Not long ago, I went to my local indie bookstore and said, “I’m looking for a science fiction novel that is fun, space opera-y, that focuses on relationships between people and possibly even kind of queer.” The bookseller’s face lit up, and she immediately pulled down a couple books from the shelf, one being Becky Chambers’s The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet. Of course, when I saw the book, I was like, DUH! Becky Chambers! In my defense, I’ve been in grad school the past couple years and so yes, I’m a bit behind with my reading.
The back cover description seems fun, yes, but the actual book is all of that and more. The premise is that a new crew member comes on board a ship where there is already a close-knit team of folks—in this case, humans, aliens, and an AI. Yet the story doesn’t fall into the cliche of “newbie” stories. Rosemary, while definitely a focus of the story, is part of her team, and readers get to know everyone on board. She has a backstory that is revealed as the story goes on, but it is woven into the tale of the entire crew of the Wayfarer. Each character has some point-of-view time, and we get to know and care about them all (yes, even Corbin).
The story itself is a slow-burner, but it does burn. It’s a feel-good story where there is some drama, and I even shed some tears near the end, but if you are looking for a fast-paced action-packed page turner, this might not be it for you. There is definitely action, but everything seems to serve the story between the members of the crew of the ship. I found it a great mix of character and plot.
The world of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, which is basically the ship and then the outside political world, is well-developed but only insofar as it serves the story. This is no Dune—thank goodness. The development of the setting is deep enough to make for a great story. There are details on how the ship works, some of the different worlds the crew of the Wayfarer visit, and, most interesting of all, the different people other than Humans that populate the story. Chambers details the societies and customs of non-Human people in such a way that they become real and visual, with conflicts and connections that one would imagine actually happening. They are simultaneously alien and familiar, and altogether relatable. All of this is woven into a very readable story. I never felt bogged down with details.
Once I finished this book, I immediately ordered the next. I can’t remember the last time I read a book and just loved every character, even (especially?) the ones who are, well, complicated. Even though this book has a satisfying ending, it never feels sappy or contrived. Everything, even the happy ending, has its complications. To be honest, I felt a little sad finishing this book, because the other three books in the series don’t overlap very much as far as characters go. I felt like I was saying goodbye to friends that I wanted to learn a lot more about.
If you find yourself missing Firefly, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet might fill that gap. I can’t wait to explore more of Becky Chambers’s work!
About this book:
The acclaimed modern science fiction masterpiece, Hugo Award winner for Best Series!
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.
About the author:
Becky Chambers was raised in California as the progeny of an astrobiology educator, an aerospace engineer, and an Apollo-era rocket scientist. Her first novel, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, was originally funded via Kickstarter in 2012. Her books have been nominated for the Kitschies Award, the Hugo Award, the Locus Award, the Arthus C. Clarke Award and the Women’s Prize for Fiction, among others, and won the Prix Julia Verlanger.
After living in Scotland and Iceland, Becky is now back in her home state, where she lives with her spouse. She is a devotee of video and tabletop games, and enjoys spending time in nature. She hopes to see Earth from orbit one day.