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2016 Book Discussions > The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet – Second Half & Whole Book, Spoilers Allowed (November 2016)

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message 1: by LindaJ^ (new)

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2316 comments OK. For those who have finished, this is the no holds barred thread where you can spoil away without concern.

In this half we learn more about the various aliens in the story. Dr. Chen tells the story of his dying race. Jenks decides to buy Lovey (the ship's AI) a body. The pilot goes into a death spiral until Corbin intervenes. Rosemary and Sissix start a relationship. Corbin turns out to be a clone. Ashby takes a job that puts the Wayfarer into contact with the Toremi and all hell breaks lose. At least for me, there was a lot of action packed into the last quarter of this book. And all the shipmates except Lovey survive (and I'm not sure Lovey is gone forever).

So here are a few questions to start off the discussion --
How did Lovey becoming sentient? Do you think that at some point humans will create an AI that can be called sentient? And, if so, what issues does that raise?

For me this novel was like comfort food. The shipmates were like a family that was always there when one of them needed help. Even Corbin shaped up and became part of the glue. Did you find the lack of tension and backstabbing believable? Did you like it or did you want more tension among the crew?


message 2: by Peter (new)

Peter Aronson (peteraronson) | 516 comments One of the major themes here seemed to be identity: who we are, who we think we are and who we really are. Some of those explorations were very interesting -- in particular, I found Corbin's application of the treatment for Ohan's (the navigator) Whisperer virus was rather problematical. Yes, the virus was killing Ohan, but wasn't it Ohan's life to give up? On the other hand, was the virus affecting how Ohan thought? There are parasites and fungi on Earth that can significantly modify animals' behavior, and the Whisperer is one weird virus that is clearly active in the brain, so there's that.

I didn't really mind the lack of internal conflict within the group -- there was enough external conflict. And really, given the proximity and (relatively) close quarters, they'd better get along. I think keeping everybody getting along is one of Ashby's major jobs on ship.

I don't think Lovey "became" sentient -- I think AIs of her class are designed that way. What Lovey became was her own person. This is again with the theme of identity, how much is intrinsic and how much in constructed. Lovey's selfhood looked to be a project of her and Jenks, with occasional contributions from the other crew members, but mostly her.


message 3: by LindaJ^ (new)

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2316 comments Peter, I agree that a major theme is identity. Rosemary exemplified that for me. What her father did made her question herself and others, supposed friends, who shunned her for what her father had done. Her experience with the crew helped heal those wounds, as they accepted her, liked her even after she finally told them the truth.

You are right that in such tight quarters folks need to get along, but I think on the Wayfarer, helped by Ashby's leadership style, they may have been closer than just friends. I liked that Sissix considered them her family in the way her species did.

Your thoughts about Lovey are interesting. Is there a difference between sentience and selfhood? Hmmm. I had not thought about that before. Good food for pondering.


message 4: by Viv (new)

Viv JM | 62 comments Linda - I did like that Sissix considered the crew her family. That was rather lovely. I suppose with family, we try and get along despite our differences, and this is definitely what is happening here. However, I think even with family (or maybe especially with family!) this amount of time in an enclosed space under stressful circumstances would surely cause more conflict?! Although I loved the book's theme of acceptance of diversity, I did find the lack of conflict on board the Wayfarer a little bit unrealistic.


message 5: by LindaJ^ (new)

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2316 comments Viv, Your comment raises a question to me. I just rated a book that was well-written low because I did not like it and I didn't like it because I did not find it realistic. Here, I agree that it seemed like there should have been a bit more conflict. After all, even the closest families have disagreements on occasion. But that said, I found the lack of conflict comforting. I was comforted that these very diverse individuals could get along even though confined for long periods in a small space. So what was different between the two books that made me react differently?


message 6: by Peter (new)

Peter Aronson (peteraronson) | 516 comments Linda wrote: "Viv, Your comment raises a question to me. I just rated a book that was well-written low because I did not like it and I didn't like it because I did not find it realistic. Here, I agree that it se..."

