Callisto 2.0 (Shambhala Saga #1) – Susan English

When I first started reading lesfic more than twenty-five years ago, there were a few lesbian/feminist utopias about women-only worlds. The first that come to mind are Daughters of a Coral Dawn by Katherine V. Forrest and Return to Isis by Jean Stewart. I was reminded of these while I was reading Callisto 2.0, Susan English’s debut novel (the author has also written a travel memoir and short stories). Much as the novels I mentioned are in many ways products of their time, Callisto 2.0 is very much a twenty-first-century book.

You think the Covid-19 pandemic is bad? Get prepared, it’s only the beginning. The good news is, in the world Susan English has imagined, things change, governments more or less do the right thing and the Earth doesn’t end up populated by zombies. Though when I say things change, it’s only to some extent, as Callisto, the heroine of the first book of what will be at least a trilogy, will discover.

It’s 2097. At thirty-one, Callisto (Calli), a physicist specializing in the obscure field of faster-than-light space travel, is more or less resigned to accepting the job offer she received from the government when she gets another call, from a foundation called Portal al Porvenir, aka the Foundation. Privately funded, the Foundation invites Callisto to join its team on Shambhala, a space lab orbiting around the Moon. Calli’s hesitation only lasts until she visits the lab and meets her future colleagues in their state-of-the-art workplace.

Many times over the next months will Calli wonder whether this job is for real or if she’s dreaming. It does sound too good to be true, especially as she finds herself welcomed by a uniquely diverse crew, into a community of women from all sorts of backgrounds, geographic origin, sexual orientation and gender identity. You can meet them all on the author’s website.

Since the whole crew is made of scientists, there’s plenty of geeky technical talk I don’t understand a word of but it’s fun to pretend. As the story is told in first person from Calli’s point of view and as she understands what’s going on, it felt like I did too. As days and weeks go by, Calli finds her place and goes from wide-eyed newbie to fully fledged member. It’s not all work and no play on the spaceship, and I love the ideas English came up with in regards to food and drinks, and how she makes the meeting of great minds work organically (If AI Annie was real, I’d credit her).

There’s very little romance in this first instalment, as for years, Calli was too busy with her studies and research and has not been in a relationship since Olivia, her first long-time girlfriend, left her to study abroad, five years ago. Calli does meet a woman, however, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed more will happen on that front in the next episode. This first one is more about setting the scene, building the world, introducing Callisto and all the other crucial characters. While Callisto 2.0 sometimes has a definite debut feel (it’s a bit long and too wordy here and there, some scenes end a tad abruptly, others feel rushed…), it’s very exciting and not as slow-paced as I may have made it sound. I could totally imagine it being turned into a TV series. And I hope we won’t have to wait too long for the next book.


Callisto 2.0 @ amazon

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