The exploration of space putting humanity under the microscope.
Genre: YA, Science Fiction, LGBT
No. of pages: 404
Follow a motley crew on an exciting journey through space—and one adventurous young explorer who discovers the meaning of family in the far reaches of the universe—in this light-hearted debut space opera from a rising sci-fi star.
Rosemary Harper doesn’t expect much when she joins the crew of the aging Wayfarer. While the patched-up ship has seen better days, it offers her a bed, a chance to explore the far-off corners of the galaxy, and most importantly, some distance from her past. An introspective young woman who learned early to keep to herself, she’s never met anyone remotely like the ship’s diverse crew, including Sissix, the exotic reptilian pilot, chatty engineers Kizzy and Jenks who keep the ship running, and Ashby, their noble captain.
Life aboard the Wayfarer is chaotic and crazy—exactly what Rosemary wants. It’s also about to get extremely dangerous when the crew is offered the job of a lifetime. Tunneling wormholes through space to a distant planet is definitely lucrative and will keep them comfortable for years. But risking her life wasn’t part of the plan. In the far reaches of deep space, the tiny Wayfarer crew will confront a host of unexpected mishaps and thrilling adventures that force them to depend on each other. To survive, Rosemary’s got to learn how to rely on this assortment of oddballs—an experience that teaches her about love and trust, and that having a family isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the universe.
Never have I read a novel where all of the characters are so fully realised! The depth, history, culture, politics, piled on top of interspecies interactions is a level beyond. I was flabbergasted and delighted. Such detail in sculpting out alien races, their physicality, and socio-cultural background was amazing. Adding their individual personalities on top of that – Becky Chambers is a Goddess.
The story line is simple – but this isn’t really a novel about the destination. It’s about the journey and how it shapes you. I fell in love with the crew of the spaceship Wayfarer. There is such a sense of family and belonging. This is such high quality sci-fi that has the reader not only looking upward to the stars, but also within to their humanity… or should I say sense of self given that only a small portion of the cast are actually human.
The relationships and friendships the crew form is also a symbolic narrative on interracial and same-sex relationships in society today. It was handled so brilliantly, I’m still a little gobsmacked and amazed at how Chambers crafted such an intricate novel of so many individuals working together from such disparate worlds. It was a thing of beauty.
One aspect of ‘The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet’ that played against a perfect score for me – and it may be because of all that detail, intermingling, and fully-realised characters – is that the pacing felt slow. I put this book down twice to read a number of other novels. I didn’t want to read it tired, or get despondent because the world of the Wayfarer is so interesting and colourful. But there were sometimes I just wish the story would’ve moved forward.
Rosemary, the newcomer to the crew. The much needed administrator provided a fresh perspective for the reader to initiate introduction to the alien species living on the Wayfarer as the ship is commissioned to build permanent wormholes across the universe. I loved her quiet and open observation, her introspection. And also how she contributed to the crew of the ship: being a paper-shuffler is often considered as a frivolous job, but Rosemary pulls her weight and gets the crew out of some scrapes. Her unique perspective even lends itself to a growing affection for alien crewmate Sissix which was truly incredible to read unfolding on the pages of ‘The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet.’
Other characters of note like navigator Ohan a dual ‘them/they’ identity, and Grum the chief and Doctor of the Wayfarer who’s lifespan starts off as female, develops male after their egg laying years are over, and ends up “wherever” after that. It really challenges human society’s views on gender, gender roles, and identity. The narrative tackles this with ease, and puts our existence into perspective – maybe leaving me feeling a little small.
There were a few plot twist that had me salivating and engaged, but were spread too far apart or built around the climax.
Chambers has a wonderful writing style, so descriptive yet innocent. I just wish the pacing was much better. I wanted the story to be 100 pages shorter without losing all the information we were given. Halfway through I didn’t think I was going to like this novel at all, but Chambers changed my mind with the sheer, practically tactile world, and the characters she builds.
As soon as I finished I jumped online and ordered the next book, ‘A Closed and Common Orbit,’ and pre-ordered book three, ‘Record of a Spaceborn Few.’
‘The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet’ is told in numerous perspectives, that of the crew, the A.I. on the Wayfarer, other alien races, and normally I don’t like a lot of ‘head jumping,’ but it totally worked. Each different perspective brought something new and developed the story even further.
I think I would have rated it lower if it wasn’t for the outstanding complexity of characters given I put the book down twice from a dragging pace. This is truly an interesting novel and I can’t wait to see what ‘A Closed and Common Orbit’ brings. I just hope Chambers has grown even more expertly as a novelist…
Overall feeling: Phenomenal!
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