Friday, May 27, 2016

Currently Reading (8)

A ship crewed by a disparate crew of humans and aliens bags a prize job: tunneling a wormhole to the titular small, angry planet that's the gateway to the core of the galaxy and rich amounts of the unobtanium prized by interstellar civilisations. There's just one problem: the core is barricaded by an ongoing war between clans of a particularly bad-tempered alien species, and despite a brand-new treaty the clan which controls the gateway may not be entirely trustworthy.

So far, it's the stuff of a hundred standard space operas. But Becky Chambers is part of a new cohort of authors who are repurposing the tropes of science fiction and fantasy to explore diversity and identity, and ways of accommodating and accepting difference. Some of the tropes she deploys are a bit too hoary to be redeemed by any amount of irony, but she has a good line in snappy dialogue, the members of the starship crew are nicely drawn and pleasingly variegated, and there's deep back history to her universe and a rich variety of aliens and alien worlds.

Don't expect a conventional plot: the problem of the angry planet and its horde of angry aliens is hectically and quickly dispatched towards the end of the novel. The point of the story is the getting there, and what the crew discover about themselves along the way. 'You're trying to learn how to be good,' one of them tells the latest recruit, a young woman from Mars with an Awful Secret, and one by one the various problems of the various crew members and their back stories are resolved through kindness, understanding and, yes, goodness. Most of the resolutions are friction-free, and one turns on a fantastic coincidence -- the cost, difficulty and sacrifice of caring for others isn't much emphasised here. But it's done with wit and care, and while some may find it a bit too saccharine, it's a refreshing difference from the adolescent attitudes and kick-ass heroism of rather too much contemporary science fiction. This turns out to be the first of a trilogy about these wayfarers. A little more grit next time, perhaps?


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