– by Brey Willows
Brey Willows‘ latest outing, “Changing Course,” was her first attempt at telling a story in the sci-fi (space) genre. First off, I was intrigued by the title itself because I had an inkling that it may be a thematic and symbolic term to use for various characters and/or objects/places featured in the story. Let’s just say that by the end of the book, I was not wrong!
In essence, it was about conditioning. Are we capable of changing course amidst all obstacles and impossibilities presented to us? Social norms vs “there is no fate but what we make.” Yup, if you think the quote is familiar, it IS. It’s a famous one from one of the classic sci-fi/post-apocalyptic films (for me, at least!), “Terminator: Judgement Day.” Reading about Willows’ carefully crafted characters from various different socio-economic, cultural backgrounds, main or secondary characters, alike, I immediately thought of the quote because what is social norm, really, but a form of conditioning that the society/TPTB puts on us within the matrix? Does it mean we’re fated to live in this realm of predetermined set of rules? Is there no way out? Do we call it fate? Can we change it? And then there was fear of the unknown. Fear is also another form of conditioning…if you think about it. It’s a powerful controlling tool to prevent one from deviating from the “norm.” Obviously, fear can be defeated but it takes a lot of confidence, strength, and determination to overcome it. Hence, if you look at the world we live in today, there’s so much fear and not enough strength, determination and confidence around to neutralise it. So, are we motivated by predestined fate and/or conditioning when it comes to what lies ahead in our future? Or are we inevitably attuned to changes, be it experienced/observed directly or indirectly?
Anyway, this story, on the surface, had the rich girl/poor girl trope; poor girl rescued/saved rich girl, fell in love, angst, happy ending. But delved into it deeper, you’d find that Willows wanted to highlight not just the fact that Jessa was a rich girl whereas Kylin was a poor girl, but the impact and implications of their class differences in the contexts of social, economic, culture, race, geography and geopolitics. How they interacted with each other and with different groups, their attitudes, were also subversively underscored as part of conditioning. Survival of the fittest aka social Darwinism – natural phenomenon? The development and changes observed from these characters and their circumstances, relationships, throughout the story were fascinating to see the social metamorphosis from social Darwinism (even neo-Darwinism for that matter) to more of a Weberian selection in the end.
*Disclaimer: Pardon my bollocks about these philosophical observations. Everything stated here is based on my own interpretation. Perhaps nobody reads it that way. Just me.
Jessa, the Captain of her ship, who came from wealth, from a culture/race that didn’t encourage too much human emotions. She was stoic, naive, been living in a bubble, sheltered. Whereas Kylin, on the other hand, was the polar opposite of Jessa in terms of her economic and social background, being a scrounger, essentially a scavenger, it was obvious that she came from a desolate place where people struggled to survive. So, the dichotomy established between Jessa who grew up with literally everything she’d ever wanted, wealth and security, and Kylin who grew up in the world of bleakness, having had absolutely nothing except hardship and loss all her life, surviving only by the wits about her. So when these two met and clashed because of class differences, misconceptions, prejudice, and conditioning, it was a thrill for me to explore how these two could reconcile their differences, as their relationship from saviour/saved grew at each stage of their development to eventually friends and possibly something more. Or, was it too high a price for either one of them to change course in their lives? That’s where Willows’ weaving of the social conditioning, fate, fear into the situations and different people these two would encounter throughout their adventures, worked to effect. And then there was the subject of love. Could love be the answer to all differences? Could love be their truth and reconciliation? Well, read and find out!
Maybe I’m the oddball here but I was more intrigued and thrilled to explore the stories of the secondary characters, namely Asol, the former slave turned dock worker turned Kylin’s confidant who later became someone with status, stature and a bright future. I loved her spunky attitude, not to mention, her charming, witty, tomboyish persona! I enjoyed her chemistry with Kylin which I thought Willows developed ever-so effortlessly because I caught that natural, organic kinship between these two women from the start. The other two secondaries whom I thought was intriguing to learn more about were Liselle and Sherta, the couple whom Kylin and Jessa met in their travels, who turned out to become part of their “family unit” in the end. How Willow introduced them and expanded a little bit of their back story really piqued my interest. It’d be interesting to see if she’d consider giving them their own little spin-off in the future… I think for their characters, the romance would be more viscerally affecting and engaging. Well, that’s based on my own interpretation, obvs!
