Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Space Operetta

I love a title that tells you just what you're going to get.  The best example of this was Louisa May Alcott's A Long, Fatal Love Chase, which, as Mike pointed out, kind of spoils the ending on the front cover.

But if what you're going for is truth in advertising, you can't do better than The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, by Becky Chambers.  The story of the book is one of those plucky-Kickstarter-self-published-upstart-makes-good heartwarmers.  The story in the book is pretty much exactly as cuddly and lovable.  It's one of a genre that I think of as Firefly stories, where an oddball crew of deep spacers muddle along as a ragtag family of sorts, getting into scrapes and laughing along the way.  The beginning of Rachel Bach's Paradox series, Fortune's Pawn, kind of reads like that, and I think losing the ensemble cast to focus on Devi was actually a weakness in the later books. 

But wow, do I digress.

Angry Planet starts with Rosemary, who's just been hired as a clerk on a deep space drilling ship.  Their job is to punch wormholes through subspace (or something) to create pathways between distant planets. Rosemary is running from something (but who isn't in deep space?), but the ship just got a sweet new job that will, unfortunately, involve a year of travel before they can punch their hole and get home instantly.

That's pretty much the whole summary.  There's action, but it's not action-packed.  There's a lot of incident, a lot of story, but they work as anecdotes, introducing and deepening character development; the things that happen to them don't build to a crescendo.  For a while, I expected things to build--Rosemary's secret (when we learn it) to be relevant to, say, Sissix's family life or Ohan's health situation.  But they're not; most of these things are just people living their lives.  It's episodic, and the things that happen are small and very important.

It reminded me of Hellspark (which is amazing and out of print and you should read it, you can borrow my copy), in that there was a very interesting focus on how hard it can be to live every day in a culture that is different from your own, even if you're used to it, and even if the people you're surrounded by are people you love.  Culture is pervasive, and we often don't even realize how it affects us. 

Kizzy was probably the biggest knockoff character, since she was so obviously Kaylee from Firefly.  Sissix was probably my favorite, somewhere between glamorous and maternal, and also a lizard person who I picture very much as looking like Vastra from Dr. Who (who, I'm sorry, needs a spinoff).  Dr. Chef (you couldn't pronounce his name) and his cheer in the face of sorrow; Ohan, whose pronouns are plural and who doesn't really know how to interact with his crewmates; Jenks, who I kind of pictured as a little person Naveen Andrews, I don't know why.

The ship's AI was a character, and while that storyline got a decent amount of time, I feel like it could have gone deeper.  There are a lot of places where things could have gone deeper--some cultural hurdles to interspecies dating are addressed, but I can imagine some psychological and hey, anatomical ones, too.  The moral and ethical issues around how the Galactic Commons is dealing with the eponymous small, angry planet were definitely laid out, but that was another place where the deep alienness of an alien culture could have been looked at with a finer eye, and maybe some deeper conclusions drawn.

But sometimes, you just want to read a book where good people go off and have adventures--not big or scary ones, just small ones.  You want to watch someone use paperwork to save the day (ooh, like Myfanwy in The Rook!)  Have you noticed how many of my favorite books and TV shows are getting callbacks here?  This is not edge of your seat stuff; it's a heartwarming, curl-up-with-cocoa, let's watch movies together with the characters book. And I want another one.

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