The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, by Becky Chambers
Posted August 25, 2016on:
published in 2016
where I got it: purchased new
Remember the movie Titan A.E.? Mash that up with four parts Firefly and one part Station Eleven, make it a little more lighthearted, and you’ll have something approximating The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet.
The captain and crew of the Wayfarer doesn’t care much about Rosemary’s past. All they care about is that she’s a discreet and qualified clerk and that she understands shipboard safety. All Rosemary cares about is getting as far away from Sol system as possible. The Wayfarer is tunneling ship – they tunnel wormholes the slow and hard way so a permanent wormhole tunnel can be used for interstellar travel. It’s hard boring work, but it pays well and if you know what you’re doing it’s not dangerous. Well, not too dangerous.
Like the TV show Firefly, it’s the crew and characters that makes this story shine. Among the crew, we’ve got hyper-chipper stoner engineers, polyamorous reptiles, a doctor from a dying race, a cranky algae tech, an overly polite AI, and a captain who’s got to keep the ship running and his crew fed. Beyond the ship are space pirates, black markets, arms dealers, and every opportunity to get a fresh start in life.
My favorite characters by far were Sissix and Dr. Chef. This isn’t a human dominated galaxy, but it’s a human ship, and Sissix and Dr. Chef are the literal fish out of water. Sissix is of a reptilian race, and her people are are very touchy feely, very open about sexuality, and polyamorous. If she’s going to be accepted on a human ship, she’s got to dampen down everything about herself. Why would anyone from her homeworld torture themselves like that? Dr. Chef’s actual name is completely unpronounceable, and the infant human race is a constant source of entertainment for him. His race literally destroyed itself, they are a cautionary tale. Dr. Chef seriously needs his own book, I loved him!
I found the first half of the book to be enjoyable, if a little on the slow side. Rosemary gets to know her crewmates, she finally fesses up to what caused her to run away from home, and Kizzy provides comedy relief by being, well, Kizzy. I guess that’s life aboard a ship – it can’t be crazy action every day, now can it? Just past the halfway point, the plot goes into overdrive, and the pace and action ramps up right until the end. I know this book is getting rave reviews (yay!), but right when the plot starts getting going is when it also got rather predictable for me. Rosemary proves she’s worth her weight in fuel in a tense situation, two characters who can’t stand each other end up saving each other’s lives, one of the shipboard romances ends happily and other one ends tragically. When the Wayfarer gets to the core, and meets up with some very strange aliens, Rosemary sees something she recognizes. Was it a fun book? Yes. Do I wish there was more there there? Yes.
I’m always pushing science fiction books on my friends and family. I love something, so I want them to love it too. And more often than not, my friends will very politely give the book back to me and say “sorry, it just wasn’t for me. Too weird”. Well, I think I found the perfect book to give them as a gateway into space opera. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet doesn’t have much in the way of hard science “I don’t know, it just works”, is generally how the gizmos on the ship are explained, nearly everyone speaks the same language, and more importantly, this is a novel about the relationships between people. And everyone likes stories about people, right?
A while back, someone i follow on twitter posted something along the lines of “what is the point of telling stories?” and I responded with something like “stories tell us how to be human”. Yes, stories do that. But it’s really the relationships within the stories that show us how to be human. And that’s the glowing gem in this novel – the relationships, the interdependence, and the empathy between the characters. You don’t have to like someone to do right by them, and if you happen to like them, well then, you want to make their life a little less miserable if you can.
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet was an enjoyable and satisfying book to read. If you’re looking for an easy to read adventure story with great characters, this book will scratch that itch. And if you’re the kind of reader who reads between the lines? Plotting issues aside, even you will find plenty to chew on here as well.