Author subverts gendered expectations in feminist space opera


Stina Leicht

Persephone Station 

Gallery/Saga Press

Hardcover (also available as an e-book and audiobook), 978-1-5334-1458-7, 512 pgs., $27

January 5, 2021


Eager to read something new under the sun . . . of a distant world? How about a “viciously feminist” science-fiction fantasy thriller?


Central Texas writer Stina Leicht’s imaginative and entertaining new book, Persephone Station, is set on a harsh, stormy planet where women are the key leaders and negotiators, as well as the chief warriors. Men are there, too, not only as war fighters, but in lesser roles such as troublemaker, sex partner, husband, and/or father. Meanwhile, a huge space station orbits the troubled planet named Persephone, and it becomes an important site in the book’s pivotal final chapters.


Male readers delving into Persephone Station may experience brief disorientation at first. Many of the book’s key characters have names that appear “male” at first glance, such as Kirby, Lou, Kennedy, Paulie, and Angel. Yet, they are females who can be fierce and brave in combat, whether on Persephone’s surface, in its poisonous atmosphere, or in space. Some of them also have families to care for, and they share with each other the routine concerns and needs of daily life on their planet.


Science-fiction fantasy often involves creating fanciful worlds and characters that require considerable exposition to introduce and establish. Complex plots also are common but typically echo many of the elements in the storytelling approach known as “hero’s journey.” Ms. Leicht handles these challenges deftly, and she keeps her prose flowing smoothly with tight, accessible sentences that remain light on technical jargon.   


Her book’s central character, Captain Angel de la Reza, is a “do the right thing” former Space Marine of Bolivian descent. Now she has her own small spaceship crewed by a disparate band of aging mercenaries and fugitives. In the Space Marines, she had been nicknamed “the Angel of Death” because of her unit’s frequent suicide missions and high casualty rates.


Angel and her motley group recently have been hired to perform missions for a bi-gender crime boss known as Rosie. Rosie runs a dual-purpose bar in Brynner, Persephone’s only visible city. The front bar serves wannabe crooks and rich tourists from Earth. The back bar caters to experienced criminals and those seeking to hire them.


Angel is unhappy with her life and tasks on Persephone, vowing to herself: “One day, I’m leaving this dirtball of a planet and going home, even if it’s in a body bag.” Yet she is quick to join the fight when big troubles suddenly threaten her world.


A powerful space corporation, Serrao-Orlov, has decided to take over Persephone and seize its resources, violating all agreements previously signed with both the human population and the planet’s indigenous occupants.


True to the tenets of “space opera” fiction, Angel must help save Persephone by leading her small squad and others into combat against a massive, armored, and heavily armed corporate army. The attackers also are led by a woman, Vissia Corsini, who now holds deadly grudges against the world that once was her home.


Ms. Leicht’s new saga spans more than five hundred pages yet keeps surging forward at an enjoyable and engrossing pace. And its exciting battle sequences rival those featured in many other science-fiction novels.


Stina Leicht is a Hugo Award-nominated science fiction and fantasy writer living in Central Texas. Her second novel, And Blue Skies from Pain, was on the Locus Recommended Reading list. She is a two-time Campbell Award finalist and was also shortlisted for the Crawford Award. Persephone Station is her fifth novel.