in her quest; skip forward again to see the Last Redoubt being built by survivors of the 25th century; then backwards to prehistoric times and the ancestors of modern humans. In lesser hands it would be a jerky, disjointed mess, but in Litore’s it’s spun silk woven back and forth into a darkly shining tapestry of lives and loss and love.

For this night, the first hours of the long night, we have been knives in God’s hands and songs in his throat, and he has wielded us to preserve all of your lives, all of you who are the books in the library that is the mind of All-Merciful God.

I really can’t overstate Litore’s skill here, how his prose just shines. Science becomes song, becomes hymns and poetry in a way that immediately brings to mind the Islamic scholars of the past (almost certainly Litore’s intent), and it’s so beautiful it made my heart ache. This isn’t the super-descriptive, decadently purple prose I normally love; this is sharp and elegant and gleaming, a heart-felt hymn both to God – from the perspective of the characters – and to humanity.

By stories and song, we hold back the dark.

Ansible starts out as horror, but it is immensely hopepunk. This is a book about fear and loss and hope and love, about trying your best, about fighting both for ideals and for the people standing beside and behind you. It’s effortlessly inclusive, racially and sexually, putting queer women of colour front and centre. It’s about never giving up. It’s honest about the ways in which we fail sometimes, the ways in which we give in to fear sometimes. It starts as a nightmare, and then the story fights that back, one inch at a time, one step at a time. It’s about glory and awe and longing, sorrow and joy and life. I cannot exaggerate how beautiful, how poignant, how powerful and moving it is.

Maybe this is how we stand against the ifrits that feed on our fear: by passing bravery from one body to another, in the clasp of a hand, in the sharing of a glance, in the touch of a thought.

Let me put it this way: last month I started new meds that made me incredibly jittery and left me struggling to focus on anything for more than a few minutes at a time. It was incredibly distressing and depressing. But the one book I could still read? Was Ansible. Because it is just that good, that addictive, that compelling. When I couldn’t read anything else, I could read this, and passionately wanted to read this.

Ansible: A Thousand Faces is one of the precious books – stories – that goes on the shelf behind my heart because it’s touched my soul. This is a book I know I will come back to again and again; one I won’t ever forget. One I’ll carry with me for always, no matter where my path takes me.

I urge you to read it too.

five-stars

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