“The truth is, Rosemary, that you are capable of anything. Good or bad. You always have been, and you always will be. Given the right push, you, too, could do horrible things. That darkness exists within all of us. You think every soldier who picked up a cutter gun was a bad person? No. She was just doing what the soldier next to her was doing, who was doing what the soldier next to her was doing, and so on and so on. And I bet most of them — not all, but most — who made it through the war spent a long time after trying to understand what they’d done. Wondering how they ever could have done it in the first place. Wondering when killing became so comfortable.”
I have already mentioned one-of-my-all-time-science-fiction-books, The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, more than a couple of times during the time I’ve been writing for the LSQ Blog. I’ve realised, however, that I still owe a proper review to those who haven’t yet heard me talking (ahem, screaming) about this incredible work. Maybe if I offer you my thoughts about what makes this book so amazing and different from all of the SF/F books I’ve read, the unwary reader will wind up deciding to pick it up and give this heartwarming story a shot.
Without further ado, buckle up: we’re about to take flight.
When I first came across this book, a few years ago, what struck me the most (besides the very pretty cover, I won’t deny), was its premise. This April, I have already rambled about how some commonplace clichés in science fiction and fantasy sometimes carry deeper views behind them, especially when it concerns the depiction of the other, the strange one, in opposition to “us”. Even if at the time I hadn’t fully elaborated this thought, this kind of representation already bothered something deep inside my heart that I couldn’t quite pinpoint. So the idea behind Chamber’s book, a multispecies crew going on a long journey in a universe where humankind isn’t the most evolved nor the dominant species was, at least, appealing. And I couldn’t be more right: in fact, my already great expectations were about to be exceeded.
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is a hard book to summarize. Essentially, it’s a book all about character development as we follow the common people (or not exactly people, but you get it) across the span of the year it takes them to reach their destination. We’re used to action packed science fiction works that make us cling to the edge of our seats, and I won’t deny that I enjoy them once in a while, but the way the book twists the worn-out clichés is what makes it so interesting.
It’s easy to fall in love with (most of) the characters, and, as it happens in real life, what really matters and what really changes them is what happens throughout the journey. Chambers makes us look at our own strange humanity from the point of view of the other species: family, love, home, fear and prejudice are all discussed with naturality and sensitivity, and it’s in the little moments that we smile or feel our hearts swell (not rarely, both). From the wise gender-fluid alien doctor, perhaps the kindest character in the book, to the human captain that’s away from home and the newcomer girl who doesn’t exactly know what home is, I assure that they’ll teach you something about ourselves. And that, when the last page turns, they won’t be the only ones who have changed.
Science fiction has always appealed to me because it summarizes everything that we could be, good or bad. And Chamber’s book beautifully argues that, in spite of the messy places and time, there is still something worth fighting for, even if the fighting is not literal, even if the thing is a crew assembled inside a patched-up ship that becomes home. This story is an ode to hope, and to that tiny little spark inside each one of us that, as one of the characters says, “can make the galaxy outside a little bit kinder”.
The long way to a small angry planet (2014)
Author: Becky Chambers
Follow a motley crew on an exciting journey through space – and one adventurous young explorer who discovers the meaning of family in the far reaches of the universe – in this light-hearted debut space opera from a rising sci-fi star.
Rosemary Harper doesn’t expect much when she joins the crew of the aging Wayfarer. While the patched-up ship has seen better days, it offers her a bed, a chance to explore the far-off corners of the galaxy, and most importantly, some distance from her past. An introspective young woman who learned early to keep to herself, she’s never met anyone remotely like the ship’s diverse crew, including Sissix, the exotic reptilian pilot, chatty engineers Kizzy and Jenks who keep the ship running, and Ashby, their noble captain.
Life aboard the Wayfarer is chaotic and crazy—exactly what Rosemary wants. It’s also about to get extremely dangerous when the crew is offered the job of a lifetime. Tunneling wormholes through space to a distant planet is definitely lucrative and will keep them comfortable for years. But risking her life wasn’t part of the plan. In the far reaches of deep space, the tiny Wayfarer crew will confront a host of unexpected mishaps and thrilling adventures that force them to depend on each other. To survive, Rosemary’s got to learn how to rely on this assortment of oddballs—an experience that teaches her about love and trust, and that having a family isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the universe.