Review: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (Old Cover)I’d like to intro this piece with a caveat — I started writing this review before I finished reading the novel. I was so moved by an experience about halfway through (mentioned later), that I felt the need to start putting down my thoughts even before reaching the conclusion.

The first thing you’ll notice in reading Becky Chambers’s debut novel is the similarities to Firefly. And that’s not a bad thing, even when you consider my lack of interest in that TV series. (I just never clicked with it.) Like that TV series, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet follows the crew of a small starship, the Wayfarer, as it travels the galaxy, working as subcontractors building a network of wormholes from star system to star system. That crew is a mix of aliens and humans, each with a unique and compelling story.

While the plot is fairly linear, with minor interruptions along the way, it would be disingenuous to call this book simple — it’s clearly setting the stage for follow-on works, and it manages to feel complete by the ending. This book’s strongest point is its characters, their stories, and their relationships and interactions with one another.

The chapter-long conversation between Dr. Chef and Rosemary might be the most emotionally-moving chapter in any science fiction novel ever. There’s insights here for combat vets, people who come from damaged homes, and anyone who has ever struggled with self-identity in a complex world. I finished the chapter while on the bus to work and I sat there trying not to cry for the tragedy of a fictional, alien character, and for the truths presented through the course of the conversation. This one chapter has spawned so many ideas that demand their own blog posts, stories, and conversations that I know I’ll be re-reading it (and the rest of the book) frequently.

Stunning, stunning first work by the author. I can’t wait for follow-ups.

icon-star-5Buy on Amazon.

Saturday Battle Plan

Hot Items

  • kitchen
  • clean/sweep entryway
  • fold/put away laundry (my least favorite thing ever)
  • clean/tune-up road bike

Nice to Do

  • work on freelancing site
  • work on novel for 30-45 minutes
  • shave face
  • research VA disability claims
  • write at least one blog post for next week
  • read a good chunk of current book
  • straighten garage
  • put bike parts for sale on FB Twin Cities Bike sales group

Five Ways in Which I am NOT Awesome

So I originally started writing this as a “Five Reasons I am Awesome” post, but man. That pulled up some aspects of my personality that I’ve worked very hard to shave down and keep in check. Also, given my general contempt for whining, I am going to follow up each entry with what I’m doing to improve. So how am I NOT awesome? Well…

1. I have ADD.
While there are some upsides to having it, which I’ll write about at a future date, ADD has largely been a detriment to my life. To that end, I have been in therapy for it and I’m currently medicated. My goal for my development is to eliminate the problematic aspects of the condition via the therapy/meds combo while retaining the positives that can be had from the condition.
2. I carry grudges.
There are things that happened in my past, and I’m talking like 30+ years ago, that I still carry with me. They don’t inspire the blind rage that they used to, to be sure, and I’ve been seeing a therapist to help put these things away for good. Where I used to be angry about them on a weekly basis, now I might think about them once a month and then I just sort of chuckle at the absolutely stupidity of it all.
3. I’m an ideas guy.
But wait. Isn’t that a good thing? Sure, and ADD has a good side to it, too. But like every coin, there’s a reverse. Being an ideas guy, I used to really get hung up on just coming up with ideas, and never executing on them1. The work with my therapist and the medications, combined with an overwhelming desire to not piss away my life has gotten me to the point where I’m a.) learning to examine the value of an idea, and then b.) decided whether to tackle it, or plant the seed of the idea with someone else to let them run with it. Additionally, some ideas are fun to think about just as a mental exercise2, and I don’t plan to ever give up on those. It took me a long time to realize it, but the value of an idea is absolutely zero unless you take action on it.
4. I embrace the Oxford comma, and I’ll always put two spaces after a period.
The Oxford comma has legitimate reasons. The two spaces thing is me just being curmudgeonly and enjoying it when people twitch about it.
5. I fear failure.
Historically, this lead me to not try to do the difficult things. Later on in life, it meant that I would fight like hell to avoid failure, even sometimes to ridiculous extremes. I’ve been working very hard to find a happy middle ground in this — I still want to be successful in the things I do, but I can’t throw myself down a flight of stairs (metaphorically) every time I take on a new task.


