The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

Posted: February 13, 2021 in Book reviews, science fiction
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by Becky Chambers

In a bid to leave her old life behind, Rosemary Harper joins the crew of the spaceship Wayfarer as a file clerk. She quickly fits in amongst the multispecies, and somewhat unconventional crew and life is good. But then the crew get an offer they can’t refuse, the chance to build a hyperspace tunnel from a distant part of the galaxy. They’ll each earn a fortune, the trouble is they have to take the slow way there, and they’re going to have to pass through hostile terrain. Can the plucky crew survive the challenges the universe has in store for them?

There are books I love, and books I hate, but perhaps the saddest books are those that disappoint. The blurb of this book hooked me, and the opening chapters reeled me in. Yes, there’s more than a hint of Firefly here, but compared to some homages I’ve read this was at least well done. Chambers’ world building was good, and her characters leapt off the page.

The concept is great, the universe is nicely put together, and the characters (mostly) interesting…

Yet in the end I felt a little cheated.

 Why’s that, you ask? Well in the main because there’s one vital ingredient missing from the story of this crazy diverse crew. Drama. I was tempted to add plot as well, but there is a plot, sort of. I was about a third of the way through before I realised they really were taking the long way to that small angry planet, and worse they were taking the episodic route as well. This was originally self-published and at first I wonder if it’d been released in instalments, because it has that feel about it. Episode 1: shopping. Episode 2: Space insects. Episode 3: Pirates… etc.

This is fine, the characters are interesting enough that the fact that they meander from one situation to the next didn’t bother me that much. The trouble is the lack of drama. Seriously, every problem they face is resolved quickly and easily with the minimum amount of fuss or danger. It gets to the point where I stopped getting excited as the next big thing showed up, because I knew the tension was going to be sucked out of the situation within a page or so, and regular as clockwork it was.

Don’t get me wrong, as a Trek fan the idea of characters resolving issues through chat rather than gunplay isn’t anathema to me but at least mix it up a little.

And don’t get me started on the disappointment of what happens (or maybe what doesn’t happen) when they finally reach the titular small angry planet.

I did enjoy it up to a point though. Chambers’ prose is excellent, and while I’ve read better world building, I read an awful lot worse. Characters like Jenks and Kizzy and Dr Chef and Sissix were fun and interesting. I just wish they’d had more difficulty reaching that small angry planet, and, you know, maybe spent some time there.

Perhaps for all my protestations of being an optimist, in the end I’m too cynical for this nicest of nice stories, or maybe I just want something that isn’t quite so wet. In the end I’d still recommend it as a decent read, just don’t get your hopes up for edge of the seat excitement.  

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