#ScifiMonth Read Along of A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers (Week 3). In which we meet douchebag Quelins, discuss the price of war, and explore interspecies coupling…hooray!

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet Read Along
Banner by Anya from On Starships and Dragonwings

I have totally been absent from this blog this week, things have been oddly out of whack over here. With wind storms knocking out power, and trees falling over, and internet being down…hardly anything seems to be getting done around here! I’m hoping that now that the weather seems to be stable, I can get back into the swing of things 🙂

I can’t believe we are already on Week 3 of the read along for Becky Chambers’ The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet! This week being hosted by Claire—thank you for the very insightful questions.

Let’s get to it!

1. There is a lot of focus on some of the different alien races in this section, from Dr Chef recounting the story of his people’s decline and Sissix introducing Rosemary to her families, to the surprise visit from the Aeluons and the much less welcome search by the Quelin. What are your thoughts on the various beliefs systems we encounter? Does anything specific pique your interest more than the rest?

Again, Becky Chambers captures great insights into different ways of thinking about the world and the role of the individual in it.

Dr. Chef tells Rosemary that after the war devastated their home planet and consumed the lives of all their children, the surviving Grum decided to leave the horrifying memories and remains of their planet behind and forfeit their chance to rebuild, in essence, letting their species die. To him, this was the right thing to do as their species has been irreversibly damaged by the war both physically and mentally. He tells Rosemary his story because Rosemary is taking blame upon herself for her father’s misdeeds in selling arms to fuel the Toremi wars. Rosemary’s discovery of the truth about her father has made her begin questioning herself, her judgment, and how she was raised—when, in Dr. Chef’s philosophy, “darkness exists within all of us” and “given the right push, you, too, could do horrible things”. The point is to determine to make things right—to be “something positive instead”. I like this philosophy—we are all imperfect but the point is we are “trying to be someone good”. I feel it is a pity, however, that the Grum decided to eliminate themselves from the galaxy. Though given Dr. Chef’s descriptions of his people dying sooner than they can give birth, it sounds like an inevitable decline.

Sissix describes a Hatch Family as being the hatch you were born into, a Feather Family as being a clutch of individuals you are emotionally dependent on, and a House Family as being a group of Aandrisks that have banded together to raise children.  The Aandrisk way of living is fascinating! It’s interesting how individuals can choose to join groups that suit their current stage of life both emotionally and physically, rather than by blood. And their polyamorous relationships make humans seem like such prudes about everything! Coupled with their “hand speak” and their willingness to open their hearts and share everything, it sounds like the Aandrisk society really focus on the exploration of the individual’s needs in a natural, open, and loving way, with Aandrisks being a species that are very emotionally in touch with themselves. No wonder Sissix sometimes feels insanely inhibited living in a predominantly human ship! Their concept of intimacy is far more open than human ones.

The Aeluon society is another interesting one. Their societal restrictions paint them as a species that are very reserved and cool to those not of their own—completely opposite to the Aandrisk in many ways. The taboo of interspecies coupling is an example of this and is the main conflict between Pei and Ashby’s relationship. On the other hand, they are very like Aandrisk—and Grum, too—in that they don’t hide their emotions which are displayed as colors on their cheeks. At one point, Kizzy and Pei have a conversation about that “human thing” humans do when they “pretend not to be scared”.Kizzy tells Pei about how, ever since the Akarak raid, she has been tense and unable to sleep. She thinks that since Pei’s job results in situations where she often finds herself staring into the barrel of a gun, she must have found some special way to overcome her fear of it. But, Pei tells her that Aeluons don’t think of “Fear as something that can go away. It just is. It reminds [them] that [they] want to stay alive….[and this isn’t] a bad thing.” So being emotionally in touch and accepting of natural reactions can be a strength not a weakness. Also, the Aeluons are currently in a war against the Rosk, so Pei often gets into scrapes where she has to engage in warfare to defend herself and her crew, killing enemies in the process. She and Ashby have a conversation in Port Coriol about this in which Ashby tells her that “you know how to end a war. Truly end it. It doesn’t get in your blood. You do what needs doing and leave it at that”. He even goes as far to say that humans are not as “mature” as Aeluons are in being able to separate their emotion from what needs to be done, often letting passion or anger take over and consume us. Though the Aeluons feel cold as a species, as individuals they seem quite friendly.

