Today I’m going to talk space opera with The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers, first self-published in 2014 but now available through Hodder and Stoughton.
It’s time to talk spaceships.
The Wayfarer is a tunnelling ship, creating wormholes between planets, captained by a pacifist and crewed by a diverse group of characters from across the galaxy. In this ‘world’ (using the term loosely because there are many worlds), humanity is only one of a number of species all grouped together under the Galactic Council.
The story begins with a new recruit to the Wayfarer, a new administrative clerk named Rosemary arrives fresh from Mars with a secret past she wants to hide from. The other members of the crew include two humanist technicans, a reptilian pilot, an obnoxious algae scientist (the ship is fuelled by algae), a twin lifeform navigator with blue fur and an artificial intelligence named Lovey, who is an integral part of the crew.
The ship itself is as diverse as the people living and working on it, patched together from bits and pieces from markets and traders across the galaxy.
The book follows the crew as they welcome Rosemary, the new recruit, and then embark on a new mission to an outer world, to build more tunnels. But this mission is highly dangerous. The location of the new tunnels is the region of the Toremi Ka, a new addition to the Galactic Council. Known for their aggression and volatility and everyone else warns the crew before taking on the contract. But the pay off is big and they could all do with the credits.
Now this sounds like the basis for a standard space opera but this is not. The story is not all about tunnelling in a war zone, along the way, they do ordinary things, stop off to markets, visit family and friends and have secret rendezvous with lovers.
And this is a story primarily about friendship and love. The crew are ordinarily people, making a living on a construction ship. It is an exploration of the many different types of love which can exist, from best friends, to colleagues to lovers and in different forms from monogamy to polyamory to forbidden interspecies love.
There is also explorations of sentience with AI, clones, pacifism and terminal illnesses. And with so many different species running about, there is plenty of opportunity for misunderstandings between different cultures.
Why did I really like this book? It’s the diversity of characters and the depth of the “female” characters (some being aliens I’m not quite sure whether they were actually female or I’m ascribing it to them).
In this world of different species, the book explores how love and friendship can take many different forms and no form is right or wrong.
In today’s world, when we are coming to terms with sharing our own little planet with all our different races, religions, sexual preferences, gender identities and preferred football teams, this book shows us how love and friendship can conquer all. Well, maybe not all, but they make this life fun.
But don’t get me wrong, this is not a serious book filled with serious issues, the big themes are lightly handled and there’s a lot of laughs, especially through the wacky infectious tech named Kizzy.
This is a gentle, feel good, dare I say ‘nice’ book with the occasional gun fight, alien bug swarms, explosions and pirates. I’m usually the first person to run a mile when I see a love theme running through a book but I was engrossed and wanted to see the characters get the girl/guy/alien.
If you like ordinary people on spaceships, alien bugs, love, explosions and friendships, I highly recommend The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet.
This book review first appeared as a part of Madeleine’s Speculative Fiction Review radio show on artdistrict-radio. Listen to the podcasts here.
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