Wednesday, August 15, 2018

A Closed and Common Orbit

A Closed and Common Orbit (Wayfarers #2) by Becky Chambers (2016)

As soon as possible after finishing The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, I picked up the next book in the series. I read it in just two days (and now I'm on hold for the third one, but it just came out so I'm going to have to sit tight and wait my turn.) This one is about a couple of side characters from the first book, but I'll describe it without spoilers so don't worry about that.

Pepper is an engineer who has befriend an AI (Artificial Intelligence) and put her in a body kit. This means that an AI designed to monitor a ship is now living in a very human-like body. So the AI goes to live with Pepper and her partner Blue and tries to get used to her new situation. She picks the name Sidra for herself, and she is completely disoriented and frustrated by the fact that she can't see behind her, that she isn't permanently attached to the Linkings (which is like the internet), and she just doesn't know what to do with herself. Plus it's illegal to house an AI in a body kit, so she needs to do a very convincing job of acting human.

The other story being told at the same time is Pepper's backstory, from back when she was known as Jane 23. Her early life was spent in a factory, where she sorted scrap, determining what could be useful and what wasn't. She slept in a dorm with other girls, sharing a bunk with Jane 64. Their meals were just liquid in a cup, referred to only as "meals" and Jane had no idea there were different kinds of foods. The girls were watched over by the Mothers, which were robots. Obviously she escaped and it's a really fantastic story that I loved reading about, but I'm not going to ruin things by telling you all about it here.

We don't see any of the other characters from the first book, but I'm ok with that because there's just so much good story here and I grew to love being with these characters just as I did my old friends from book one. There weren't as many different species introduced here, but we got to see more slices of life, and I'm starting to think Becky Chambers can just keep writing more and more books set in this universe and I will never grow tired of learning about these characters, their worlds, and their histories. I can't wait to get my hands on book three!

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Dating You / Hating You

Dating You / Hating You by Christina Lauren (2017)

Evie and Carter are Hollywood talent agents, who meet by chance at a party and are very attracted to each other. They both hesitate, because dating another agent is potentially horrible. They work constantly and are always at the beck and call of their clients. One person like that in a relationship is bad enough, but both of them? They'd never see each other. Nevertheless, they can't keep their eyes (and hands) off each other, so they go for it. Then, without warning, their companies have merged and they are now coworkers. Even worse, their horrid boss Brad tells them he won't ultimately be able to keep them both, so now they're basically pitted against each other in a fight to keep a job.

Brad was with Evie's company before the merge so she's very familiar with his ways - his misogynistic, jerkbag ways. Now that she's in direct competition with a man for her job, it's even more glaring. She is clearly the more experienced one, but Brad continues focusing on her one failure, never mind that every agent has had failures, and treating her like more of an assistant than an actual agent. Even Carter is horrified. But that's not enough to keep Evie and Carter on good terms. No, their relationship is now a fight to the death and they begin playing awful (but kind of hilarious) pranks on each other while trying to resist the magnetic pull that won't go away, regardless of their professional situation.

Everything about this was pretty satisfying. The way Evie dealt with her sexist workplace, the dynamic between her and Carter, and the look into a world that I knew nothing about. I've probably spent about 4 seconds of my life thinking about talent agents before reading this book. It's a professional I've only been vaguely aware of. Are there even any other books or movies that focus on talent agents? I'll be honest, it's not something that actually appealed to me and I wouldn't have picked the book up based on the description. I read because I kept hearing how good it was from many different sources from blogs to book review journals. And I know that it's impossible to tell from a plot summary whether something is good or not, so I'm glad let my disinterest about the inner workings of Hollywood put me off.

I'm always happy to find a contemporary romance that works for me. It's not easy - there has to be something keeping people apart, and in the modern worlds that's difficult. The two-author team known as Christina Lauren found a very effective way to create a love/hate relationship that was a lot of fun to watch, and their writing style was clever, funny, and engaging. This book really lived up to the hype for me.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet (Wayfarers #1) by Becky Chambers (2014)

Friends, I've just read the most wonderful book! I kept hearing that it was good, and I even checked it out of the library once before and returned it without reading it. But this time I took it on vacation with me and we had the best time together!

