The Universe Is What We Make Of It: The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet, Part 2

It’s time for another round of Wayfarer Appreciation, as I dive into discussion of the second part of The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet following our wonderful Twitter chat this past Sunday, courtesy of @joriestory!

FAIR WARNING – there will be spoilers ahead!

This post, and the questions, cover “The Wane” through “Hatch, Feather, House”.

Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash. Quote from The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers.

Opening with a big one, and I was SO READY to get stuck into discussion of Ohan and their story!

Ohan is such a wonderful, and wonderfully complicated, character. When we learn of their situation from other members of the crew – basically that it’s a virus, widespread and revered among the Sianat, that allows a Navigator to do the work that they do but which also drastically shortens a Sianat’s lifespan – it’s difficult not to wonder why they would subject themselves to it, let alone revere “The Whisperer” so deeply. But then Chambers gives us Ohan’s point of view, and this is where things get really interesting – and really complicated.

Ohan does view his virus-given ability as a gift. But it’s easier to see why, when we get to see through Ohan’s eyes. They quite literally see much more of the universe than other species do, though it’s unclear at this point just how much of that is the Whisperer talking and how much is a natural Sianat ability… But I’m sure we’ll talk more about that in the next chat.

For now, this chapter really opens up Ohan’s character for me. If they were simply an acolyte type, blind to every way of life except the one they appear to have been indoctrinated into thanks to this Whisperer’s ‘gift’, and blindly accepting of the inevitable consequences, Ohan would have repelled me. I simply don’t understand zealots, and if Ohan was one of those I certainly wouldn’t feel as fond of them as I do.

But I do, because even while Ohan is committed to their purpose, and therefore to the path in life that they believe provided that purpose, it’s clear that they’re not unafraid to walk that path. They believe that it’s their purpose to be a Navigator, but thanks to their place among the crew of the Wayfarer they’re at least aware that there are others who don’t fully understand it and would wish to help them if they knew the truth. This knowledge gets under Ohan’s skin, because they value their crewmates and a little part of them simply doesn’t want to die.

This chapter always makes me so emotional. Every damn time.

This is a really interesting observation, and it is definitely not one that I’d ever made before! Now that it’s out there, though, I can certainly see the intriguing parallel. In the chat, we touched a bit on the topic of whether science and faith are truly mutually exclusive, and I don’t believe that they are. Scientific discoveries are my modern miracles; it’s all of these discoveries which lend the world, and the universe, so much wonder and awe for me. This is a great example of that: by all accounts the Toremi and the Sianat could not be more different, especially in their perceived purposes. They are both determined to keep their way of life, their secrets if you will, to themselves but they do it in very different ways. The Sianat are not opposed to putting their skills to good use; they simply wish to preserve the purity of their gifts as best they can, even while Sianat Pairs go out into the wider universe the way Ohan has done. The Toremi will literally kill you over the smallest dispute. It’s two extremes of zealous behaviour, and now I’m going to be pondering this all day!

Again, this is a topic that fascinates me a great deal. A good method for coming to grips with something that’s utterly foreign to us is to look for ways in which they’re recognisable; aspects that are similar to something we already know. This is probably much easier to do than some of us tend to think – we only have to make the effort. Chambers is dealing with the interconnectedness of alien species rather than humanity in and of itself, but I think the point stands.

I was always with Jenks on this one – if Rosemary had no knowledge of or part in what her father was doing, then she’s got nothing to feel guilty for. Real friends, such as the crew have become for her, don’t judge you based on someone else’s actions. At the same time, though, it’s entirely understandable that Rosemary would be afraid of their reactions. She did lie in order to keep the truth from getting out, but then she had been exposed to some awful reactions from others, even people who didn’t know her and didn’t care that she hadn’t actually been involved. Knowing in your head that you’re not responsible for someone else’s actions, and really believing it, can be two very different things. I loved how intuitive Jenks was here, because a lot of the things he says are things that Rosemary needed to hear.

This entire conversation was as heartbreaking as it was thought-provoking. This is probably the most forthright, no-holds-barred example of what Chambers does best with this book, and with her subsequent novels – she puts a lens on humanity, and not just our Humanity but all of it; good and bad, beautiful and ugly. It opens with Dr Chef in a moment of deep reflection, taking his time about finding the right words (and the right feelings) to convey to Rosemary what he wants to say. Consider that for a moment, because how often do we really do this before we open our mouths?

Not nearly often enough.

I think there’s a lesson in what he says for all of us to learn – not just about what’s right versus what’s wrong, because no one else can really force us to learn those lessons; we either will or we won’t, as we’re faced with them. To me this conversation was a message about how much emotional burden we choose to take upon ourselves, and how much damage we allow it to do to us. The Grum, as a species, went so far down a destructive path that there’s little to no hope that they’ll ever recover from it. But Dr Chef walked away in time to find a happier life for himself, and in his way he’s doing what good he can in the time he has left. Rosemary wants to be a better person than her father was, but it’s in borrowing so much guilt – all the guilt she was repeatedly told she ought to bear – that she’s weighing herself down, emotionally.

Walking away is an important first step, but a lot of the time that’s all it is. Emotional baggage always comes with us. It’s how we choose to carry it that matters – and it’s always easier when you don’t have to do it by yourself.

And now, for something completely different!

*Deep breath*

This is also an interesting question, but I kind of feel like it’s one I can’t answer in very much detail in case I spoil the next book(s) for anyone! That said, as I noted in the chat I would absolutely read a prequel story about the founding of the Galactic Commons, or how Humans came to join it.

There are various other species I’d like to see more of as well, but the appeal of these books, for me, is all the glorious ways the various species and cultures merge with/contrast/oppose each other. Limiting the scope of a book in this series to just one POV or species perspective might well feel like it’s missing that appeal… But I would kind of like to know more about Harmagians… Or, ooh, an action-tastic story about Aeluons would be good!

I am undermining my own point, I know. BUT I’M ALLOWED TO NERD.

And on that note, that’s it for this post. Onward, to the final part of the book – and the final chat this Sunday! 8pm (UK). Twitter hashtag #smallangryplanet. See you there?

2 comments On The Universe Is What We Make Of It: The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet, Part 2

  • I really loved the Ohan character and I hope that we eventually hear more about that society. It was inventive and unique.

    I agree that it’s hard to say what’s missing from this book or what could’ve been fleshed out more since there are other books I haven’t read it. I’m reading A Closed and Common Orbit now and I’m happy with the revelation of new bits of information here. It’s great when an author has such rich source material to pull from to populate an entire series! It means many more stories for us to geek out over. 🙂

    • Right? I really like the ‘companion novel’ feel to the series, compared to how many epic-length stories there are. We’re getting so many great perspectives on this universe and life in it, instead of just one story or one POV. It’s wonderful stuff.

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Dear Geek Place is my new home on the internet, though I've been around here before - I am the blogger formerly known as @EffingRainbow. Here, you can still find reviews of science fiction and fantasy books, but hopefully more besides, as I throw myself cheerfully out into the world and attempt to chronicle my experiences, one adventure at a time.

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