The novel “The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet” by Becky Chambers was published for the first time in 2014. It’s the first book in the Wayfarers series.
Ashby Santoso is the captain of the starship Wayfarer and decided to hire a new clerk to fix the paperwork aboard the ship. Rosemary Harper joins his crew, composed of people belonging to various species, and even before dealing with the dangers of interstellar travel she has to learn to handle the relationships with them.
The Wayfarer gets a contract to open a new route to an area of the galaxy where a species has long been engaged in a war among factions. That’s a remarkable opportunity because the gain will be very high but nobody can say how risky it is to travel in the war area and the problems can arrive even in other areas of the space.
Becky Chambers used an online funding campaign on the famous Kickstarter website in 2012 to be able to work half-time and have the time to finish “The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet”. This novel’s development had some problems, of which the author herself writes in an afterword, but eventually it was completed and the publication arrived. The success achieved led to the writing of some sequels.
The Wayfarers series is set in a future in which humanity has been forced to emigrate to space after having managed to devastate the Earth to the point of being unable to live there. The positive thing was the contact with sentient alien species and joining a galactic community that allows many species to have peaceful relationships. The trips are made using wormholes but they must be created by suitably equipped starships, such as the Wayfarer.
“The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet” is a space opera but very different from the classic ones, based on adventures among the stars. For Becky Chambers, often the plot seems an excuse to develop the characters and their interactions, which are the novel’s central element. The crew of the starship Wayfarer is multi-species and each member has both a personal story and a story related to their own species.
The novel’s strength lies in the fact that Becky Chambers tried to create species that are really alien, both physically and psychologically. Rosemary Harper is on her first interstellar journey and needs explanations, so the plot often follows her personal story because it’s a way to offer the readers information on the peculiarities of the various species and individuals.
To give the various personal stories deeper emotional implications, Becky Chambers created a crew in which it seems that everyone has some secrets. During the Wayfarer’s long journey, these secrets are revealed with a number of consequences.
This choice by Becky Chambers makes “The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet” introspective with a lot of food for thought on important issues but with little action. The pace is very often slow because many parts of the novel consist mainly of conversations. The last part has a faster pace but even in that case the action is told in the midst of a lot of information given about the factions of the Toremi, a species that’s important in the plot.
“The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet” offers a message of tolerance that starts from a warning connected to the almost self-destruction carried out by humanity. If you’re looking for adventures where humans, possibly white men, are beautiful and good while aliens are ugly villains, this novel is really not for you. It’s a novel in which the differences at the level of species and individuals enrich the characters. Sometimes it’s a bit heavy with exposition but the fictional universe created by Becky Chambers is in my opinion very intriguing and if you’re looking for a character-based novel with aliens, I recommend reading it.