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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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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.
Longer Review: I'm going to give this book 4 stars even though it was not terribly memorable and a little frustrating to read, just because the narration and character development in this book are above average and even pretty good at times. There's nothing OVERTLY or objectively bad about this novel, but for anyone that has read "harder" sci-fi, or sci-fi noir or whatever you want to call it, this book is a bit of a softball entry.
First, the big down-grade factor: this is less an actual story or narrative than a relatively detailed character study set on a spaceship called the Wayfarer. An actual directional plot point doesn't start until I think about 10% in, which isn't too bad, but we're talking when the plot TECHNICALLY starts; doesn't mean anything really happens yet. Actually, another way to think of this story is it's a classic road-trippin' style novel, except in space, and the characters don't reach their destination until about the 90% mark, at which point some things quickly happen, there's some drama, some emotion, some resolution, and the curtain drops. All of this isn't BAD per se, but it does mean that any hardcore military sci-fi readers will find this novel to be without substance. Even if you don't come from that crowd, this novel is a bit lacking.
As a character study, this novel is pretty good, but even there it has some holes. There's a turn at the end of the novel involving one of the characters that is a bit spoiler-ish, but I can say that it's ironic because this character is probably one of the least explored characters in the entire book. Most of the rest see pretty heavy play at one point or another, and I do give kudos to the author for really digging into the culture, the thought patterns (in a broad sense), and the historical and biological nature of just about every character aboard the Wayfarer (other than the one). By the end, even if you don't necessarily relate to all of the characters, they all feel very distinct and you know their names and could talk about them to someone else.
In general, we also get a sort of tourist-on-a-whirlwind-tour perspective of the galaxy and some of its history. Obviously, given the focused nature of this novel, this is severely lacking, and the exposition that occurs from time to time for the reader's benefit can be clunky or heavy relative to the surrounding narrative. And yet, while the author is very detailed on her visual descriptions of some sapient creatures, she is just as oddly vague on others. This is frustrating, especially since the denizens of the "small, angry planet" in this novel are given a brief pass-over but are otherwise entirely a plot point, not actual people or characters. In fact, due to this lack of focus or detail, the brief chapter or so that gives some narrative from their perspective is perhaps more confusing than if the narrative viewpoint remained with the Wayfarer crew.
Conclusion: what the author lacks in technical knowledge or in building a plot-driven story, she makes up for in emotion and character development. While a bit rushed for some characters, we do see most of them go through arcs of change and adaption that make them more just cardboard cutouts. This would have been even more stark and powerful had there been a good, solid plot driving this, but as is, this story makes for a good, casual read between denser material. I'd ultimately recommend reading this book, as it's not bad per se, but nothing that really stands out or will leave you excited.