The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is the kind of book that I want to read more of. While big conflicts are quite possible at some point of our lives or the other, isn’t it the day to day, moment-to-moment choices that really make up the bulk of our lives?

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is what I call a quiet story for all that it’s set in space and is a science-fiction. It doesn’t really have any main protagonists but instead is about a whole ensemble of characters, namely the crew of the ship Wayfarer. The captain and the crew have, what I guess must be, one of the most boring jobs in the galaxy.

The story starts with the induction of a new crew member, a human, into the Wayfarer’s crew. Rosemary has never been out in the vast openness before and this nicely sets things up for the reader, alongside Rosemary, to get to know about the space that this story is set in, the history of this space, and the species that populate this space.

the long way to a small angry planetThe structure is episodic with each chapter focusing on a specific crew member. I’ve got to say that I really enjoyed Chambers’ imagining of each of the species, and their particular quirks. Funnily enough, reading this story I’ve somehow ended up expanding my zone of comfort about unexpected appearances. I mean really, some of the species she describes are TRULY bizarre, and yet, it’s weird only when you look at it from a human perspective; it’s weird because it’s different from what I’m used to! I really love this visceral sense that started stealing over me, of being ok with all these STRANGE looking creatures who despite, what I think of as, their peculiar-appearance are SAPIENT! This is a Universe populated by variety—where one species beauty is another species ugly, where one kind’s highest joy is another’s absolute and utter squirmy mortification. All this to say that the world-building is absolutely fantastic!

Which brings me to a favorite story line. And this is spoilery, so I’m putting it in white. Highlight, if you want to read! So, Rosemary and Sissix!! I really thought for quite a while that it’s going to be Ashby and Rosemary, since, well, they are both humans—yes! Bias much?! But turns out Chambers had BETTER things in mind! Their coming together romantically, while being of different species, with different cultural cues, and rules, and definitions about love and sex and family is just such a pleasure to watch unfold!

The peeps in this story are NICE. Yes, even the resident curmudgeon has a sort of reason to be curmudgeony—not that that EXCUSES his behavior, but you know what? The reason does make me look at him with more understanding! And I LIKE this. I would RATHER cultivate a kinder world-view than its opposite, and stories like The Long Way to a Small Angry definitely do their bit in forwarding that.

There is no guns-blazing, seize the evil villain by his horn action in this story. Heck, even the conflicts that the crew runs into are dealt with in a pretty ordinary fashion. I give you evidence. Conflict One becomes steerable because of one of the crew members’ ability to communicate in a different language. Conflict two is handled by figuring out a loophole in the law. Conflict three is about each of the members doing the best they can in that moment. Don’t you love that? I mean isn’t this “ordinariness” how we generally deal with the crap of our lives? It’s so good to see this channelled into an actual story.

I can go on and on about more things I liked—the ending, for instance. It’s ambiguous, talks about BOTH sides of the equation, and is the sort of political question that the story touches upon again, and again, often eschewing a neat, clean answer in favor of highlighting the merit in each of the arguments.

Let me leave you with this.

GC space had plenty of neutral markets that welcomed spacers of all species, but the Port was something special. Even if you didn’t need to stock up, the spectacle of it was well worth the trip. Sprawling streets stuffed with open-air shopfronts, overflowing with clothes and kitsch and sundries. Grounded ships, gutted and transformed into warehouses and eateries. Towering junk heaps lorded over by odd tinkers who could always find exactly the part you were looking for, so long as you had the patience to listen to them talk about their latest engine mod. Cold underground bunkers full of bots and chips, swarming at all hours with giddy techs and modders sporting every implant imaginable. Food stalls offering everything from greasy street snacks to curious delicacies, some with rambling menus of daily specials, others with offerings so specific that the only acceptable thing to say at the counter was ‘one, please.’ A menagerie of sapients speaking in a dizzy array of languages, shaking hands and clasping paws and brushing tendrils.

And also this.

The memories reached out to Dr Chef, trying to pull him away from his safe observation point. They tugged, begging for him to give in. But he would not. He was not a prisoner of those memories. He was their warden.

. . .

Rosemary started to nod, then shook her head. “That’s not the same. What happened to you, to your species, it’s . . . it doesn’t even compare.”

“Why? Because it’s worse?”

She nodded.

“But it still compares. If you have a fractured bone, and I’ve broken every bone in my body, does that make your fracture go away? Does it hurt you any less, knowing that I am more in pain?”

“No, but that’s not—”

“Yes, it is. Feelings are relative. And at the root, they’re all the same, even if they grow from different experiences and exist on different scales.”

