‘These were the sounds of spacer life, an underscore of vulnerability and distance. They were reminders of what a fragile thing it was to be alive. But those sounds also meant safety. An absence of sound meant that air was no longer flowing, engines no longer running, artigav nets no longer holding your feet to the floor. Silence belonged to the vacuum outside. Silence was death’.
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers, Pg.3
Longlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet tells the imaginative story of a futuristic society which spans across planets and galaxies. Focusing primarily on the newest addition to the Wayfarer ship – an old, patched-up spaceship that has seen better days, Rosemary Harper has come to escape a deep, hidden secret. Hired as a clerk to put in order the chaotically disorganised paperwork of the Wayfarer as it goes about its business of punching holes and creating tunnels through the interconnecting galaxies, Rosemary has never stepped foot on a spaceship before. In fact, she has lived a rather sheltered existence until this point in her life and there is no going back to her past.
‘Rosemary’s admission that she’d never eaten red coast bugs meant that she was not only poorly travelled, but that she belonged to a separate chapter of human history. She was a descendant of the wealthy meat-eaters who had first settled on Mars, the cowards who had shipped livestock through space while nations starved back on Earth. Even though Exodans and Solans had long ago put their old grudges behind them (mostly), her privileged ancestry was something she had become ashamed of. It reminded her all too well of why she had left home’.
A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers, Pg.38
A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is filled with a mix of eclectic characters: Ashby, the pacifist captain of the Wayfarer who is in a secret relationship with one of the most fierce fighter species – and the most inclusive – throughout the galaxies; Sizzix, the over-tactile and affectionate Aandrik pilot; Dr Chef, who doubles up as the ships’ doctor and cook is from the dying Grum species; Kizzy and Jenks, the eccentric tech duo; Corbin, the unlikeable algae expert who harbours a life-threatening secret unbeknown to himself and the rest of the crew; Lovey, the AI with growing autonomy who is treated as just another member of the ship; and, Ohan, the navigator who is essential to the job of punching holes through space. Becky Chamber’s writing really seemed to excel when it came to character portrayal. Although the novel opens with Rosemary’s perspective as she arrives on the Wayfarer, the novel is as much about the other characters that inhabit the ship as it is about her.
Each ‘episode’ delves further into the lives and pasts of these main characters, revealing not just their own personal histories but the history of their species in relation to this futuristic society. Chamber’s galaxy is a fully-realised and thought-out world. The cross-species relationships she develops are searingly honest and true at times and, more often than not, reflect real-life observations about attitudes to race, sexuality, gender and technology.
‘I don’t pretend to know what war is like. But Humans, we’ve got something dangerous in us. We almost destroyed ourselves because of it’.
A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers, Pg.134
However, where I found The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet lacking was in its directionless plot. Despite its promising beginning – Ashby is tipped-off about an upcoming job opportunity that could secure the Wayfarer’s future financially but will be a dangerous undertaking – it isn’t until the last quarter of the book that any action takes place and what does occur seems rather rushed and neatly wrapped up.
‘Within the gaseous folds slept clusters of unborn stars, shining softly. She took inventory of her body. She felt her breath, her blood, the ties binding it all together. Every piece, down to the last atom, had been made out here, flung through the open in a moment of violence, until they had swirled round and round, churning and coalescing, becoming heavy, weighing each other down. But not any more. The pieces were floating free now. They had returned home.
She was exactly where she was supposed to be’.
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers, Pg.402
Despite the weak plot, I was intrigued by Chamber’s imaginative world. The characters she has created will stay with me for a long time and I am interested in reading more about this boundary-pushing world.