Finally, the Quelins. They are probably the least likable of the lot so far. With the Akaraks I could think of reasons to not completely dislike them. But the Quelins seem arrogant, close-minded, unyielding, prone to be driven by emotions—and just cruel. They have pit prisons for Pete’s sake! And we know from Rosemary’s research that the Quelin think clones are evil and they actually brutally injure Corbin several times—more than strictly necessary—before they dump him into the pit, simply because he is a clone. From what I’ve heard of other parts of space, being a prisoner does not mean this kind of inhumane treatment, especially for a so-called “crime” that isn’t something born of violence or maliciousness. Finally, what the heck was that document Rosemary pulled up with regards to the Quelin’s response to humanity’s bid for GC membership? Ugh, it’s just dripping with arrogance. Yes, humans are not the most impressive bunch, but I find the Quelin’s lack of openness to embrace or protect or nurture a weaker species a sign of an unevolved civilization still mired in the instincts to dominate and conquer. I don’t like the Quelins and I hope the Wayfarer don’t have to encounter them for a while.

2. Ashby gets the chance to give Pei a tour of his ship and introduce her to his crew, meanwhile Jenks and Lovey decide not to risk transferring the AI into a body just yet, and Rosemary initiates a relationship of sorts with Sissix. Were you happy to see any of these developments, or not so fussed?

It was nice that Ashby was finally able to formally introduce Pei to his crew but I was hoping there would be more descriptions of Aeluons interacting with the crew members so that we can learn more about the individual Aeluon personalities and also why Aeluons are so “uptight” about interspecies coupling, for one thing. So, though it was a nice a chapter, I wish there had been more!!

In terms of Jenks and Lovey deciding not to risk the AI transference into a body, I must say I am relieved. I thought the Quelin might find Jenks’ body kit and then the whole crew would have to be dumped into those horrible pits. Weighing the happiness they have now versus the potential happiness they might lose by taking the risk with the body kit, I think they made the best decision for now. Like Jenks said, the Laws might change down the road. For now, the happiness they have with each other and with their crew is something to appreciate, too.

My human biases made me a bit confused by what exactly Rosemary wanted out of her relationship with Sissix at first. In the average human understanding, coupling happens between individuals who are sexually attracted, otherwise it’s only friendship. It seems like Rosemary was reaching out to Sissix initially out of a sense of friendship and appreciation for Sissix being so warm and understanding of her. After visiting Hashkath, she noticed that Sissix might be feeling miserable, not being touched all the time which is something she is used to when she is among other Aandrisks. Later on, I think Rosemary developed feelings of attraction for Sissix and curiosity as well to experience how it might be have interspecies sex—and honestly who safer to experiment with than Sissix? I think Rosemary is very brave to be honest about her feelings towards Sissix, especially being someone who came from a predominantly human society on Mars and who is probably venturing into territory unheard of by most Martians. While Rosemary might have feelings more than just love born out of friendship towards Sissix, I’m wondering how Sissix feels about Rosemary. Right now, I can’t shake off the feeling that Sissix is a motherly figure, a safe person to be open emotionally to. But she has been raised with a different thinking with regards to coupling, one in which there are few attachments to partners. Sissix does warn Rosemary, but being human, Rosemary will have a hard time, I think.

3. Cloning technology exists and is used in many sci-fi universes, but the GC does not look kindly on it and it is abomination to the Quelin. Did the reveal of Corbin’s nature change your view of the character?

I have been waiting and waiting for more on Corbin! Becky Chambers has given us so many little stories and personality windows into all the other crew-members except for Corbin so I really enjoyed this little glimpse into our resident fusspot. I’ve never really hated Corbin, even though he does treat everyone around him like shit and rarely seems to partake in communal activities. I don’t think people are born to be assholes and trapped into being assholes for the rest of their lives. I think there were circumstances behind why Corbin is the way he is, and he isn’t “unrescuable”—his type of assholey-ness isn’t evil though it could lead down that path. Having heard how he was raised by his father—a man who seems obsessed with things like his child’s performance rather than showing his affection—I can see how he could become so uptight and pompous. In some ways, I think Corbin is a man who is unused to others liking him for who he is and so he has endeavored to treat others like shit before they have a chance to treat him like shit. Having his pride stripped away in such a raw way will give him the opportunity to finally open up to the others and let the others in, too. Whether Corbin will be the same old or whether something fundamental has changed within him…we will have to keep reading! I have great hopes, however.

4. Each chapter told a different and fairly self-contained story, without any big cliffhangers from one to the next. How did you feel about the pacing of the story so far? Are you satisfied with how long the long journey is taking or are you impatient for the crew to finally get to their destination and do some tunneling?

I enjoyed all the little self-contained stories, actually. I didn’t notice anything slowing down about the pacing possibly because I was entertained by all that I was learning about the different races and their impact on how the crewmembers think about themselves and each other. But, when I realized we were already 75% of the way through the book, I did become worried because there are still so many questions unanswered about the Toremi ,and tunneling in that area of space, and the small, angry planet of Hedra Ka, as well as what could be in the galactic core. I hope there are enough pages left to explain most if not all of these questions! I am definitely ready to see some tunneling action.

