Mar. 29th, 2015

nishatalitha: Sepia photo of a woman in an old-fashioned dress with a book (Woman and Book)
I am late this month, thanks to organising a mini-gaming con, and also getting distracted into reading both Wolf Hall and Bringing Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel (the latter two occupied nearly a week of reading time each).

Still, after racking my brains for what I did read this month, I do have a review offering for you. And it's a good one!

Title: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet
Author: Becky Chambers
Copyright:2014
Publisher: self-published but has been picked up by Hodder & Stoughton - see below
Obtained: e-book from Amazon
Author Website: Other Scribbles
Reason for review: This is an ensemble cast novel and only one of the least-used viewpoints is a white male (and he is hardly heroic). The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is self-published and was shortlisted for best debut in the Kitschies Awards, but has since been picked up by Hodder & Stoughton, been given a new cover and will be out in hardcopy in August this year (I plan to pick up a hardcover too). I read it twice in a week, made [personal profile] the_eggwhite read it—and he enjoyed it.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry, Planet is readily available from Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com, and I believe also from Kobo.

Blurb:Welcome aboard the Wayfarer.

Somewhere within our crowded sky, a crew of wormhole builders hops from planet to planet, on their way to the job of a lifetime. To the galaxy at large, humanity is a minor species, and one patched-up construction vessel is a mere speck on the starchart. This is an everyday sort of ship, just trying to get from here to there.

But all voyages leave their mark, and even the most ordinary of people have stories worth telling. A Martian woman, hoping the vastness of space will put some distance between herself and the life she‘s left behind. An alien pilot, navigating life without her own kind. A pacifist captain, awaiting the return of a loved one at war.

Set against a backdrop of curious cultures and distant worlds, this episodic tale weaves together the adventures of nine eclectic characters, each on a journey of their own.


So, this is a delightful romp of a sf novel. As the title suggests, it is all about the journey not the destination (although as could be anticipated the destination isn't ideal and is then final climax of the book). Essentially the main job of the crew of this ship is creating wormhole tunnels for other ships to use (handwaved generally with enough plausible-seeming info for this non-sciency person) and with the arrival of their new clerk, submit a bid for and win the tender for creating a major new wormhole. They just have to travel for a year to get to the start point first! Ensembles are far more common in TV than books and it is nice to see a true ensemble book.

Our cast include several humans: Ashby the Captain who keeps the show on the road, who has to be friendly with his employees since he's living on a tin can in space with them, but also has to be their boss; Kizzy, the engineer, who reminds me of a cross between Kaylee in Firefly and Abby in NCIS; Jenks, the computer software engineer who also does some electrical engineering; Corbin the awkward white male algae farmer who makes the fuel and is obsessed with making it the best possible mix (almost but not quite the most minor viewpoint); and Rosemary, the ship's clerk who is new to the ship and to space which gives lots of good excuses for info-dumping. She is also the primary recurring viewpoint character (if this book could be said to have one),. The non-humans crew include Lovey, the ship's AI; Sissix, the reptilian Aandrisk pilot; Ohan, a Sianat Pair, an alien, who, because of a virus, is basically a wormhole calculator; and Dr Chef, a Grum, who is both the ship's medic and the ship's cook. Given the long trip they are on, reasons are found to meet family of, visit planets or learn backstory for most of the crew but particularly the non-humans.

First of all, I love that their clerk is the one that makes this possible. Paperwork is important guys! It isn't quite competent bureaucracy porn but it's respectable. I could stand to see more of Rosemary being a competent ships clerk. In addition, being print rather than screen, Chambers is not limited in how her aliens should look, and like James White, takes advantage of this. Also, humans are not the most powerful species in the galaxy which is often nice, and earth is ruined thanks to humans—the latter seems quite realistic to me.

This book is a slice-of-life novel. Nothing wrong with that—I quite like slice of life novels, particularly when they are done as well as this one is. For those of you who read fanfiction, it reminds me a bit of fic; for those of you who don't, the reminder is not a bad thing. I considered whether it reminded me of the Nathan Lowell Quarter Share series (another slice-of-live living-on-spaceships book, originally published in audio) and concluded that it didn't: whilst I enjoyed Quarter Share, later books in the series were a bit too creepy for me and I gave up on them. Also, they were all first person from one character's perspective, neither of which The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet are. Nor is it creepy, which yay.

On this ship, the crew works on the legit (but blue-collar) side of the law; they have a job, which they are good at; and the rest of the book is about the crew's relationships to each other. We do not quite go on a tour of each person's background, but throughout the book we do learn about some of the history for each character, but also what is important to them now. It focuses on the relationships between each character, and Chambers keeps things going with a deft hand. The relationships are not entirely what you would expect, and clearly illustrate the sf romance trope that humans can fall in love with any being (it is important to note that these loves are not all the eternal-love type of romance, but they are important now and it is worth trying).

One of my favourite quoteable bits is Sissix complaining to Dr Chef about humans and how they smell, Dr Chef saying he'd put odor neutralising formula in their soap and the humans hadn't noticed!

Language and use of gender is important. There is an underlying message about respecting people and how they wish to be perceived and called. Thought has also gone into body image both internal and external and how to be comfortable with yourself.

If elements of this book, upon reflection, seem a bit formulaic, moralistic or predictable I am fine with that, particularly since it fits in generally with left wing views. The storytelling is engaging, with a fairly light hand and it is, quite frankly, just a fun book to read. It never gets heavy or overwhelming and that sense of fun and the authorial light hand with drama makes it an easy and enjoyable read.

I will be keeping an eye out for more fiction by Becky Chambers.

If you like Firefly or Farscape or ensemble slice-of-life stories, then this is the book for you.

Other books I could have reviewed instead this month: Half-Life and Zero Sum Game by S.L. Huang, Talk Sweetly to Me and Trade Me by Courtney Milan,

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