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The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (Wayfarers) Paperback – July 5, 2016
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“Great fun!” (Ann Leckie, author of Ancillary Justice)
“A quietly profound, humane tour de force that tackles politics and gender issues with refreshing optimism.” (The Guardian)
“Becky Chambers’ debut is a joyous, optimistic space opera ... Although it isn’t shy about tackling Big Questions, Planet is a heart-warming debut novel that will restore your faith in science fiction (specifically) and humanity (in general).” (Tor.com)
“One of the most enjoyable, brilliantly realized spacey SF novels I’ve read in ages.” (James Smythe, author of The Echo and The Explorer)
“Humane and alien, adventurous and thoughtful, vast in its imagination and wonderfully personal in the characters it builds. But above all else, it is joyously written and a joy to read.” (Claire North, author of The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August)
From the Back Cover
A rollicking space adventure with a lot of heart
When Rosemary Harper joins the crew of the Wayfarer, she isn’t expecting much. The patched-up ship has seen better days, but it offers her everything she could possibly want: a spot to call home, a chance to explore the far-off corners of the galaxy and some distance from her past. And nothing could be further from what she’s known than the crew of the Wayfarer.
From Sissix, the exotic reptilian pilot, to Kizzy and Jenks, the chatty engineers who keep the ship running, to the noble captain Ashby, life aboard is chaotic and crazy—exactly what Rosemary wants. That is, until the crew is offered the job of a lifetime: tunneling wormholes through space to a distant planet. Sure, they’ll earn enough money to live comfortably for years, but risking her life wasn’t part of the job description.
The journey through the galaxy is full of excitement, adventure and mishaps for the Wayfarer team. And along the way, Rosemary comes to realize that a crew is a family, and that family isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the universe . . . as long as you actually like them.
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Top customer reviews
The main selling points of "The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet" are the imagination Becky Chambers puts into the development of her alien characters and the relationships she creates between her human and her non-human characters. The navigator, for example, is from an alien species that infects itself with a virus that allows it to see spatial structures invisible to all other species. The Doctor-Chef (the ship's medical officer and cook) has six limbs and multiple throats that make human speech a bit difficult. The pilot is from a reptilian species with a complex family structure that involves intense parent-foster child relationships but no parent-biological child relationships. All of the ship's humans that have romantic entanglements with non-humans , including one with an AI, one with her shoes (that's a joke, sort of), and one with a member of an irresistibly gorgeous humanoid species that communicates through skin color. The emphasis is less on how weird aliens are, but on what people (or sentients) growing up in very different circumstances can teach us, both about ourselves and about the nature of life.
This description may make my 3-star rating seem a bit stingy, especially after I say that Chambers writes well and that there are moments of real warmth, humor, and excitement in the book. Still, I had a hard time reading "Angry Planet." So much goes into making the aliens interesting that not a lot is left over for plot, action, or individual character. There's not much of a story beyond what I've already told you, and the most vivid human characters are secondary: ditzy Kizzy, pint-sized Jenks, and angry, angry whatshisname the algae tech. Rosemary makes a couple of daring choices during the course of the novel, but daring is no substitute for depth. High expectations about how her scandal is going to play out mostly fizzle. There's just not a lot of juice here. So, while I might give the novel a 7 on a scale of 1-10, it gets a 3 on Amazon's 1-5 scale.
Bottom line: Worth at least a browse; weakly recommended.
At core this book is a fun, silly romp across space. The basic setup is classic/borderline-cliché: the reader is introduced to the working class crew of a patchwork ship as they embark on their chance to make it big. Along the way we're given hints at many different cultures.
NOTE: I've tried to limit spoilers but there may be some small ones after this point.
Sadly a few cultures appear as simple cardboard stand-ins for attitudes and viewpoints. But this can be forgiven as they are not the main drivers of the story (even when they are shown as the main drivers of the galaxy). There are also hints of other cultures that could be plumbed for a bounty of interesting stories but are mostly left alone in this book (perhaps future volumes will give more thought to the Exodans, Aeluons, etc.).
Only three cultures are explored in any kind of depth. The soon-to-be-extinct Grum provide us with a truly enjoyable character (Dr Chef who, as the name implies, serves as the ship's doctor and cook). Unfortunately, the Grum culture only serves as an object lesson in self-destructive behavior. The reptilian Aandrisk show us an alternate definition of family, one that is explored in more depth than any other culture in the book. Although that concept of family (fluid, polyamorous, adult-centered) will be offensive to some, the real problem is the role it plays in the story - or rather the non-role it plays: one could easily delete the chapter that focuses on the Aandrisk and lose nothing from the story. Finally, there is the technology-focused, geeky, libertarian modder culture at the fringes of humanity. The modders are presented such that we're not merely to take them sympathetically but any significant negative views of modders are consistently shown as fundamentally wrong.
The biggest failings in cultural presentation center around the Toremi and the Sianat.
The Toremi are newly admitted members of the Galactic Commons and their admission is controversial due to their continued intraspecies wars. Although the fundamental problem is presented as their inability to find peaceful ways to resolve differences and/or acceptance of differences there is a strong undertone that implies that what the Toremi really need to do is drop their strange beliefs. I suppose one could read this in a way that is not anti-religion but it'd take some effort. Even then, my objection isn't to an anti-religious outlook (if I objected to that it'd seriously restrict my reading options). My objection is the lengths to which the book goes to present the notion of accepting that the beliefs and views of others are to be respected...except in this case.
Worse still is the Sianat. We're only given slight hints at their culture but the climax of that storyline is intentionally telegraphed well in advance. The Sianat are a symbiotic pairing of a normal sized being and a microbe. In effect, the Sianat are beings that have contracted a rather interesting disease. The disease reconfigures their brain which allows them to perform impressive feats, including navigating the ‘sublayer’ (hyperspace), but also reduces their lifespan. The Sianat believe this relationship is sacred and should never be severed even if it means dying decades earlier than they would naturally. There is, of course, a 'cure' but the Sianat crew member refuses it. After talking up the importance of respecting this belief the author has one crew member force it on the nearly-dead Sianat. And then...nothing. The Sianat recovers and has no animosity towards the one who violated their core belief in such a personal way. We don't even see the Sianat struggle with their own feelings over what happened. Instead we see a being 'recovering' and seemingly happy to be rid of a symbiot that's been part of them and helped shape their every thought since childhood. This, I think, is the single biggest failing in the book.
There's more I could write about this book. Great strengths like the truly complex and sympathetic character of Jenks who is fundamentally a part of modder culture yet refuses to be modded even to correct a genetic defect or the odd yet tender love between Jenks and the ship’s AI. And also great weaknesses like the cliché that is Corbin (an angry, often mean, self-centered perfectionist who is forced to face his father issues, has an epiphany and is suddenly a changed man). But I'll leave it there as this is long enough.
So, given all my grumbles, why 4 stars? Because it's still a fun read. Would I suggest this book be added to the syllabus for a 21st century lit class? No. Would I suggest someone looking for a fun read grab a copy? Absolutely.
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Also, species variation really takes that old Star Trek "what if human conventions are not universal and...Read more