July 17, 2023

The Deep Sky

By Yume Kitasei
Review by
A Hail Mary effort to save humanity goes awry in Yume Kitasei’s smart and exhilarating sci-fi mystery, The Deep Sky.
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The Earth is about to die. A single ship will travel to a hospitable planet far beyond our solar system where the 80 original crew members and their children will begin a new chapter for the human race. But in Yume Kitasei’s The Deep Sky, those plans go horribly wrong. The passengers aboard the Phoenix might not be having a good time, but readers certainly will be as the pages in this exhilarating, smart sci-fi mystery rocket past.

Asuka doesn’t feel like she belongs on the Phoenix. The last member to join the ship, she’s merely an alternate to the other 79 crew members, even though she graduated from the same highly competitive school. Perhaps it’s because she’s an afterthought that she’s asked to investigate a strange object on the surface of the ship. Just as she and a teammate reach the object, a massive explosion tears through the ship, killing several crew members and blowing the Phoenix dangerously off course. Now, in a race against time to correct the Phoenix’s flight path, Asuka must uncover the truth about the explosion . . . even if it implicates someone on board.

It’s a pitch-perfect setup for a space thriller, and the stakes could not be any higher: The fate of the human species relies on the Phoenix’s ability to make it to the new Earth. Alliances change and suspicions shift as Asuka’s investigation proceeds and propulsive chapters often end in cliffhangers. Flashback scenes set at the school that selected the Phoenix’s crew counterbalance the mystery, revealing just the right amount of information about characters’ history and corresponding with important story beats in the present. In both timelines, Asuka wrestles with her parental relationships, childhood grief and complex feelings about her Japanese-American identity. While these sections deepen the character, they occasionally feel like an interruption of the more suspenseful moments aboard the Phoenix.

The Deep Sky feels very close to our own reality: The Phoenix has landing modules and solar shields, rather than laser cannons. That said, Kitasei’s Digitally Augmented Reality (DAR), which allows crew members to adjust what they see around them through their visors, is a brilliant device. Rather than seeing the stark white hallways of the Phoenix, they could choose a lush rainforest or the deck of a pirate ship. Kitasei gets a lot of mileage out of DAR, especially in some key moments in the later parts of the book.

As interested in where we came from as where we’re going, The Deep Sky is a study in belonging and how Asuka’s intersecting identities (Japanese-American, crew member, classmate, friend, daughter and woman) buttress her during the most important moments in her life. Pick up The Deep Sky to discover how Asuka, and the Phoenix, rise from the ashes.

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The Deep Sky

The Deep Sky

By Yume Kitasei
ISBN 9781250875334

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