I love a good philosophical sci-fi story. I also really, really love interspecies human/alien romance stories. However, even though I’d heard of Starling every once in a while for years now—one of the people I follow on Tumblr is a passionate proselytizer—I never really knew what it was about, and I never had the time or the inclination to change that. When a rec post came across my dash, however, giving me a spiel and a link to a starting point, I figured it was time to check it out.
Some spoilers for the story below.
Starling is an ongoing prose story—with occasional illustrations—about a teenager named Roy Calabi and the relationship he forms with an extraterrestrial exchange student named Elliot Blue. Roy has always been the subject of unwilling attention because he’s the clone of the great war hero Jet Calabi. Jet’s heavy legacy follows him everywhere, and especially makes it difficult to befriend Elliot, whose species, the Stellaraptors, were the buggers to Jet’s Ender. After the bomb Jet dropped decimated—quite literally, depleted by 10%—his planet’s population, humans moved in and colonized. Decades later, Elliot, who was raised in a human-approved school where his culture and native language were verboten, applies to be the first Stellaraptor to attend the prestigious Astris Academy as an exchange student for a semester. He and Roy certainly don’t hit it off right away; Roy’s unthinking acceptance of the human, and thus the conqueror’s, narrative of the way the war affected Elliot’s planet Empyrean rightfully puts them at odds at the beginning. But as Roy learns to understand his privilege and gets to know Elliot more, they slowly grow closer, into friends and, eventually, something more.
As you might guess from that brief summary, Starling uses the frame of human/Stellaraptor relations to delve deeply into the issues pervasive in colonized, marginalized cultures. The schools Elliot and other Stellaraptor children are compelled to attend are strikingly similar to the Eurocentric boarding/residential schools Native Americans were forced to attend, for example. And even though Roy, a queer brown kid, is not necessarily a privileged person amongst humans (setting aside his special-case role as Jet Calabi’s clone), he is certainly considered more important in the scheme of things than any Stellaraptor, no matter how wealthy or educated.
In fact, author gogglesque makes an effort to show that privilege and the intersections thereof are a complex beast both within human and Empyrean cultures. Where other sci-fi stories often default to “white cishet humans + aliens” as their cast makeup, Starling’s human cast includes a variety of races, genders, and sexualities, from Roy to his trans girl roommate Kira to his rival and ex-boyfriend Cosmo. Meanwhile, gogglesque also developed a complex alien culture for the Stellaraptors to explain the way gender, sexuality, and privilege work within their society.
If I only had one minor complaint about the story, it would be that there’s less art as the story progresses. I came to the fandom late so I’m not sure if there’s a reason why story artist theyoungdoyley hasn’t been illustrating the more recent chapters, but I can say their art is sorely missed.
Starling isn’t completed, but it’s definitely getting there. At twenty-seven chapters, it might take you the better part of a day to catch up, but it’s so worth it. You can start reading Starling here, and follow their tumblr for updates and discussion here! And when you’re done reading, please don’t forget to come back here and squee with me about it.