The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
Published: Harper Voyager (2016), Self-published (2014)
Series: Book 1 of the Wayfarers
Awards Nominated: Arthur C. Clarke Award & Kitchies: Golden Tentacle Award
“Somewhere within our crowded sky, a crew of wormhole builders hops from planet to planet, on their way to the job of a lifetime. To the galaxy at large, humanity is a minor species, and one patched-up construction vessel is a mere speck on the starchart. This is an everyday sort of ship, just trying to get from here to there. But all voyages leave their mark, and even the most ordinary of people have stories worth telling.
A young Martian woman, hoping the vastness of space will put some distance between herself and the life she's left behind. An alien pilot, navigating life without her own kind. A pacifist captain, awaiting the return of a loved one at war. Set against a backdrop of curious cultures and distant worlds, this episodic tale weaves together the adventures of nine eclectic characters, each on a journey of their own.” ~WWEnd.com
I’d heard a lot of positive buzz about this series on the internet, so I decided to check it out. I love space opera in general, so it was a pretty easy sell for me. I’m planning to read A Closed and Common Orbit sometime soon!
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet does not follow the traditional format of a novel. Instead, it is more like a television show (e.g., Star Trek, Firefly, Dark Matter ), following episodic adventures that slowly reveal the histories and personalities of the Wayfarer crew. This approach works for me, both because I generally love these kinds of stories and because the setting and characters of the novel are so interesting. The Wayfarer has a majority human crew, but humans are a relatively minor species in the galactic community. I liked how humanity was not in charge or extremely special, but just one of many peoples. It was neat seeing how the human and alien crew members compromised to create a space to live and work together, whether that involved learning new ways to communicate or handling less than optimal climate control. Each of them comes from a different background, but they find a way to make the Wayfarer a home.
Since this is more of an episodic/slice-of-life kind of story, there’s not all that much of an overarching plot. There is the job that initially sets them off on a longer voyage than usual, but the story doesn’t really build up to a climax. Instead, the culmination of that story feels like another episode. However, as in many things, it’s not the destination that matters here, but the journey. As the crew of the Wayfarer stop at different communities and interact with different aliens, the focus shifts from crew member to crew member. By the end of the novel, I felt like I knew and appreciated each of them. As is important for a slice-of-life story, it was always a pleasant world to drop back into, just to see what would happen next in their journey.
Another thing that I enjoyed about this novel was the group dynamics and optimistic atmosphere. I enjoy stories about groups of people that work together and complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Each of the crew is competent at their jobs, and they rely on their skills to face each problem that they meet along the way. They’re also a close-knit group, and I enjoyed seeing the peace of the community that they created on their ship. They are not merely doing a job together, they are helping to build lives of meaning and purpose for themselves and each other. They face some very sad events along the way, but it does not overwhelm the story. These are still people who can accomplish their goals, and who look forward to a brighter future together.
My Rating: 4/5
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is an entertaining slice-of-life space opera about the crew of a ship called the Wayfarer. Reminiscent of Firefly and other sci-fi tv shows, the novel introduces details about the main cast through episodic stories. The journey to the small, angry planet is really the focus, not what will happen once they arrive. There is not a lot of tension, but the compelling human and alien characters, as well as the interesting universe full of alien cultures, make the story compulsively readable. I’m looking forward to reading A Closed and Common Orbit, Becky Chambers’s next book in this universe!