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9 comments

  1. I haven’t decided how I feel about the Quelin yet. don’t think they’ve been given a fair shot to show us what they’re really like, but I agree what we saw in this section doesn’t exactly endear me to them. Seems like they went through a very rough time in history making them very sensitive to clones though, so while I can hate them for their bad treatment of Corbin, I can also understand why they might have gone overkill with the security. They don’t know the Wayfarer crew, so they just react based on the information they gleaned.

    And yeah I’m very relieved about Jenks and Lovey too. Pei and Ashby though, I’m right with you there. So far, not seeing the reason why the Aeluons are so uptight about interspecies relationships. Just doesn’t make sense, considering they seem very genial towards other species. So you can be friends with them, but not date them? Hmm!

  2. Oh I completely agree with all these points. The Quelin definitely appear to be an unyielding and unfriendly race and I’m not sure that they have any redeemable features at all! I really enjoyed the Corbin developments though and ended up feeling quite sorry for him. Hopefully his experience will at least make him a little more friendly to the other members of the crew if not change him completely. I do quite enjoy a good snarky, mean character though so small changes are preferable!

  3. I think there is definitely the potential for Rosemary to be a little hurt by the relationship with Sissix simply because of the differences in cultures. It will be interesting to see how that develops and Sissix was very open with Rosemary which was good too.
    The Quelin – well the ones we’ve met so far certainly haven’t appeared friendly and the open pit prisons were downright nasty not to mention the way they treated Corbin – at the end of the day he didn’t ‘make’ himself did he! In fact strictly speaking he’s as much a victim of that crime as he is a product so it seems a bit harsh that he has to be beaten to a pulp!
    Lynn 😀

  4. Sorry to hear about your storm problems! We’ve been managing for now though with all the weather, I’m worried D:

    I’m really hoping that the Toremi plot line doesn’t get rushed because of how much time we’ve spent exploring all these other cool things… I’m hoping there’s room for a sequel!

  5. Anya – The windstorm seems to have passed and we’re getting an odd amount of sun, now, haha, it feels like spring. What is up with the weather?

    I hope we get a good resolution for the story, too. It’s going so well right now, but yeah, lots of questions regarding the Toremi that still haven’t been answered! Also, YES, I’d totally read a sequel. It’s already decided, haha.

  6. Mogsy – Haha, I’m probably too harsh on the Quelin. The fact that they don’t have human-like bodies but hard shells and pincers etc, also makes my human-bias all the stronger, too…I should be careful not to let my biases get in the way, haha. And yeah, about the Aeluon, it’s like a strange sort of snobbery…or maybe it’s just that the majority of Aeluons are snooty but Pei’s particular crew aren’t??

  7. “Aandrisks being a species that are very emotionally in touch with themselves.”

    I do enjoy the irony that they’re reptilian not mammalian. The repeated refrain in Rosemary’s head not to judge on prejudice / preconception makes me smile. The Aandrisk are about as opposed as you can be to the way in which we typically view reptiles, and Becky Chambers plays and plays with these ideas in a delightful way. I loved the exploration of the Aandrisk families, and Sissix’s homecoming. Poor Sissix – I’m so glad Rosemary has stepped in to both satisfy her curiosity and give Sissix what she misses!

    Ooooh the Quelin! I don’t like dehumanising (or de-personifying? Given they’re aliens…) strategies to justify bad behaviour. Corbin is an asshat, but he’s a sentient asshat, so they shouldn’t feel free to abuse him like that. I thought his realisation that he’s more than just his father’s son was well-played – it doesn’t make me think better of him, but it gives me hope that he might be a bit more thoughtful in future.

  8. Imyril – Yeah, I tried not to completely *hate* the Quelin, haha, but reading that Quelin text at the end of the October 25 chapter just rubbed me the wrong way – it has this arrogant i-am-right-you-are-stupid tone of voice. Combined with how they brutally beat up Corbin – it just paints a pretty bad picture of the Quelins for me. And yeah, I agree with you that Corbin’s still going to be an asshat, but at least now we know why, haha. And the fact that we know why and the fact that Corbin himself is taken down a peg or two is making me believe he’s still got some decency in him.

  9. I do like the interaction between Corbin and Ohan at the end too – as you say, Corbin shows some decency in being there to support Ohan; he doesn’t take a high-handed attitude about needs must etc (gosh I’m heavily self-editing here to avoid spoilers even though I know we’ve both finished up 🙂

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