Fantasy and science-fiction are two different genres that we see grouped together quite a lot in the literary world. It’s easy to see why, as they share many similar elements and ideas despite their differences. Anyone who reads my blog or follows my Instagram page will know by now that I’m a massive fantasy lover, but what you may not see is that I’m also a huge fan of science-fiction. For some reason I always seem to end up reading a lot more fantasy, but this is something I want to try and improve on. With that goal in mind I was really excited to start The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers.
This is Becky’s first novel, and I remember seeing it get a lot of praise on BookTube a few years ago. The novel opens with the character Rosemary Harper joining the crew of a ship that looks like it’s seen better days. She isn’t expecting much, but it’s a chance for her to escape her past whilst roaming the galaxy as part of the crew. What she doesn’t realise is that whilst the Wayfarer indeed looks somewhat chaotic, life on board can be just the same. With an array of species and personalities working together it’s a miracle that peace can exist. That is, until the crew are offered the chance to work the job of a lifetime; the chance to build a hyperspace tunnel to a distance planet. If they can navigate the long trip through war-torn space, as well as pull off the high risk job, they’ll have hit the big time, but nothing is easy in a world still at war with each other.
One of the things which struck me very quickly when reading this novel was the fantastic world building within it. This is a complicated, highly advanced world in which the technology alone must surely have been a minefield to navigate. What the author has accomplished so well is letting her world unfold at its own pace. We are of course dropped into this strange sci-fi setting with little idea of the initial set up, but the author doesn’t let you get lost or confused. As each chapter closes we have the satisfaction of feeling like we understand the world, as well as the characters, better than before. Likewise, the author lets us figure things out for ourselves rather than spoon feeding us information we might not take in at first glance. For example, we don’t get a truly explicit explanation as to why humans left earth in the first place until about half way through. We’re given enough to make assumptions and to essentially come to the conclusion ourselves, so that when the explanation does come it makes sense in the grander scheme of things.
I think the author has also handled the overarching plot in a similar manner to the above. There’s not so much a big epic build up to a climactic plot twist or moment, but more of a steady incline with these more realistic bumps in the road. I use the term realistic somewhat loosely as of course this is still fiction and its heaped through with imagination, yet by giving us these smaller and more frequent moment of action the plot seems more natural. There was never a point when reading this that I felt bored or tired, and I think that’s a testament to the narrative we are being told by the author.
A huge part of the draw for me with this book was the fact that it isn’t just action on top of more action, with asteroids hurtling by and aliens blasting each other to smithereens. That’s not to say that there isn’t some great classic sci-fi moments to relish (there definitely is!), but we’re given these very complex characters in addition. Each crew member of the Wayfarer has a different back-story, personality and challenges occurring in their life. Getting to see such a wide cross-section of the species within this world really helped to enhance this diversity. The book creates space for a whole host of challenging topics and conversations to be raised. From the more unusual topics, such as mixed species relationships and the idea of being in a relationship with an AI (artificial intelligence), to the more recognisable questions regarding race, gender, class, stereotypes and prejudices. The book is able to show that these themes are problems we face universally, drawing the reader in to a world which is extremely different yet also not too distant from our own.
One of the things I was so happy to discover when reading this book was the fact that I believed the author’s world. She seemed to have a very authentic grip on the crucial elements of the sci-fi genre whilst also trying to enrich it with her own ideas. From the technical terminology used, to the moments of intense engineering and the larger scientific backdrop; she has managed to include everything cohesively in a confident manner, which in turn heightened my trust in her abilities to tell us this tale. The novel didn’t seem an unrealistic fantastical take on the future we see, because her confidence and ability allowed it to be believable.
I am so glad that I finally got around to picking up this book. It’s fast paced, snappy and exactly what I needed to truly get lost in a world completely different from my own. I could imagine each scene vividly in my mind and I am really excited to get stuck into the next book.
‘This is a book with all of the velocity of a high action sci-fi with enough heart and emotion to draw the reader right into the ship along with the rest of the crew; a thrilling ride we undertake together.’