I finally finished The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers today after wanting to read it for couple of years now. I had this book on my TBR for 2018 so I am happy that I was able to tick off an item from my TBR. I met this author in Worldcon and even got the book signed from her this year. Thanks to the read-along hosted by Jorie, Lisa and Imyril as part of scifi month, I was able to read this book and discuss it with others.
This book was hyped when it got released and everyone was raving about it. I did not come across many bad reviews but most people said that this was a character focused book and there was hardly any action. I usually don’t like slow paced books so I was positive that I will end up disliking this book. But I still wanted to give it a try just to see what the hype was all about. And I am so glad I did pick this book up as it was great. I never thought a character focused book could keep me hooked the way this book did.
Minor Spoilers ahead.
The book is about a tunneling ship, Wayfarer which creates wormholes and connects various parts of the Universe. The captain and owner Ashby, along with his multispecies crew are on the way to a small angry planet and the book is about their adventures together on board the ship. There are some scenes on various planets where they land for sometime on the way.
1. World Building – I loved this book mostly because of the amazing world building by the author. She has created a whole new Universe in this book. There are settlers in Mars and other planets. There are Exodans who are always on the move. The whole concept of forming alliance between different species and the formation of Galactic Commons by species who were at war with each other was brilliantly done. I I liked reading about Gaiists and the scientists in Samsara Project who are trying to save their homeworld while everyone else is fleeing from it.
2. Alien Species – The author has described and introduced so many new alien species, each with their own quirks, anatomy, culture and language. It was interesting to read chapters where these aliens are described. The book explores interspecies relationships and the problems that come with them as it is made illegal by some species. There are some strict rules about cloning too in this world. There are species which handle gender and sex differently like a species which is female when born but then changes its sex to become a male. I found Sianat Pair to be the most fascinating species mentioned in this book.
3. Characters, Ship Crew – The characters themselves were very fascinating to read about and every single character was likeable, even though they were all different in their own way. They all had different personalities and could be easily distinguished from one another.
There is the bubbly cheerful Kizzy, the mech tech. The book would have been boring without her. Then there is Jenks, her best buddy and comp tech who is obsessed with the AI of the ship. I loved the friendship between Kizzy and Jenks a lot. The ship’s AI, Lovey is also very different and not like the evil AIs that we usually see.
Ashby, the captain is very level headed, caring and nice to his crewmates. He has a secret girlfriend Pie who is bold and daring. I don’t think one can find a better captain. Sissix, the pilot is another delightful character who belongs to a different species and it was interesting to read about her home planet and her species who differ from humans in many ways. Corbin, the algaeist is mean to others on the ship to begin with and then we see a lot of growth in his character as the book progresses.
Dr. Chef, the cook and med bay in charge is sweet and caring. He belongs to a different species which is on the verge of extinction and the author explains why this happened. Rosemary, the clerk is the last to join this team and she is a human who is immediately made to feel at home inside the ship by everyone. The characters are fleshed out so well that I feel I have met them in real life. I would love to tag along with the crew on their next mission.
4. Backstory of the world and characters – The author has created back stories for every single character in this world and reveals them to us slowly as the book progresses. There are chapters talking about what happened to humans after they left Earth, why they had to leave Earth, how the alliances were formed, how and when humans were integrated into this alliance between species. I loved reading all the backstories. I wish she would write a prequel book which talks more about this.
5. Food – The author talks a lot about the kind of food the crew eats. It mostly consists of insects and bugs and even though I find insects yucky, it was amusing to learn how insects can be consumed when nothing else is available to eat. Insects can be easily bred and multiplied and can solve the food shortage crisis.
6. Cool science – There are some cool scientific ideas in this book, mentioned briefly but not explained much. I wish the author had described these in a more detailed fashion. Algae is the fuel used to power the ship. They wear wristwrap/patch which works as credit card as well as ID card. The AIs can be sentient in this world. Antigrav nets, mek, imubots, decontamination flash, Vox, exosuits, hydroponic planters, genetweaks, Linkings (like Internet), ambi cells harvested from black holes – the science was intriguing.
7. Personal secrets – Everyone on board the ship has their own personal secret which they are trying to hide from the others on the ship. As the book progresses, these secrets get revealed.
8. No antagonists – Everyone in the book is nice and sweet and there are hardly any evil or mean characters in this book. It’s sometimes nice to read a book which gives us hope that world is not a bad place after all. It is an uplifting book which is perfect to read when one is in bad or depressed mood.
9. Plot – This is the only grouse I have with this book which is the reason for deducting 1/2 star from the rating. There is not much going on in the book and even though the crew get in trouble, they get out of it easily. You know nothing can go wrong and can easily predict what is going to happen next. It is episodic in nature and resembles Star Trek episodes in that way. I have to watch Farscape and Firefly soon as I heard this book reads like episodes from those TV series.
10. Writing – The book is written very well. There are some amazing quotes and I am planning to read it again soon just to enjoy the beautiful prose.
I gave this book 4.5 out of 5 stars. Must read for anyone who likes space opera, aliens, science and scifi.
Some quotes I liked:
“To some Humans, the promise of a patch of land was worth any effort. Humans had a long, storied history of forcing their way into places where they didn’t belong”.
“Humans’ preoccupation with ‘being happy’ was something he had never been able to figure out. No sapient could sustain happiness all of the time, just as no one could live permanently within anger or boredom, or grief.”
“People can do terrible things when they feel safe and powerful.”
“The Universe is what we make of it. It’s up to you to decide which part you will play.”
“The stronger belief would survive, the weaker would be erased. This was how harmony was made.”
Great review! I am enjoying the readalong for this so much (even though I missed the second Twitter chat- darn it!). And how cool you met the author!
I am also really curious about the Gaiists and the Samsara Project. I feel like there are so many things like that, avenues she could explore, if she keeps writing in this universe- I hope she does! Kizzy was the best, and I also liked the whole crew (well, maybe not Corbin haha- at least at first). It was so nice to see a captain like Ashby who’s not just a Han Solo clone or a rogue. And I loved the visit to Sisix’ homeworld. Rosemary and Dr. Chef were also favorites of mine.
I agree about this book being uplifting- I think that’s what I like about it the most!
The readalong was great. I had loads of fun discussing with you guys. Thanks Greg. I hope the author comes up with some prequel novels. I would love to read them! And I also want another book with the whole crew in it. I guess the other two books in this series focus on some of the characters and not on the entire crew.
With age, I find character-based stories to be more engaging (although they maybe a bit slow) than plot based ones.
I agree, I guess even I prefer character based ones these days. Maybe it has to do with age and experiences. I used to love plot based ones when I was younger.
Thanks for the nice review. I did not read this one yet. Will look up for this.
Thanks SG. I hope you like it.