Oct 11, 2018

 

Book Review - The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, Wayfarers #1 (by Becky Chambers)

Title: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet
Series: Wayfarers (book #1)
Author: Becky Chambers
Genre: Science Fiction, Space Opera
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Release Date: August 13th, 2015 (first published July 29th, 2014) 
Format: Hardcover
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."

(click to read an excerpt on Tor.com)

- Review -
What Made Me Read It
They had me at spaceship with a mixed-species crew whose job is to create wormholes in space to travel between distant planets.

The Plot
Ashby Santoso is the captain of the Wayfarer, a worn out tunneling ship patched together from second-hand spare parts, and leader of an eclectic mixed-species crew, whose job is to create wormholes between distant planets in the GC (Galactic Commons), a political and trade association of planets.

After using all her savings to change her identity, Rosemary Harper joins the rag tag crew of the Wayfarer as a clerk, to run away from her past and her life on Mars.

When the Toremi apply for membership into the GC, the Wayfarer is chosen to open the first wormhole tunnel to their home system of Hedra Ka. Captain Ashby gets the most lucrative contract of his life, which promises to provide bigger wages to the crew and much needed upgrades to the ship's equipment that will allow them to take on higher paying future contracts. But the job will take a year to complete, traveling to a far and potentially dangerous area of space.

The Good
"The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet"  is an insightful, vividly imaginative, highly diverse and deeply emotional space-opera. It's also and primarily a character-driven novel. It's not filled with action and plot twists, there's no mystery or concealed secrets to unravel. It's mainly the story of nine characters that live together in close quarters, on their year-long journey to get a dangerous job done. The main focus is on the crew, their personal stories, their relationships with each other, how they interact and deal with their differences and personalities, how they form a family.

There is conflict (space pirates, political conspiracies, interstellar wars...) but it's slight and resolves itself pretty quickly, making "The Long Way..." a cozy read focused on world-building and character development instead. The story is slow paced with an episodic narrative in which the chapters read almost like self-contained stories. Each sub-plot is designed to allow us to learn about the characters, their stories and motivations, and to connect with them.

The world building is incredibly complex and highly detailed. The author created a plethora of different alien species, each one distinct in its own physiology, language, behavior, culture, religion, political and social structure. Each member of the Wayfarer crew is well developed, with its own unique, consistent and easily-identifiable voice, personality, strengths and weaknesses. Captain Ashby - diligent and pacifistic, in a secret relationship with a member of another species; Sissix - a sassy and affectionate Andrisk reptilian pilot with complex family connections; Dr. Chef - the 6 hand-foot Grum chef and doctor with a caring and nurturing nature; Jenks - the computer tech who is in love with the sentient AI that runs the ship; Kizzy - the sex and snacks obsessed mech tech; Rosemary - the newbie, a clerk from Mars trying to escape from her past; Corbin - a grumpy old algaeist; Ohan - the ship's navigator, a symbiotic Saianat Pair, capable of plotting out the curves of space-time; Lovelace - the lovable ship's AI, also known as Lovey. Once you become invested in the characters the lack of a complex plot structure ceases to be an issue.

"The Long Way..." is an easy and comfort read but in no way a shallow book. It tackles a wide range of themes: cultural and racial diversity, sexual orientation, unconventional relationships, religion, AI sentience... it's a story about cultural identity, interplanetary politics, family and belonging, acceptance and tolerance, embracing and celebrating differences. It makes you think but in a way that flows with the story and feels natural to the characters. It's a feel good novel similar in tone to the early Star Trek shows and Firefly, with an optimistic and bright view of the future and the universe.

Final Rating
"The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet" is a light, touching and thought provoking space opera. Recommended for those who enjoy character driven stories and adventures in space with diverse alien cultures.


About the Author (interviews)
Next in the series: A Closed and Common Orbit, Wayfarers #2 (book review)
Next in the series: Record of a Spaceborn Few, Wayfarers #3 (book review)


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