#ScifiMonth Read Along of A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers (week 4, final). Space is not a lonely void—it’s full of stars, beauty, life, and hope. It’s a place to be at peace with yourself.

Banner by Anya from On Starships and Dragonwings
Banner by Anya from On Starships and Dragonwings

I am so glad I joined this Read Along! A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet already gives me the fuzzies inside but to read it along with you guys has made the whole reading experience that much more…well, wonderful. *wipes tear* I’m sad the book is over! This is the kind of book that makes me want to hold off reading or watching anything else for a while just to let soak it in after for as long as possible…

Thank you to Lisa from over the ‘effing rainbow for hosting this last week of Becky Chambers’ A Long Way to A Small Angry Planet. Dare I say it? I think I might actually like this book even better than Firefly *gasp*!! There’s room in my heart for both of them 😛

To the wrap-up questions!

1.Let’s start with the Toremi, since we’ve waited this long to get to them! As we’ve been discussing for a while, we do get to learn more about the Toremi, about their culture and how they think and behave. In light of what happens when the Wayfarer reaches Hedra Ka, what’s your take on the Toremi now? Are the GC right to abandon their negotiations or could there have been a chance to make something of it?
It is a challenge trying to understand a being so different from you...
It is a challenge trying to understand a being so different from you…

The Toremi think very differently from other sapients of the GC. They form clans based on whether they are in agreement on a topic—which sounds reasonable—except that the alternative is some sort of honor suicide. And they are swift in the action they take.

The New Mother of the Toremi Ka sounds like she somewhat understands what the Toremi Ka need to do in order to solidify their claim on the Hedra Ka planet. She is willing to make allowances for the different understandings of the GC sapients in order to make this alliance. She sounds like she is trying to make an effort to get along, which is admirable because their species is so different from the GC norm. But, the Toremi culture is very unyielding and some among the citizens do not trust the GC way of thinking. In fact, when the New Queen’s guard, Toum, overhears members of the Wayfarer express doubts about the GC-Toremi alliance, he interprets this with the filter of his own culture—a culture which takes disagreements so seriously they immediately eliminate those they don’t agree with.

I definitely think it is possible for the GC to make alliances with the Toremi, but they need to study the Toremi culture more carefully. There should be a longer interim period in which both the GC and the Toremi share their cultures in a “safe” way with the purposes of seeking understanding, not seeking reasons to break it off. Until then, I think the GC is right to abandon negotiations because people are getting hurt and killed due to the unpredictable reactions of the Toremi. We don’t understand them so caution is of the utmost. Also, any “ambassadors” who are in the presence of the Toremi should definitely be fully briefed and trained to be careful enough so as not to offend.

2. A visit to a Solitary Sianat colony in “Heresy” provides a potential cure for Ohan’s illness, but they make it fairly clear they don’t want it – though there may be some debate about whether or not Ohan is in their right mind… Corbin takes matters into his own hands in that respect, and he does it in a crucial moment following the attack on the Wayfarer. Do you think Corbin did the right thing?
Hank is willing to give up his powers in order to fit in whereas Raven isn't because she recognizes her powers as part of her identity.
Hank is willing to give up his powers in order to fit in whereas Raven isn’t because she recognizes her powers as part of an identity she is proud of while Hank thinks it is something to be ashamed of.

I’m really torn. To me, this question has to do with what Ohan thinks is part of their identity. Is administering the “cure” essentially lobotomizing a part of Ohan that they think makes up who they are? Yes, the Whisperer virus is killing them, but the Sianat Pair isn’t afraid of death in the same way many sapients might be. They identify themselves as connected to the Whisperer virus—it has become part of their culture and religion. On the other hand, the Whisperer virus can be thought of as a “drug” or any addiction that begins to skew the way you look at the world. People with extreme addictions will go so far to delude themselves into thinking what they’re doing is the only option even though they might know deep down in their heart that it’s their addiction talking. The government might not be able to control this because each individual has freedom of choice (as long as they aren’t hurting others) but it is hard for that individual’s loved ones to stand by and see someone they care about suffer, even if that individual doesn’t want things to change. So, we take the so-called “selfish” route and we intervene to do what we think is right for them.

I think Corbin made that decision based out of the “goodness” of his heart and his own perspective on the matter. Corbin did it because he couldn’t stand to see anybody else in pain—the Waning process is very painful, and after Ohan dies, the whole crew will also be in a lot of pain. So, he took it upon himself to make sure his friend doesn’t suffer anymore and is free from the seemingly self-destructive influence of the Whisperer. It was a judgement call that is based on what Corbin thought was made for the well-being of Ohan and the rest of the crew, too.

