Music, Lyrics, & Aliens in The Sound of Stars by Alecia Dow

The Sound of Stars is a charming sci-fi novel by Alechia Dow. Aliens have invaded Earth. They’re called the Ilori—a type of humanoid-android race that has decimated the world. Establishing colonies all over the planet, they keep humans under a rigid thumb by taking away the very things that make people human. Art, books, music, and most importantly, emotions. By removing these things, along with vaccinations and social conditioning, the Ilori have made sure that humans are docile and incapable of rebellions.

Ellie Baker is a human girl living on what’s left of New York City. It’s hard to imagine a world where humans are forced to overcome racial bias and homophobia because there is a bigger threat. And while Dow doesn’t remove those things completely, it’s clear that humanity is forced to realize that the biggest threat is the alien overlords. Ellie has seen the worst of the attacks. For the past two years she’s survived. Her mother is an alcoholic. Her father, once buzzing with the spark of resistance, has not been turned into a vegetable by the dominant aliens. She keeps her head down. She goes through the motions. But when no one is looking, she runs a very illegal library.

With sixty books in total, Ellie keeps a mental record of who she loans the book to. Her best friend Alice helps her vet the people who borrow books. Keeping the books would add up to two infractions. The infractions themselves are like points and half points given to humans by the Ilori guards. When you get two, you’re executed publicly. Ellie risks her life for books and it’s easy to understand why. This library is the only thing she can control. Once, she watched a woman die outside the compound gates. She was helpless to do anything. With her books, at least she can give people hope. That hope is worth putting herself at risk every single day. That is, until a book goes missing. And the person who took it is not a person at all—but an Ilori commander.

M0Rr1S, better known as Morris, is duty bound to the Ilori. He’s not a “true” Ilori, but one of the “labmade.” Though his genetic composition has elevated his rank to commander and leader, he has too many faults. He has developed a love for music. Music makes him feel, which goes against every part of his being and his species. Though the Ilori deleted the “cloud” and wiped all digital music and art, he’s spent years collecting the real deal. CDs and Vinyl and USBs. He’s an adorable hipster alien if there ever was one. Morris is convinced that humans are vital for the future of the Ilori. Though it isn’t always clear where his allegiance lies, one thing is for sure: he needs to find the girl whose illegal library he’s discovered.

When Morris calls Ellie to him using his mind, they form a strange connection and attraction. While some of the books and music referenced might be too modern for some, others will love the references to Angie Thomas, Harry Potter, David Bowie and Prince. The Sound of Stars made me think about what I would want to have with me at the very end of civilization. What art remains? What do you hold on to when there is no hope of a better future? For Ellie and Morris, stories and music are the things that bind them. The things that make them see past human and Ilori and get to their essence: A girl and a boy with want more than is available. Dow emphasizes that hope is a fragile thing, but it is what propels Ellie and Morris’s friendship and attraction.

When Ellie is found out, Morris risks his own standing and life to save her. Just before she’s about to be executed, he takes her away and they go on the run. What follows is a series of twists and turns that put into question everything Ellie and Morris have ever known of their respective worlds. Trust is not something that comes easily, especially when it is betrayed. Morris has to decide what he’s going to choose: his people or Ellie?

Alechia Dow creates a delightful futuristic New York that is full of pop culture and impossible moral dilemmas. Its darkness is contrasted through moments of romance and levity between Ellie and Morris. The future is both diverse and inclusive of non-binary people, and aliens. The Ilori become a mirror of our society’s worst parts, while Ellie and Morris remain beacons of hope, proving the power of story no matter what planet you’re on. Perfect for teens and fans of War Cross by Marie Lu and The Last 8 by Laura Pohl.

The Sound of Stars is available from Inkyard Press.

Zoraida Córdova is the award-winning author of the Brooklyn Brujas series, The Vicious Deep trilogy, and Star Wars: A Crash of Fate. Her short fiction has appeared in the New York Times bestselling anthology Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View, and Toil & Trouble: 15 Tales of Women and Witchcraft. Zoraida was born in Ecuador and raised in Queens, New York. When she isn’t working on her next novel, she’s planning a new adventure.

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