The Flight of the Silver Vixen is the kind of book you’ll enjoy immensely, but really wish you could have read as a young girl. It’s a fun, all-girl, swashbuckling adventure that makes you giddy with joy, even as it causes you to pause every once in a while to reflect upon what's happening beneath the story.
This is the story of a band of teenage girls who steal an experimental spaceship called The Silver Vixen. Forced to enter an ether crease (think Star Trek wormhole), they find themselves on the other side of the universe, on a planet very much like their own, and surrounded by barbarian space-pirates. That’s where the obvious conflict begins, but centuries of isolation on their sister world have created societal and political differences that create deeper, more subtle conflicts of their own. As you might expect, the girls are forced to grow up quickly, as very adult demands (the kind upon which entire civilizations turn) are suddenly placed on them.
To truly appreciate the threat posed by The Kang, it is first necessary to understand the question of gender that’s at the heart of this novel (and which, coincidentally, first appealed to my own heart). The Flight of the Silver Vixen is the story of an intemorph race, one that, to all appearances, consists entirely of women. Of course, when it comes to sex and gender, it’s never quite that simple, and this is by no means a Utopian sexual ideal. In fact, the division of gender is still very sexist, with the blondes being smaller, cuter, more emotional women who need to be buckled in and coddled; and the brunettes being physically larger and stronger women who take on the heavy jobs, and who are often (affectionately) dismissive of their blondes.
The Kang, meanwhile, are schizomorphs – gender mutations who have split into two visually distinct male and female sexes, each exaggerated and extreme in adherence to ‘human’ stereotypes. Beast-like, violent, and aggressive, the men of The Kang are sword-wielding barbarians who could have escaped from any teenage boy's swords-and-sorcery fantasy. Although less advanced in all areas of development, they’ve armed themselves with stolen technology, and are guided by the Dark One (an ancient demon who plays a significant role in the two sister worlds).
The writing is solid, the characters are well rounded, and the dialogue is wonderfully natural – it pulls you in and makes you wish you could interject, comment, and take part in the discussions. There are elements of (alien) teenage girl speak, but these women are mature beyond their years. It is primarily through their interactions with each other (and their sister civilization) that the book’s concepts and assumptions about gender, social class, and philosophy are fully explored. Instead of forcing understanding upon us with narrative asides and long, drawn-out explanations, we are almost subconsciously fed a little more knowledge with every interaction.
Additionally, the more we get to know these girls, the more plausible it seems they’d be able to get away with stealing the Queen’s ship . . . and the more plausible it seems they’ll be able to deal with so many levels of conflict. This is, indeed, a swashbuckling adventure, and one that mixes interstellar battles, sci-fi motorcycle races through fantasy wildernesses, gun-battles and sword-battles (sometimes at the same time), and some verbal sparring that’s as fun and feminist as it is clever (think Buffy the Vampire Slayer).
My only complaint (and I realise this is a limitation of YA fiction), is that I would have loved to learn more about the sexual nature of the intemorphs. There are a few tantalizing hints and suggestions, and perhaps the questions are meant to be more exciting than the answers, but it still leaves me wondering how it all works. I'm not talking graphic or obscene - I'd just be interested in seeing how a romance might be handled, how a family unit operates, or simply whether attraction lies alongside 'gender' lines (blonde vs brunette) or is more open. I suspect there is still more story to come, so maybe we'll learn more as we go.
Regardless of my curiosity getting the best of me, this is a stellar effort (if you’ll pardon the pun) and definitely worth a read.