Are you a science fiction fan? Or are you someone who has a kind of stereotyped idea of science fiction based on popular movies (the Star Trek movies, the Star Wars series and the like) and who has decided you really don’t care for science fiction as a result? Whichever you are, you’re likely to enjoy A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers, a new science fiction book here at the Field Library. If you had to characterize it, you’d probably put it in the category of “space opera”, the sort of science fiction that takes place on a ship with a community of beings working together for a common goal (“to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before”, to quote a famous series), but with some wonderful twists and turns. To begin with, most of the characters are not human, and those who are human are not stereotypes of white American/western European people. There are beings from different planets, with different genders and completely different kinds of relationships, and they’re treated as ordinary (or at least no weirder than the human beings). The ship in question is tunneling through wormholes to a distant planet, a trip that might set all the characters up for life, financially, or it might destroy them all. There are plot twists and turns, tight escapes, dangers the diverse and fascinating crew have to face, and through it all we have our main character, a Martian clerk named Rosemary who’s joined the ship to see the universe and get away from her past, and her becoming a part of this unusual and quirky crew in this well-developed universe.
And while we’re on the subject of young women from Mars, why not check out Arabella of Mars, the first book in a new series by David Levine? This one is a sort of alternate history science fiction, with steampunk style and a sort of Wild West attitude toward proper behavior. In this universe, space exploration began in the late 1700’s, and by the 1800’s there is a thriving English colony on Mars, where our protagonist, Arabella, is growing up. She’s happy to be living on her family’s plantation on Mars, working with her father’s automata, chasing her brother across the Martian landscape with her nanny, but her mother is concerned that she will never turn into a proper lady that way, so Arabella is sent to the most exotic location she could imagine: London, England, on planet earth. Between the much stronger gravity of the planet and the much more stifling expectations for young women in Regency era England, Arabella is not a happy camper. When her father dies unexpectedly and she uncovers a plot against her brother’s life, Arabella ditches her attempts at English Lady propriety, disguises herself as a boy, gets a job on a commercial ship serving the Mars Trading Company. There her skill with clockwork (the steampunk side of the book) brings her to the attention of the mysterious Indian captain of the ship. Her adventures on board ship, like so many other aspects of her story, bring to mind actual historical events and experiences (the British colonial experience in India, for instance, or the sea wars of the Napoleonic era) but set in a universe just different enough that these more familiar historical events take on a new perspective. While this is the first book in a series (and I’m very glad the author and publisher have made this clear; as I’ve already said many times, it drives me crazy to read through a book and only discover at the end that it’s not a stand-alone but part of a series and therefore doesn’t come to a conclusion), it can be read on its own for the fun of it.