A book for a blanket fort: The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet

I read this book and I fell in love with it and you could too.

Way back in January, I made a New Years’ Resolution. Unlike the vast majority of resolutions made in a post-t(of)urkey haze (and to January 2015-Me’s great surprise) I stuck to this one. It was this: for 2015, I don’t read any novels by white men. I’ve mostly kept the results of this to myself, but this book? Made me want to tell all of you about it.

Becky Chambers’ The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet is delightful. It’s gloriously warm and rich: a book I want to read again when I’m curled up on a sofa with a giant mug of tea. Maybe in the winter. In front of a fire. With a blanket around me crocheted by an auntie. That kind of book.

Okay, so it’s not perfect

Then again, what is? Let’s get the drawbacks out of the way, so we can get on to the good stuff.

This was Chambers’ first novel, and in some ways it can feel that way. This is a vivid book- it’s fun and warm, with the colour and contrast dialled way up. Most of the time this works well, but sometimes it feels like it’s gone a little too far. Some parts of our initial introductions- both to the characters and the universe they live in- feel a little overdone. Similarly, I felt that the characters could veer towards the clichéd. If this is the kind of thing that bugs you? You mightn’t like this one. But you can get past that, then grab yourself a large mug of something warm and find yourself something cushioned to curl up on. 

What’s it all about, then?

The basic premise is this: a messy bunch of plucky misfits with hearts of gold go travelling halfway across the galaxy. They have Adventures, they overcome Adversity, they discover Friendship and Family. Throw in a bit of Coming of Age for the protagonist (who has had to leave everything she knows and take a job on a ship going Far Away because Reasons) and you’ve got the idea. 

I hate spoilers, so you’re gonna have to find out the rest for yourself. 

Why should I read this one, if you’re not gonna tell me what happens in it?

I’m gonna tell you something, and I need you to bear with me: this is a gorgeously queer book. I don’t mean that it has characters who love other characters of the same gender. For one thing? Hello, aliens. This isn’t Star Trek (much as I love it). We’re not just sticking lumpy face bits onto humans, giving them a single Big Different Thing, and then giving them almost exactly the same gender and family structures that we have. Instead, Chambers plays with gender, family and love.The aliens are relatable without being human- their minds and emotions may not work the same way that ours do, but the crew’s wanting the best for each other gets through.

No, this book is queer for two big reasons: because the way that each of the characters does love and family is as unique as they are, and the different ways in which its characters created familial bonds were all valued for what they were. Identity and gender are constructed differently by each species on board. What does gender matter if you lay eggs to be cared for by groups of elderly people? What does it mean if everyone starts off in one sex and then grows into another? Or if you’re a symbiote with something entirely alien? Chambers’ universe is one where these differences are taken for granted. No big deal. And when it comes to family? Sure, romance and sex are one way to create a bond. But you’re as likely to find unlikely brothers, sisters, mentors, parents, and friends as you are lovers, and all of these things matter. Not in an after-school special kind of way. In an ordinary, everyday way that feels far more true.

It’s also queer- oh so queer in sensibility- because it’s about life on the margins. Sure, most of us can’t relate to hanging out with feathered-lizard aliens and tearing open holes in the universe to pay the bills. But what about knowing that the ways we do love, family and identity aren’t in line with our home planets (er, cultures) and going ahead and doing it anyway? Knowing that you’re unlikely to change anything or to ever be remembered. But figuring that what really matters is finding connection and warmth here and now, working out how to do that while being as you as you can be, and going with that? That feels familiar.

This book is about chosen families, love, who we are, and creating warmth out there in the void. It has wonderfully realised alien characters- both from a split humanity, multiple species, and created intelligences.

And that one idea- that we leave where we come from (or hold on to it) and that out in the world we find our family- is queer as all get-out.

Oh, and it’s also fun. Really, really fun. SO FUN.


If you’re looking for something that’ll change the world, or subtle and intricate plots that’ll have you puzzling for days? This probably isn’t the book for you. 

However, if you’d like a heartwarming story about a diverse cast of larger-than-life characters having an awfully good time? Then you might just love this one. 

Me, I’m planning a second read of this for sometime I’ve had a really bad day. There’s gonna be a big mug of hot chocolate involved. Maybe even a blanket and a hot water bottle. And it’s gonna be great.

Also, I here she’s working on a companion book to it. Hurray!

Pop over to Chambers’ website for all sorts of places you can buy it, wherever you live.

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A book for a blanket fort: The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet

An Actual Resolution: No More White Men

New Year’s Resolutions always seem a bit hokey to me. If you want to do something, just do it, right? No need to wait until January for it. And definitely no need to commit to an entire year of something- knowing full well that you’ll last about a fortnight- when you haven’t even tried it yet.

Combine that with the fact that December/January tend to come with a hefty dose of jerkbrain for me (who loves SAD? Not fuckin’ me, that’s who. Anyone got a place they’re looking to sublet somewhere way, way further south for next winter?) and we’re not generally experiencing massive amounts of enthusiasm around these parts. Maybe if New Year happened a month or two from now, things would be different.

