The Long Way To a Small Angry Planet, by Becky Chambers, is more than just a book with a cool title. It’s a great novel for anybody who loves clever space operas that are fun to read.
This novel revels in the majesty and joy of space travel. Unlike its grim cousins, like The Expanse and Revelation Space series, this novel doesn’t depict humanity’s future in space as dark and full of discord.
Instead, we see a humanity happy with its space lot. True, there are a lot of weird aliens out there. But we appear to have made our peace with that and them. It’s refreshing to read a novel with such a positive outlook on our future.
It’s not about the plot – it’s about the crew
The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is a character-driven novel.
We join the crew of the ship Wayfarer with the clerk Rosemary Harper. Like Rosemary, we meet aliens, an A.I called Lovely, some pretty weird humans and a Kizzy. Kizzy is technically a human but is strange enough that she deserves her own classification.
The plot happens discreetly in the background while our attention is focussed on the crew. Calling the novel a soap opera sounds demeaning, but it isn’t. As, just as in a soap opera, we are driven to find out more through the compelling nature of the characters rather than the plot.
Throughout the novel, we learn more about the crew through their relationships with each other. As their bonds strengthen with each other, so does ours with them.
The Long Way to Small Angry Planet is a page-turner. But it’s a page-turner because of its characters and the world Becky Chambers develops in the novel.
There are some fantastic aliens
Becky Chambers put a lot of thought into her aliens. Occasionally I was reminded of the classic novel Ringworld in the way the aliens’ cultures are explained in anthropological detail.
Chamber’s imagination and eye for detail take the reader on a grand tour of a galaxy full of cool places and fascinating aliens. This sense of learning about the different and wondrous is one of the key elements that make this novel such a compelling read.
These aliens are more than just humans in funny suits. Their motivations and thought processes are, for lack of a better word, alien. But, and this is important, that they are different doesn’t make them evil or dangerous. It just makes the universe a more interesting place.
That may seem like a simple message, but it’s one worth making and it is skillfully interwoven into the novel.
That this is an upbeat novel doesn’t stop it handling some weighty themes. Becky Chambers’ uses her debut novel to dissect themes of gender, sexuality, A.I, religion, and race in a way that never feels forced or judgemental. Instead, Chambers makes her point through natural character development.
The Long Way to A Small Angry Planet is likely to be a novel that sparks many a person’s love of science fiction. And, for that alone, it should be highly commended. Its lighter touch is also a refreshing change from the dark and gritty direction much of modern science fiction is taking.