By Jessica Clifford-Jones | Review Editor
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is Becky Chambers’ debut science fiction novel and the first instalment of the Hugo Award-winning anthology series Wayfarers. It’s a feel-good and worldbuilding-rich space opera novel that delighted me from start to finish. The book’s optimism is a true glowing light in a genre of dark, dramatic stories. The ‘doom and gloom’ rhetoric is not necessarily a bad thing – But it can get admittedly dull after a while, which is why Chambers is such a breath of fresh air to the sci-fi landscape.
The novel follows a small and rundown spaceship the Wayfarer, and its crew – a cast as loveable as it is colourful, a diverse mix of humans, aliens, and AIs, with well-handled representations of LGBT+ people, people of colour, and disabled people. The plot takes a backseat in a fascinating world, focusing on a character-focused story that explores the crew’s personal lives and relationships with each other. Chambers gives each character time to shine – despite a fairly large cast, no one feels underdeveloped or flat. The relationships between the crew members are essential to the story, abundant with heart-warming themes of family and connections. I can’t name all the dynamics I enjoyed, but I particularly loved the sibling-like friendship of eccentric engineers Kizzy and Jenks, and the tentative, sweet romance between human file clerk Rosemary and reptilian pilot Sissix
“Each of the characters are given time to shine, so, despite being a fairly large cast, no-one feels underdeveloped or flat.“
Chambers’ strong and imaginative worldbuilding is one of the most praised aspects of her novels (not just in The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet), rightfully so. The worldbuilding in this book is phenomenal. Chambers has created a layered, vibrant world (or, more accurately, galaxy) that is so easy to fall in love with. Often in sci-fi, I’m disappointed when the aliens are just brightly coloured humanoids or have the exact same outlooks as their human counterparts. The aliens in Chambers’ fictional galaxy, however, are varied and unique in believable and fascinating ways – They have different views on subjects like religion, sex and sexuality, gender, and free will, and the culture clashes that occur between members of the Wayfarer crew are engaging to read.
“The alien races she’s created are unique and interesting, with their own rich cultures and beliefs.”
The most common criticism of the novel is its lack of propulsive plot and action since it’s a character-driven novel rather than a plot-driven one. While there is a plot, it plays a secondary role to the characters. The last 40 pages’ action and climax tread a slow pace that, depending on your taste, is either tedious or relaxing. While it was the latter for me, it’s understandable some would find this a bug rather than a feature. Interested in a fast-paced, action-packed book? This isn’t the book for you unfortunately.
However, if you enjoy rich worldbuilding, loveable characters, and light-hearted space adventures, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is the sci-fi novel for you.