I was surprised to find out that Victories Greater Than Death (a title which I keep mentally mangling, maybe due to Love is Colder Than Death which was a 90s darkwave band named after a 60s film)… where was I?
Right… this book is considered Charlie Jane Anders’ first YA novel. All The Birds in the Sky and The City in the Middle of the Night both felt YA to me. Young protagonists, where we’re very much in their heads, and the types of romances and ideals that they have.
It’s a space opera, fish-out-of-water story. The MC is a girl who was left as an orphan by aliens, physically human but carrying within herself (A) the dormant mind of a heroic alien space captain, and (B) an interstellar rescue beacon due to go off any day now, to bring the fleet to help her fulfill her destiny… but also bringing an alien murder squad to finish what they started.
But I didn’t really want to get too much into the plot; it’s the characters and how they treat each other that was most notable. This is a very queer story, and very respectful of gender, ethnicity and other aspects of identity, as well as boundaries and emotional needs and so on.
Nearly every character aside from the Earthlings (and sometimes them too) introduces themselves with “My name is _____ and my pronoun is _______”, even if they immediately follow it up with “…and I’m going to blow your pathetic little ship into space dust” or whatever. This is probably very practical in a galaxy full of diverse intelligent species. But even among humans, you really can’t discern another person’s gender identity with your own eyes as well as you might think, and it should not be a difficult realization that getting it right is a matter of basic respect.
The Earthlings (and most of the other characters, aside from the major villain) always ask permission before touching someone (unless they’ve given prior ongoing consent). The MC and one of the others have been really close friends for years, but she will still ask first, “Can I touch you? You look like you need a hug.” This just goes generally with characters’ respect of each others’ boundaries, need for space and alone time, concern for their emotional states and so on.
I admit, as a person who believes in respecting others’ identities and emotions, it was still kind of startling at times and felt like a bit much. But not wrong, just a different culture and therefore kind of a shock. A flawed culture should, absolutely, change to make people happier and healthier. So I hope that some readers take the book to heart, and the culture does shift to be a little more like this fictional one.