1. I had the idea for a Reddit-like site in 1998. Like the exact same thing. Never executed on it. Kinda kick myself on that one, sometimes.

2. As a thought exercise, I’ve repeatedly come back to the idea of building a computer using nothing but gaslight-era technologies. I believe it could be done. It would be incredibly rudimentary, but I think you could build a programmable computer using nothing but materials available prior to 1900. Quartz crystal timing would be unavailable as it didn’t occur until 1927, which would make this tough.

Weekend Miscellany

It’s Sunday night, and rather than break this all down day by day like I do with my normal weekend recap post, I’m going to drop this one by subject.

The Fam

The kids were a mix of fun and trying this weekend. On Saturday, while Kate was at work, we hung out and played quite a bit. Eddy didn’t want to watch TV, which was nuts, and the three of us spent a lot of time playing with their cars and assorted accouterments on the floor. Sunday was less fun — Eddy was being super-naught for most of the morning, and it was very hard to keep my cool and not yell.

Made sure Kate had a nice Mother’s Day — flowers, cards, brownies, and a spa gift card. Tried to keep her as uninvolved in the day-to-day stuff as possible.

House Hunt

After signing with a realtor on Thursday night, we saw our first house of the hunt on Friday night. It was in St. Louis Park, it was about $20K less than our max spend, and it looked really good on the listing. In reality, it had some issues. Which was disappointing. But, onward and upward. We’re looking in SLP, south Minneapolis, and maybe some parts of Bloomington. We’ll see how it plays out.

Bike

No major update on the CX frame project this week — I had limited time, and all I did was tweak some chainstay slotting and then get the dropouts brazed in. Given my minimal progress this weekend, I’m not posting a full-length update on the project this week. Next week, I’ll be getting the chainstays brazed-on, and get started on the seatstays.

WordPress

Been working on my big, bad-assed theme this weekend — and came up with ideas for two others. I’ve done some light scribbling on both of these, but I’m not going to put too many brain cycles into them until the first one is done.

Brain Chemistry Update

So today it’s been three weeks as a formally-medicated ADD sufferer. I wish I could say that there’s been massive change thanks to the miracle of modern medicine, but other than the first day, I didn’t really notice much of an effect. I started on the minimum adult dosage, so that may have had something to do with it.

So What Effects Were There?

The first day, about an hour after consuming the drug, I had a feeling of being somewhat disconnected from my body — not unlike a mild drunk. There was no dizziness, disorientation, loss of verbal filter, or anything like that. This feeling has only cropped up a couple of other times during these three weeks.

Also, the first day, I had the ability to remember long strings of numbers that I normally had to transcribe as part of a weekly report. I was able to move the data from memory rather than cribbed notes. That was an “oh neat” moment.

Other that, the impact on my focus was subtle. I found that I was paying better attention to things like conversations — evidenced by actually remembering them clearly hours later.

I’m also not getting blindsided by dumb crap as much as I was.  My attention span is up just enough where I can remember things that I need to do without consulting a written list.

So Where’s It Falling Short?

My attention is still scattered.  I still bounce around between tasks and non-tasks like a cracked-out howler monkey in a room full of shiny objects.  And that’s super-frustrating.  Part of that is my environment — an office space gradually accumulates a certain amount of cruft, whether that’s desk toys, file folders, or virtual stuff like browser tabs and dropboxes, etc.

Dosages

My medication isn’t one of those “it needs to build up things” — it’s a daily dose that stops working after about 10-ish hours.  I’m supposed to have the occasional “rest day” — which I’ve done exactly twice so far.  I haven’t had a day where I’ve forgotten to take it, but I have taken it later than planned a couple of times.

The dosage size is my next point of discussion with the psychiatrist, on the 15th.  We’ll see how that goes.

The Feels

7/10.  I’m building the toolkit I need to get past all this shit, and I’ve taken action on getting medicated.  While I’d like to see more pronounced effects out of the medication, I can’t complain too much.