SciFi Month 2015

For those just dropping by out of the blue: this is the second (weekly) installment in a group delight in A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers, being organised by Over the Effin Rainbow as part of RRSciFiMonth (Ronseal: an opportunity to delight in all things SFF for a month – check out Twitter for a run down of all the stuff going on). It’s not too late to join in – we’ll be reading a quarter of the book a week (and of course you can read it in 3 months time and come back to join in the comments if it takes your fancy). So, getting on to this week’s entertainment…

I’m calling it now: this is far too much fun, and everyone should read it. Okay? Okay.

While there are a couple of significant developments in this second quarter of the novel, a good deal of time is given over to galaxy-building. The Wayfarer may have a long way to go and a good budget to finance it, but her crew are more used to slumming it, resulting in delightful sketches of the more colourful corners of society. We get close-up encounters of the social fringe of humanity, dancing the edge of legalities Firefly-style (this comparison is going to come up a lot; if you didn’t like Firefly at all, this may well not be for you), and some up close and personal encounters with aliens who aren’t part of the crew.

This week’s questions come from our host for the week, Galleywampus.

1. 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’ll be honest, I’m not sure I really understand why Lovey wants to make the jump. They’ve got such a special relationship already, and I guess I’m struggling to buy into the idea of an AI longing for physicality (old trope though it is). This probably says more about me – why give up the unbounded opportunities of being an AI? (I empathised with the cut-off Ancillary frustration rather more easily).

That said, I’m a shameless idealist, so I do think AI should have rights and I don’t think the legal situation should hold the couple back (especially when the legal situation seems to be based on ‘gosh it would be awkward if they all started doing it’).

On the flip side… given black markets, I hope Jenks can get what he needs at an appropriate quality. I’d hate to see Lovey short-changed.

2. 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?

One of the things I particularly like is the way Becky Chambers weaves so many different ideas and perspectives into her narrative and characters – I appreciate diversity in art and life, and it’s lovely to see it so seamlessly presented here.

I don’t know that having the views held by aliens makes any difference to me. It’s a glorious illustration of the breadth of galactic society – and the fact that none of the human crew express surprise or distaste subtly underlines that it’s not a set of unusual alien qualities; this is just life in its beautiful variety. This is not a perfect future, but the galaxy is big enough to accommodate differences and our brains are expected to be too. The only people really frowned at are Quentin Harris III and his blackmarket arms-dealing, and the society back on Earth trying to pretend progress hasn’t happened. Make of that what you will…

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

Oh my, this was an interesting moment, not least given the ongoing debates around gun control these days! But leaving our current context aside, the crew’s unarmed, pacifist position felt so atypical as a scifi scenario – it’s so much more common to see the laidback crew who can turn on a dime and defend themselves (even the crew of Firefly keep their guns to hand at all times).

I loved that the robbery gave Rosemary an unexpected opportunity to shine, and I was fascinated by the different responses of the crew. I can’t help but think it would have ended very, very badly if they’d picked a fight – and I’m glad we got such a different take instead.

As Galleywampus comments, it’s also an opportunity to see how different people respond to a situation – the crew are far from single-minded in how they bounce back, and this helps us get to know them a bit more, Ashby in particular.

4. 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?

Aww, I’ve not got past Sissix trying to type with cold digits. Makes me giggle every time I think about it. I’ve been called a reptile for years (cold hands, cold heart) – I used to wear fingerless gloves in the office in winter so that I could work a keyboard.