However! This year I actually have a thing. A real resolution. One which doesn’t involve going anywhere near a gym or missing a single delicious, refreshing, icy beer. Which, btw, is good because I might actually keep to this one.

And that is this: no white men.

It’s not what you think. Some Of My Best Friends are, in fact, white menz and I am very fond of them and shall continue to invite them around for tea and beers and netflixes. I’m not about to go live on a No White Menz Allowed island somewhere. For one thing, I live in Ireland and all my stuff is here and this place is full of ALL KINDS of white people and men and it would be majorly inconvenient to relocate just for the sake of a New Year’s resolution. (Might be fun, though..)

Nah, this resolution is specifically about fiction. Books, to be precise. Cause there’s a hell of a lot of amazing books being written, right? Far, far more than anyone could ever hope to read. This year I want to make a deliberate effort to read things that aren’t all written from the perspectives that dominate our culture. Hence: no white men.

With one exception. Paul Anthony Shortt writes damn good books that are super feminist that I want to read, damnit. Also being an RL friend of mine who let me use his washing machine just last month when mine was broken and I was almost out of socks doesn’t hurt.

So the edited version: No white men who didn’t let me wash my socks in their house. And my definition of “not white men” is one which is terribly generous and pretty much allows for the vast majority of arguments that let me get my greedy paws on good books.

I am very, very aware that the second I post this, all of my favourite white-men authors are going to announce something I really want to read. And I will. Just, next year.

So! To the actual purpose of this post: feed me recs, you lot! Who’re your favourite women/POC/non-western authors? What should I be putting on my 2015 No White Menz Allowed reading list? Let me know!

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An Actual Resolution: No More White Men

Oh, Jane (Austen): A love letter.

I woke up early on Sunday morning. I never wake up early if I can avoid it.

I woke up early, turned over in bed and spent the next two hours sitting wrapped up in my duvet, reading the last 1/3 or so of Pride and Prejudice. I’m tempted to go right back to the beginning and reread it again, in a way that I haven’t been with a book for a long time. Jane Austen is wonderful. It’s not just that she’s immensely clever, or that she builds a world you feel you could walk into any time. Lots of writers do that, and I love their books. When I’m finished their books, I miss their characters and worlds. But Austen? She doesn’t just do that. She does all of that and simultaneously leaves you feeling like the whole story has been narrated to you by your oldest friend. Like you’re the kind of friends who don’t see each other for months at a time, and when you do the two of you curl up on your comfiest sofa or armchairs with great big mugs of tea to catch up.

It was wonderful. Exceptional. I can see why she is so loved after centuries. I want to give a copy of P&P to every kid I know who’s just old enough to really love novels. And simultaneously I find myself despising the idea of P&P being set on a school syllabus.

That’s not a book to be dissected in a group for assignments. It’s a book that’s as cosy and intimate as it is witty and insightful. It’s a book to nurture a relationship with. To find joy in. To have a conversation with- scribble notes in the sidebar, exclamation marks and little written gasps of delight. To pass a dog-eared, well written-over copy along to a friend after years and share all of that joy of discovery. It’s a book to carry with you, to reread countless times and share with all of your past selves.

In a way, reading Pride & Prejudice is how I truly understood what it is to achieve immortality through writing. Austen is no more- she hasn’t existed for centuries. But while I’ve often closed a book and missed the characters, it’s rare to close a book and miss the author. To have such a wonderful sense of the voice behind it that it is that voice, more than the characters she creates, that you truly feel connected to. I was born hundreds of years after this woman died. But damn, do you get a taste of who she was. In a way, some essential part of this funny, clever, warm and deliciously biting woman survives her.

Falling in love with a 238 year old woman, eh? I’ve pined after some pretty inaccessible people before, but this might just be a whole new level. I’m certain I’m not alone, though.

But seriously- how magical is writing? I don’t mean that in any supernatural sense. I mean in the sense that in writing, we created a one-way time machine. We don’t just get to share information over vast swathes of time and space- although we do that, and it’s pretty damn cool. But more than that, we can meet people who lived centuries ago. We know who they were, who they loved, where they lived. Which is nice, but we also get to know what they were like. Whether they were the kind of people we’d pretend not to notice walking down the street, or someone we’d talk with for endless hours if they’d let us.

I’ve always found it difficult to imagine the reality of living in different times. A deficit of my own imagination, I guess. I know the past is real, but it feels cartoonish. Like an old video game, all clunky pixels and garish colours. I guess it’s because we often have to talk about the past in broad strokes- here are the buildings people lived in. There is a tool they used. Here is an outline of their social structures, and the names of some of the men in fancy hats with political power.

But Jane- I hope she wouldn’t mind if I call her Jane- does more than that. With a work of fiction she takes you past those brush strokes, leads you into her living room. She sits you down, pops the kettle on. You ask her how she’s been, and she smiles. You wouldn’t believe the story she has for you.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a stack of books to read.

(Although I am having a bit of trouble deciding which to go for next. Which do you think I should go for?)

If we weren't living in a magic digital future, this would have been a crime against humanity.
If we weren’t living in a magic digital future, this would have been a crime against humanity.


Oh, Jane (Austen): A love letter.