The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet
Book One of the Wayfarers series
by Becky Chambers
Science Fiction | 519 Pages | Published by Hodder & Stoughton in 2015
November’s Sci-Fi Month Read Along at the end of 2015 turned out to be one of the highlights of my reading year. The Long Way to Small, Angry Planet is wonderful character driven space opera which impresses with its ready wit and skilfully developed cast. Chambers draws you into the brilliant, exhausting, exciting and often hectic life aboard the Wayfarer and keeps you hooked to the very end. With countless alien species, clashing cultures and incredibly strange customs, this light-hearted but utterly absorbing novel presents a universe I would wish to return to time and again, and with plans for another Wayfarers novel in the near(ish) future it looks like the prospect is entirely likely.
When Rosemary Harper joins the crew of the Wayfarer, she isn’t expecting much. The Wayfarer, a patched-up ship that’s seen better days, offers her everything she could possibly want: a small, quiet spot to call home for a while, adventure in far-off corners of the galaxy, and distance from her troubled past.
But Rosemary gets more than she bargained for with the Wayfarer. The crew is a mishmash of species and personalities, from Sissix, the friendly reptillian pilot, to Kizzy and Jenks, the constantly sparring engineers who keep the ship running. Life on board is chaotic, but more or less peaceful – exactly what Rosemary wants.
Until the crew are offered the job of a lifetime: the chance to build a hyperspace tunnel to a distant planet. They’ll earn enough money to live comfortably for years… if they survive the long trip through war-torn interstellar space without endangering any of the fragile alliances that keep the galaxy peaceful.
Rosemary Harper joins the mismatched and culturally diverse crew of the Wayfarer, a tunnelling ship which creates hyperspace links between areas of the universe, at the moment a job which sounds too good to be true lands itself on their doorstep. Tasked with creating a tunnel linking the Galactic Commons controlled area with the war-torn galactic core where the dangerous Toremi reside, the crew of the Wayfarer embark on a long, sprawling and dangerous journey across the galaxy – a galaxy which a multitude of weird and wonderful, friendly and darn-right dangerous species call home. This could mean gold, riches, glory, and a chance of a lifetime for the crew of the Wayfarer. But it could also mean death. One thing’s for certain though – life aboard the Wayfarer is about to get much more interesting.This is a novel which is driven by its characters, one which conjures an instant rapport with the crew and one which unyieldingly absorbs you into the lives of the protagonists. Every character is relevant, every single one unique and all are, without a doubt, fascinating. From Rosemary, Ashby to Sissix, to Kizzy, Jenks and Lovelace, every character has a wonderful back-story with a rich and vibrant history which make for instantly addictive reading. The cacophony of cultures aboard ship should be a recipe for chaos, but they all pull together and show what it means to be a family – albeit a very strange one – in a book where the characters provide an unending source of entertainment, enjoyment and thought-provoking dynamics.
Not only do the characters drive the plot of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, they also contribute heavily to the world – or universe – building. The diversity brought about by the myriad of species introduced throughout the novel, and their unique customs and traditions, bring a sense of vibrancy to the storyline and create a cultural backdrop which adds weight and depth to the universe whilst directly contributing to both character dynamics and their continual growth over the course of the narrative.
With the introduction of alien – and AI – species at every opportunity, this is a novel which touches on many human truths; what does it means to be different in our own world? What does it mean to be human? The Long Way to a Small, Angry planet weaves a complex universe which toys with sympathy and empathy whilst delighting in simultaneously fueling undeniable adoration and considerable dislike for the diverse range of characters throughout. This may be a light-hearted novel but it certainly doesn’t shy away from making you think and is all the better for it.
The development of humanity and the divisions created through history are at all times amusing whilst resonating with a sense of our own history. There is a wonderful contrast between the disharmony of human and alien history and how politics has shaped each of these races, with this clash of cultures providing the driving force behind the conflict throughout the novel. Alongside the strain of political relationships, the comradeship shown between distinctly different species aboard the Wayfarer, and their interactions with those they meet on their journey, creates a distinct picture of opposing civilisations and societies which adds a sense of realism – and a great deal of excitement – to the universe.
Whilst I would have preferred the ‘real’ introduction to the Toremi, the main threat of the novel, to have occurred much sooner in the narrative, and wish more time had been spent mapping out their personal and political motivations, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet remains a wonderful science fiction adventure which is at all times exciting, retains its sense of humour throughout, and leaves you with some thought-provoking questions. Becky Chambers’ obvious skill as an author is showcased by her effortlessly engaging writing, her wonderful character development and a truly absorbing storyline. This really is a book that everyone should read.
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is an extremely enjoyable read which I would have been happy to read in weekly instalments for an entire year. The character dynamics and relationships aboard the Wayfarer make for a uniquely absorbing read which should appeal to a wide audience of science fiction newbies and veterans alike. I await the next Wayfarers novel with great anticipation!