[Sci-Fi Month] Read Along: The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, Week 2

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Banner by Anya @ On Starships and Dragonwings
Banner by Anya @ On Starships and Dragonwings

Welcome to Week 2 of this Read Along! The first week went amazingly well, and it delights me to see so many people taking part and talking about this book. The feelings, they are warm and fuzzy!

This week brings us to the halfway point of the book, as we cover “Port Coriol” to “Cricket” with Chris over at Galleywampus on hosting duties. He has some excellent questions for us this week, so let’s get to the good stuff – and do mind the spoilers below!

There has been significant conversation about AI, what it means to be alive, whether or not AI should have rights, whether or not a person can fall in love with a specific instance of AI, etc. This is a bit of a sticky situation. After the discussion between Pepper and Jenks, how do you feel about Lovey’s and Jenks’ relationship? Should they move forward with their plan?

I’ve had a bit of an interesting time tackling this particular part of the story, and I suspect it’s probably THE most interesting part, at very least in terms of the morality of it…

On the surface, what we have is an unconventional but very sweet relationship that’s clearly had some time to build and strengthen, and Jenks and Lovey obviously have a lot of affection for each other. It really is heartwarming, and I support this completely. Love is what it is, and anybody who can stay fixated on the fact that Lovey isn’t human when a) she has so much affection and personality going for her and b) there are, y’know, ALIENS ON THE SHIP is in serious need of a perspective adjustment. So this is well and good, I think.

But then there’s the tricky question of whether putting Lovey in a physical body, and thus committing her to a life that’s built on a degree of (very illegal) deception, is the right thing to do. They’re both willing to do it, so Lovey’s consent and Jenks’ consideration of her own thoughts and feelings isn’t the issue – which is a very smart move on Becky Chambers’ part, and one I’m seriously glad she made.

But should the law, and by extension the morals and opinions of others, be allowed to dictate what Lovey can become, and what she can do for the people she loves? That will always be a harder question to answer. On one hand, I say no, because to hell with what other people think, right? But doing something so illegal as this would put both of them in a dangerous situation for the rest of their lives, not to mention implicating Ashby and the rest of the crew in that crime by association, if nothing else. This does go beyond just letting their hearts decide what they should do, and I honestly don’t have a definitive answer here, but I do really appreciate the fact that both Jenks and Lovey seem fully aware of this.

I should stop there, because having read the rest of the book already, I don’t want to spoil anything for anybody…

In the chapter “Intro to Harmagian Colonial History,” we see Dr. Chef’s perspective of having been a mother, though he is currently male, and Sissix’s perspective that children aren’t people yet. Ohan is referred to as they/them. The Akarak are referred to as xyr/xe. These perspectives and preferences are perspectives actually held by different groups of humans in our own world. Do you think assigning these perspectives to aliens rather than humans make them easier or harder to sympathize with?

I think this is a really clever approach to making these characters relatable, and easier to sympathise with. It goes one step beyond just making them relatable, because rather than simply using a few universally human experiences, it broadens the scope beyond the binary gender experience as well. It’s highlighting some aspects of society and of life in our world, the real world, that many of us don’t often see or understand as it is – so it’s giving us that chance to open our eyes and sympathise with the people around us, if we care to look hard enough, as well as the races and characters in this book. Stories should belong to everybody, not just everybody who looks or acts or loves like we do, and I absolutely love the fact that this one tries to do just that.

How might the ship robbery have been different if the Wayfarer were armed?

Oh god, that whole scene. I have so many thoughts about that as well! But to answer the question, I suspect the most obvious/right answer is that it might have gotten much further out of control much faster if the crew had been armed. I mean, Ashby’s assault and the reactions to it were bad enough, and I suspect that maybe the only thing that let Rosemary keep her wits about her (and thank god for those wits!) was the fact that she actually had a chance to rein it all back in and keep the situation relatively under control. If more people had been armed I doubt that would have been possible…

As I finished the fourth chapter in my section, “Cricket,” I thought it might be a good place to stop and talk about some of our favorite humorous moments so far. What scenes really tickled your funny bone? Who makes you laugh the most and why?

