An original and ambitious novel about three characters reincarnated over two thousand years, from the collapse of the ancient Maya to a post-apocalyptic utopia, centered on the disappearance of one teenage tourist in a cave deep in the Belizean jungle in the year 2012.
THE ACTUAL STAR
by Monica Byrne
Harper Voyager, Fall 2021
A large, multi-layered speculative work, with three interwoven parts, one set in the world of the ancient Maya a thousand years ago (in which teen-age twins prepare to ascend the throne of their city-state, only to be toppled in a coup), one set in the present day (in which a young woman named Leah becomes fascinated by a cave complex in Belize), and one set a thousand years in the future (in which a new world religion has grown up, worshiping the memory of Leah’s disappearance in the cave). Each of the three stories is powerful in its own way. The world view of the pre-conquest Maya is persuasively evoked in vibrant, sensuous colors, in chapters that are based on extensive research. In the present-day story, Leah is a compelling mystic figure, a surprising yet satisfying first saint for a new world religion. And the future story is a magnificent feat of world-building, with a genuinely original vision of a post-climate-apocalypse, post-capitalist society of wanderers. Braided together, the three stories create profound resonances, with a cast of complex characters who we come to realize are reincarnations of earlier selves; with echoes of Christian theology and history; and with themes of human sacrifice, bloodletting, utopias, and parallel worlds. THE ACTUAL STAR is a rich, complex, challenging and satisfying work.
Monica Byrne graduated from the Clarion Workshop in 2008, where she studied with Neil Gaiman, Nalo Hopkinson, and Kelly Link. Her debut novel, The Girl in the Road, was published in 2014. It won the Tiptree Award and was listed for the Kitschie, Locus, and DSC Prize for South Asian Literature. She has performed original monologues twice at TED, hosted a technology series for ViceUK, and spoken across the US on futurism and science fiction. Her short stories and essays have been published in The Baffler, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, Wired, Tor.com, Electric Velocipede, Fantasy Magazine, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Electric Literature, and Glimmer Train. She has written five plays produced in Durham, NC, one of which, What Every Girl Should Know, has been performed from Berkeley to Dublin.