This is a charming, character driven, space opera-ish, science fiction novel about a crew, made of a bunch of different species, who man a ship that drills holes in space. The focus of this story is on the relationships of the crew, their histories, and a big job that is going to take them to a distant part of space where very few have gone. At first, I was concerned that it was going to be too heavy on the technology or psychics, but, have no fear readers, very little technical thinking is required in The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, which, after a few I’ve read lately, was just what I was looking for.
I loved the different species that Chambers imagined for this universe. From lizard type aliens to a giant caterpillar with an otter head to a simian creature who shaves his blue fur into concentric shapes, there’s a lot of characters to keep track of but they’re so different that it’s not confusing. It is just plain fun. Even the AI of the ship, the Wayfarer, is a character named Lovelace: “There were other Lovelaces out there, of course. Her core software platform could be purchased through any AI dealer. There were probably dozens of versions of her traveling through the galaxy- maybe hundreds, who knew. But they weren’t her. The Lovey that Jenks knew was uniquely molded by the Wayfarer. Her personality had been shaped by every experience she and the crew had together, every place they’d been, every conversation they’d shared. And honestly, Jenks thought, couldn’t the same be said for organic people?” pg 58. Indeed.
The reader gets to learn about space travel and the various ports of call through the eyes of Rosemary, the newest member of the crew, who is carrying a dark secret about her past: “Rosemary hurried after her crewmates, anxious to not get lost. The shuttle dock had been crowded enough, but now that they were weaving their way through the market gates, the likelihood of her getting swept away in a sea of traders had increased. Getting lost wasn’t what scared her, exactly. It was more the prospect of getting mugged. Or harassed. Or stabbed. She’d seen a few people that definitely looked stabby.” pgs 109-110. “Looked stabby” made me giggle.
This bit had me laughing too. I had never taken the time to consider what might happen if a cold-blooded creature ate something that was freezing cold: “We’re grown-ups, we can have ice cream for lunch if we want.” “Let’s not,” Sissix said. “Right. I forgot,” Kizzy said, and laughed. “Ice cream makes her mouth go slack.” Sissix flicked her tongue with disapproval. “Why anyone would make freezing cold food is beyond me.” pg 140
A bit of life advice hidden in the story: “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.” pg 232.
This last section contains my favorite line from the entire book: “She lived up there, in that vast expanse of color. Every day, she saw planets and comets and stellar nurseries right up close, plain as weather. Yes, there was something about being planetside that made it feel different. Perhaps stars were supposed to be viewed from the ground. pg 291-292. “Perhaps stars were supposed to be viewed from the ground” is it. I have never traveled in space and may never get the chance to, but The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet transports you, if just for a short time, into worlds far beyond ours. I highly recommend it for folks who enjoy light, character-driven science fiction as there is nothing too heavy or disturbing to be found here.
Thanks for reading!