Title: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet
Author: Becky Chambers
Genre: Fiction, science fiction
Where I got the book: I purchased this book through Bokkilden.
My rating: ★★★★★
Summary: The Wayfarer is a patched-up construction vessel, one of the many tunneling ships that help build the wormhole network used for interstellar transport. Aboard is a small, multi-species crew – they don’t all get along but they are used to living with each other, much like a family is. The ship is on a long haul to take on a lucrative job, which is to create a passageway to the planet Hedra Ka. The new clerk, Rosemary Harper, is secretly running away from her problems on Mars, but as she gradually becomes a part of the ship’s “family”, it becomes clear that she isn’t the only one with secrets.
“Every sapient species has a long, messy history of powers that rise and fall. The people we remember are the ones who decided how our maps should be drawn. Nobody remembers who built the roads.”
– The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, Becky Chambers
If you’re looking for a fast-paced, plot-driven sci-fi with lots of action this isn’t the book for you. I can easily see that some might find themselves on the other end of enthusiastic and be bored by this. However, if you are interested in reading an unusual and different science fiction novel, a feel-good novel that is quirky, witty, emotional, and intelligent, a novel that focuses on interpersonal (and inter-species) relationships and character development set in space – well, then you should definitely give this a chance.
The book does have a plot, but it is largely a character-driven story. The book offers multiple viewpoints, which isn’t usually my favorite kind of book to read, but these are characters that are so very charming and easy to fall in love with. Each character has been written with love and care: their backgrounds are great and elaborate, each of them has their own individual personality and you get to see some great development along the way.
Great effort has also been put into the world-building. In addition to strange new planets we are also introduced to a wide variety of different species. This is a world where humans are in the minority and they’re not in any way a dominating species. As for the aliens, I’m very pleased to say that they’re rarely described as your average humanoid-looking creature. The universe is endless and so are the types of species inhabiting it; you get everything, including reptile-looking aliens, strange furry creatures, and blob-like entities. We also get to learn about the different species’ culture, history, and society, in a way that’s interesting and not overwhelming. I’m even more pleased to say that for some aliens the gender binary is disregarded. I think this is the first time I’ve read a book where xe/they pronouns are actually used. Some aliens also don’t stick to one gender; they are born one gender and then change throughout life, which is a natural thing for them. To top all this off, not everyone’s straight and inter-species relationships happen. Everything is described with what I feel is a sort of respectful informality; it’s just the way things are and that’s that. In addition to this, issues like racism and prejudice are also dealt with.
Since the world-building is so elaborate there is naturally a lot of information to take in. I didn’t find this to be a problem because I didn’t experience it as a ton of information being dumped on me all at once. Sure, there are some technical, SF-tropey stuff that can come off as a bit complicated, but big pieces of information are usually given through a character’s observations or through dialogue. It doesn’t feel overly descriptive and it’s worked into the story in a seamless way, both the information that is directly relevant to the plot and the fun-fact bits.
Another thing that I really loved are the strong female characters. You have a kickass pilot, a clerk who’s intelligent and level-headed, a mechanic who’s a brave little ray of sunshine, and a love interest who’s a badass captain and warrior – and they’re all women. They are all central characters and none of them are written in a way that belittles or puts other female characters in a negative light.
Overall this is a well-written, well-developed, and engaging heartwarming sci-fi novel. Even if it isn’t necessarily chock-full of action I found it to be a page-turner that quickly reeled me in. The book has a lot of heart, you end up genuinely caring for and sympathizing with and relating to these characters. On the journey that is this book, you might easily find yourself caring for the Wayfarer-crew as if they were your friends, and maybe even family.
This is so far my favorite February-read, and it will most likely also remain one of my top favorites by the end of the year. It was not what I expected it to be at all but I’m so glad that it wasn’t! There is a sequel, “A Closed and Common Orbit”, in what’s so far looking to be a trilogy, and I will definitely check it out!