Friday, June 8, 2018

May 2018 Mini-Reviews (a.k.a.The Space Opera Edition)

Okay so (during Bout of Books) I read entirely space operas. Sometimes you've got to have a theme, I guess. Sometimes your TBR is just really betraying of your preferences. These are things that just happen occasionally. 

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

This is such a quiet story. It's the story of a series of stories, more or less, all of which concern the crew of the wormhole-creating ship Wayfarer. The main character is ostensibly Rosemary, but the story focuses on all members of the crew and their day-to-day trials. The reader, along with the characters, explores a galaxy full of alien species with vastly different biological and social arrangements.

In a lot of ways, this is exactly up my alley for a sci-fi or space opera. I like my sci-fis on the optimistic side, and this book features people traversing differences, sharing experiences, and doing their best to solve problems- even problems like being boarded by gun-toting hostiles- through diplomacy and negotiation. And I liked that component a lot, because I'm predictable all-get-out. This is a book that uses speculative fiction the way I like it used- to hold a mirror up to humanity and attempt to see it in different lights; as well as to poke some more complex topics with a stick and explore them. I'm also a big fan of found family as a trope and the crew of the Wayfarer definitely qualifies as that.

I have mixed feelings about the overreaching plot of this one. I remain uncertain as to whether or not a novel about distances being bridged ending with the acknowledgement that, sometimes, a distance can't be bridged is antithetical or not. In the end, I don't think it is- some distances can't be bridged- especially not if all parties aren't willing to try.

Anyway clearly I really liked this book and it made me be very philosophical which, again, is how I like my speculative fiction. (I like being a bit philosophical about things because I'm a dork. That's pretty much the entire reason.) I feel like this is less a book I want to review and more one I want to talk about at length on very specific, sometimes spoiler-y, points. So that might be a thing I do.

A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

The indirect sequel to The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, this novel maintains the quiet, contemplative theme, this time with more AIs! I like a good AI story. This one felt a little slower for me, although I actually tore through it a lot faster (due in part to it being the book was reading on the last day of the Bout of Books read-a-thon). I still quite enjoyed it though.

Both of these books were good and contained so many elements that I like, and I did like really like the reading experience. They just somehow didn't work the mysterious alchemy that transforms a book that I like and recognise that I like into a book that's is UTTERLY MY FAVOURITE. I think that's more me than the book, though, and it was overall quite good.

Arabella of Mars by David D. Levine

This was an interesting one because it's such an exercise in suspension of disbelief. It imagines outer space as something truly different from what we now know space to be. This is one girl's journey through space-as-would-be-imagined-by-a-contemporary-of-Jules-Verne, with heavy shades of Jane Austen. The space between planets is traversed by flying ships. This first book in a planned trilogy introduces the reader to Arabella Ashby, regency lady raised on a Martian homestead and removed to Earth in the face of her mother's fears that Arabella is growing up far too wild and unladylike for polite society. After her father's unexpected death, a homesick Arabella finds herself marooned on Earth, betrayed by a cousin who is after the family fortune- with Arabella's brother (still on Mars) the only barrier. So naturally Arabella dresses up as a boy, signs up as cabin boy on the quickest Mars-bound ship she can, and sets of to beat the treacherous cousin there.

I had a fun reading this one, it was a pretty novel concept for me. So I really enjoyed the visuals of the story (flying ships! That moved between planets! Regency aesthetics!), and I quite liked the character of Arabella. There were bits that felt really period-accurate (despite the space-travel). The gender politics, weird thing where any person from India an English person met outside India was secretly royalty (seriously this just seems to be a thing with a certain sort of novel written in the 19th-20th century), and the blithe approach the English took to colonising another planet that already HAD inhabitants- which we know they took to just showing up in other countries and acting like they owned the place in our less inter-planetary world (although they seem to have treated the martians slightly better on the whole than the English treated people Indigenous to the countries they colonized here on Earth... which is a sad statement given how the English treat the Martians in this book... I'm digressing. Colonial politics is not for a mini-review, Kelly). Anyway. It felt like it was something that could have been written at the time, albeit with some decidedly more modern quirks in writing style and characterisation. I'm hoping to get my hands on the sequel soon (the library where I work has it so... soon... hopefully). 

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