The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet | Becky Chambers | 2015 (first pub. 2014) | Hodder & Stoughton | 404p | Review and bought copy | Buy the book
When Rosemary Harper steps aboard the Wayfarer, a starship that’s seen better days, she harbours a secret. She’s brought it to the right place. The ship crew is an extraordinary bunch, pulled together across solar systems and species, each wishing to leave a past behind and forge a future with this ragtag group which to all intents and purposes is a family, albeit a distinctly odd and not entirely functional family. There is only one rule aboard the Wayfarer and that’s not to ask questions about anyone else’s past. Captain Ashby Santoso is in desperate need of a clerk – bureaucracy is taking over the Galaxy – and Rosemary with her intuition for languages is perfect for the job. Always ready to take on those difficult tasks and with no port to call home, the Wayfarer is a longhaul traveller. It’s not long before Rosemary knows she she has found her place in the universe.
Rosemary provides our entrance to the Wayfarer but the story soon moves beyond this newcomer to the crew and takes us on a truly glorious journey across the Galaxy. This is a voyage of discovery and wonder. Its destination, though this turns out to have an enormous significance, is of far less importance to author, crew and reader alike than the journey. Each of the crew members provides a turning point in the voyage, time is spent on each, we slowly learn their past, their fears, their loves and their secrets (although some are harder to crack than others). Through each of them we see a multitude of different worlds, starships and space vessels. The numbers of alien species we encounter are vast. And yet this is a universe where aliens work alongside each other, where humans are just one of many, where gender and sexuality are an irrelevance, where everyone has a story to tell. All of this is exemplified aboard the Wayfarer.
But it doesn’t matter how good a story is if you don’t have a master storyteller to tell it. Becky Chambers is a revelation. Her voice is natural and light, so full of life and emotion, wonder and sadness, and a lively, enthusiastic, joyous adventurous spirit. She has created a marvellous crew, so many of whom stand out – the dignified feathered Sissix, the extraordinarily morose Sinait pair Ohan, the herb-obsessed currently-male chef with six legs who looks like a mix between an otter, a gecko and a caterpillar, the delightful and exuberant Kizzy and so many more. There is humour and pleasure in abundance as we meet each crew member but Becky Chambers takes us below the surface, we find out what makes each of these characters tick, and we become involve in the lives of them all. The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is an immensely humane novel and it is simply enchanting. I could pull out many moments for special mention – the relationship between Sissix and Rosemary for one and the destiny of Ohan for another – but I’ll leave it at that. There are events and ‘people’ here to be discovered for yourself.
Comparisons have been made to Firefly and I can see why. This is indeed the most Firefly-y of space operas that I’ve read but it’s no copy or derivative. As you read it you might think once or twice of people or moments aboard Firefly, but Becky Chambers takes us to whole new worlds and the novel format – this is not a short book – means that she has the time to explore. But in one way more than others does it resemble Firefly – its fabulous spirit of adventure that opens its arms to all that is different and wondrous in a dangerous but thoroughly fascinating universe.
Small Angry Planet is one of the most enjoyable science fiction novels I have ever read and I’ve read such a lot. I read it in its independently-published days, ahead of its big release this year by Hodder & Stoughton and I am so pleased to see it reborn for a wider readership, to see it met with such affection and pleasure. I’ve not met anyone who hasn’t been entranced by this wonderful book. Do read it!
Also reviewed at Curiosity Killed the Bookworm