Marie Vibbert is joining us today to talk about her novel, Galactic Hellcats. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Ki is a petty thief. Her best friend wills her his solo-flyer—call it a space motorcycle: temperamental, fast as hell, and expensive to maintain. Any reasonable person would sell it to get off the street, but Ki isn’t reasonable.
Margot is a military vet at loose ends. She blows her entire back pay on a solo-flyer, a decision she instantly regrets but can’t bring herself to undo. Margot meets Ki and thinks she’s the sympathetic friend she needs when she feels most alone. Ki thinks Margot is an easy mark for food money. They’re both right, but lunch leads to a joy ride to planet Ratana, where Margot is arrested by border control.
Ki enlists Ratanese local Zuleikah, a bored rich girl who can think of no stupider, and therefore better, way to spend her time than busting someone out of jail. Together they rescue Margot, but find themselves trapped on a hostile planet on the cusp of civil war.
When Zuleikah convinces them that their best bet for escape is to kidnap—er, rescue—Prince Thane from his dreary role in the crumbling monarchy, it results in a chase across the desert and into the farthest reaches of the universe.
If they can learn to trust each other, and if the repo men, cops, and three different galactic governments don’t catch them, the Galactic Hellcats might just use their solo-fliers to carve a place for themselves among the stars.
What’s Marie Vibbert’s favorite bit?
The Galactic Hellcats in the title of the novel are a biker gang in outer space, flying individual spaceships with custom-painted flames licking the sides, evading the law and repo men. I open and close the book with heists, and there’s lots of chase scenes, which are one of my favorite things, but if I’m honest, my favorite bit in the book is when our heroes end up in the warm, comforting clutches of a pair of sexworker androids named Andrei and Autumn.
My four Hellcats each have different romantic hangups by the time they get to Near Jefferson Station where our sex bots live. Ki is desperate for connection but can’t stop pretending she’s fine. Margot hasn’t pursued a relationship since her lover in the navy died. Zuleikah has been harboring an unrequited attraction to Prince Thane, who is so deep in the closet he doesn’t know how to talk to boys. Clearly, what these people needed was a little comfort time with two sexy robots. After dragging my characters through traumatic events, this was a place to let them relax, and even have a little fun.
The robots, Andrei and Autumn, look like strikingly beautiful people. (Our heroes comment extensively on the craftsmanship.) What I love about them is that they love their work and each other. They show as much joy in running their space station as flirting with guests and each other. Ostensibly, they are in charge of a quarantine way-station, protecting the people and native flora of the planet Jefferson from contamination. Staffing the station with sex bots is Jefferson’s way of providing entertainment and compassion for visitors.
I wanted this to be a sex-positive look at sex robots. Are they fully sapient? Does it matter if they flirt so convincingly and can sell life insurance? Their kindness is human enough. At one point, Andrei acts more stereotypically robotic to put Thane at ease. He’s also quick to step between Ki an Zuleikah when they’re mad at each other.
These robots want our heroes to be safe — well, as safe as their standard operating procedures allow. As much as they’d like to keep the hellcats cozy and well-kissed, Thane’s pissed-off mother is coming with her royal armada to blow them all to bits.
When Autumn says, “Men, am I right?” and then “Women, am I right?” and then “Heads of state, am I right?” in rapid succession, it’s not just a running gag, it’s a core belief of mine. People are people. We’ll always drive each other crazy and attract and repel each other.
Ki and Margot both get some affectionate action with Andrei and Autumn, respectively, while Thane and Zuleikah, both a bit more prudish, get to see that there are no negative consequences to a little kissy face with robots. And more importantly, Andrei confronts Thane with the inescapable fact that he is gay as an Easter parade. You can’t argue with a sex bot — they know attraction when they see it! This is an important moment for Thane’s growth as he escapes repression.
So, Andrei and Autumn may not be able to save the Hellcats from the evil queen, but they at least are able to help them deal with their issues, and when our heroes blast their way out of Near Jefferson Station under heavy fire from the queen’s battleship, they do it with a bit more self-confidence to face the next battle.
Character growth, a looming danger, and nonstop sassy quips make this my favorite bit.
Marie Vibbert has sold over 70 short stories to pro-rate markets, including 10 to Analog, including her novella “The Unlikely Heroines of Callisto Station,” due out this year. Her work has been translated into Chinese and Vietnamese and called “Everything Science Fiction should be” by the Oxford Culture Review. Publisher’s Weekly called her debut novel, “Even more fun than the title suggests …. a rip-roaring space heist.” By day she is a computer programmer at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio