Review: A Spaceship Repair Girl Supposedly Named Rachel, by Richard Roberts

Russ Allbery eagle at
Mon Oct 24 21:22:00 PDT 2022

A Spaceship Repair Girl Supposedly Named Rachel
by Richard Roberts

Publisher: Mystique Press
Copyright: 2022
ISBN:      1-63789-763-4
Format:    Kindle
Pages:     353

Rachel had snuck out of the house to sit on the hill, to write and draw
in rare peace and quiet, when a bus fell out of the sky like a meteor
and plowed into the ground in front of her. This is quickly followed by
a baffling encounter with a seven-foot-tall man with a blunderbuss, two
misunderstandings and a storytelling lie, and a hurried invitation to
get into the bus and escape before they're both infected by math.
That's how Rachel discovers that she's able to make on-the-fly repairs
to bicycle-powered spaceships, and how she ends up at the Lighthouse of

The title comes from Rachel's initial hesitation to give her name,
which propagates through the book to everyone she meets as certainty
that Rachel isn't really her name. I enjoyed this running gag way more
than I expected to.

I don't read enough young adult and middle-grade books to be entirely
clear on the boundaries, but this felt very middle-grade. It has a
headlong plot, larger-than-life characters, excitingly imaginative
scenery (such as a giant space lighthouse dwarfing the asteroid that
it's attached to), a focus on friendship, and no romance. This is, to
be clear, not a complaint. But it's a different feel than my normal
fare, and there were a few places where I was going one direction and
the book went another.

The conceit of this book is that Earth is unique in the solar system in
being stifled by the horrific weight of math, which infects anyone who
visits and makes the routine wonders of other planets impossible. Other
planets have their own styles and mythos (Saturn is full of pirates,
the inhabitants of Venus are space bunnies with names like Passionfruit
Nectar Ecstasy), but throughout the rest of the solar system, belief,
style, and story logic reign supreme. That means Rachel's wild
imagination and reflexive reliance on tall tales makes her surprisingly

The first wild story she tells, to the man who crashed on earth, shapes
most of the story. She had written in her sketchbook that it was the
property of Witch Queen of Eloquent Verbosity and Grandiose
Ornamentation, and when challenged on it, says that she stole it to
cure her partner. Much to her surprise, everyone outside of Earth takes
this completely seriously. Also much to her surprise, her habit of
sketching spaceships and imaginative devices makes her a natural
spaceship mechanic, a skill in high demand.

Some of the story is set on Ceres, a refuge for misfits with hearts of
gold. That's where Rachel meets Wrench, a kobold who is by far my
favorite character of the book and the one relationship that I thought
had profound emotional depth. Rachel's other adventures are set off by
the pirate girl Violet (she's literally purple), who is the sort of
plot-provoking character that I think only works in middle-grade

By normal standards, Violet's total lack of respect for other people's
boundaries or consent would make her more of a villain. Here, while it
often annoys Rachel, it's clear that both Rachel and the book take
Violet's steamroller personality in good fun, more like the gentle
coercion between neighborhood friends trying to pull each other into
games. I still got rather tired of Violet, though, which caused me a
few problems around the middle of the book.

There's a bit of found family here (some of it quite touching), a lot
of adventures, a lot of delightful spaceship repair, and even some more
serious plot involving the actual Witch Queen of Charon. There is a bit
of a plot arc to give some structure to the adventures, but this is not
the book to read if you're looking for complex plotting or depth. I
thought the story fell apart a bit at the tail end, with a conflict
that felt like it was supposed to be metaphorical and then never
resolved for me into something concrete. I was expecting Rachel to
eventually have to do more introspection and more direct wrestling with
her identity, but the resolution felt a bit superficial and

Reading this as an adult, I found it odd but fun. I wanted more from
the ending, and I was surprised that Roberts does not do more to
explain to the reader why Rachel does not regret leaving Earth and her
family behind. It feels like something Rachel will have to confront
eventually, but this is not the book for it. Instead we get some great
friendships (some of which I agreed with wholeheartedly, and some of
which I found annoying) and an imaginative, chaotic universe that
Rachel takes to like a fish to water. The parts of the story focused on
her surprising competence (and her delight in her own competence) were
my favorites.

The book this most reminds me of is Norton Juster's The Phantom
Tollbooth. It is, to be clear, nowhere near as good as The Phantom
Tollbooth, which is a very high bar, and it's not as focused on puns.
But it has the same sense of internal logic and the same tendency to
put far more weight on belief and stories than our world does, and to
embrace the resulting chaos.

I'm not sure this will be anyone's favorite book (although I'm also not
the target age), but I enjoyed reading it. It was a great change of
pace after Nona the Ninth. Recommended if you're in the mood for some
space fantasy that doesn't take itself seriously.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2022-10-24


Russ Allbery (eagle at             <>

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