‘Hey,’ Ember yelled from outside. ‘Anyone want to see what a ketling nervous column looks like?’
‘No,’ yelled Bear.
‘No, they do not,’ yelled Nib.
‘Yeah, kind of,’ Jenks said. He dashed outside, dragging Kizzy with him.
(p.193)

Those two. Need I say more?

Well, actually, I’m going to. Because there’s also this:

‘I haven’t told anybody this. This is secret. Top, top secret.’
Sissix nodded with exaggerated seriousness. ‘I will say nothing.’
‘You know how you said Humans can’t smell anything?’
‘Mmm-hmm.’
‘I’m sure you’ve noticed that the Humans aboard this ship don’t smell nearly as bad as other Humans.’
‘Yeah. I’ve got used to them.’
‘Wrong.’ He paused with dramatic importance. ‘I routinely mix a potent anti-odour powder into the soap dispensers in the showers. I rub it into Kizzy’s solid soap, too. […] I started doing it not a tenday after I took this job. And do you know what the best part is?’
‘They can’t tell the difference?’
Dr Chef let loose an amused harmony. ‘They can’t tell the difference!’
(p.148-149)

I’m sure that falls under healthcare somehow, right, Dr Chef? Cheeky aliens. *Grin*

See, I’m torn now about who amuses me the most, because Jenks and Kizzy are hilarious together or apart, but given that scene with Sissix and Dr Chef, I must admit that alien perspectives on Humans are probably quite rightfully amusing as well…

On that ponderous note, I will stop talking and let you guys comment!

Thanks again to Chris for the awesome questions! If anyone wants to keep up with the general group activity for this Read Along, or perhaps join us for future reads, check out the SF/F Read Alongs Goodreads group!

See you guys next time…

4 thoughts on “[Sci-Fi Month] Read Along: The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, Week 2

  1. Lovey’s consent and Jenks’ consideration of her own thoughts and feelings isn’t the issue

    That… would be a rather more difficult story. I hadn’t considered it spinning out that way (in spite of Lovey’s offhand comment about humans assuming AIs want bodies being a consequence of meat bias, rather than being something AIs actually want), and I’m very glad it hasn’t – we get to focus on the fuzzy feels vs the challenging topic of whether it’s sensible and whether it’s fair to make your crewmates complicit to a crime they don’t know you’re committing.

    I’m a hopeless romantic and idealist though. If it’s what Lovey wants and it’s all for love, as a reader I am totally behind it (although as a crewmate I might not be, and I can totally see it going horribly wrong…)

  2. On the topic of Lovey and Jenks – I want these two darlings to be happy and if that means Lovey getting a body, by all means! Except…I am wondering why body kits are banned? Is it because they are more dangerous than what is so far being described in the story? Also, I think the underlying question is whether AIs should be given rights. And if the GC do recognize them as sapients, everything that entails because we can’t go halfway…also, I’m loving the diverse cast and all the perspectives. I love how Becky Chambers lets us into their eyes with such a pragmatic style of storytelling.

  3. I like your answers! For some reason most of my answers didn’t come easily this week, but I do enjoy seeing what other people think about the same questions. I really like your answer about Lovey and Jenks and their relationship. I want them to be happy, but I’m not sure putting Lovey in a body is going to make them happy. 🙁

  4. Ahh, I didn’t realize you had finished this book already! Going to fight the temptation to ply you for answers 😉 I guess I was right about Rosemary’s past though, eh?

    And for question number 1, I wonder why what Jenks and Lovey are trying to do is so illegal? I mean, a ship is just like another body right? All they’re thinking of doing is putting her in a smaller one with more physical functions…okay, well, maybe that’s simplifying things a bit 😀 Anyway, I totally agree though. The conflict here is that it could be REALLY bad for Ashby and the crew. I hope the two of them make the right decision for themselves, without affecting the lives of others negatively.

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