A little book with a long title, Danielle Crowley explains why Becky Chamber’s debut is the sci-fi book you’re looking for.
The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet was, for me, one of those rare stories you didn’t fully realise you needed. Chambers introduces the multispecies crew of the Wayfarer, a ship that builds hyperspace tunnels to easily traverse the galaxy, as they embark on a year-long journey to a job in a little-known region in space.
“All the characters are ordinary, but extraordinary in being so.”
It’s a simple plot, but an immensely fun book to read, brimming with enthusiasm and the wonder of the universe. The main journey revolves around the characters’ personal voyage. Much in the same vein as the original Star Wars films or Guardians of the Galaxy, the book focuses on the camaraderie between the characters, and on the relationship between themselves and the wider world. Unlike other stories in this genre, there is no chosen one or evil personified to defeat. All the characters are ordinary, but extraordinary in being so.
From the human crew to their reptilian pilot and their AI Lovey, the characters are the stars, and everyone grows through the novel’s course. The sci-fi and fantasy genre is often an excellent backdrop to explore larger human themes. Big themes in this book are friendship and family. The characters deal with many challenges, from personal loss to interpersonal conflict, all of which are written in an incredibly humane and empathetic way, making it easy to emphasise with any or all of them.
Another aspect that stood out for me is that this book created a complex world that enhanced the personal stories without distracting the reader. The top-notch world building gently teased out the structural and political aspects of the Galactic Commons and how it came to be. The story is also sprinkled with nuggets of well thought-out physics.
“This is a snapshot of an intergalactic world, and manages to touch on almost every question that begets the reader.”
Diversity, something which I feel is challenging to do well, is magnificently pulled off. Non-binary characters and references are common. Same-sex relationships, disability, and the associated ostracism, and the differences between various cultures and lifestyles all feature, and do not feel forced. This is a snapshot of an intergalactic world, and manages to touch on almost every question that begets the reader.
This story enfolds the reader in a comfortable embrace you will not want to leave. Fun, optimistic, and sincere, The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is a breath of fresh air, and a balm to the soul.