The Universe Is What We Make Of It: The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet, Part 3

Well, it is now the final day of this year’s Sci-Fi Month celebration. My recap will go live tomorrow, but for now I’ve got one more round of thoughts, feelings and general flailing excitement to share as I dive into the final part of The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, following the excellent Twitter chat held on Sunday by your, my, our beloved @joriestory.

CAUTION: There will be spoilers!

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

I am still not over the way this book ends. I don’t think I’ll ever be over it. When a story can leave you in an emotional mess after several re-reads, even though you know perfectly well what’s coming, you know it’s something special. And this one’s got a good many more re-reads in it yet.

Now let’s get to Jorie’s questions, shall we?

True story: I don’t have any tattoos yet, but I’ve promised myself I will get one (it’s on the list for next year), and the tattoo I want to get will be inspired in some way by this book. More specifically, by the idea of feather families. I have mine and I love them dearly, and it’s the perfect inspiration for something I’ve considered doing for a long time now.

Anyway, back to the book itself! In case it’s unclear, I absolutely love this take on finding, and raising, a family. It’s really interesting to see a race of people like the Aandrisks, who are clearly very open about affection and unashamed of how they enjoy sharing it, can also be remarkably sensible in their own way about the responsibility of caring for their children, as well as their elderly – and just each other, in general. I think it says a lot about this point of view that it immediately struck me as unusual…

But unusual is certainly not always bad. I can really appreciate that balance found in Aandrisk culture, between unreserved affection, the sharing of lives and emotions, and the practice of raising families responsibly. Sissix comments in the book that she doesn’t understand how Humans can treat lives that have barely begun as being as valuable, or even more valuable, than lives that are developed enough to be of actual, tangible use to society, and I FEEL THIS SO HARD.

I will never judge anyone for their choices in life; anybody who proves themselves capable of raising even one child, let alone more than one, has superpowers I will never possess – but the key phrase there is “prove themselves capable”. I don’t judge anyone for deciding they want to have children. I will, however, judge them all day long for bringing children into this world for purely selfish reasons – especially when they don’t fully consider the impact it will have, not just on them but on the children. WON’T SOMEONE THINK OF THE CHILDREN.

*Deep breath*

But in going beyond the ‘good sense’ argument, like I said, it’s the idea of feather families that really captures my mind. The idea that family means more than just the unit you’re born into really resonates with me. Anyone who finds a family that they’ve chosen for themselves is genuinely lucky, and I consider myself very lucky. So I treasure this aspect of the book.

Corbin’s story, both the twist and the way Corbin personally handled it, definitely surprised me the first time I read it. I had assumed Corbin was just the unlikeable but valuable crew member – there’s always one, right? But I really appreciate that there was more to Corbin than that. Characters who are presented as the antithesis of their general environment, or those around them, without seeming to have a reason for their behaviour usually end up bothering me. I don’t mind disliking characters, but I prefer having the option to be sympathetic, and by the end of this subplot I was definitely sympathetic with Corbin.

The ethical argument is a huge one to tackle, and for the moment I’m going to leave it aside; without getting too spoilery, it’s one that is focused on much more in the next Wayfarers book. For now, though, I will say that I’m still a little bit irritated with Corbin’s father – not for making the choice to bring Corbin into the world, but more for the way he raised him. As Corbin himself points out, he should not have been held to account for the mistakes his father made. Those mistakes weren’t Corbin’s to atone for, and it made a child’s upbringing needlessly difficult. Beyond that, it messed Corbin up – as we’ve clearly seen in his interactions with others. He isn’t incapable of sympathising with others, or of acting in someone else’s best interests (see Ohan, although I still have reservations about Corbin’s actions here…) – but it took a traumatic experience to bring that side of him out when it’s a side that should have been nurtured the way that all those perfectionist tendencies were.

Is Corbin’s father responsible for Corbin behaving like an asshole to his crew mates? No, of course not. We can’t lay the entirety of Corbin’s personality at his father’s feet like he’s to blame for all of it – but it certainly explains a thing or two. In the end, I feel better for knowing that there is a more decent side to Corbin. And I won’t lie – even the relatively minor act of Corbin making a note that his birthday is real was enough to earn my sympathy. He might be difficult to like, but oh god I wanted to hug him right there. EVERYONE DESERVES TO HAVE A BIRTHDAY OKAY.

EVERY TIME. EVERY TIME I READ THIS BOOK I END UP A MESS. THIS IS WHY. Oh, Jenks.

