Title: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet
Author: Becky Chambers
Series: Wayfarers #1
Genre: Science fiction
Follow a motley crew on an exciting journey through space—and one adventurous young explorer who discovers the meaning of family in the far reaches of the universe—in this light-hearted debut space opera from a rising sci-fi star.
Rosemary Harper doesn’t expect much when she joins the crew of the aging Wayfarer. While the patched-up ship has seen better days, it offers her a bed, a chance to explore the far-off corners of the galaxy, and most importantly, some distance from her past. An introspective young woman who learned early to keep to herself, she’s never met anyone remotely like the ship’s diverse crew, including Sissix, the exotic reptilian pilot, chatty engineers Kizzy and Jenks who keep the ship running, and Ashby, their noble captain.
Life aboard the Wayfarer is chaotic and crazy—exactly what Rosemary wants. It’s also about to get extremely dangerous when the crew is offered the job of a lifetime. Tunneling wormholes through space to a distant planet is definitely lucrative and will keep them comfortable for years. But risking her life wasn’t part of the plan. In the far reaches of deep space, the tiny Wayfarer crew will confront a host of unexpected mishaps and thrilling adventures that force them to depend on each other. To survive, Rosemary’s got to learn how to rely on this assortment of oddballs—an experience that teaches her about love and trust, and that having a family isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the universe.
First of all, it really is the long way. I’d heard that this was a character-driven novel, but there is barely any conflict (the blurb is very misleading). Or rather, there are many episodic adventures and whatever conflict comes is resolved within that same chapter. The adventures where fun, but not interconnected in any way. The character beats and arcs mostly gave the novel momentum, but sometimes I didn’t feel compelled to keep reading.
The stakes of this novel are very low, and it’s totally intentional. The characters are mostly average people you could meet in the street… only in space. The fate of the universe is not on their shoulders, there are no looming alien threats (or they are boggled down by political organisms), or intergalactic wars. You care about these characters, their relationships, and how they interact with their world. Those are the stakes.
For me, these low stakes worked thanks to the adorable characters. The crew is fairly big and it can get a bit cluttered, but Chambers not only manages to give them a unique voice but also develop them in a substantial way during these episodic adventures. Though some get less focus than others because this book is only 400 pages and there is only so much you can do with a cast as huge as this. The book begins with most of the relationships already established and they are all fairly distinct and charming. You have the wacky techs, the friendship between pilot and captain, the sentient AI, the curmudgeonly scientist, couple of budding romances and more, and they are all given not only personalities but depth.
This is the kind of Sci-Fi that is very, very socially aware. Chambers plays with current social issues and incorporates them into her world. For example, gender (and its fluidity) is explored through different species. Also there are LGBT+ characters (though no explicit labels are used there is a f/f romance), and it is portrayed as totally normal. The approach to different (made-up) cultures is super respectful, and most are allowed a voice. There is quite a bit of imagination put into the different species that is always fun to see in sci-fi, though you also have the archetypes like the dying race or the one everyone finds attractive. Overall, the novel manages just the right combination between the original and the familiar, and it left me wanting to see more of this world.
Last of all, this book is super funny and heartwarming. The banter between the characters is simply adorable and very reminiscent of shows like Firefly. The characters are good, caring people just trying to live their lives and it makes you root for them all the more. Their feelings, both the highs and lows, are a priority for the narrative. It is definitely a quiet book, but a sincere one.
It is perfect for fans of Mass Effect or Firefly and for those looking for a very character driven and human story.