I wonder because the setting is so different than normal life (far future, in a spaceship, advanced technologies, etc.), you're more willing to accept how well the crew gets along because it doesn't jar you out of the setting?

Also, I think, despite adding a new member (Rosemary), the crew reminds me a bit of an old, reasonably happy married couple writ large. Even what conflict they do have seem very familiar to everyone involved like they've gone through them a thousand times in the past. Also, I think the reduced level of conflict at the end of the book won't last. Corbin will get annoyed at someone soon, Kizzy will do something annoying (although they will forgive her because she's Kizzy), that's just the way the relationships works.


message 7: by LindaJ^ (new)

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2316 comments Peter, you might be right about it being easier to accept because of the setting. On reflection, however, some of it was because I liked the characters in this book while I did not like the primary character in the other book that I did not think was realistic. The author developed, at least for me, likeable characters so I was glad they got along so well!

Do you think that sci fi as a general matter is somewhat unrealistic? Which again raises the issue of reader expectations -- perhaps I cut more slack for sci fi authors on the realism front.


message 8: by Peter (new)

Peter Aronson (peteraronson) | 516 comments It rather depends on what you mean by realistic? Some SF works very hard at being realistic, given a premise, other not so much. But given the number of unknowns in a novel of a far future -- how has the culture changes, how does technologies both mentioned and not mentioned in the text affect daily life, how does the existence of non-human intelligences (both AI and alien) affect the humans see themselves -- it can be hard to say sometimes what is realistic and what is not.


message 9: by Casceil (new)

Casceil | 1692 comments Mod
One aspect of the book that interested me was the different ways people interact with their families in different cultures. I liked the approach used by Sissix's species. The parent-child relationships we saw from Rosemary and Corbin were both sad. With respect to Corbin, I got to thinking about the difficulty of raising a child who was a clone of yourself. One of the challenges of parenting is letting your kids discover who they are and what they want, and fighting the urge to raise a kid as a "mini-me." But if you started out knowing that the kid was genetically identical to you, it would be a strong temptation to make the kid, or try to make the kid, into what you wish you had been.


message 10: by LindaJ^ (new)

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2316 comments Peter wrote: "It rather depends on what you mean by realistic? Some SF works very hard at being realistic, given a premise, other not so much. But given the number of unknowns in a novel of a far future -- how h..."

Good points, Peter. Whatever the reason, I liked the book and am glad it got picked up by a publisher. Just as the book was comforting, so is the story of its publication.


message 11: by LindaJ^ (new)

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2316 comments Casceil wrote: "One aspect of the book that interested me was the different ways people interact with their families in different cultures. I liked the approach used by Sissix's species. The parent-child relations..."

I often think that there must be some way to provide all children equal opportunity to grow up and be good citizens, regardless of the fitness of their parents. I also liked the approach used by Sissix's species. As to clones, it is hard for me to imagine why one would want to clone themselves and then raise the clone. I keep thinking about Cyteen. What a burden to put on a kid.


message 12: by Casceil (new)

Casceil | 1692 comments Mod
I think to clone yourself you would have to be seriously narcissistic.


message 13: by LindaJ^ (new)

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2316 comments Casceil wrote: "I think to clone yourself you would have to be seriously narcissistic."
At a minimum!


message 14: by Jerrod (new)

Jerrod The different ways in which the different species treated family life was quite interesting. I did find the tone of tolerance unevenly distributed when it came to this topic (among many others). When discussing Jenks' upbringing on Earth (his mom was one of those return-to-nature types), a few of the characters mock the people who lived on Earth because of the possibility of the child or mother dying during birth (something along the lines of "Can you believe that still happens?") But when discussing the high mortality rate among hatchlings of Sissix's species, Rosemarie is like "well, I guess that's just their culture." I found that a bit odd.


message 15: by Jerrod (new)

Jerrod The most thought-provoking scene was when Corbin forcibly injects Ohan with the cure. This is a great way to bring in a discussion about religious objections to some types of medical care and how much we should take those objections into account.

