The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet
by Becky Chambers
Ashby Santoso is the owner and captain of a space-boring ship, he's the contractor folks call when they need a wormhole drilled.
Ashby is a human, a minor race recently admitted to the Galactic Commons (GC). His crew is a melange of species that make up the GC. Their latest, very lucrative contract: a long normal-space haul to the distant Toremi territory to bore a wormhole back. But not all the Toremi are in favor of this new alliance and space, particularly out in the sticks, can sometimes be deadly.
Angry Planet is a character-driven story about an ordinary, likable crew doing an ordinary, yet kind of thrilling spacer job. The depictions of different species, their viewpoints, and how they manage to get along and function together is very well drawn; Chambers is an excellent writer, delightful to read. The story is quite human-centric, and so we get a skewed view of this Galactic Commons, in which the human species is but a minor player, but this is a small quibble.
Thoroughly enjoyable and highly recommended! 4 out of 5 stars.
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The Diary of an Immortal
by David J. Costello
A medic involved in the liberation of Dachau concentration camp discovers a cache of pills with the astonishing claim that, taken daily, they will confer immortality.
Steven begins taking pills as a panacea to the brutal reality of war and the camps.
From Germany to New York to to China and Tibet, Diary of an Immortal takes us on a greatest-hits tour of many of the major historical happening post WW2, as the protagonist seeks first the truth behind the immortality formula and its origin, and then to stop the forces that seek to use it to unleash another evil messiah unto the world.
Early on the novel asks "How does it change one's perspective and reality to become immortal?" and a connection between music and extra-sensory states of awareness is postulated, but these fertile novelistic questions are soon abandoned for what is essentially a cops-n-robbers tale with an overlay of eastern mysticism.
The author is a talented writer and the storytelling compelling enough, but I was disappointed by the theme tease: 3 out of 5 stars.
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The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino
In an act of rebellion the son and heir of an 18th century Italian nobleman climbs into the trees of his family's estate and refuses to come back down. Thus opens Italo Calvino's The Baron in the Trees.
Aided by his brother Biagio who narrates the novel, Cosimo spends the rest of his life off-ground. He scouts arboreal routes throughout the surrounding countryside, interacts with townspeople, befriends a brigand, adopts a dog, fights pirates, becomes baron himself, has love affairs, reads widely, finds and loses the love of his life...
It is the time of Voltaire and Rousseau, the age of enlightenment, and Cosimo is enthralled with the new ideas of equality, fraternity, liberty and reason. These emergent ideals, as it turns out, are unequal to transforming human nature and society, but Cosimo has been changed, and throughout his life, and death, he defies convention and remains that rarest of birds, an individual. ("'I too,' replied Cosimo, 'have lived many years for ideals which I would never be able to explain to myself; but I do something entirely good. I live on trees.'")
Fantastical and yet mundane (after all, a life is a life, full of the usual ups and downs, even when that life is lived in the trees!), Baron is a celebration of the individual in the sense we think of that, as sovereign of one's own life.
Although very different in style, in Italo Calvino and Jody Scott, born the same year, I detect a similar moral compass, for Baron is morality tale (as perhaps all fairytales are), but one that can also be read and enjoyed just for its sheer quixotic whimsy. Highly recommended.
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