Yet another intriguing world-building from Willows, I must say, which is one of her innate skills. If you read any of her books, you’ll agree. I enjoyed every place that Willows introduced without it being described too much because imo, none of the situations really call for it, so the macro-description was ideal. For me, as someone who prefers to imagine the possibilities based on my own interpretation, I was gratified that Willows’ descriptions left open a lot of possibilities for me to fill in my mind. Although, I did appreciate the visually descriptive fight scene between Kylin and her lethal opponent toward the end and also the mythical place called Volare, which I was intrigued by from the start. I love places, people, systems, or beliefs that may be real or just a myth because then its all up to interpretation and what you believe in, innit?
As for the romance angle, don’t get me wrong, I do love me some romance in any lesfic genre but in this story, I was so engrossed in the adventures, but in particular, the exploration of the refreshingly described locales with richly diverse socio-economic, cultural, racial identities and how they merged/mixed together or set themselves apart that really tickled my philosophical intrigue in those contexts, that I thought the romance between Kylin and Jenna “got in the way” a little bit for me. I thought there was a bit too much crying going on especially with Jenna because I thought her race/culture didn’t harness a lot of emotions so I was a bit put off when she kept crying at every turn. Also, I kept thinking, she was the bloody captain, ffs! Why did she have to cry at every turn?! Not to say that people in strong, powerful positions shouldn’t shed tears or anything. It’s just…. Nevertheless, I was a bit befuddled. Hmm… most prolly it’s just me. I couldn’t grasp the motivation and I wasn’t expecting it. Besides, I was more interested in exploring more of the social interactions amongst different groups of people that these two encountered in their adventures as they navigated their way back to Jenna’s world where Kylin could finally deliver her in one piece, safe and sound. Perhaps that’s the reason because I wasn’t in the “emo-rom” state of mind, so to speak. That said, I think, for those who love romance in any situation would prolly gravitate toward Jenna’s changing behaviour in the emotional level when her relationship with Kylin deepened.
But the crux of the story for me is back to the symbolism of the title, “Changing Course.” Besides the obvious meaning of it – Jenna’s ship crash led her to change course when she had to rely on a scrounger, Kylin, to take her back home through a series of adventures in space – I thought it was more about changing course in the sense of conditioning and moving away from it for several characters as relationships were struck, prejudice, preconceived notions were broken down, new perspectives established, seemingly predestined fate overcome when fear was conquered. Changing course in the context of social philosophy. Jenna, Kylin, Asol, the mythical people of Volare – all had their course set, determined, planned out, but circumstances led them to “change course,” for better or worse….well, that’s in the eye of the beholder, innit? But, have no fear! Willows doesn’t make a habit of writing dark, psychological stories, so… no need to spell it out here where the tide turned by the end of the book, is there?
All in all, I enjoyed exploring Willows’ creative mind, this time, via a refreshing sci-fi world-building effort wrapped around a philosophically intriguing story. I always love Willows writing. Regardless of the genres or nature of the stories, her brilliant writing, visual storytelling style are always retained with the same quality and fervour. I love that she’s always interested in delving into social philosophies in different social, economical, cultural and spiritual settings and conditioning as they pertain to human behaviour. You can detect that in all of her stories….well, at least for me, anyway, which is why I’m always intrigued by how she incorporates different themes into her stories.
Yes, I’d recommend this book to all fans of sci-fi and romance. I thought Willows crafted a well-written, slow-burn love story between two women from different worlds and class (even though that wasn’t the focus of my interest in this story but that’s just me, mind!). It sure was a thrill to explore Jenna and Kylin’s adventures in space getting entangled with different groups of people in different socio-economic, cultural worlds, the contemplatively subversive social commentary, and the captivating characters Willows seems to be able to juggle effectively in whatever story she tells.
**I was given, with much thanks and appreciation, an ARC of this book, by the author and BSB, in return for an honest review.
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