The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is the debut novel by Becky Chambers. The book chronicles a journey of the Wayfarer, a ship which creates hyperspace tunnels between worlds. Right off the bat the ship and her crew reminded me of Firefly. It’s obvious that Chambers either got some inspiration there or was the recipient of a wonderful coincidence. This is not a problem. Firefly obviously did something right, and the characters are not exactly the same. There are no weapons on the Wayfarer and the crew is not all human. I think it was a smart decision, if it was a decision, to start the reader off in a familiar place before throwing a new universe in their face.
The novel begins with a new clerk, Rosemary, joining the Wayfarer’s crew. Unfortunately it starts with one of those overdone scenes where Rosemary wakes up and tries to remember her motivations for signing on to the Wayfarer. Luckily the book quickly recovers from it’s stumbling start. After completing a run of the mill mission the Wayfarer embarks on a long journey; one that will bring a hefty payday.
The characters really drive the novel. Chambers created a wonderful cast of characters, from Kizzy, the eccentric engineer to Dr. Chef, a being with six appendages and a fondness for cooking. My favorite aspect is how the characters interact. They grow and change throughout the novel in how they act and treat each other. This is all set to a mosaic of different cultures and races, and the challenges that this creates. For example, the ship’s navigator is cold-blooded and needs the temperature set higher than some of the crew prefer, creating friction. All in all the group feels like a dysfunctional family. It feels authentic.
I also took great pleasure in the universe. From small details like the way the ships are powered by algae, grown on board no less, to larger things, like the power structure between different races, the universe has been fully fleshed out. There was one scene, where a character was describing watching a human get the news that humans had been recognized as a member race, that drove home the depth of the world. From small moons where humans barely cling to life to bustling space ports the Wayfarer takes a tour through a vibrant galaxy.
One structural issue I had was with the plot. I never was bored reading the book, but it was the characters that drove my interest, not the story. The story was simply a backdrop for their interactions. Now this is not a bad way to structure a book, but I felt that it could have been helped by some better action throughout. The Wayfarer takes a long journey through the cosmos in order to get to their next job, but I didn’t really feel the time pass. There wasn’t much of a struggle for the characters in a journey that was touted as epic. The story jumped from action point to action point on the journey, even though mention was made of the long intervals of doing nothing. I think the downtime could have been expanded upon.
Overall I really like The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet. The characters were great, the universe was deep and the writing engaging. I hope that we get a chance to take another journey on the Wayfarer.