Claire recommended this book to me when I was stuck in a mental loop last October. She handed me her copy of her book and recommended it as a fun read when what one needed was a fun read.
She was right. This is a fun read.
It is a space opera of sorts, too short to be an opera per se, more like an operetta, a mini-saga if you will, of a wormhole puncher, a small vessel that punches through space and time to make travel routes for the rest of us.
World building is never an easy task. World building when you're trying to have plausable physics is harder. World building when you're trying to have plausible physics and plausible biology is even harder. Chambers does a great job, even if some of the "here, let me explain this to you" sections are a little forced. Having a new shipmate makes explaining things easier.
Ashby is the captain of the Wayfarer, and was nearly completely what I imagined Corey's Expanse's Holden to look like, really. Which isn't fair, as I think Ashby was supposed to be darker skinned. The rest of the characters had bits of other media parts spliced together for me: Kizzy was Firefly's Kaylee, Jenks was Song of Ice and Fire's Tyrion, Ohan was A Fire Upon the Deep's Tines. The amalgamation worked for me.
The book read like a series of episodes, which was actually nice, as the whole book made for a season arc.
I enjoyed the book. It's worth reading for anyone who enjoys a good science fiction read.
But with the last of her savings running thin and her bridges burned behind her, there was no margin for error. The price of a fresh start was having no one to fall back on.
After a life in her parents’ enormous home, full of furniture and knickknacks and rarities, the knowledge that she didn’t need anything more than what she could carry gave her a remarkable sense of freedom.
Similar to the advice a Lyft driver gave me last October when she said, "All I really need is what I can carry, everything else is nice."
The point of a family, he’d always thought, was to enjoy the experience of bringing something new into the universe, passing on your knowledge and seeing part of yourself live on.
Her [the AI] personality had been shaped by every experience she and the crew had together, every place they’d been, every conversation they’d shared. And honestly, Jenks thought, couldn’t the same be said for organic people? Weren’t they all born running the Basic Human Starter Platform, which was shaped and changed as they went along? In Jenks’s eyes, the only real difference in cognitive development between Humans and AIs was that of speed. He’d had to learn to walk and talk and eat and all the other essentials before he’d begun to have a sense of identity.
He slipped them off and stepped into a pair of sandals that never left the room. He found the idea of walking around in there with grubby, gunky shoes quite rude.
He is clearly not American.
Jenks spent a lot of time in the pit, even though his job didn’t require it, and going in there with boots on felt like kissing somebody in the morning without brushing your teeth.
I giggled at this.
Acting all sanctimonious while spouting bad info was a terrible way to win a debate, but a great way to piss people off.
Seems to be The American Way™ these days.
“That’s kind of hypocritical, isn’t it? We assume organic bodies are so awesome, everybody else must want them, then we go off to get genetweaks to look younger or slimmer or whatever.”
“The fact that you people have been playing this for centuries says a lot about your species.”
“Oh? What’s it say?”
“That Humans make everything needlessly difficult.”
Humans would’ve died out, too, if the Aeluons hadn’t chanced upon the Fleet. Luck’s what saved them. Luck, and discovering humility.
Not a known Human trait.
“I don’t know if I can explain this,” Ashby said. “I wish war didn’t happen, but I don’t judge other species for taking part in it.
“Maybe, but not like us. Humans can’t handle war. Everything I know about our history shows that it brings out the worst in us. We’re just not . . . mature enough for it, or something. Once we start, we can’t stop. And I’ve felt that in me, you know, that inclination toward acting out in anger. Nothing like what you’ve seen. I don’t pretend to know what war is like. But Humans, we’ve got something dangerous in us. We almost destroyed ourselves because of it.”
Honestly, what was it about that concept that was so difficult for others to grasp? She would never, ever understand the idea that a child, especially an infant, was of more value than an adult who had already gained all the skills needed to benefit the community. The death of a new hatchling was so common as to be expected. The death of a child about to feather, yes, that was sad. But a real tragedy was the loss of an adult with friends and lovers and family. 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.
To some Humans, the promise of a patch of land was worth any effort. It was an oddly predictable sort of behavior. Humans had a long, storied history of forcing their way into places where they didn’t belong.
“We have different philosophies, you and I, but I can understand where you’re coming from. Violence is always disconcerting, even if it’s only potential violence."
Nib nodded. “Some people knit, some people play music, I dig through dusty old facts and make sure they’re accurate.” He flopped back into a chair as the pixels in the central projector flickered to life. “I like knowing things.”
“Because people are assholes,” said Bear, dutifully keeping his head down. “Ninety percent of all problems are caused by people being assholes.”
“What causes the other ten percent?” asked Kizzy.
“Natural disasters,” said Nib.
