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Book Review: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

July 27, 2016

yv5p40fg5thomw8usqncThe Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet
Becky Chambers
Harper Voyager
(library book)

I loved this book. Absolutely, gleefully, loved the ensemble alien cast of characters, being drawn into the space world, loved reveling in the emotional feel of how the characters worked together, and the way the story played out. I want more science fiction like this, where so much of what drives the story forward is navigating interpersonal relationships.

Can you say “interpersonal?” when the crew includes a saurian-bird-looking pilot named Sissix, a multi-pedal being named Dr. Chef (because his true name would take multiple throats to say, and  work on the ship is to both feed and minister to the crew) and where even the default-recognizable humans are as alien to a reader as the visually alien? Each of the crew members (including the AI: the plot with the ship’s AI is magnificent) has a perspective colored by the life that came before the story, and shown in little interactions, the domestic and logistical life of the ship, of bringing new crew on board, dealing with taking on a  huge job, space pirates (yes there are space pirates), supply runs, downtime.

The best part was the way the story combined the warmth, the heart of crew-as-found-family with some riveting read-past-my-bedtime fascinating action. There are some great spaceships and compellingly weird alien customs going on, even/especially among the focal ensemble of the crew of the spaceship, the Wayfarer, as most of the story centered around the ship and its journey. Newcomer Rosemary learning her way into the ship’s routines makes a good viewpoint to get to know the rest of the crew and their quirks, both individual and cultural.

There were a few moments that held a mirror to questions our own, present society deals with. It was satisfying to see them play out with the novel’s characters. They were handled with grace, and with the story’s central warmth, without being didactic. I appreciated the guiding ethos of the story. A lot. Interactions may be messy, but they’re doing their best.

I feel like calling it “escapist,” or “feel-good” does a disservice to the world created aboard, and around the Wayfarer. But I really enjoyed being swept into the story. I smiled and laughed so much reading this book. And that, I think, is the best part about it. The action took time out for domestic, relationship-building scenes, for moments of tenderness. Those moments provided pacing relief from tension and panic, both the characters’ and, honestly, my own. I felt really happy reading this book, and I’m still smiling. If I hadn’t already chucked my no-buying-books resolution, this would have been the book that did it. It’s a library book… so I might just be placing an order for a copy.

I would like more, much more, of this kind of character-driven, warm and exploratory science fiction.

Got any recommendations?

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