The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton, 2015
My Rating: 4/5
Synopsis: 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.
But Rosemary isn’t the only person on board with secrets to hide, and the crew will soon discover that space may be vast, but spaceships are very small indeed.
I had high hopes for this book, especially after it was nominated for the The Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction. To be honest, I was surprised to see a space opera get nominated. Normally these kinds of books are only nominated for niche sci-fi awards. But sci-fi seems to be making a comeback what with the Star Trek and Star Wars reboots, and the undeniable success of the Marvel universe, especially Guardians of the Galaxy. And that’s all good with me; I love a bit of sci-fi.
Yet this book… I have mixed feelings. I gave it 4/5 because I really did enjoy it. The writing was witty and flowed well, the characters likeable and intriguing, and some of the moral messages were particularly profound. However, it was a little daunting to get into at first. Space opera always is for me. All these aliens are popping up and being described and I have to try and imagine them all in my head. It’s a sensory overload. I found it was all a bit too much at the beginning. This made the pacing a bit laborious and I struggled to really get into it at first.
Also, the novel read like an old-fashioned serial, like the way in which Dickens published Great Expectations weekly, as did many other novelists at the time. This meant that each chapter often read as somewhat stand-alone. In modern day terms, it would be like publishing something weekly on Wattpad. As a result, the main plot line got a bit lost. It was like reading a TV series with adventures that don’t really support the plot, they’re just there to entertain. I know that Chambers did self-publish this novel, but I’m not sure if it was serialised. Anyway, for me it just made the plot a little stagnant at times.
However, this was often more than made up for by the myriad of characters. The main crew of the Wayfarer is as follows:
- Rosemary Harper, the new clerk, young and impressionable with a past she wants to keep hidden
- Ashby Santoso, the captain, undertaking an illicit relationship with a woman of alien species
- Sissix, the reptilian ‘Aandrisk’ pilot, confident and very affectionate
- Kizzy, one of the techs, hyperactive and child-like, but by no means innocent
- Jenks, the other tech, a sarcastic, fiery dwarf who’s in love with the ship’s AI
- Dr Chef, (one of my favourite characters), a ‘Grum’ who is the doctor and chef, hence the name; very wise and loveable
- Corbin, the grumpy and somewhat rude algaeist who no one really likes
- Ohan, the navigator, of an ape-like species who are infected with a virus known as the ‘Whisperer’ which allows them to see the fabric of space and time itself
- Lovey, the friendly and mischievous AI
The characters are all very unique and quirky. I really liked Dr Chef and Sissix, but the blurb makes you think that Rosemary is going to be the protagonist. In reality, Chambers utilises the POVs of all characters. I actually found Rosemary to be an almost peripheral character. She was kind and a little innocent, but she didn’t really stand out for me. I’m not sure if this was meant to happen or if Rosemary was supposed to be the main character. However, this didn’t detract from the novel for me.
At the moment, it just seems like I’m really ripping into this book, but I did honestly enjoy it! It was a lot of fun, with really interesting world-building and unique alien species. Once I’d got past the fact that it was going to read like a serial, I was immersed in the different sub-plots of the characters.
Chambers also makes some really good points about humanity and its downfalls. In the novel, humans are not an important species. They are marginal at best, fleeing a dead Earth, only recently granted recognition by the galaxy’s council. I found this quite interesting. Humans believe themselves to be so important when, in reality, we’re most probably a hugely under-developed species in comparison to other alien lifeforms. (Yes, I like to think there are aliens out there somewhere. The universe is too big for there not to be).
So, in all honesty, I did enjoy this novel. Like I said, the plotting and pacing wasn’t something that I’m used to, but it doesn’t detract from the quirky and loveable characters, or the immersive world-building. I’d say if you’re a newbie to space opera, this is a good place to start. And even if you’re a veteran, it’s a refreshing addition to the genre.
Have you read this novel? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below! Thanks for reading!