When I picked up Colony by Leigh Matthews I didn’t realize it was going to be the first and I think only “hard” science fiction book I’ve ever read. If you’re looking for hard science fiction—fiction with a focus on and concern with scientific accuracy and logic—with incidental queer characters, definitely check out Colony! I found it to be a fascinating and unexpectedly spooky book—just in time for Halloween.
This story takes place in the near future: 2036. Humanity is attempting for the first time to establish a colony on Mars. Our main window into this world is Silver Antara. She’s a flight engineer who has already spent six months on Mars. We learn early on that she’s left her wife and child back on Earth. Going back to space has become, ultimately, more important to her than her family. The philosophical questions this decision poses reverberate throughout the novel. Where does Silver belong? (This takes on special relevance as Silver is an Indigenous (Navajo) person who grew up divorced from her cultural heritage). What does Mars or space offer that Earth does not? What does it mean to keep moving and never settle down? It’s to the book’s credit that it offers no simple answers to any of these questions.
The harshness of life on Mars is front and centre in this story from the get-go. The humans are constantly having to protect themselves from the radiation and solar storms that are a way of life on Mars. They are working hard to find materials like minerals and water to sustain human life. Just staying alive is so much work. It feels clear that the human do not belong there. Even without the book’s title and Silver’s Indigenous background, it’s a quick leap of the mind to make a connection to the history and ongoing colonization in many corners of Earth. What effect does the complicated legacy of colonization on Earth have on the colony project on Mars? I’ll leave you to discover the answers in the book.
While regular sustenance of life is a struggle, the stakes in this novel quickly become higher as an unexplained mining accident sparks an increasingly volatile and life-threatening situation. I think that’s all I want to say about where the plot goes from there. It is one of those narratives that you grab onto for the ride, reading relentlessly to find out “what happens next.” The pacing is excellent! It’s best experienced without knowing even the vague outlines of what is to come. I will warn you that it definitely spooked me!
I really loved how this was a story with a queer protagonist that wasn’t at all about queerness. Stories that centre sexual identities are great, but it’s really nice to also have books like Colony that don’t focus on it at all. There is a nuanced integration of the concepts of gender, indigeneity, and colonization into the plot overall, but less so into individual characters. In short: what Colony does, as in all good science fiction, is question what it is to be human.
(P.S. You should also check out Matthews’ other books that I’ve reviewed, a completely different type of novels that are a modern day lesbian pulp series set in Vancouver).