Do you like Firefly? Of course you do. If you also like Mass Effect and really good books, I have something for you. The reason I didn’t notice this book until somebody slapped a seriously beautiful cover on it is because… well, I’m shallow and covers are what draw me in. In this case, you should also judge a book by its cover and pick this one up. I promise it will make you all warm and fuzzy inside.
THE LONG WAY TO A SMALL, ANGRY PLANET
by Becky Chambers
Published by: Hodder & Stoughton, 2015 (2014)
Ebook: 608 pages
My rating: 8,5/10
First sentence: As she woke up in the pod, she remembered three things.
When Rosemary Harper joins the crew of the Wayfarer, she isn’t expecting much. The Wayfarer, a patched-up ship that’s seen better days, offers her everything she could possibly want: a small, quiet spot to call home for a while, adventure in far-off corners of the galaxy, and distance from her troubled past.But Rosemary gets more than she bargained for with the Wayfarer. The crew is a mishmash of species and personalities, from Sissix, the friendly reptilian pilot, to Kizzy and Jenks, the constantly sparring engineers who keep the ship running. Life on board is chaotic, but more or less peaceful – exactly what Rosemary wants.Until the crew are offered the job of a lifetime: the chance to build a hyperspace tunnel to a distant planet. They’ll earn enough money to live comfortably for years… if they survive the long trip through war-torn interstellar space without endangering any of the fragile alliances that keep the galaxy peaceful.But Rosemary isn’t the only person on board with secrets to hide, and the crew will soon discover that space may be vast, but spaceships are very small indeed.
Rosemary is the newest crew member on the Wayfarer, a ship that punches holes in the galaxy so others can fast-travel through the wormhole. It is through Rosemary’s eyes that we get to know the crew of this wonderful, patched-up ship. And what a crew it is. Dr. Chef, the – unsurprisingly – doctor and chef, Sissix, the Aandrisk pilot, quirky and life-affirming tech Kizzy, sour Corbin, the navigator Ohan, the second tech, Jenks, the pacifist captain Ashby, and the ship’s AI Lovey (short for Lovelace).
I could tell you about each and every one of these people because Becky Chambers devotes time to all of them and gives them lives, hopes, dreams, a past, and a future. The comparison to Firefly is mostly due to this – the entire cast is vibrant and three-dimensional. They’re not space cowboy smugglers. There is very little violence in this book which makes it all the more praiseworthy that it’s such a page-turner. Becky Chambers knows that cultural tension, learning new things, adjusting to life in space, and doing a job well can be just as thrilling as intergalactic wars. And while we all have a favorite Serenity crewmember (Mal), I find myself hard-pressed to pick a favorite from the Wayfarer.
While Rosemary is the first character to hold on to, simply because she is the first we meet, it takes all of two pages to fall in love with everyone else. Lovey is much more than a computer, although the Galactic Commons are not in agreement over whether sapient AIs should be considered people or things. Which in turn angers Jenks who is very much in love with Lovey. The Aandrisk Sissix may look like a feathered lizard but it is her culture that makes her so intriguing. I loved her long before I really knew her, and once we visit her home planet, she becomes all the more awesome and wonderful and just made me want to hug her really hard.
Visiting planets is pretty much what happens until the crew finally reach their destination. They were hired to go to Hedra Ka, a formerly hostile planet, which has just joined the alliance and is now part of the Galactic Commons. On their way, they stop over at different planets to re-stock, re-fuel, meet old friends, and take some time off to not go ship-crazy. It’s like hopping in a car (or in this case: space ship) with all of your best friends and going on a road trip. A year-long road trip.
This planet-hopping plot is a little episodic at times but that didn’t bother me at all. I though of it like episodes of Lost, where most of the characters get some screen time in every chapter, but each episode would focus on one character and their back story. The Long Way is just like that (only with a proper conclusion and no plot holes).
One of the most amazing things about this book is its effortless diversity and the way problems are resolved by peaceful means. Almost every crew member belongs to a different species. Instead of fighting or misunderstanding each other, what they do is very simple: they are considerate. That’s it. Rosemary sometimes catches herself assuming things about others, but she always checks herself, educates herself about their cultures, or, you know, simply asks. And if one of the crew is accidentally impolite to another, they don’t start a war over it, they talk it out, they apologize and everyone has gained something from the blunder. I wish the real world was like that, but even if this is only fiction, it was beautiful to read.
Sissix’ culture especially reminded me of experiences I’ve had myself. I haven’t met any Aandrisks, mind you, but for them, showing affection in very physical ways is totally normal. What makes us humans blush is like a handshake to them. When I meet people from southern Europe, it can feel like that sometimes. Some people are used to hugging and kissing strangers when they first meet, while others may already find a handshake uncomfortable. So it doesn’t matter that much of the cast are aliens, they are just as relatable as Rosemary, Kizzy or Ashby.
I could go on about the others. The mystery that is Ohan is worth a whole book to themselves, Jenks and Lovey’s relationship is difficult to read about because I inherently wanted them to be togehter, physically, which they just can’t. Ashby himself is in a steady and loving relationship, a rarity in books, especially when we’re talking about space ship captains. He’s not grumpy or harsh or violent. Kizzy is the quirky, loud-mouthed, always happy girl who’ll drink you under the table if you let her, but she has much more depth to her than meets the eye. Corbin felt like Firefly‘s Jayne most of the time, but (just like Jayne) you can’t help but care about him despite his moods.
This book has a little bit of everything. Space exploration, character growth, beautiful friendships, a chosen family, cultural diversity, and even a bit of action. The ending had me in tears, not only because I didn’t know what would happen to my beloved characters, but also because I had grown to love these people so much I wanted to go on another trip with them right away. This is the type of story that makes you want to pack your stuff, hop on a space ship and travel the galaxy. It made me feel like a child again, staring at the wonders of the universe, and for that I’ll forever be grateful to Becky Chambers.
MY RATING: 8,5/10 – Pretty much perfect!