A Review of The Deep Sky by Yume Kitasei

*SPOILER ALERT* The following review contains plot details about The Deep Sky.

The Deep Sky by Yume Kitasei is everything you’d want from a whodunnit murder mystery set on a space station hurtling towards Planet X. Think Portrait of a Thief by Grace D. Li mixed with Dune by Frank Herbert. The world-building, the mechanics, and cultural nuance, all come together in The Deep Sky.

Asuka has woken up from a decade-long hibernation. Now, deep in space and 11-months into their mission, the monotony of the ship’s routines is setting in. The A, B, and C shifts of sleep, work, and study are starting to wear her thin. Add the complication that Asuka is supposed to be pregnant—very pregnant—by now in order to give birth before arriving on Planet X and this means she’s more than a little stressed. Her shipmates are pregnant, the captain included, but not Asuka. Not yet, and she doesn’t know why.

Asuka spent her early life on Earth training to be one of the chosen members of the Phoenix. Flashbacks throughout the novel give us glimpses of Asuka’s strained relationship with her mother and brother and the trauma that still lingers there. Her mother is a constant in the present narrative because of the letters that the DAR AI is constantly prompting Asuka to read. The novel explores themes and feelings of diaspora because Asuka is Japanese-American yet was chosen to represent Japan, despite not being fluent in the language. The trials and schooling to become one of the elite members of the Phoenix were grueling, and we see the political intrigue and investment of countries such as the US, China, and Japan when preparing the space station’s mission.

With her estranged familial relations, Asuka has sacrificed everything to be part of Phoenix. Readers are plunged into life on the ship by experiencing DAR, Digitally Augmented Reality. When Asuka’s DAR becomes buggy, we see the canvas beneath the virtual reality. White walls, endless sterile halls—the ship is colossal, but without the DAR Asuka starts to notice things, such as damaged dispenser hatches in the medical unit, and she starts to see into other people’s DARs. In a strangely intimate moment, Asuka can see what her shipmates choose to live in, day after day.

Alpha, the ship’s omnipresent AI, is part parental, part therapist, part organizational unit. Alpha is a constant voice in Asuka’s ear, programmed to be entirely confidential, and so Asuka trusts them. She confides in them and would rather speak to Alpha than her weekly therapy sessions.

When a mysterious object is detected on the outside of the ship, Asuka and her shipmate Kat are tasked with a spacewalk, so they go out into the dark. First, they are racing and making the best of life in space. Then, there is an explosion, followed by static, followed by running out of oxygen. Asuka barely makes it back to the ship alive. Others are not so lucky. Now, the Phoenix is damaged and pushed off course, Planet X is drifting further out of reach, and the question of who bombed the ship threatens the success of the mission and the survival of humankind. Asuka is thrust into action to find the bomber before they strike again.

It’s these stakes and the mysteries behind them that kept me reading late into the night. The pacing in this novel builds steadily as relationship tensions unfold and past traumas are triggered. I was keen to follow Asuka in both her past and present timelines in order to discover what was going to happen next. Readers who enjoy the heavy worldbuilding of science-fiction and the fast-paced thrust of a thriller, will not want to miss The Deep Sky.

Haley Lawson

Haley Lawson is a writer and educator, having taught English in the U.S.A., Mongolia, South Korea, and the United Kingdom. Currently, she works as a Program Coordinator for AmeriCorps. A lover of all things make-believe and magick, she writes genre fiction under the pen name H. M. L. Swann. Some of her works are published in The Manchester Anthology IX and Quibble Literary. She received her master’s degree in Creative Writing from the University of Manchester in December 2021. When not writing, she can be found reading tarot cards and hiking along the shores of Lake Superior.