The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

Monday, February 13, 2017


The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet
Becky Chambers, 2014

Premise: Rosemary joins the crew of the Wayfarer, a long haul tunneling ship, just before their biggest job.

I have been hearing good things about this book since it came out, but I still enjoyed it far more than I anticipated! It's a delightful character-driven sci-fi story that's more about people and relationships than about action or adventure. It's like the talking, feeling parts of Star Trek, only with more realistic characters and more interesting questions about sapience and alien cultures.

All of the species on board Wayfarer are interesting, and any could probably sustain a novel on their own. Although Rosemary is initially presented as the newcomer, and therefore serves partially as the audience stand-in (the person everything can be explained to), she has her own past and secrets and character arc to handle.

The book is a true ensemble piece - no one character is really the 'main' character. There is an arc for each person (though some are small) and each made me want more about the characters without actually leaving me feeling unsatisfied.

There is a touch of romance, and it's well handled and lovely. There is a lot of weighty matter (free will, fate, genetic destiny, non-mammalian cultures) that is best handled in a light, often comedic work such as this one.

I'm a little sad that the sequel apparently follows a character I'm not as intrigued by (although I absolutely understand it if she's many people's favorite). Even so, I'll probably check it out; I'd love to return to this world and learn more.

5 Stars - An Awesome Book

Winning Marriage

Monday, February 6, 2017


Winning Marriage: The Inside Story of How Same-Sex Couples Took on the Politicians and Pundits - and Won
Marc Solomon, 2014, afterword 2015

Premise: The behind-the-scenes details of the fight for marriage equality from one of the key players.

Author Marc Solomon was the executive director for MassEquality from 2006 to 2009, and he then became the campaign director for the nationwide group Freedom to Marry. In short, he is uniquely qualified to tell this story.

The details in this book were fascinating; everything from the personal stories that touched the hearts of Massachusetts legislators to the internal politicking in New York to the testing that went into campaign ads and PR spending. It also includes some moments that were both big picture and largely unseen by the general public - when, how and why advocates decided to make marriage the key of the argument (rather than civil unions) as well as when, how, and why they decided to push President Obama on the issue.

I read this book partially because I wanted to read about a win for the good guys. For me, it's so hard to think back now and remember a time when marriage equality didn't seem inevitable, even if the timeline was in doubt. (Not that I'm not worried about horrible people trying to roll it back today, I just think that they are unlikely to succeed at this point; the momentum of this campaign has carried us really far.) The accounts in this book reminded me of both the (completely nonsensical) pushback and how hard so many people worked for this goal.

I do highly recommend it for a taste of how complicated the reality of national and state politics gets. This type of nuance and strategy is hard to understand without an insider tour like this one, and this is an interesting picture of one way a social movement can fight and win.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

The Bear and the Nightingale

Monday, January 30, 2017


The Bear and the Nightingale
Katherine Arden, 2017

New Release! I received a copy of this book from NetGalley for the purpose of review.

Premise: A minor noble in medieval Russia loves his wife for all her strangeness. Their daughter Vasya will inherit her mother's gifts and defend her home as best she can from the darkness of both men and spirit.

I was very hopeful about this book, the descriptions and tag lines were all very intriguing. In the end, I liked it, but it wasn't as special or unique as I might have wished.

The writing style and use of Russian folklore and culture were well done; I felt that I could see the creatures and the places. However, the plot meanders for a while setting up all the pieces before getting to the meat. All of the setup - Vasya's parents, politics that affect their family, her birth and early childhood - just isn't that compelling to me.

Vasya is a wild child with an affinity for spirits and the land. Her main adversary is the changing culture, as personified by a devout stepmother and a zealous young priest who seeks to dominate her village and exterminate the old customs. While this is easy to sympathize with, and I enjoyed the story, I did feel like I've read and seen very similar dynamics many times.

The sequences in the last third or so I felt were the strongest. Vasya finally comes into her own and the climactic action was fairly satisfying.

3 Stars - A Good Book