Sometimes you just need a book that leaves you feeling good. A book that leaves you smiling. A book that doesn’t try to solve the world’s problems or make heavy handed bold statements. The Disasters by M.K. England is just that book.
Even though The Disasters is a humorous and epic sci-fi adventure, it doesn’t ignore the frightening reality of toddler tyrants or shy away from painting a future that stands closer to the right side of history than we are today. It does exactly the opposite. It demonstrates the danger of dismissing tyrants. It proves that one person can start a revolution. It elevates gender identity and sexuality beyond debate and politics to a point when who we are and who we love just is. It recognizes without demonizing or dismissing the sometimes paralyzing effects of struggles with mental health. It’s quite the book. But above all, it’s a great adventure through the starry black of space.
The plot is simple enough but definitely not simplistic. The future has arrived, and Manifest Destiny has led the people of Earth to colonize space. Four misfits have flunked their entrance exam to Ellis Space Academy, an elite training ground for future space officers. Our four disgraced misfits are about to return to Earth when an act of terrorism devastates Ellis Space Academy. Accused of a crime they didn’t commit and hunted as fugitives the four misfits must quickly learn to trust one another and depend on the kindness of strangers. Strangers who have an agenda of their own. What starts as a mission to save themselves becomes a mission to save worlds, and just like that, the four fugitives become five rebels.
The quickly formed band of five is led by Nax, a natural but reluctant leader. As a pilot and a person, he’s a little Maverick and a little Goose, but so very evolved. The rest of the crew includes:
Case: the genius co-pilot who battles panic attacks, and who knows that sometimes the right thing means doing the wrong thing
Rion: the steady and steely eyed smooth talking Londoner who seeks to escape the limitations of parental expectations and the privilege of wealth
Zee: the elite athlete and medical savant who more than any character exemplifies the idea that we don’t have to explain who we are.
Asra: a brilliant hacker and the catalyst that moves our band of misfits from fugitives to rebels with a cause
It’s refreshing to find widespread diversity that comes off as normalized rather than a YA author’s checklisted attempt to prove themselves woke. The diversity isn’t the story. The story is the story and the characters just happen to be Black, Latinx, Asian, trans, Muslim, bi . . .
The Disasters is more Han Solo that Luke Skywalker. No one here is hiding in a swamp searching for the meaning of life. This book is all swagger without the toxic masculinity. This was exactly the book I needed to end my year of rough reading. Lest this seems all gush and glory, I place at The Disasters feet a single half-hearted critique and one urgent request. I wanted to know more about the other members of the Swift Kick’s crew. They have stories to tell, and I want to read them. This simply cannot be a stand alone. These characters and that ship deserve as many adventures as there are stars. M.K. England, make it so.