Thursday, 7 July 2016

Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers is a debut science fiction novel by a new-to-me author. It's a standalone book, although I hear a companion novel is on the way.

When Rosemary Harper joins the crew of the Wayfarer, she isn't expecting much. The Wayfarer, a patched-up ship that's seen better days, offers her everything she could possibly want: a small, quiet spot to call home for a while, adventure in far-off corners of the galaxy, and distance from her troubled past.

But Rosemary gets more than she bargained for with the Wayfarer. The crew is a mishmash of species and personalities, from Sissix, the friendly reptillian pilot, to Kizzy and Jenks, the constantly sparring engineers who keep the ship running. Life on board is chaotic, but more or less peaceful - exactly what Rosemary wants.

Until the crew are offered the job of a lifetime: the chance to build a hyperspace tunnel to a distant planet. They'll earn enough money to live comfortably for years... if they survive the long trip through war-torn interstellar space without endangering any of the fragile alliances that keep the galaxy peaceful.

But Rosemary isn't the only person on board with secrets to hide, and the crew will soon discover that space may be vast, but spaceships are very small indeed.

I had heard a lot of comparisons of this book to Firefly, and also how the cover, while pretty, was not representative of that. That commentary was part of what made me pick this book up sooner rather than later (a friend gushing and a sale are what led me to buy it). However, aside from being an ensemble cast on a spaceship in the distant future, there really aren't many similarities to Firefly. I'd argue that the significance of each character in Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is more evenly spread than in Firefly, too. And then there's the plethora of alien races, the lack of criminal activity on the part of the crew as a whole, no fugitive magical girls... The differences are endless.

It probably will appeal to a similar demographic, though.

The plot in Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is less direct than in most of the books I've read lately, possibly because I've been reading a lot of YA and comics. Each crew member has their own goals as well as the common goal of doing their jobs and not dying in the process. At the start, we probably get a bit more of Rosemary's perspective since she's the new arrival and a good in for the audience. But we also see a lot of Captain Ashby's point of view to set the scene. As the story progresses, we learn backstories for all the characters, which are diverse and interesting.

The title comes from a key job the crew takes on, which takes a significant portion of the book to complete and does contribute to the climax. But it's not the only significant thing happening to the characters and I liked that.

I read this book on a transcontinental flight and I'd rank it as one of my better-chosen plane reads. I don't think I enjoyed it less for the severe sleep deprivation I was experiencing and I actively wanted to come back to it when I wasn't dozing. So much so that I ended up not watching any movies, not even during meals.

I highly recommend Long Way to a Small Angry Planet to all science fiction fans. I think it's a book with broad appeal with both fun and serious moments. The cast of characters is also broad enough that even if you're not interested in one character, there will be others to pick up the slack (I found all the stories interesting, however).

5 / 5 stars

First published: 2014, self-pub (Kickstarter was involved) then picked up by a couple of large publishers for the edition I read
Series: Standalone but another book in the same world ("Wayfarers") is on the way
Format read: ePub on Kobo
Source: Purchased from Google Play

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