October’s Book of the Month choice is Derelict by LJ Cohen. While tinkering with an abandoned spaceship, Ro Maldonado accidentally sends herself and three other teenagers shooting off into space. The four must overcome a rogue AI system, severe injuries, and their own personal issues to figure out how to get back home–not to mention what to do with the dangerous cargo the derelict ship is carrying.
Not offensive to women = 1 pt*
No. None of the portrayals or actions of the women characters made me uncomfortable in any way.
Features a woman as the main protagonist and/or supporting character = 2 pts
The book shifts through a few viewpoints, but Ro is the first introduced. Her agenda jump starts the plot and we get plenty of close looks into her psyche. There are also plenty of female secondary characters, including another viewpoint character, Konomi Nakamura.
Passes the Bechdel test = 3 pts
The book features a range of women in various roles (commander, doctor, recent Uni-grad, engineer…) and various races. These characters interact multiple times for many reasons, making it easy for the story to pass the Bechdel test and the racial Bechdel test.
Artistic and/or Entertaining = 3 pts (out of possible 4)
My favorite aspect of Derelict was the importance placed on coding and engineering. As someone with only a basic understanding of coding I have to give props to Cohen for making coding fun, visual, and even sometimes as tense as an action scene. I don’t read a lot of scifi, but Cohen’s writing style was very accessible and I had no problem picking up both real-world and scifi terminology. This is owed to her strong writing in general.
Another strength was the multiple character viewpoints. Each was distinct and interesting, and I liked how they were drawn together during the crisis. Additionally, I loved that Cohen wasn’t afraid to injure her characters to show us their mettle.
For me, the book began very strongly but lost me a little at the end. Characters seemed to know exactly what was going on in each other’s heads, leading to dialogue that didn’t sound natural. This was especially true for Konomi, who was a little too attached to Ro considering they only meet in person twice in the whole book. I was also confused by the villains’ actions because there wasn’t enough information about how they were going to accomplish their goals–and in fact they gave up too easily for my taste! But I only took off one point here because those issues didn’t influence my overall enjoyment.
Above and Beyond General Media = 5 pts
Derelict gets 5/5 in this section. First of all, there is a very diverse cast running the gamut from good to evil, and the multiple viewpoints get us into the heads of the flawed teenage protagonists. Cohen doesn’t touch on racial issues (in fact, I can’t remember if it was even said if Konomi is Japanese or Japanese-American or what-have-you) but that feels right since the characters are dealing with their own issues and immediate life-or-death situations. Absence of characters of color in a futuristic society would’ve felt false and yet many other scifi writers are guilty of just this absence. The diversity of the characters made this scifi world more believable.
There is also a lesbian viewpoint character. While romance is very much in the background of the plot, having a competent, grounded, and openly-gay character is always a plus in any genre.
But the biggest reason Derelict gets all five points here is because almost every character has advanced knowledge of technology. That seems obvious in a futuristic society, but we all know women and PoC in the real world are not often given appropriate recognition for their work in scientific fields. Minorities of all sorts are then frequently underrepresented in works of fiction. In Derelict, Cohen gives us not only a diverse range of characters, but a diverse range of advanced technological skills (in botany, medicine, coding, engineering, communications, etc), refusing to let anyone fall into a stereotypical role.
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*This is a category that could get very complicated, very quickly, if we tried to list everything that could be offensive to women. Instead, we use this category as a way of showing our own personal reaction to whatever we are reviewing. All contributors to this site are women and can speak from a woman’s perspective. However, no woman can speak for all women so we do our best to explain our choice one way or the other. We encourage all readers to share their opinions in the comments of every post if they want to express agreement or disagreement with our rankings.