I have a few other thoughts about the book in my review if your interested.


message 16: by LindaJ^ (new)

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2316 comments Thanks, Jerrod, for the link to your review. I thought it was excellent. I agree with you that the incident when Corbin injects Ohan with the cure is perhaps the most thought-provoking. I had not thought about it in terms of religion, but you are right that it has a connection to the situation where one's religion would preclude medical intervention. And it is, in a way, a mirror reflection of the right to die controversy, which, of course, has a huge religious component. Anyone else have thoughts about this incident?


message 17: by Casceil (new)

Casceil | 1692 comments Mod
I enjoyed Jerrod's review, and he raises many interesting aspects of the book. When I was reading the book, I was impressed by the number of angles from which the author came at the question of "what is life," or "what is intelligent life." But "right to life" or "right to die" are also questions the book addresses in different ways. Different societies have very harsh rules, sometimes. The book raises the question of how much of our values are based on our expectations, the rules we grew up with, and what other people think. What happens when one person's views as to how they want to exercise their personal freedom has a bad or even deadly effect on other lives. Jenk's mom's choices, for example. And Ohan's "religion," where a young death is expected because in his society, all agree that this is how it should be.


message 18: by LindaJ^ (new)

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2316 comments As Jerrod notes, the different species we encounter in the book do seem to illustrate, in some aspect, differences that divide human societies. I heard something on the news today about it being the 100th anniversary of the US Supreme Ct decision that found the North Carolina (I think) law criminalizing interracial marriage to be invalid. That made me think of Ashby's relationship with the woman from another species. They had to keep it secret because her species would think it wrong and the repercussions would impact her career. Their relationship also raises the issues of inter-faith marriages as well. I also recently heard that the Pope said that the spouses of Roman Catholics who were not Roman Catholic could take communion with their Roman Catholic spouse. (However, I don't think he said it was okay for the Roman Catholic spouse to take communion in the church of another faith, such as Anglican or Lutheran. It seems that along with good characters, the author presents situations that provide fodder for discussion. Do you think this adds to the book's appeal?


message 19: by Peter (last edited Nov 06, 2016 05:38PM) (new)

Peter Aronson (peteraronson) | 516 comments Jerrod wrote: "... a few of the characters mock the people who lived on Earth because of the possibility of the child or mother dying during birth (something along the lines of "Can you believe that still happens?") But when discussing the high mortality rate among hatchlings of Sissix's species, Rosemarie is like "well, I guess that's just their culture." I found that a bit odd. "

I thought it more a matter of biology, particularly reproductive strategy, something like r and K selection. An r-strategist species (like salmon) has lots of young, most of whom don't survive to adulthood, and the parents do not usually take care of the newborns. K-strategist species (like humans) have few offspring and spend a lot of energy taking care of them. And there is something of a sliding scale between them. Mind you, Sissix's species are rather large, long-lived and intelligent for an r-strategist species, but it does go with the high sex drive, and it's a big galaxy after all.

I will note that I may have been primed for this interpretation, as this is not the first SF novel I've read with an r selection intelligent species -- there was Eric Flint's Mother of Demons, which featured a full-on r-strategist intelligent species.


message 20: by LindaJ^ (new)

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2316 comments Thanks Peter for the insight on the biological classifications. It is a connection I did not make but certainly one to consider.


message 21: by LindaJ^ (new)

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2316 comments The second book in this series, and a Hugo finalist, was recently released. I just finished the audiobook and it is quite good, but also quite different that then one. It focuses on rebooted Lovelace who was downloaded to the body and on Pepper, the mechanic who offered to take her home. My review (no spoilers) is here - https://www.goodreads.com/review/show....


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Mother of Demons (other topics)

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Eric Flint (other topics)