Review – The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet – Becky Chambers

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

Hello Internet. Welcome Back for Review #39. Ahh, and we’re back to our regularly scheduled programming of third-person science fiction. Of course, this isn’t very much like the regular swill you see staining bookshop shelves. This is a fluffy third-person science fiction novel. Very, very fluffy third-person science fiction.

Look! There, on the event horizon! Do you see it? It’s a science fiction novel! Do you see how it sways in the current of Space Opera, on the sea of trashy swill? Oh my, look at its third-person perspective! And its premise stolen from Firefly! Salvation! Finally back to my roots. This would make it the first proper science fiction novel I have read since I attempted to read Accelerando, and oh does it feel good to see more smeerps and antimatter drives and wonderful little sci-fi oddities which are niche to the genre.

Admittedly, it does take me back more than I intended. This book rehashes everything right about science fiction. Of course, it also takes with it everything wrong with science fiction. For a book mostly on the soft side of sci-fi, Long Way (which is what it’s called now, because that title is balls) (ding, 15) does try rather hard to look like it’s on the hard side. Yeah, there are portals and funny-looking aliens with scales or claws or tentacles, but you get an in-depth (completely fictional) look at how these portals work, and there’s a lot of points about the scaly aliens not being reptilian despite the cold blood and scales (and the fact that they lay eggs).

This means that this book does have a twinge of pretentiousness to it, but it’s a really faint twinge. Long Way exploits many of the really fun conventions of sci-fi as well, being a romp through space on a spaceship with a cool cast and some interesting dynamics. I mean, when was the first time you saw a really clever mechanic with fridge magnets stuck to her arms disarm a bomb with a blowtorch? Yeah, don’t say that was a Firefly plot, I wouldn’t believe you.

Honestly though, this book is very focused on relationships and how the few members of the crew interact in ways which are fun and sometimes dramatic. Which is why when a proper love scene happens, it doesn’t seem forced or rushed. Oh yeah, and kudos to the author for including a lesbian interplanetary romance with a lizard and a Martian. I mean, same-sex relations are so underrepresented in a surprisingly large number of books these days, despite sci-fi being the genre used to pushing boundaries. Which might say something about our society, come to think of it.

Right, one last thing. Long Way is not a space opera. It just really doesn’t have the same sense of scale. It’s also about as soft as I can’t believe it’s not butter. This means that if it wants to set up a world which includes portals in space-time and run its spaceships on algae that’s perfectly fine. It can even give me many weird and wonderful characters to ship, and I would be fine. But not a single call-back to Firefly in-universe when I managed to make three in a review about it is shameful.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet was published in 2014 on CreateSpace and can be found on Amazon here.

Yours: J.M. Pear

Review – The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet – Becky Chambers

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