The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Series: Wayfarers (Book 1 of 3)
Genre: Science fiction
Published: 2015 by Harper Voyager (US) and Hodder & Stoughton (UK)
This is one of the most endearing and charming novels that I’ve ever read.
I’ve had this book for quite a while but never got around to reading it. From all the reviews I’ve seen, I got the idea that it is one of those stories which the focus is around the characters instead of the plot and I wasn’t sure how I would feel about that. Perhaps I happened to pick this up at the right time, because I absolutely adored this captivating story of individuals just interacting with each other, and as a tight-knit multi-species crew they are as a whole much bigger than the sum of its parts.
The story was told from two distinct type of perspectives; one from a newcomer of the Wayfarer who is for the first time experiencing life in space and with a multi-species crew, and the other from the perspectives of the crew members who have been together for a long time. Even within the first few chapters, I was drawn to the characters. There was one whom I fell in love with almost on first sight, i.e. Dr Chef. There is something about food and healing, I suppose. The friendship, love and camaraderie shared between the crew members, even including the ship’s AI, were so palpable that it made my heart feel so full, and made me feel like a sentimental fool.
There are evident themes about respect and tolerance across all the represented species. I especially liked how it was depicted that despite some stark differences in physiognomy, culture, traditions and religion, just to name a few, there are also some startling similarities between species as well. It is a subtle and stellar allegory to humanity and how we should appreciate the diversity and multi-racial relations on our planet.
But every sapient species has a long, messy history of powers that rise and fall. The people we remember are the ones who decided how our maps should be drawn. Nobody remembers who built the roads.
Aside from creating these characters whom I love, I was also impressed by the excellent worldbuilding. Chambers created a distant future universe which is very believable. Admittedly, drilling wormholes may seem far-fetched but the imagination it took in making it sound even remotely plausible with our present knowledge of how the fabric of space-time works was frankly astounding. Best part of all these science bits and explanations was that they are easily understandable even for non-science people, and there were no instances where it got heavy-handed at all. I think it was brilliant and demonstrated how well Chambers herself understood the concepts that it could be explained in as close to layman terms as possible.
If you are looking for plot, villains, and epic space battles, look elsewhere as this book does not have any of those. What it does offer though is a whole lot of heart. The last few chapters of the book were so poignant and beautifully written that my heart was close to bursting from the emotions. While those more exciting elements mentioned above were absent, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet fulfilled the most important thing that I look for in every book I read – to make me feel.
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