It all worked out in the end. It seems like Ohan is not only improved in health, but able to be social with the others and experience what most sapients might say is a “healthier and more wholesome” life. My human bias is telling me that Corbin did good in curing Ohan of the Whisperer. Ohan seems happier, now, and that’s all that really matters, right?

3. Ohan survives the attack on the ship, but Lovey (as we know her) doesn’t. Were you at all prepared for what happened to the AI? And in light of all that, do you think Pepper’s offered solution was the right one?
Theodore falls in love with Samantha, an intelligent computer operating system.
Theodore falls in love with Samantha, an intelligent computer operating system.

I was not prepared for what happened to Lovey! I was really really just…heartbroken. Especially because before they hard restarted her core, she tells Jenks that she had a secret directory of all their conversations and that she loved Jenks since the day he installed her. And those scenes leading up to the moment the new Lovelace speaks were so painful to read. It was a 50/50 chance. There was no other option. It’s the same feeling of letting your loved one enter a high risk surgery. You want her to be cured, but there’s a chance the surgery will go wrong and she won’t make it. But if she doesn’t go into the surgery she won’t make it either.

I haven’t read much sci-fi where AIs are featured in such a “human” way—with emotions, self-awareness, and connections to people. One that comes to mind is Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress in which we are introduced to Mike, an AI with a sense of humor that helps the main protagonist, Manuel, and the people of Luna to revolt against Earth. By the end of the story, Mike also loses his self-awareness and the personality he had developed with Manual and friends, reverting back to the basic AI. I was really sad when that happened, too.

When people die, it is the people they left behind that are heartbroken and devastated. Humans form connections with each other all the time, but it is rare to encounter another being who makes us feel loved and understood. It doesn’t matter if that being is an AI or human, the pain is real.

I think Pepper did the right thing to offer Lovelace a job that would allow Jenks to have some space to grieve. I think Pepper will take good care of Lovelace—treat her “humanely”. And, in the meantime, Jenks can remember Lovey the way she was without the painful confusion of hearing a voice that sounds like her but isn’t her.

4. This one is less of a “thinky” question and more of a “wrap up” one, but I’m curious for your answers – now that we’ve finished the story, what scenes/moments do you remember best as your favourites, if any?

I have moments upon moments of favorites!

The immensity and beauty of a star-filled space is definitely captured by the Hodder & Stoughton Cover!
The immensity and beauty of a star-filled space is definitely captured by the Hodder & Stoughton Cover!

The very last scene, though, when Sissix takes Rosemary out into the real void of space made me shiver with the wonder and beauty and rightness of it as a closing scene. Beings are born. Beings fall in love. Beings seek to understand themselves and each other. Beings die. And holding all those infinities of lives—all those emotions and days lived—is space, vast, beautiful, terrifying yet comforting in its infinite ability to absorb the world’s pains and give birth to new life on every scale from atom to human to star and beyond.

“Ready?” Sissix said. “One. Two. Three.”
 
They stepped out, and fell up. Or down. Or sideways. It didn’t matter. Those words meant nothing anymore. There were no boundaries, no playfoom walls. Her body was freed of the burden she hadn’t known she was carrying—solid bones, dense muscle, an unwieldy head. They were out in the open, for real this time, as spacers should be. And all around them, black, black, black, full of jeweled stars and colored clouds. It was a sight she knew well, a sight she lived alongside, but in that moment, she was seeing it for the first time. Everything had changed.
 
“Oh, stars,” Rosemary said, and suddenly understood the expression better than she ever had.
 
“Come on,” Sissix said. The thrusters on her boots fired. They flew further out.
 
Rosemary looked back to the Wayfarer. Through the windows, she could see the familiar rooms and corridors, but it was all so different from out here, like watching a vid, or looking into a dollhouse. The ship looked so small, so fragile.
 
“Rosemary.”
 
She turned her head.
 
Sissix raised their clasped hands and smiled. “Let go.”
 
She let Sissix’s curved fingers slip from her grasp. They drifted apart, still holding the other in their eyes. Rosemary turned away from her ship, away from her companion, turned out to face the void. There was a nebula there, an explosion of dust and light, the fiery corpse of an ancient giant. Within the gaseous folds slept clusters of unborn stars, shinning softly. She took inventory of her body. She felt her breath, her blood, the ties binding it all together. Every piece, down to the last atom, had been made out here, flung through the open in a moment of violence, until they had swirled round and round, churning and coalescing, becoming heavy, weighing each other down. But not anymore. The pieces were floating free now. They had returned home.
 
