We’re pleased to be a part of Sci-Fi Month (Put on by Rinn Reads).
We’ve taken on the enjoyable task of hosting Week 2 of The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet. We are discussing the chapters “Port Coriol” through the end of “Cricket.” If you haven’t started the book yet, HERE BE SPOILERS.
If you have only completed the first four chapters, head over to the week 1 discussion at Over the Effing Rainbow.
I’ve never been a Firefly fanatic. Heresy, I know. I enjoyed it. I especially liked the concept, the quirky characters, and the sheer fun a sort of “working-class” crew brought to space. The actors pulled off their roles perfectly. Firefly was about both the laughs and the feels.
For me, The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet has been a fun experience, and the book fills the hole (at least for me) left by Firefly’s early demise. The characters are quirky and interesting, the book is funny, the science is “sciency” enough to satisfy most of us. The book asks some important questions, but it is always fun. So fun! Really fun.
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?
I tend to be pro-rights. Bringing AI into the whole thing is interesting. But I lean toward letting individuals live their lives so long as it doesn’t harm the lives of others. This is complicated here by the fact that, potentially, AI could be dangerous. But so could every other being. With all of the inter-species relationships in this book (different alien species, I mean) I have to say that Jenks and Lovey should do what makes them happy. I do worry that it will create an issue with the captain. We’ll see!
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?
This is one of the things I like most about this book. It is hilarious, sure. It has me laughing out loud at night, almost waking my wife. But science fiction that asks questions about what it means to be human…science fiction that attempts to see from different sets of eyes, that’s what really gets my heart going.
Many of the characters are willing to treat others with respect. I like the idea that humans from different places will have different perspectives, and that aliens would come in all sorts of shapes, types and have all sorts of different perspectives and preferences, too.
3. How might the ship robbery have been different if the Wayfarer were armed?
This is a question that really comes up because of events in the chapter “Intro to Harmagian Colonial History,” but the in-book discussion occurs early on in the chapter “Cricket.” Sissix and Kizzy are noted as advocating for guns on board the ship. Ashby specifies that he doesn’t want any, and notes that anecdotally, he has never had this happen before and that it wasn’t likely to happen again. In thinking back on the events, we get inside Ashby’s mind in a third-person thought-bubble of sorts:
He touched his jaw. The bruises from the Akarak’s rifle were still fading. he revisited those horrible moments in the cargo bay, remembered how it felt to have strangers rip their way into his home. He recreated the incident, imagining a gun in his hand. Would he have fired? He couldn’t say. But imagining the addition of a weapon in that scenario made him feel safer. He no longer felt helplessness. He felt powerful. And that was what scared him. “I’m not comprimising my principles over this. That’s that.”
I don’t bring this concept up in a political sense. I am looking at it more as a cultural perspective. Sissix then ribs Ashby in a good-natured way, noting that his perspective was particularly Exodan. We see that Sissix has been influenced by cultural perspectives, by his own formative knowledge.
This particular situation worked out very well for the crew because Rosemary shared a language with the robbers. They lost items, stuff, but all lives were accounted for. Things could have gone differently. Sissix and Kizzy are both nervous about a repeat possibility, and Ashby is more afraid of what he’ll become if he kills than he is afraid of dying.
I love that the book is willing to take us through the thought processes of several characters who went through a similar experience, but came to different conclusions. This is one of the things that makes the story realistic. People internalize experiences in many different ways.
This particular situation would likely have had a much more violent ending if both crews were strapped with weapons. I do not make the specific argument that there are no situations in which guns would have been helpful or effective.
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?
I don’t know if it is possible for me to pick a favorite character. I don’t know if it is possible to share a funniest scene. But I’ll choose one of each, as I asked the question, and it is only fair.
This is one of those questions that reminds me of the movie “Orange County.” When the English teacher, Mr. Burke, asks the students who their favorite Friends character is, Shaun is called upon and he says something like, “I don’t know, Ross, I guess.” And the teacher tells him no, that is the wrong answer. He accepts every other answer given. I feel like Corbin is the Ross of this question. I think every other character has funny moments, but Corbin…oh, man, that guy.
I am a little in love with Kizzy’s exuberant joy. Her scene from the chapter “Technical Details,” in which she sang “I ate a har – monica! These socks — match — my hat!” and “Step on –some– sweet–toast! Socks!” had me rolling. I can easily identify with singing the wrong lyrics of songs (Taylor Swift’s “Starbucks lovers,” anybody?)
One of my favorite lines from my four chapters was Kizzy’s: “But I am now starving. What sounds good? Noodles? Skewers? Ice cream? We’re grownups, we can have ice cream for lunch if we want.”
I also found Sissix’s molting angst humorous in “Intro to Harmagian Colonial History.” She is so cranky. Understandably so, but she just can’t catch a break. Then we find out that humans smell terrible to some species, but the humans didn’t even notice that Dr. Chef has been spiking their soap with anti-odor powder.