Instant emotional wreckage aside, though, what I really appreciate about this is that, for all that it’s a tragic plot twist, it’s never used just to make us feel bad for Jenks, although I always do. This book shines a light on every crew member in some way, and Lovey is no exception. When we’re given her POV following the attack and how it plays out for her, THAT is what destroys me. The rest of the book has shown us, by this point, that you don’t have to be Human to have humanity, and the fact that an AI isn’t exempt from this ‘rule’ says so much. It’s beautifully handled, especially given how tragic this part of the book is, but what I appreciate most is that the story doesn’t become mired in that tragedy; there’s hope at the end of it, and again – not just for Jenks. He has the rest of his crew to lean on; I feel awful for him, but I know he’ll be all right. It’s Lovey’s future which hangs in the balance here, and bless Pepper’s heart and soul for what she does about it.

I can’t say more than that here because of Book 2 spoilers, but I think she did the right thing.

This really is an evergreen sort of question when it comes to politics, isn’t it?

Where the Toremi are concerned, my opinion of them has never changed. They are not there to do any good for the Galactic Commons. They don’t care at all about other species or any other way of life than their own. They can’t even really argue amongst themselves because the moment they disagree, they literally start fighting to the death! This is NOT a species that anyone with an ounce of common sense would want to invite to the political table, and yet the GC are considering it because (surprise, surprise) the Toremi have access to (more of) something they want. They can dress it up all they like with pretty words about inclusivity and expanding their borders and blah blah – at the end of the day this invitation was about greed. And even while a particular subset of Toremi seemed open to the idea, it seemed fairly clear that a) they were in it for their own ends; and b) were still not truly willing to entertain the idea of changing their ways in order to improve themselves or their world for future generations. Again, it was about what these people could do for them, never the other way around.

What rescues this part of the story from being Too Real, though, was that one constant of every story arc so far – Chambers is all about imagining a better world than this, and she doesn’t stop at resolving this conflict. Rather than let the Toremi simply get away with it and let the GC have what they want, more sensible government heads prevail on the matter of welcoming the Toremi into the Commons. Greed is overruled by common sense, and DO YOU UNDERSTAND HOW IMPORTANT THAT IS.

*Looks at all of politics everywhere right now* *Gestures helplessly at it* *Hugs the precious book*

As for the question of the book’s abrupt ending – it is true that this encounter with the Toremi, and its resolution, seemed almost perfunctory compared to how long we spent with the Wayfarer crew, getting their stories out of them. But on reflection, that’s really what this book is about for me. The incident with the Toremi is the result of a story that’s playing out on a grander stage; what’s important is what’s covered here, which is the way in which it impacts the lives of these people we’ve spent so much time getting to know. Yes, there’s a bigger story there – but it’s not the story Chambers is really telling. I think what matters is how this little misfit family unit deals with what is done to them, and that’s why I love the story so much. There are consequences beyond the tragedy, but those come down where they ought to, and that is not on the heads of this crew.

I also think it’s worth noting that, on that more intimate, personal level, what happens at Hedra Ka and afterward gets a truly surprising response from Corbin, and the happy ending that they – and we – deserve. No one wants to lose another crew member after the way they lost Lovey, and while I definitely think that the ethical question of how Corbin chooses to save Ohan is a sticky one, I can’t complain about the results. The results just made me cry, Dr Chef style happy tears. HE WANTS TO HAVE DINNER WITH HIS CREW.

*Sobbing*

On that note, let’s look to the future! *Grin*

As I said on Twitter, I have to avoid saying anything about where the story goes from here because I’ve read both sequels and I Know What Happens, but as I also said in the chat – I am absolutely here for continuing with the series, Read Along style, because this has just been so much fun.

So we’re doing it!

Jorie and I will return as your Read Along hosts, her with the Twitter chats and myself with the scheduling duties, in January 2019! We’re kicking off the new year with a month-long dive into A Closed and Common Orbit (#CommonOrbit), and returning in March to tackle Record of a Spaceborn Few (#SpacebornFew).

The schedule for Book 2 is still in the works, but look out for an announcement here when it’s all done and dusted.

Until then, thank you to everybody who made this Read Along so much fun, and mega heaps of thanks to Jorie for being such an awesome chat host! I can’t wait to do this again.

3 comments On The Universe Is What We Make Of It: The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet, Part 3

  • I too was fascinated by the Aandrisks, and loved visiting their planet. The feather families, and like you said the whole idea that family doesn’t HAVE to be just who we’re born into… and of course what happens with Lovey. Ergh I remember hoping and when that happens… so sad!

    I agree too about the Toremi. It’s the voyage that matters, the getting there- I almost don’t care what happens because I’ve spent the whole book enjoying the journey, and getting to know the characters? Everything else was just bonus. 🙂

    Can’t wait for Closed and Common in January!!

  • Pingback: November Recap: Powering Down – Dear Geek Place ()

  • I really enjoyed this post! Lots of great insights here into the book and a lot of them I feel the exact same way. For me, it was all about the journey, not the destination. I really enjoyed learning about everyone along the way.

    Looking forward to the next RALs! I went straight into A Closed and Common Orbit and I’m already at 80% on that one and loving it. Such a fun series!

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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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