cover image North Continent Ribbon

North Continent Ribbon

Ursula Whitcher. Neon Hemlock, $18.99 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-1-952086-84-7

Whitcher conjures a colorful world across six interconnected stories in her remarkably assured debut. On the planet Nakharat, sentient spaceships are made of human blood and bone. Nakhorians cover their hair, as the contracts binding all significant human connections—including with one’s employers, gods, family, and friends—are represented by ribbons braided into the hair. In “Closer Than Your Kidneys,” an assassin is bound to and falls in love with her target. Judge Sannali Emenev, the protagonist of “The Fifteenth Saint,” consults a book of poetry as the threatening Western Army descends. In “Ten Percent for Luck,” set in the mountains, Aqmada Inkar Alyevet, a soldier who left her company, falls in love, while against the urban backdrop of “The Association of Twelve Thousand Flowers,” a prostitute trysts with a jade miner who is later killed in a self-driving cab accident. “The Last Tutor” finds heiress Isekendriya Zuhrova protesting the use of convicts to man high-speed trains. In “A Fisher of Stars,” the boneship pilot Aizuret Yerikevet is arrested for breach of contract and sentenced to be turned into a ship for life. Each story is imbued with a rich otherworldly quality while still feeling achingly human. This distant planet becomes a theater upon which Whitcher eloquently explores love, queerness, justice, and faith. (Aug.)