The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers is become more and more entertaining, touching, and thought-provoking with each page! The crew of the Wayfarer makes me so happy—they are so diverse, and silly, and open-minded. I love it!
Thanks to Chris from galleywampus for hosting Week 2 of this read along!! These were great questions that really made me think deeper about the story and its characters 🙂 Onwards to the questions:
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?
According to the laws set by the Galactic Commons, “body kits” are banned. It has something to do with the fact that the GC can’t predict or regulate how people are going to use these kits. And, it doesn’t matter whether people intended to use it for good or evil—things always get out of control. Jenks’ friend, the tech fiddler, Pepper, hails from the planet Aganon, where it is mandated by law that every child be bred/genetweaked for whatever job is necessary at the moment. Pepper unfortunately was bred for labor and her rights to give birth were taken away and she was physically marked by genetic baldness so that she would always be recognized as a laborer. Pepper tells Jenks that her life is an example of how the consequences of technology can be damaging just as they can do good and warns Jenks that there is a reason the GC banned body kits. An AI with access to a body kit might birth a “new kind of life” that the GC isn’t prepared for.
I feel bad that Lovey and many AIs are treated like they are menial slaves without true sentience—not appropriated basic rights that most all sapients have in the GC. But, I’m not sure the body kit is a good idea…It’s banned not only from AIs but from all of the GC for a reason. Though the banning of body kits might, on a superficial level, appear to most affect the AIs, it isn’t necessarily personal. Is it?
I think the real issue is whether AIs have rights to be treated as a sapient and given the same dignities.
Lovey herself mentions earlier in the story that to assume that “all AIs want a body…[is] an incredibly organic bias.” Lovey wanted a body not because she was unhappy in her current form, but because she wanted to be able to enjoy sex and other physical pleasures—with Jenks—that people with bodies can enjoy. In essence, if she wanted a body it was only because she wanted to be able to be a “real” companion and enjoy life on the same level with not only Jenks but her friends on the Wayfarer. She wanted to understand more about the corporeal experience.
Based on my human bias of what I know about emotion, I trust Lovey. I don’t think she is malicious or will intentionally do something to harm anyone. I want Jenks to break the rules for her because I feel she deserves to experience the corporeal world. But, if anyone untrustworthy or misguided finds out, they are opening a large can of worms with consequences they may not be able to handle.
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?
I think Becky Chambers uses the gender identifiers “xyr” or “xe” to denote that different species see gender in different ways and it is a common thing to be open-minded until you know how they self-identify. We couldn’t see inside the Akarak mech-suits so they were completely anonymous—even if we could see them, how would we know how whether they identify as x, y, or r? Gender might just be a construct that humans or human-like sapients care about but other sapients don’t.
I find all these different perspectives fascinating at an academic level. Would being able to experience male and female versions of “life” within one individual eliminate all the gender wars and divisive close-mindedness related to gender that humans still get into a huff about? If, like Dr. Chef, we could experience being both female and male as distinct spans of our life would we come to understand the strengths and weaknesses of both genders and recognize that both are equally valuable to society? Ohan’s plural identity fits in with his ability to see connections beyond just the ones limited by physical forms. Ohan communes with the universe on a higher scope which is why he can understand dimensions in space that people who are restricted to thinking their identity ends at their skin can’t understand. Whether you have female or male genitalia might not be important at all to Ohan.
Finally, regarding Sissix’s opinion about babies and children. I’m not sure whether she is open-minded towards human sentiments or humans are close-minded towards hers (probably both). Her view is a very Victorian one. Children’s rights is only a very recent thing in human society—before, children were not protected by laws. That’s why they could be sent to work in factories by their parents and why parents could abuse and do whatever they wanted to their children and no one could do anything about it. It was not uncommon to have more children sometimes purely to have more laborers and family income. But Sissix’s devaluation of children isn’t because of anything malicious per say, her opinion is more of a byproduct of Aandrisk nature and biology. Many hatchlings die at birth and so though “the death of a child about to feather” is sad, it is regarded as less sad than when an adult with family and friends die. Maybe in the future, if Aandrisks improve the probability of hatchlings surviving, and the new norm becomes that hatchlings usually survive, Aandrisk society might have a different view? Naturalism states that all living things have the same end goal—to propagate their genes and ensure species survival. Humans and Aandrisks might have different ways of thinking about it, but they both accomplish the same thing.
Oops, I didn’t even answer the original question which is whether these different perspectives affect how I empathize with the cast. Right now, I’m very open-minded and I’m loving it! We’re so used to thinking rigidly based on the human experience. Becky Chambers presents fascinating possibilities that makes me feel more glad that the human experience is not the only one than anxious or fearful about it.
3. How might the ship robbery have been different if the Wayfarer were armed?
This is a great question!
It is interesting that Ashby chose not to arm the Wayfarer. He briefly mentions that in all his time working as a tunneler, he’s rarely every gotten raided by pirates or had to resort to using weapons to defend himself. Compare this to the crew of Serenity who are well-versed in weaponry. Sure, their jobs are quite different, and Mal comes from an army background whereas it doesn’t seem like Ashby does. But, they are both traveling through the wilds of space. So, it kind of feels like either the galaxy the Wayfarer lives in is more regulated/”safer” than the one Serenity lives in, or Ashby prefers finding more peaceable ways to deal with dangerous people.
If they had been armed, the crew of the Wayfarer might not have had the chance to sympathize with the real reasons why the Akarak had to raid their ship—instead many would have gotten killed or injured in the potential gunfight that might ensue.
It is true that things like fuel and food are important, but it is too easy to think they are more important than preserving life—ALL life. Yes, under the circumstances, it is almost instinctual to wish you had a weapon to arm yourself and level the playing field. We want to protect our lives and our goods from those who don’t deserve it. But the reason why the Akarak were raiding ships is not necessarily as simple as they are lazy to work for it or they are violent natured. Apparently, the Akarak planet had been colonized and stripped bare of resources and many are found “working in scrapyards or begging on corners”. If given a choice, the Akarak of this particular “pirate ship” may not choose to pillage. One might argue their current choice of activities is a byproduct of what was done to their race.
Attempting to use a method of seeking understanding rather than raise barriers by pointing guns at each other is much more difficult to do. You’re believing in the better nature within the sapient in front of you. All too often, that is rewarded by being injured or killed. But, the fact that efforts are made to bridge misunderstandings is still an important idea to take into consideration. Ashby refusing to arm the Wayfarer shows that he is firmly a pacifist.
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 and why?
This is a tough question! They all make me laugh in their own ways. I laugh at how this multi-species crew good-heartedly tries to understand each others’ vastly different experiences of life. I laughed when Kizzy and Rosemary weren’t sure what Sissix and the other Aandrisk was up to at Port Coriol but when they did find out they sought to understand it from the Aandrisk POV rather than the human one. I laughed when Sissix ran down the hall, molting, and instead of gawping at how weird it was, everyone just got out of her way and acknowledged that this is just a thing that happens to Aandrisks occasionally. I laughed when Dr. Chef made beautiful “music” and gently chided Rosemary for suppressing her emotions after the pirate attack.
The best moments in the story are when the crew show hints that they know each other so well, and that they can understand each others’ true intentions and bridge any misunderstanding that might arise from differences in physical form or culture. Everyone reaching out to each other with genuine curiosity and respect makes me feel all warm inside and happy that they are willing to be open-minded and believe in each others’ good intentions first.
I love this story so much and can’t wait to continue onto the next segment 🙂