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September 27, 2022

The Genesis of Misery by Neon Yang ~ a Review

by MK French

Misery Nomaki (she/they) hears the voice of God, but thinks it's a hallucination brought on by hereditary space exposure. Survival depends on mastering the holy mech they are supposedly destined for, and convincing the Emperor of the Faithful that they are the real deal. While Misery thinks this is a con, is it really? What if they really do hear God?

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book cover of space opera The Genesis of Misery by Neon Yang
September 2022; Tor Books; 978-1250788979
audio, ebook, print (432 pages); space opera

Neon Yang wrote this reimagining of Joan of Arc’s story as a space opera, using giant robots to explore the nature of truth, belief, and reality. With a broad array of sexualities and genders, Neon's writing is now at novel length. They were shortlisted for many sci-fi awards, with short fiction published in many of the sci-fi and fantasy markets. If their name sounds familiar, that's why.

As a space opera at heart, there will be terms and names that make your brain sputter in confusion. Just go with it, the meaning will soon be clear enough. We open with someone asking an angel for Misery's story, to make sense of things, which explains the omniscient narration and the interludes that explain some of the backstory of humanity going into space, how the Church of the Faithful was created and how the Heretics split off. The holy war between them is officially at a truce, and there are stones that can be manipulated by those considered saints or are holy parts of the Church. There are also those infected with the Void, the emptiness and mutated aspects of space. It gets into the mind first, creating hallucinations and then personality changes before completely obliterating the human form with mutations and violence. From the start, Misery is aware of the void sickness inside her, as she has a hallucination following her and running commentary or telling her what to do; this sickness had also killed her mother years ago. But she is able to manipulate the holy stones, changing their shapes or moving through their doors, so everyone believes she is the next Messiah that was prophesied. She must train to use the mechs in combat against remaining Heretic forces while not really believing in her own hype. Her goal is survival, and if the rest of humanity survives too, that's a bonus.

The complexity of the characters really drew me in, even when I had very little idea what was going on at first. Misery had such fire and emotion in the beginning, and the relationship they had with Ruin, the principal hallucination, was fascinating. Then the interactions with the others, the clear parallels with Catholic doctrine, and the mechas in battle were fun to read. The mechas are seraphs, in keeping with the theme of holiness and piety, and I had the Neon Genesis Evangelion angels in mind as I was reading. It's definitely an influence as much as Joan of Arc's story. At the height of Misery's arc in the book, she begins to believe she's the Messiah, that she carries the message from the Forge and is of true belief. The transformation in her and others around her is interesting to see, even as the betrayals are, too; no space opera is without them, and this one is no different. A galactic Empire doesn't want to be thwarted, and that's all Misery plans to do in her belief that she answers to a higher authority. Overall, it's a great and satisfying sci-fi story, also leaving you with more questions at the end of it.

Buy The Genesis of Misery at Amazon

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and a golden retriever.

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