Middlemarch & other updates

I’m still trying to put into words everything that I want to talk about with respect to Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts. All sorts of things are being brought up to the surface in the process, and I don’t yet know if/when I’ll be done writing it!

In the meanwhile, I’m in the middle of Middlemarch, as I shall continue to be, till about mid-July! This book is the perfect mixture of plot, and ideas, and characters whom I love and characters whom I want to smack some sense into, and a place that feels as if it’s straight out of real life. Basically, I WAS RIGHT TO BUY THE BEAUTIFUL PENGUIN EDITION OF THIS BOOK WHEN I CAME ACROSS IT! Thank you Valancy & Laila, for reading along with me!! I hope you guys are enjoying Book 3! Oh, and anyone who’s on the fence about joining us—please do! There’s still time for you to catch up—as  you can see, we are a very leisurely sort of a readalong!

I’m also half-way through The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and I think part of the reason that I am enjoying it so much is because the story that this book is telling ties in very well with some of the things that I’ve been thinking about in relation to The Argonauts. I love what Becky Chambers is doing here.

Additionally, I started Ismat Chughtai’s The Crooked Line. She’s an Indian-Pakistani author who’s supposed to be the doyenne of Urdu literature. To be honest, I’m not sure if/when I’m going to finish this because I began this one to get a feel for her, and to tide me over, till her collection of short stories arrives at my doorstep.

These are all the books currently in the house. (Hubs had a fit of spring cleaning.)

I’ve read only a few pages so far but Reader, SHE IS CRAZY. No, SERIOUSLY. There’s this INSANE current of energy underlaying her words that is like nothing I’ve read before. The best approximation I can think of is Diana Wynne Jones. Her stories crackle with a similar energy, but Chughtai’s do so even more! She’s just weird. I can’t help feeling that she was cackling the entire time she was writing! Here, see for yourself:

No sooner did she appear all dressed up and clean than everything around her seemed poised to attack her spotless clothes. The red mud in the fields and the whispering sand on the edge of the pond tantalized her, the moist, fragrant grass in the stables pursued her with open arms, the dirty, foul-smelling chicken coop drew her to itself as if it were a bride’s flowery bed.

And another one:

The two girls went behind the cow’s stall and strolled with their arms wrapped around each other. Sometimes they tossed about in the sand like rolling pins. Then they pitched fistfuls of sand as if it was water they were scooping up in their hands, until finally the two of them began to resemble grotesque mud statues. Sand penetrated their very beings, but still they had not had enough of sand and mud. Making spoons out of dried leaves, they scooped up sand and swallowed mouthfuls; they devoured it as if it were delicious caudle. Like pregnant women, they relished the aroma of mud.

What do you think? (That second quote makes me think of magical realism for some reason.)

Sarah Morgan’s Some Kind Of Wonderful is what I picked up for my romance fix. I’d lapped up her O’Neill brothers’ trilogy and Some Kind Of Wonderful has a trope that’s one of my favorites—second chances! I don’t dig much of the contemporary romance out there but Morgan is always an exception. I REALLY like how Zach, the hero, has some heft to him. Yes, he walks out on his marriage of ten days, but Morgan is in the process of showing why he did that (I’m still reading it!). I can’t wait to see how the two leads work their way through to their happy-ever-after. (And speaking of romance, I have Dixie Browning’s Cinderella’s Midnight Kiss on hold—I HAD to read it after Valancy’s epic post).

Then there’s Alok Jha’s The Water Book that I simply MUST get around to given that that too is an ILL that I’ve already got extended once. Plus, I don’t know if it’s really come from there but on the front page it says it’s FROM THE NATIONAL LIBRARY OF NEW ZEALAND! ZOMG!!! NEW ZEALAND! A BOOK CAME TO ME ALL THE WAY FROM NEW ZEALAND?!! :O

If you think I’m being too ambitious WITH SO MANY IN-BETWEENIES, YOU ARE RIGHT. Because, this is just the TIP of the ice-berg!! There are eleventy-one other books checked out as well with very little hope of any of them being completed before they need to be returned! My in-laws’ visit begins tomorrow and continues for the next few weeks and I have no idea how much reading and reviewing I’ll be able to manage while they’re around. So expect a slowdown here on the blog. The only thing I’m certain to follow-through on is Middlemarch. (I do feel a sense of obligation on that one given that I was the one to put the whole readalong into motion!) I’m also hoping to make inroads into my omnibus edition of R.K. Narayan’s Malgudi Days for Deepika’s readalong in the first two weeks of May but we’ll see how it goes!

So that’s me! What’s up with you guys? What’s on your reader radar for the next couple of weeks?