Review: The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

5 out of 5 spaced out stars

Amazing. Do you ever finish reading a book, and have this rush of deepest affection for the people you’ve just left… so it fills you up and your eyes get sweaty with respect? There was a lot of wet respect spilling from my eye-orifices.

This was so wonderful and it’s hard to put a pin in what is so great about it. There isn’t a lot of plot but you don’t feel the lack of it because there is so much character. And hey, literature has floated along on the river of character, so a good book doesn’t need 3 acts and a plot twist to be good. What this does have is amazing characters and the exploration of love, friendship, loyalty and what is it to be sentient.

We first meet Rosemary, shooting through space in a tiny pod on her way to a new job, and she’s got some deep dark secret – or so we assume, as she’s hoping like hell that her expensive new identity will hold up against the scanning she’s about to undergo. She’s a Martian. No, not with green skin – there are no native Martians – she is a regular old human from Earth – an Earth that was decimated by human existence and is now being cobbled back together with the help of other races, referred to as “sapient” beings. I liked that term. They aren’t “humanoid” which is the way Star Trek went. In this universe, there are few humanoid species – just humans. When the dregs of what was left on Earth managed to get away, they were found by Aeulon, the most human-like beings you meet in this ‘verse, and they are covered in silver scales, have no ears, and though they have mouths, they have no vocal chords. Most of the beings we meet are quadripeds, or lizardlike, or lobsterlike. We’re talkin’ serious aliens here. And it’s fascinating.

Rosemary’s new job is on a ship known as a “tunneler” called The Wayfarer. The way they get around in this universe is by wormhole. Those wormholes have to be punched in space, and they can be dangerous to make. They are made with the aid of a being called a Sianat (which I couldn’t help but imagine as Sully from Monsters, Inc. because they are covered in blue fur.) Their race catches a virus called The Whisperer, which affects their brain so that they have an amazing aptitude for spacial physics. Infected Sianats no longer consider themselves individuals, but “pairs” – themselves and the virus, which they carefully facilitate, eating only certain things, keeping clear of strangers that might be infected with bacteria or viruses that would affect the virus and the way it works. They are necessary on a tunneler.

And if you have a spaceship, you must by rights have a crew. The Captain of this one is Ashby, and he’s a cool dude. Now the first thing I heard about this was “It’s like Firefly.” Well, yes, it is a space opera, but if Firefly were the illegal side of things, Wayfarer is on the administrative side. They take legit jobs and are on the up and up. Our captain is not a rough talkin’, blaster wearin’, shoot first kinda guy – he’s an even-tempered by-the-books type, who fosters a strong family vibe among his crew. Kizzy is the closest thing we have to a similar Firefly character. She’s like Kaley – super bubbly, with a penchant for crazy clothes and questionable substances. Jenks was born in a low-tech type of place, and has some form of dwarfism. He’s the more software-oriented type of tech, having a relationship with the sentient AI on the ship called Lovey. Corbin, their algae guy (you need one of those on a spaceship) is, to quote the text, a talented algaest & complete asshole. Dr. Chef is a Grum, a 6 legged/armed sapient whose name reflects his jobs – both the cook and the doctor who will see to their medical needs. I love his take on humans – he realizes our games are all about conquest, there always has to be a winner. My favorite is the navigator who works with Ohan, a sapient from a very snuggly species, that look like lizards with a feathered crest. Her name is Sissix and through her relationship with Rosemary, I saw a new side to humanity. I loved how it was the scaled sapient that was snuggly and wanted to cuddle.

Besides Corbin, the asshole, and Ohan, who spends most of his time pondering his super-brain, the ship gives Rosemary a warm welcome. Kizzy even makes her colorful curtains. After a routine tunnel bore, a new opportunity comes available. A diplomatic agreement between the Galactic Commons and the Toremi Ka means that new tunnels need to be made around their home-base to facilitate easier travel. There’s a lot of energy available in Toremi space, and the GC are eager to start collecting it. A lucrative government contract will give the Wayfarer more money than they’ve ever had, but the way to the small, angry planet the Toremi Ka inhabit is a long and dangerous trip. Things out in the galaxy aren’t as friendly as the inter-species love-fest on board Wayfarer. They face new dangers, and all sorts of secrets come spilling out – the crew has to find new equilibrium while out in the vastness of space.

Along the way, they make a lot of stops, and we see the wide variety of people, beings, tech and super-cool-space-type things available in this world. We also see the political strife between beings who are supposed to be friends, the way technical possibility rubs up against nature’s limitations. You see the big ethical and political questions that have raged throughout the universe – and I kinda liked how humans were so very insignificant. It asked all the great sci-fi questions and explored so much more than humanity. I strongly recommend this if you like sci -fi or even want to get started and didn’t know where to begin.

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