There were few things Dr. Chef enjoyed more than a cup of tea. He made tea for the crew every day at breakfast time, of course, but that involved an impersonal heap of leaves dumped into a clunky dispenser. A solitary cup of tea required more care, a blend carefully chosen to match his day. He found the ritual of it quite calming: heating the water, measuring the crisp leaves and curls of dried fruit into the tiny basket, gently brushing the excess away with his fingerpads, watching color rise through water like smoke as it brewed. Tea was a moody drink.
The thoughts he was drumming up were old and safely kept. Kizzy had accused him once of “bottling up his feelings,” but this was a Human concept, the idea that one could hide their feelings away and pretend that they were not there. Dr. Chef knew exactly where all of his feelings were, every joy, every ache. He didn’t need to visit them all at once to know they were there. Humans’ preoccupation with “being happy” was something he had never been able to figure out. No sapient could sustain happiness all of the time, just as no one could live permanently within anger, or boredom, or grief. Grief. Yes, that was the feeling that Rosemary needed him to find today. He did not run from his grief, nor did he deny its existence. He could study his grief from a distance, like a scientist observing animals. He embraced it, accepted it, acknowledged that it would never go away. It was as much a part of him as any pleasant feeling. Perhaps even more so.
Rosemary’s hand went to her mouth. “I’m sorry,” she said. Such a quintessentially Human thing, to express sorrow through apology.
“We cannot blame ourselves for the wars our parents start. Sometimes the very best thing we can do is walk away.”
Rosemary started to nod, then shook her head. “That’s not the same. What happened to you, to your species, it’s . . . it doesn’t even compare.” “Why? Because it’s worse?” She nodded. “But it still compares. If you have a fractured bone, and I’ve broken every bone in my body, does that make your fracture go away? Does it hurt you any less, knowing that I am in more pain?” “No, but that’s not—” “Yes, it is. Feelings are relative. And at the root, they’re all the same, even if they grow from different experiences and exist on different scales.”
“Your father—the person who raised you, who taught you how the world works—did something unspeakably horrible. And not only did he take part in it, he justified it to himself. When you first learned of what your father had done, did you believe it?”
“I didn’t think he was capable of it.”
“Why not? He obviously was.”
“He didn’t seem like he was. The father I knew never could’ve done such a thing.”
“Aha. But he did. So then you begin wondering how you could’ve been so wrong about him. You start going back through your memories, looking for signs. You begin questioning everything you know, even the good things. You wonder how much of it was a lie. And worst of all, since he had a heavy hand in making you who you are, you begin wondering what you yourself are capable of.”
Rosemary stared at him. “Yes.”
"Given the right push, you, too, could do horrible things. That darkness exists within all of us. You think every soldier who picked up a cutter gun was a bad person? No. She was just doing what the soldier next to her was doing, who was doing what the soldier next to her was doing, and so on and so on."
She handed him the mug. “And I had Dr. Chef make you some of this awful stuff.” The smell hit his nose before he even brought the cup to his face. Coffee.
“I’m not sure that it happens a lot. But more often than for most, perhaps.”
“Enough for you not to be scared of it.”
“I never said that.”
“You did so.”
“I said I was familiar with it. That’s very different.”
"I never thought of fear as something that can go away. It just is. It reminds me that I want to stay alive. That doesn’t strike me as a bad thing.”
“You could’ve adopted.”
“I wanted my own flesh and blood. Proof that someone had loved me enough to create a new life with me.”
"But I’m scared. I’m starting to think maybe I wanted this so bad that I didn’t let myself acknowledge just how fucking dangerous it is.”
“Pairs are not inventors. They are too unfocused, too short-lived. Good for Navigating and discussing theories, but bad at building. Building takes many, many mistakes. Pairs do not like mistakes. They like staring out windows. But Solitary like mistakes. Mistakes mean progress. We make good things. Great things.”
“And for the first time ever, I didn’t want a brother anymore, because I finally had one. And there’s nothing better than brothers. Friends are great, but they come and go. Lovers are fun, but kind of stupid, too. They say stupid things to each other and they ignore all their friends because they’re too busy staring, and they get jealous, and they have fights over dumb shit like who did the dishes last or why they can’t fold their fucking socks, and maybe the sex gets bad, or maybe they stop finding each other interesting, and then somebody bangs someone else, and everyone cries, and they see each other years later, and that person you once shared everything with is a total stranger you don’t even want to be around because it’s awkward. But brothers. Brothers never go away. That’s for life.
Brothers you can’t get rid of. They get who you are, and what you like, and they don’t care who you sleep with or what mistakes you make, because brothers aren’t mixed up in that part of your life. They see you at your worst, and they don’t care. And even when you fight, it doesn’t matter so much, because they still have to say hi to you on your birthday, and by then, everybody’s forgotten about it, and you have cake together.”
Okay, seriously, what brother did Chambers have?