Persephone Station by Stina Liecht is a new action-packed space opera. And! it is out today!
I’ll say it straight up, I have some mixed feelings about Persephone Station. I picked it up from netgalley (thanks for the approval Sage/Gallery!) based almost entirely on the cover. This cover is so eyecatching, huge props to the illustrator Tomer Hanuka. Turns out, Persephone Station is also queer AF. But, that is where the issues came in.
While I am always on board for diverse space operas, Persephone Station fell flat for me for a few reasons. One of the biggest is that, while Stina Liecht is clearly trying to use inclusive language her attempts can sometimes be problematic or awkward. Inclusive language is great, especially when referring to the fact that not all women have uteri, and not all people with a uterus are women. But, I thought Leicht’s specific phrasing was awkward. I would have liked to see Leicht use them in a more effective way. I generally didn’t like Liecht’s prose, so maybe this wouldn’t be such a sticking point for others.
But, my biggest issue, from a representation standpoint was with regards to non-binary people. I’m non-binary. I’m not going to call myself some sort of expert in the variety of non-binary identities, presentations, and experiences. But, I can definitely speak to this more than someone cis.
Persephone Station is set on a queernorm world and has several major and minor non-binary characters. Throughout the story, whenever a character walks into a room they immediately know the genders of everyone present. And yes, non-binary folks want to be recognized as their gender IRL, but this is still problematic.
If I walk into a room where no one knows my gender, people are going to assume I’m a woman based on their preconceived notions of gender. Obviously, people shouldn’t assume anyone’s gender, but it is the basis of cisnormative culture. But in this book, which tries to be inclusive of different gender identities, the characters assume everyone’s gender upon meeting. Or they otherwise know the gender of other characters without ever having met, exchanged pronouns, or used a pre-established and explained cultural markers to determine their gender. Not all non-binary people are androgynous. You can’t necessarily know a person’s gender just by looking at them.
I’ve seen gender dealt with a variety of different ways in queernorm sci-fi and fantasy. In Winter’s Orbit, people express their gender by the materials of their jewelry, or the way they tie their scarves. There is a pre-established and explained cultural marker for recognizing a person’s gender.
But, Persephone Station doesn’t do that. In Persephone Station there is no explanation as to how to recognize different character’s genders, they just do. This isn’t a complete deal breaker for me, but it is definitely something that should be more openly discussed.
But, after a major, but important, diversion, on to the plot!
Persephone Station is a politically unimportant planet. But, a major corporation has taken interest in the planet for wonderfully exploitable secrets. Angel is an ex-marine and head of a mercenary group. She is the primary point of view character. We also see the perspectives of Rosie, the non-binary owner of a bar that covers for a criminal underground, and Kennedy, an AI currently in the possession of a human body.
There are old rivalries, secret aliens, an empathetic AI, and a cast of misfits.
For me, the story started kind of slow, but the last 50% is essentially non-stop action. I thought the pacing could have used some work, but it did not really affect my reading process.
I can see how Persephone Station might be a great book to someone else, but, for me, it fell short. The writing felt amateur, I didn’t really enjoy most of the characters, and I couldn’t look past these issues.
It was still a mostly entertaining read. The problematic elements are, at least, the effort of someone trying to be inclusive and they don’t feel like an attack. So, if the gender stuff won’t make you too uncomfortable, give Persephone Station a try.