She was exactly where she was supposed to be.

This ending was perfect. The story does not try to wrap things up neatly, but it’s as genuine as can be and as a reader I appreciate this.

I’m sad the story is finished but I’m so happy I read it. The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet has been like Sissix’s warm toasty blanket against this frosty, overcast November weather and perhaps something small and warm to hold onto amidst all the tragedies that have been happening around the world.

Rating: 5 slices of spice bread

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6 thoughts on “#ScifiMonth Read Along of A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers (week 4, final). Space is not a lonely void—it’s full of stars, beauty, life, and hope. It’s a place to be at peace with yourself.

  1. This was a great read and some of these questions very thought provoking. Definitely the whole situation with Ohan is one that I would have liked to sit on the fence about! It took me ages to write an answer to that one because I was so torn about the right and wrong of it. At the end of the day I came down on the side that I preferred Ohan to live, even if he is changed! And he did seem to be happy at the end some I’m using that as my overall gauge.
    This is a really good book, it’s completely different from what I expected and I really enjoyed the anecdotal feel to it and the great characterisation. I certainly didn’t see the scene with Lovey coming at all! I really didn’t expect that and I had to stop reading there for a moment – in fact, to be honest, I was really expecting the author to take the easy route and let Lovey ‘recover’ – maybe a little bit changed, but fundamentally still Lovey. I appreciate that Chambers took a firmer stance on it though (even if it was such a shock).
    Lynn 😀

  2. Lynn – Even though that would mean Lovey would “die”, in some ways I’m glad Becky Chambers didn’t wrap up the story as neatly as she could have. I like happy endings, but I think she made the right choices in the narrative to make readers not only feel like the story is coming from a genuine place, but also to highlight as important an AI character can be to the happiness of others, regardless of the fact that she isn’t “alive” in the same sense that sapients are. I’m soooo glad I read this book. I had this book for a while but never got around to reading it because…*ahem* over-hype, I guess, haha. But, I can see why people love it so much and I’m gladly joining in the hype!

  3. Ahhh because of the Thanksgiving craziness I wasn’t able to get to the final week’s questions and my family is here all week so I don’t even know if I’ll find the time eventually…but I was able to finish the book and oh my goodness, the ending! Am I a horrible person for LIKING the way it ended with Lovey? I mean, I was heartbroken too, but another part of me, the hard-nosed and pragmatic part, is whispering “it had to happen”. It was also a gutwrenching reminder that there’s a whole world to AIs that we’ll never understand, as much as they can act and think and feel like humans.

  4. Mogsy – Haha, yeah, everyone’s been so busy with Thanksgiving prep! But OMG the ending was so bittersweet. I agree with your pragmatic side in that the untidy, sad ending regarding Lovey was necessary because as much as we like happy endings, it does take away from the genuineness of the story sometimes. And here, I agree with Becky Chambers’ choice of Lovey’s “death” – the sorrow we feel at losing Lovey is a testament to the fact that it doesn’t matter whether she is an AI or not, it hurts just as painfully when we lose her!! And yeah, there are so many aspects to the AI world that human beings don’t understand, yet, and might even want to reject — all very interesting discussion points raised by the story!

  5. The above reflects totally how I feel too – I love what the author did here in a number of ways. Firstly, I kind of, like Mogsy, thought this ending was right, it was spot on in fact. I’m not sure how else she could have improved on it. She didn’t take the easy way like I said above, and she really did take me by surprise because, frankly, I was expecting her to take the happy, rainbow and butterflies approach with everybody living happily ever after – which would have been a little disappointing. I know Lovey is AI – but the fact that we all felt so sad about her loss says something in itself and even more than that the fact that we all recognise that Lovey, even though she was an AI, was an individual and couldn’t simply be ‘reset’. Really, the AI is still alive at the end of the book – but Lovey isn’t. Very cleverly done really.
    Lynn 😀

  6. Lynn – True true! The AI physically is still alive, but the internal settings have all been set back to default and we’ve lost the Lovey we know and love and we feel the same pain as if someone we loved has just died! I wonder….it might be an interesting situation if in some way, Lovey’s personality could be “saved” similar to how we save files on a USB. Then, we do a hard reset, and re-download her?? But, I guess since the file was corrupted it wouldn’t do anything…

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