Review: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

“All you can do, Rosemary–all any of us can do–is work to be something positive instead. That is a choice that every sapient must make every day of their life. The universe is what we make of it. It’s up to you to decide what part you will play.” ~ Becky Chambers, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
438 pages
Published by Harper Voyager, 2015
Genre: Science fiction
Re-readability: I’ll definitely escape to this one again after I finish the sequels.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed by Pete
Spoiler-free review

If you’ve been reading my reviews here, you know how rarely I rate a book 5 stars. This is my fourth 5-star review on Lit Lens, and it’s also one of my favorite books of all time.

This book was recommended to me again and again be several people. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I loved this book the whole way.

Rosemary Harper is a young woman from Mars who has decided to give her life a reboot by taking on a new identity and joining a “tunneling” ship. Tunneling ships create wormholes to link different planets in the vast and diverse Galactic Commons.

This particular ship, The Wayfarer, has a colorful crew of many different species. Two that stand out are Dr. Chef (the cook), a friendly and many-limbed being; and Sissix (the pilot), who is a bit like a large lizard with feathers. You quickly lose track of the number of alien species encountered during The Wayfarer’s journey.

Right from the start, this book created a cozy and familial environment that reminded me of Howl’s moving castle or the common room in Hogwarts. The Wayfarer is slapped together from mismatched parts, but its crew have made it their home.

Chambers’s worldbuilding details are convincing and consistent. I knew she had thought everything through when Sissix, the lizard-like character, explained that there were carpets on the grated stairs to prevent her claws from getting stuck.

The plot is nothing groundbreaking. In fact, it felt a bit random at times, especially as the crew experienced one random encounter after another in the depths of space. But this was fine. This is a story about the characters and their individual arcs. And though Chambers had to balance nine characters and their stories, each one really did have their own arc.

It’s unfortunate that the sequels don’t feature the same cast of characters. I could have read about them for a dozen books or more. They are all incredible and flawed at the same time, and I was always aware of the relationships between every combination of characters, which is no small feat in a 400-page book.

I knew this story was something special when it made me cry for the second time. Few books make me do that once—but by the end, I could count five distinct scenes that brought tears to my eyes, sometimes out of happiness, sometimes tragedy.

I can think of many reasons why someone wouldn’t like this book. There are few overarching conflicts, and most of the conflicts seem to come from nowhere. Also, if you dislike diversity and see agendas in works with colorful casts of characters and unusual cultures, you will hate this book.

But if you are fascinated by the coming together of different cultures and the complex ethical disputes that result, you’ll cling to every line of dialogue. This is an extremely hopeful book, but Chambers doesn’t preach or pretend that good can easily triumph over evil. Some problems are just complicated, and some people will never see an issue from the someone else’s perspective.

Even if sci-fi isn’t usually your thing (it certainly isn’t mine), I highly recommend this book if you’re in need of a feel-good story. It will make you feel a lot of things besides good, but the overall tone is extremely heroic and uplifting. You won’t want to leave the crew of The Wayfarer behind.

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