As the title suggests, this story is about a journey to a planet. Ashby is captain of the Wayfarer and its multispecies crew. He has finally hired a clerk, which he was totally overdue for, and which has now given his team a more professional air and helped secure a very exciting new job. They are to create a tunnel to a planet called Hedra Ka, which has long been unfriendly to everyone but has suddenly joined the Galactic Commons. (Nope, not suspicious at all. Nothing to be concerned about.)

The new clerk aboard the Wayfarer is Rosemary Harper, who is trying to flee some secrets of her own. She's more than happy to take on her new job with her interesting crewmates. Like Rosemary, some of them are human: Ashby, Kizzy, Corbin, and Jenks. But their doctor/chef who they call Dr. Chef is a Grum (his real name is unpronounceable by humans) and he's described as a cross between an otter and a gecko, and he walks like a caterpillar on a few sets of hand-feet. Sissix is the pilot and she's an Aandrisk, a reptilian being with feathers on her head and claws. Her people are very physically affectionate beings and have a lot of casual sex, which is not considered especially private. Finally, and perhaps most interestingly, is Ohan. They are a Sianat Pair, which are all infected with a virus called the Whisperer that gives them a much deeper understanding of space and therefore great value as navigators. They think of themselves and their virus as a pair, so they are always referred to as "we" and "they" rather than a singular pronoun.

What makes or breaks my experience reading science fiction are the characters. Sometimes they're two-dimensional because the story is all about the plot and the world-building, and those books just don't do it for me at all. These characters are all fully realized and genuine and I had a fun time with them on their long journey. This wasn't at the price of other factors though; in fact, the world-building was great, and totally borne out of the characters, each of whom had a story that told us more about the universe in which it takes place.

But I think what I liked best about this novel was the way all these characters from very different cultures communicated and worked together. Most of them spoke a couple of languages, and they learned about the histories of other species and, at the very least, their customs and conventions. They were all super aware that their own way was not everyone's way. And when they didn't really understand another species' ways, they still respected them. They still went along with it and didn't try to convince them their way was silly or made no sense. It was pretty great. There's a point in the story when Corbin is talking to Ohan about how Jenks is in love with Lovey, their AI on the ship, who doesn't even have a body. He says "I don't pretend to understand. Frankly, I find the whole notion absurd...But it doesn't matter what I think. Jenks thinks something different, and his pain is very real right now. Me knowing how stupid this whole thing is doesn't make him hurt any less." And Corbin is an asshole. But even he has respect for others' differences.

The cultures were so inventive and well-thought out too. Aandrisks will give one of their feathers to someone who has touched their life, and keep the ones given to them as a reminder of everyone they've had an impact on, which I thought was a neat practice. More interestingly, they don't see children as fully-fledged people until they get their feathers. The death of hatchlings is fairly common and to be expected. Sissix doesn't understand why an infant would be considered of more value than an adult, saying "the idea that a loss of potential was somehow worse than a loss of achievement and knowledge was something she had never been able to wrap her brain around." Me too, Sissix. Me too. I've never understood why we consider babies and children to be more important and valuable than adults (although I still think they're people, and don't think they are necessarily of lesser value.) And the Sianat Pairs! To think that a virus is absolutely necessary to your identity, even though it is greatly reducing your lifespan. So many philosophical questions come up in relation to Ohan and their species and their relationship with this virus. And I haven't even mentioned the Aeluons, who don't speak or hear as we do, but communicate through colorful displays on their skin.

Look, I could go on at length here, and I guess I already have. There's just so much interesting stuff in this world, and it's populated with people I really want to get to know more. It was super creative and a lot of fun to read. Fortunately, there are two more books in this series (so far? I don't know if it is complete) so I may pick up the next one. I read the description and it's pretty intriguing, though I haven't heard if it's as good as this one. But I'm willing to find out.