Because all of life is stories.
This one came out of left field. And I kind of feel like an ass reviewing it now, because it doesn’t come out officially until August. But if you look online, you might be able to find a self-published copy. And honestly, I can’t not review it until then. I’m weak. But it’s just that good. Becky Chambers kickstarted The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, and I wish like hell I had joined the campaign when I had the chance. At the end of the day though, I got to read an incredible and optimistic space opera about a group of disparate characters just looking to make their way in the universe. I got to see them at work, in love, fight, come together, and live as part of something bigger than themselves. It’s like an unexpected episode of Firefly came back into my life. I don’t know if she was attempting to capture the feeling of that show, I won’t guess. But if you miss Firefly, I have a new ship of lovable outcasts for you.
The Wayfarer is home to a crew of eight misfits whose job it is to drill wormholes through the space time continuum in order to facilitate faster travel between systems. Basically, they’re an interstellar highway construction crew. When a new and exciting job opportunity springs up that could vault them into the next level of their business (both in terms of prestigious gigs and pay) the crew signs on for a journey that will take them the better part of a standard year to accomplish, with many an opportunity for chaos and tension along the way.
The cast of characters is the main draw of the book, for me anyways. Captain Ashby is a human male in a secret relationship with a member of a xenophobic alien race. Rosemary is Martian bred human on the run from a past she hides from the crew and would as soon forget. Dr. Chef is a tremendous cook, medic, and many legged blob creature who may be part of the last generation of his species. Sissix is a feathered reptilian biped who misses her home, her family, and finds herself stifled by the human notion of personal space. Kizzy is the heart and soul of the operation, and really likes machines and spicy food. Corbin is irritable but creates fuel. Jenks is in love with an artificial intelligence. Lovey, the aforementioned AI, is faced with the decision of remaining in her ship, unable to truly be with Jenks, or becoming illegal simply by downloading herself into a body, gaining the love of her life but losing the completeness of seeing and experiencing everything on the ship. Ohan is a Sianat Pair, one of a race of the most brilliant creatures in the galaxy. Their intelligence is at least in part granted to them however by a virus that will kill Ohan decades before their time.
Over the course of a long journey towards the galactic core the crew of the Wayfarer will deal with love, loneliness, loss, pirates, clones, exotic insect based cuisine, attempted murder, and the odd bout of molting. Through it all we see them grow as a crew, as a family, as individuals. The plot, while intriguing, really takes the backseat to character driven story in a way few science fiction stories I’ve read manage to. Not that all of them are trying to. After dozens of books that move at a breakneck pace it’s nice to settle into Long Way and take a long and quiet relaxing read through the lives of a few wonderful sapients. Chapters can cover such fascinating subjects as buying ship parts, watching the news, making breakfast, and disastrously flirting. The thing about Chambers is that all those scenes are just as scintillating and fulfilling as the scenes about pirates and imminent ship-wide disaster, if not more so.
Another thing I really enjoyed about this book, and fans of The Mirror Empire will also enjoy, is the dedication to being a progressive SFF. When dealing with other alien sapient species pronoun use and acknowledgement of similarities amongst seemingly insurmountable differences becomes paramount, and Chambers navigates those waters with the grace and aplomb of a seasoned pro. I know there are Sad Puppies out there that will tell me that this is catering and pushing an agenda but guess what? SFF is diversifying as a new generation of writers joins it. It happens. All the time. Deal with it.
And last, I want to mention the underlying optimism that I find most endearing about this book. There are any number of SFF books and series about humanity encountering a hostile universe, or humanity asserting itself aggressively into their new galactic neighborhood. Here, we find humanity as an accepted member of a galactic community, one that they are relatively new to be part of. One that they do not run. One that they do not even have a controlling vote in. It’s humbling. It shows us a future where humans can be important and free and accepted despite all of our historical flaws and atrocities into a universe would just as easily exist without us.
I look forward to Chamber’s official book launch later this year. I know that I will be reposting this review at all the usual media outlets. I know I’ll be sure to order a half dozen copies in to my store to hand sell for a start. I know that I’ll probably be rereading this book once or twice every year when I need something comfortable and mostly peaceful to fall back on – right now that spot is filled with The Kingkiller Chronicles – and relax for awhile. I hope you can find a copy online before then. If not, I look forward to discussing this with you in August.
And now I need to watch Firefly again.