Mechas and the Gay Agenda in Space: A Review of August Kitko and the Mechas from Space by Alex White
August Kitko and the Mechas from Space. Alex White. Orbit, July 2022.
As a giant robot speeds through space to destroy Earth, August Kitko is at a rock concert, nihilistically contemplating his own demise and wanting to jump off a cliff to end his life before Armageddon. This is where Alex White’s August Kitko and the Mechas from Space begins, and once the robots arrive—a few pages in—August is taken on a space opera adventure that explores queerness and human tenacity in the face of apocalypse. White’s book—the beginning of a series, with the second book in the Starmetal Symphony arriving in 2023—is an excellent blend of adventure and romance that feels like a big hug to those seeking queer science fiction, and to those wanting giant robot fights.
August Kitko and the Mechas from Space is a Gundam-esque, mecha-military campaign through the far reaches of the universe. After humanity expanded from Earth to the stars, a cataclysmic event inhibited travel and communication between Earth and the colonies. In the wake of this event, giant robots known as Vanguards appeared, bringing destruction and death to various planets. At the onset of the book, August is at a doomsday party because the people of Earth know their demise is at hand as a Vanguard shuttles through space to cull the planet.
While the backdrop of the book is the decimation of humanity at the hands of mechas, the relationship of two very different musicians is the heart and soul of the book. August Kitko is described as a “musician’s musician,” someone who doesn’t like the limelight and listens to music that you’ve probably never heard of. Ardent Violet, on the other hand, is a rocker who uses their music to excite and cajole a crowd, feeding off the enthusiasm and energy in their audience. The musical traits of August and Ardent are important because one of the two Vanguards that attack Earth, Greymalkin, responds to it: Greymalkin kidnaps August, forces him to become its pilot, and wings him off to space in a rebellion against its creator.
Ardent’s and August’s opposites-attract romance grounds the plot and feels authentic to (at least my own) queer experience—a whirlwind romance, the yearning to be together, and the desire to make each other better. Between the science fictional mecha battles, the relationship of two queer people trying desperately to make the spark between them work is what makes this book a triumph.
And this is the true beauty of the book: it is brimming with queerness. It leans in to a world in which queerness—variety, subversive identity, the ways one can play with sexuality and gender—is an open, accepted, and nourished part of existence. For example, Ardent’s flair, flamboyance, and openly non-binary identity are taken in stride by the characters, August calls Ardent his “joyfriend,” and August and Ardent’s relationship is not questioned—by their agent, their family, or even the government. In a particularly raucous scene, Ardent’s mother, Marilyn, shows up, interrogates August about his relationship with Ardent, and laughs at August’s various sexual innuendos. Whereas a book that approaches queerness as something still to be accepted would have written more tension into this scene, White uses it as a way to bring in familial humor and congeniality—something usually missing from queer fiction.
While science fiction sometimes participates in queerbaiting or provides minimal space for representation (e.g., Shiro in DreamWorks’s 2016–2018 Voltron: Legendary Defender), White provides full-frontal queerness. Readers don’t have to guess at people’s identities because White is clear who their characters are.
Within that glow of queer representation, White’s ability to connect to me as a reader came through in their representation of the mundane and profane amidst apocalypse and doom. This mundanity and profanity are the simple things in life that make humans human, and they’re what really gripped me as a reader. White pays attention to the little things that make their characters representative of humanity: the desire to be with another human being, the frailty of mortality, the simple chance to hold and be held as the world falls apart— thinking about what it means to be human is what makes the book not just a space opera, but also a meditation on mortality.
Even the atmosphere of futility and nihilism that pervades the book feels utterly human and reflects well on the contemporary moment. As I turned each page, hoping the fortune of the characters would change, the book meted out ever more loss of hope and optimism. It feels similar to the contemporary moment, as we live in a time in which we are bombarded by a back-and-forth optimism-pessimism news cycle that could cause anyone to despair for humanity’s future. If you are seeking an escape from dread, White’s book is not for you; however, if you want a book that celebrates humanity’s fighting spirit, then White’s book is an enjoyable and exciting read. It is this fighting spirit, the sheer tenacity of the characters—that they will keep going no matter the odds or the pending apocalypse—that makes this book worth reading.
Adam McLain is a MA/PhD student in English at the University of Connecticut. He researches and writes on dystopian literature, legal theory, and sexual justice. He has bachelor’s degrees in English and women’s studies from Brigham Young University and a master of theological studies from Harvard University. He is also an editor at the greatest review website in the galaxy, Ancillary Review of Books. He tweets and instagrams at @adamjmclain.
This review was written by an ARB editor from ARB’s monthly calls for review. The author and editors have prior acquaintance through virtually working together. It was edited byJake Casella Brookins and copyedited by Misha Grifka Wander. ARB arranged a review copy from the publisher.
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