The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet
By: Becky Chambers
Genre: Science Fiction
First published in 2014
When Rosemary Harper joins the crew of the Wayfarer, she isn’t expecting much. The 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. The crew is a mishmash of species and personalities, from Sissix, the friendly reptilian 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.
Before I started reading this book, I knew so many people who absolutely loved it. Sadly I have to say that while I liked it, I didn’t fall in love. This is going to be a long review, so bear with me while I try to gather all my thoughts.
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is pretty much about what the title says it is. It’s a character-focused book about a group of wormhole builders who get a big gig. They have to fly their tunneling ship a long way to a politically unstable planet, in order to punch a wormhole back to the more lively parts where they traveled from, basically creating a highway for other ships to use.
What I loved about the book was definitely the worldbuilding. Chambers has done a huge and thorough job with creating all the different alien races, their planets, and customs. It felt almost like when playing Mass Effect – and by that I don’t mean that the worlds are similar, but that all the aliens and their customs are clearly fleshed out and very varied (even more than in ME, I’d say). The world felt real, and it felt big, and all the aliens were clearly distinguishable from each other.
Instead of a big plot, this book has a lot different stories, or snapshots of the characters’ life. I’ve often said that I prefer characters over plot, and since I knew that this book was character-focused, I thought it would be exactly my cup of tea. Sadly, there were things that just didn’t quite work for me. The stories felt too compartmentalized, almost episodic. It felt like going through a list of characters: Now you get a story, and now you get a story, and now it’s your turn!
Funnily enough, I almost craved for more character-focused scenes, or at least differently focused scenes. I wanted more scenes (there were some) where many members of the crew would be gathered together, talking to each other while doing some everyday spaceship stuff, instead of spending time one-on-one with one character explaining their story or the customs of their species to another one, the dialogue acting as a not-that-organically embedded infodump. For example in the scene where Sissix is explaining about Aandrix family customs to Rosemary, some of that information could be given in the sort of Wikipedia-like entries that were used elsewhere in the book, giving Sissix the chance to speak about more personal matters.
The book focused a lot on the characters’ inner life, and sometimes the writing was a bit too heavy-handed. By that I mean that the characters spoke out their feelings to the point that it felt like the book was telling us what they felt, instead of showing us. The worst offender was the bolt-sorting scene, where Jenks makes a long speech about his feelings, even though the scene spoke for itself in my opinion. It spelled those emotions out loud by actions, without the speech being at all necessary.
Now this review might seem a bit harsh, but I actually liked reading the book for the most part! I really liked especially Dr. Chef and Sissix (while Kizzy mostly just got on my nerves). I loved the world and learning about all the different alien races. I just had too many little gripes about the book for me to give it more than three stars.
This was Becky Chambers’ debut novel, and I trust that she will iron out the more clunky parts as time goes by. She has what it takes, evident in the creation of this amazing world, and it is this huge potential in the world that leaves me craving to read her second novel, which is set in the same universe.
3 out of 5 stars