In The Vela, which will be released by Serial Box starting March 6th, we are introduced to an ex-military sniper who is teamed up with a seemingly spoiled politician’s kid to investigate whatever happened to the Vela: a refugee ship that has gone off the radar. The story takes place in a solar system with
In The Vela, which will be released by Serial Box starting March 6th, we are introduced to an ex-military sniper who is teamed up with a seemingly spoiled politician’s kid to investigate whatever happened to the Vela: a refugee ship that has gone off the radar.
The story takes place in a solar system with a dying sun. As the outer planets get colder, people flee to the inner planets and even those are on borrowed time. The plot rollicks along, as readers discover twists about our two main characters, their motivations, and the situation aboard the Vela. Nothing is what it initially seems. The characters are diverse in age, ethnicity, gender expression, and place in the hierarchical power structure of the world and that world feels very real: messy, lived-in and believable.
The title, I will admit, first made me think of the veela as created by J.K. Rowling, seductive supernatural female figures. I looked it up, however, and learned that the vela is a constellation known in English as The Sails, and it was once part of a larger constellation, Argo Navis. This is thematically relevant for the serial and I am pleased to know it; when you read The Vela, released in weekly episodes, you might be pleased to know the constellation as well.
Serial Box is a cleverly named publishing platform that offers serialized fiction you can subscribe to. Each story is set up like a season of television, with a team of writers taking turns releasing one episode each week for a pre-determined length of time. The first episode is free! After that you can buy each episode for $1.59 as they come out, or pre-order the whole season for $13.99. For The Vela, it was the roster of authors which attracted me to the project initially: Yoon Ha Lee, Becky Chambers, Rivers Solomon, and S.L. Huang, working from a concept by Lydia Shamah. I’ve been a fan and Patreon supporter of Rivers Solomon since I read An Unkindness of Ghosts last year after reading Paige Allen’s review of it, so I first heard about The Vela through Solomon.
Serial Box is a fun app, but one that has some kinks to work out. They pride themselves on releasing each episode on audio concurrently with the text release, which is great, aids accessibility, and is a draw for audiobook and podcast aficionados. They are, however, still in the process of making it possible to read the text versions of their serials using different fonts. They don’t yet have a timeline on when that will be complete, but it will certainly help accessibility, even more, when it is possible.
Overall, The Vela is a good story and an interesting model of delivery! As our television programming is veering toward subscription services dropping entire seasons at once, it’s enjoyable and refreshing to see prose fiction getting doled out in parts once a week. The co-authorship is interesting, too, since the authors take turns. Clearly, they were all involved in the plotting and characterization, but they have authorial credit for individual chapters, and each seems to focus their episodes on what might be designated their specialties. Becky Chambers offers multiple points of view and glimpses at everyday life, Yoon Ha Lee describes space battles spectacularly, and Rivers Solomon makes me cry, as I would expect. S.L. Huang’s writing, which I found to be characterized by straightforward phrasing and nuanced interiority for the characters, was new to me, and I will seek out more from her.
I enjoyed reading The Vela and I appreciate what Serial Box is trying to do; I look forward to seeing what comes next for these authors and this platform.