Giant Robots and Queer Music: August Kitko and the Mechas From Space by Alex White

Posted 7th July 2022 by Sia in Queer Lit, Reviews / 0 Comments

August Kitko and the Mechas from Space by Alex White
Genres: Queer Protagonists, Sci Fi
Representation: Queer MC, nonbinary MC, M/NB
Published on: 12th July 2022
ISBN: B096RSM5DB
Goodreads
three-half-stars

When an army of giant robot AIs threatens to devastate Earth, a virtuoso pianist becomes humanity's last hope in this bold, lightning-paced, technicolor new space opera series from the author of A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe. 

Jazz pianist Gus Kitko expected to spend his final moments on Earth playing piano at the greatest goodbye party of all time, and maybe kissing rockstar Ardent Violet, before the last of humanity is wiped out forever by the Vanguards--ultra-powerful robots from the dark heart of space, hell-bent on destroying humanity for reasons none can divine. 

But when the Vanguards arrive, the unthinkable happens--the mecha that should be killing Gus instead saves him. Suddenly, Gus's swan song becomes humanity's encore, as he is chosen to join a small group of traitorous Vanguards and their pilots dedicated to saving humanity. 

I received this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Highlights

~the BEST Big Bad
~simultaneously the scariest and cutest ghosts
~everything is queer
~jazz saves the day
~(sorta)

I’m not completely sure what I think of this book – but I do know I’ll definitely be picking up the sequel!

Centuries into the future, Earth is braced for annihilation as the giant robots that have destroyed every other human settlement in the galaxy close in. August Kitko, aka Gus, a jazz musician, has managed to hook up with one of the biggest popstars in human space and is attending the biggest possible end-of-the-world party when the robots arrive.

Things do not go as expected.

It turns out that the Vanguards (don’t call them robots) are not united on the whole destroying-humanity thing. A few of them are fighting to defend humans from the rest. But each Traitor Vanguard, as they’re known, needs a human to help them beat the other machines. Only a human can access the Fount, the store of memories harvested from all the humans the Vanguards have killed; only by utilising the experience of millions of human fighters can the Traitor Vanguards defeat the other Vanguards.

The Traitor Vanguard nicknamed Greymalkin pairs up with Gus, and the fight is on.

Where White shines, as usual, is with the characters and the worldbuilding. Mechas alternates between the POVs of Gus and Ardent, the latter being the aforementioned galactic popstar who hooks up with Gus just before doomsday and won’t let him go off to fight alone. Gus has a kind of everyman vibe about him, which makes him hella relatable, whereas Ardent is a nonbinary glitz-and-glam fashionista who’s flamboyant as fuck and hides panic attacks behind their deadly fierceness. Ardent is objectively more interesting, but you can’t help falling for Gus’ deep earnestness. They’re both pretty damn inspiring.

The romance between them… It all seemed to get very intense very fast, but that is what happens in intense, life-threatening scenarios – history and science have both proved that over and over. That being said, I have to admit that some of the kissing/sex made me cringe: I thought we were collectively past ‘their tongues danced’. Or maybe it’s supposed to be silly? I’m not good at picking up on jokes like that, so, perhaps. Regardless, I loved both these characters, even if I wasn’t completely sold on their love story.

But the worldbuilding! I loved what we got to see of far-future Earth, where humans seen to have gotten their act together, finally. I loved the tech and the queernorm default; I loved words like ‘joyfriend’ for a nonbinary datemate and the use of ‘folx’; I loved all of Ardent’s incredible clothes! And I was utterly delighted by the reveal of the Big Bad and the motivation/purpose of the Vanguards; I can’t talk about it, because spoilers, but White has managed to completely justify this very cinematic way of taking out humanity. It’s not handwaved or left to our suspension of disbelief; there’s very, very good reasoning behind it all, and that makes me so happy! And it’s SO COOL AND CLEVER, YOU GUYS!

I LOVE IT. SO MUCH.

I did not love the fight scenes; I found them very clunky and dull. But most of the book is not fight scenes, and on the flip side, I was surprised to find myself loving the Traitor Vanguards – especially Greymalkin – as characters in and of themselves as the book went on. I loved how they interacted with each other separate from their human partners: I loved seeing them protective of their injured. The final scene in the book, in which the Traitor Vanguards are the stars, just sealed the deal for me. I would have read the next book anyway, because I’m a huge Alex White fan, but now I need the next book!

omfg!

I said I wasn’t sure how I felt about this book, and I think that’s because The Mechas From Space is not one clear and simple thing. I might even go so far as to say it’s pretty messy, as though White wasn’t quite sure what the tone of this story was supposed to be: it’s both light-hearted and deeply dark, full of grief and fear and despair that doesn’t quite mesh with the rocking out and joking around. At the same time, it seems believable to me that people make ridiculous jokes or focus on tiny, unimportant-in-the-scheme-of-things stuff when they’re in the trenches. How else do you deal with being in the trenches? So although it reads as messy, it does also seem legit and fair to be this contradictory, this dual-natured.

But being able to explain it and justify it doesn’t mean it’s perfectly effective. Mechas works quite hard to be upbeat, to be hopepunk rather than grimdark, and it’s clear from other early reviews that most readers were able to embrace the vibrant parts and have fun with this book. I was actually pretty surprised when I skimmed through other reviews to see all the people talking about Mechas like it’s a very light-hearted story, because I didn’t get that at all. I was never able to forget how awful and tragic and terrifying the characters’ situation was, and I don’t think that’s just me being a downer; I think White took care to remind the reader constantly that, giant battle-robots aside, this isn’t a game, and the stakes couldn’t be higher. So I can’t quite bring myself to call Mechas fun, or describe it as escapist.

But I seem to be the only one. So. Your mileage will vary.

What Mechas definitely is, is fundamentally a book about not giving into despair, and working together against overwhelming odds; about doing the right thing even if it’s going to hurt, or even if it kills you – about doing the right thing even if your death won’t accomplish anything. And there is something massively beautiful and spine-shivering about that.

August Kitko and the Mechas From Space is out next week, and I do think you ought to read it.

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