sophia_sol: drawing of Combeferre, smiling and holding up a finger like he's about to explain something (Default)
sophia_sol ([personal profile] sophia_sol) wrote2017-03-28 09:53 pm

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, by Becky Chambers

As a whole I really enjoyed this book! Good-hearted and interesting, with great worldbuilding and characters.

I was surprised to discover that the title of the book is actually a very literal description of the events of the book. A spaceship crew traveling to a small angry planet the long way around because of reasons is exactly what happens! So most of the book is taken up with just exploring the characters and the universe as they make that journey. Which is an excellent sort of book. And I love the title.

Unfortunately not all the characters worked for me - some just didn't ever feel like they became real to me. Ashby (the captain) was the worst for this. He felt like a regular generic Good Captain character instead of a person.

I also never really felt like I connected with Jenks, possibly because his main plotline is pretty much only about his star-crossed romance. (You would think that the fact that his romance is with an AI would make this more interesting, but somehow it just didn't work for me.)

And Ohan we basically never see, given their habit of hiding in their room at all times, so it's hard to connect there. ("Their" in this case is a genuine plural btw, Ohan consisting of both a host and a virus, not a nonbinary singular pronoun.)

And Corbin, the reader isn't really supposed to like, but at least he does feel very real as a person so he works for me!

I loved the other crew members though (Sissix, Kizzy, Rosemary, and Dr Chef), and Sissix is my FAAAAVOURITE. She comes from a reptilian species that also has feathers, which does family in a way that's very different from humans, and we get to spend a decent amount of time exploring that whole thing and it's great. And it turns out that for Sissix, the rest of the crew is her family, and it's GREAT, and her entire relationship with Rosemary is adorable and the best.

Kizzy is also wonderful. I love that she's a character who is just kind of relentlessly cheerful and friendly and enthusiastic, and she's portrayed as nonetheless having depth instead of just being seen as silly. I love Kizzy a lot.

Aliens in this book were generally done very well, and I enjoyed meeting them all. I was really amused that there was a sort of running thing about this one species of alien being attractive to basically EVERYONE and it being so unfair that they're so pretty. And then the new alien species that the GC tries (and fails) to make an alliance with at the end of the book, the Toremi, are revealed to find that alien species unattractive! And idk, writing it out like this it just sounds kind of silly, but that buildup-payoff of relative attraction between species was really well done.

Another smallish detail that's nonetheless great: the hot drink of choice within the GC is a relaxant instead of a stimulant (like caffeine). It says interesting things about the cultural priorities and so forth!

My biggest frustration with this book is with the ending of the storyline of the character Ohan. Ohan is what's known as a Sianat Pair - Sianat being the original species, and all Sianat at a certain age willingly undergo infection by a particular special virus that affects their mental abilities, and thereafter they consider themselves not one being but two - a pair of the original host and the Whisperer from the virus. The virus allows them to have incredible mental conceptualization skills on a level that other species aren't capable of, but it also lessens their interest in basically anything else, and also they die by like age 30.

There is, out there, a cure for the Whisperer virus, which Sianat Pairs shun as heresy. But our crew come across this in the course of their travels, and speak to a Sianat who is no longer a Pair, who was cured of his virus, and explains that taking this cure gives their full lifespan back and also allows them to still use the incredible mental abilities and also to actually have interest in the rest of life and so forth. Basically all upsides and no downsides.

The crew try to convince Ohan to take this cure, since Ohan's in their Wane and will be dead within the year. But Ohan is horrified by the idea of the cure, and refuses.

And then Corbin, without Ohan's permission and against Ohan's will, administers the cure anyway. And Ohan is cured, and begins to actually interact with the rest of the crew, and wants to stay with the ship, and seems happy to have had the cure - basically the narrative outcome of Corbin's act seems to hold up that Corbin made the right decision, that he was right to violate Ohan's bodily autonomy. Which feels pretty oogy to me.

I know that questions about bodily autonomy are complicated when it comes to questions of saving lives rather than harming them. I gather for example that in Canada it's legal to intervene without permission in certain circumstances when it'll save someone's life. Except in Ontario where if you have the mental capacity to consent to medical treatments, you can refuse life-saving treatments.

And I see where the argument could be made that Ohan doesn't have the capacity to meaningfully consent since the virus is affecting the way they think, but on the other hand Ohan as Ohan knows themself has always been affected by the virus so I think that's the Ohan you have to listen to - by curing the virus you're not restoring Ohan to their prior self, you're destroying Ohan to let a different person exist in Ohan's body.

I dunno. I'd be interested in listening to other people's thoughts and perspectives on this question. I might not be thinking through all the dimensions of the problem.

I'm frustrated though that the book does this, since so much about the book does so much that I really appreciate. I hate when I have to be like, "this book is SUPER GREAT! Except for this one part of it that is not!" Sigh.

But overall I'd say the book still is really worth reading. And I'm eager to read the sequel!
sylvaine: Dark-haired person with black eyes & white pupils. (Default)

[personal profile] sylvaine 2017-03-31 07:20 am (UTC)(link)
This sounded good but then you got to the consent and I noped out, alas. But I'm looking forward to your thoughts on the sequel :)